VOLUME ONE, ISSUE 4

3 Human Elements  Everyone's familiar with the fairy tale "Snow White". A wicked queen feeds Snow White a poisoned apple", SW keels over "dead" only to be revived by a kiss from Prince Charming. (I've heard some argue it wasn't the kiss that revived her but the Prince performing a sneaky Heimlich maneuver. I wasn't there so I don't know.)                                                 
   In my former life as an actor, I did a lot of summer stock. One summer I found myself playing the wicked queen in a musical of "Snow White". I'm on stage with Miss Goody Two Shoes - it's the part where I give her the bad apple, she takes a bite, collapses and I cackle my way off stage. The next scene is me announcing the arrival of SW's body at the castle - I turn and gesture - "Here comes Snow White now." And then a cart, pulled by the 7 little guys, wheels onto the stage. One night, I say the line and nothing happens. No cart. No 7 little guys. No SW. I did what you'd expect - I said the line again, louder. Still nothing.
   The actor playing my court jester bounds out and whispers that SW's been delayed. (Turns out that when she collapsed after eating the apple, she did a header into a wooden bench and needed some quick stitches.) "Improvise" the jester said. So I did.
   It turns out that the same improvisational skills I needed then, the skills I honed as an actor and a television comedy writer, are the same skills all of us need to succeed in business today. The ability to think quickly. To perform under pressure. To find creative solutions to old and new real time. To adapt. To work well with others. To be aware. To be "in the moment".
   Using improvisational skills is a slam dunk for anyone looking for that competitive advantage in today's economy. How's your improv?
Jennie Ayers
President, Challenge It Now 
Could Tina Fey Run Google? by Jennie Ayers 

    "Improvisation is one of the two or three cardinal skills for businesses to learn in the future."

                       John Kao, Harvard School of Business
   When you hear the word "improvisation", you probably think of actors making up funny skits. Some of the best - Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey - served time with Second City, the most famous improvisational troupe. Their skills in improv, however, would serve them just as well in business as it has on SNL. And improvisation in business is the next "killer app" for leaders, people in sales or anyone faced with situations where real time execution is the difference between success and failure.
   What if you're unfamiliar with improvisation? How do you start to build those muscles to better equip yourself to be an improvisational thinker? Here are five key things you can do: 
Embrace the Golden Rule of "Yes And"
"Yes and" is the golden rule of improvisation. It is the willingness to accept whatever others offer to us...and build upon those offers. In business - and in life - saying "yes" is the foundation for all constructive relationships. Individuals start to feel more confident and a stronger sense of belonging when their ideas are considered. From this, collaboration is strengthened.
Increase Awareness & Listen to Understand 

Before we can build on the ideas of others, we first have to hear them. Too often, we "listen to reply", waiting for our turn to speak, rather than staying aware of what others are saying. We also miss out on essential non-verbal cues if we don't stay "in the moment" and listen "visually". Improv depends on our ability to receive complete and accurate information and to communicate the same way.

Focus on Process Over Results
All too often in business (and life), we're driven to conclusions and ignore the process of coming to a solution. Instead of rushing to judgment, we need to ask more questions to open up our perceptual side. Asking questions clarifies understanding and builds empathy.
Use the Point of Concentration
The Point of Concentration (POC) in improv is the common goal towards which all the players move. Improvisational thinking helps us, especially during conflict, to establish common goals which opposing parties can both embrace. (Quick - teach this to both major political parties.)
Ignore  Your Inner Critic
Stanford University Professor Michael Ray dubbed our inner critic the "voice of judgment". It's that voice inside all of us that harshly criticizes our ideas and prevents us from speaking out and from looking at challenges in new ways to find alternate solutions. Improv games give us the opportunity to cease censoring ourselves and gain trust in spontaneity. 
As more of us are called upon to perform well under pressure in today's challenging business environment, we need to look outside traditional skill building. The mystery that may surround a person's ability to "think on their feet" and is admired by today's corporate culture is no mystery. It's a competency anyone can learn - if they're willing to try. 
In This Issue
Could Tina Fey Run Google?
Want Clarity? 4 Simple Reminders
What's Your GI (Generational Intelligence)?
Join Our Mailing List!
Quick Links
Improvisation @ Work
"Every organization must have the flexibility to listen to the marketplace, learn from their customers and make changes when appropriate. To accomplish this, companies should treat strategy as 'improvisational theatre'. It is better to launch small experiments and learn from the results of each - a hallmark of improvisation."
Rosabeth Moss Kanter,
Harvard School of Business
Climate Hands

