November 2011 1.4
This fourth issue of the Unfolding Leadership Newsletter focuses on creativity. You'll find:
- Reflective Leadership Practice -- humanizing...
- Leadership Links -- stimulating articles, videos and tools from across the web
- Leadership Edge -- links to essays from the Unfolding Leadership weblog
- Leadership Conversations -- Q & A with Tom Furness
- Leadership and Innovation -- links to creative process
If you would like to review the first three issues, you can find them in the archive.
As always, I appreciate your feedback and suggestions. I received a number of positive comments about last month's edition, and to those who wrote, again many thanks. I feel remiss in not offering my gratitude to Eric Svaren
, who originally put me onto Carol Dweck's Mindset
I Need Your Help!
I am working on a learning process and materials for a new workshop, called "The Arc." It is a way of looking at personal power and how to use it and grow into new aspects. You can find out more about the basic concept via this brochure (pdf)
. I'm in a refinement phase and would like to work with three or four people individually who would like some free leadership coaching
using the new framework. If you are interested in up to three free sessions, please email me
for further details. And please feel free to share this offer with others. Thanks!
Wishing you the best for your own reflective practice!
REFLECTIVE LEADERSHIP PRACTICE
In their new book, Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, consultants Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant put an enduring challenge simply:
"We need organizations that are more human. We need to re-create our organizations so that the power and energy of being more human in our work life can be leveraged...."
The methods and strategies are evolving, for example through the revolution in social media, but this fundamental idea of leveraging the heart, energy, passions of people to do great work together has been around for a long time -- certainly since before The Human Side of Enterprise, Douglas McGregor's well-known 1960's clarification of two conflicting assumption sets made by leaders about people and their motivations -- one set negative, one positive, known as Theory X and Theory Y.
There is, to be sure, continuing ambivalence about what the challenge to humanize actually requires. This isn't a matter of organizational tactics, as Notter and Grant's book show. It's not about the how. They provide plenty of how and there's been plenty of how around and for a long time. It's still about what we really believe in the end about people and our willingness to meet each other to do business on new ground. It is about those background assumptions, however they might have evolved from McGregor's day.
We probably couldn't find better evidence of that persistent ambivalence than the opinions regarding Steve Jobs expressed after his death. They ran the gamut from praising his genius and lauding him as another Henry Ford to skewering him as a brittle and demanding old-school autocrat. As Mike Daisey in a New York Times opinion piece framed it, it's a shame the ability to 'think different' about customer experience and products did not seem to transfer to an ability to '"think different' in the deepest way, about the human needs of...users and workers."
That's worth some reflection. We all do have our feelings and beliefs. About others. About ourselves and our organizations -- especially about what we feel we need to release our own best potentials. The challenge, it seems to me, still mirrors what change practitioner, Marvin Weisbord, said way back in 1987 in the first version of his book, Productive Workplaces: "Unless we accept X and Y in ourselves, we cannot become fully human." (Italics mine).
We are complex beings, and one thing is for sure: we'll need all "the power and energy" (to use Notter and Grant's words) we can get to lift us with the times and with the challenges we are facing. Luckily, we do have the undeniable resource of our own creativity, and as Tom Furness says in this month's more in-depth Leadership Conversation, that incredible spark in us -- call it passion, divinity, genius -- love -- only needs to be set free.
Readings & Tools to Help You Lead
· Nicely Insightful. Stanford coaching expert, Ed Batista, reminds us how it's done with "Five Leadership Lessons," then generously adds "Six Lessons from Dan Might," from the Stanford Leadership Fellows Program.
· A Cool Tool for Self-Development. Dutch consultant, Daniel Ofman's visual model of "core qualities" is a great means to understand interpersonal differences and locate areas for growth. See this summary from his book, Core Qualities: A Gateway to Human Resources. But wait, there's more...an interesting iPhone app. It's easily found by searching "Core Quality" at the App Store. (With thanks to Pascal Ponty for introducing me to this material).
* Children, Creativity and the Need for "Dis-Enthrallment." Have you seen these funny, moving and pointed TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson? "Schools Kill Creativity" (2006) and "Bring On the Learning Revolution!" (2010). They set the stage beautifully for the conversation (below) with Tom Furness. (Thanks to Tom for the recommendation.)
* Not Just For Kids. Five points about creative learning that have wide application for our future organizations. Here is Jump Associates' Fast Company article, "What Designing The New Girl Scouts Innovation Badges Taught Us About Raising Leaders."
· Reclaiming the Need for Creative Disconnection. Scott Belsky of Bēhance fame responds to the question and offers solutions: "What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space." See also The 99%, Bēhance's fabulous "think tank" for creative professionals on how to bring ideas to fruition -- the name refers to Thomas Edison's famous statement, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."
Personal Essays from the Unfolding Leadership Weblog
"The Third Journey of Leadership" The first journey of leadership is about confidence and achievement. It involves understanding and applying personal gifts, consciously and unconsciously. The first journey establishes a unique worldly contribution and results in the strength of personal pride. The second journey is about...Read More...
"Why Do We Make Personal Change So Hard?" Over the years I've worked with many leaders who say they want to improve their skills and develop as people. Yet, I've often watched them struggle when creating, and especially implementing any list of behavioral action steps. Personal change, it seems, suddenly becomes reduced to a set of chores. We all know about habit, comfort zones and private fears, but those perspectives can add up to one great big message about personal development...Read more...
Tom Furness Unlocks and Links Minds...and Brings Love to the World
at the University