Do You Tweet?
orange twitter
It's not news that social media can turn any of us into a publisher and distributor of information. There are blogs, Facebook, You Tube, LinkedIn and now Twitter.
I've heard a lot of people knock the whole social media thing. I have at least one friend who is convinced that its greatest contribution is to alientate us from one another. She's going to be surprised when I tell her about the latest findings regarding the use of social media. Studies show that in fact, social media connects us in many more ways than it separates us. And just because we can't quantify the power of social media right now, it doesn't mean we should ignore it. If it's something you'll benefit from on an individual basis, or a tool you can use to grow your business, start using it. Now.
I wish I could say that I jumped on the social media bandwagon immediately. I didn't. But you can now find me on LinkedIn and I'm working on a FaceBook page for the business. I've blogged in the past (though not nearly consistently enough) and I'm also tackling Twitter.
I picked up a terrific book by Paul McFedries, "twitter: Tips, Tricks and Tweets", that tells you everything you need to know about this simplest social media tool. I'm already captivated by some of the stories about how Twitter's been used - from the surgeon who tweeted live from the operating room to the fundraising event that raised more than $250,000 to the expectant father who created a device for his pregnant wife to wear that sent a Twitter message every time their baby kicked.
According to Pete Cashmore, CEO and founder of, once a person understands the basic principles of Twitter, the possibilities for its use are endless. I'll let you know if that's true. Right now, I'm only on chapter two of McFedries' book. Once our business gets up and going, will you follow us? 



"Want Clarity? 4 Simple (though not easy) Reminders"

                                                                       by Rebecca Ripley 
In his book, The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham IDs four skills you must learn if you want to succeed as a manager. After "select good people", the second skill is to "define clear expectations". Sounds like clarity to me! As Buckingham writes: "Since I've never met a confused productive employee, I probably don't need to belabor the need for clear expectations. Confusion retards everything, from efficieny and focus to teamwork and partnership, all the way to pride and satisfaction."
In spite of our universal recognition of the importance of clarity, half of all employees say they are unsure of what is expected of them at work. How is that possible, when we're all so consistently clear? Clearly, we're not...clear, that is. To help you get better at this fundamental skill, we've identified 4 simple actions to get you on your way. 
#1.  Ask more questions. Instead of telling an associate what you want them to do, ask insightful questions so that the words come out of their mouths, not yours. This take more time, but is infinitely more productive and developmental. There are several books of questions, card decks of questions, even posters of questions. Find a resource that works for you and use it. Keep a file of favorite questions and condition yourself to ask them. You'll enrich your work life as well as your personal life by posing great queries. We all like to be engaged in meaningful conversation.
Sample questions: Given our core values, how might we best approach this objective? What similarities do you see between this project and the last one we worked on together? We need to practice what we preach about customer focus. How do you think we might do that in this situation? What ideas do you have for resolving this situation? If I were in your shoes, here's something I might try. What might keep me from being successful using this approach? Given what you know about this client's preferences, what should we consider as viable options?
#2.  Don't assume. We all know we're not supposed to, but we can't seem to help ourselves. When in doubt, see #1. If you're still confused, see #3.
#3.  Be consistent about checking for understanding every day in every way. While this may feel repetitive, it is simply effective communication.
Sample questions: Could you share with me your understanding of what I just delegated? It was clear in my head, but I'm not sure it translated to the spoken word. What is most confusing about what I just said? If you had to explain this to another colleague, what would you emphasize? What obstacles have you encountered thus far? What do you find most frustrating about this project? Which stakeholders do you think you'll need to engage early in the process?
Kill ambiguity.
Ask more questions. 
collaboration cubes 
#4.  Kill ambiguity. When in doubt, see #1, #2 and #3. We all assume we're good communicators, and that's our first mistake. We think we're clear and concise. Sadly, the message I'm trying to get from my head to yours encounters complex layers of interference. My choice of words may trigger an idea that has you tripping down memory lane, or I may push a button that sends you off on a tangent. Perhaps you're tuning me out completely, waiting for your rebuttal time. Or maybe there's physical noise or perhaps I mumbled. All these and more get in the way of clarity.
The best communicators among us practice all these actions consistently. And they still run the risk of being misunderstood. Effective communication is simple, but it's not easy. Effectiveness is a life-long pursuit. Our advice to you? Practice, practice, practice. Clarity is worth the pursuit.


What's Your GI (Generational Intelligence)? by Janice Criddle
diverse generational team In the past, when organizations focused on diversity, they dealt with issues around gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability. It turns out that we relate to and communicate with people who are different from us primarily based on how we perceive them. I remember one diversity workshop that focused on gender. The facilitator cited an experiment in which an adult was put in a room with babies, who were wearing either a pink or a blue diaper. Observers noted that both men and women interacted with the babies in pink diapers as if they were girls and the babies in blue diapers as if they boys, irrespective of their actual gender. This is a perfect example of how we often relate to one another strictly on the basis of the person we're looking at and the perceptions we have with regard to that person.
While the diversity issues above are still in play, the "hot button" in organizations today is generational diversity. There are now 4 distinct generations in the workplace and it turns out that how we perceive each other may be getting in the way of having healthy work relationships.
Your Generational Intelligence
Before we can look at the challenges of leading or working across generations, we need to understand each one. We need to hone our own GI.
Traditionalists (aka Veterans)
These are workers 64 and older. They make up 5% of the workforce. They often exhibit a strong work ethic that was shaped by the Great Depression; they have an "onward and upward" attitude.
     Loyal (often only one employer)
     Comfortable with top-down management style
     Motivated by recognition for a job well done 
Baby Boomers
These are workers 45-63 years old and make up 45% of the work force. As this group ages, many are reflecting on their lives and realizing that they've spent too much of their time working. They now want to add more balance to their lives and may feel that the younger generations need to "put their time in".
     Respond to symbols of recognition (titles, more money, parking spaces, etc.)
     Optimistic and idealistic
     Extremely competitive
Generation X
These are workers 30-44 years old and make up 40% of the U.S. work force. This generation has seen scandal affect every major institution, from the stock market to the presidency. During their childhood, the divorce rate tripled and many were left to fend for themselves while their parents worked. They often filled their time with computers and TV. "People skills" may not be especially valued nor possessed. Drawn to informality and fun, they're not impressed by titles and hierarchies. Their approach to work is balance - they see work as a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.
     Little trust in the system
     Freedom is ultimate corporate reward
     Want skill enhancing training, "portable" benefits (401K)
Generation Y (aka Nexters or Millennials)
These workers are 29 and younger and make up 10% of the U.S. workforce. They were born in an era of technology and are very comfortable with it. They're adept at multi-tasking. Most had more solid upbringing than their predecessors and engage in a variety of extra-curricular activities, including sports.
     Want to make a difference
     Know their work has value
     If they question authority, it's generally for the right reason
     Sociable, with an eye toward civic duty
The Challenge
These differences in the generations can create conflict in the workplace, impacting morale, team efficiencies and, ultimately, productivity. There is the potential for inappropriate stereotyping. For example, Gen Xers insist on balancing work with their private lives. As a result, they may be branded as unmotivated, out-spoken, self-centered or job-hoppers. Generations have different styles of working - Boomers tend to focus on process and inclusion, resulting in frequent meetings. Gen Xers may prefer specific jobs with concrete goals - they just want to complete the task. And we may hear personalized complaints across the board: "He has a poor work ethic." "She's not committed to the job."
So how do we take the best of what each generation has to offer to create effective work teams? We'll answer that question in next month's issue.
3 Human Elements
Challenge It Now focuses its energies on a common goal - through consultation, coaching and facilitation, we help professionals in business organizations create and sustain a workplace climate where the positive experience of work is optimized, engagement is enriched and performance potential is maximized.
Please take a moment and visit our website at to find out more about us and what we have to offer.
Please mark your calendars for our next public offering of the Process Communication Model to be held on Wednesday, January 13, 2010.
For additional information, please contact us at (818) 585-9553 or (818) 429-0077.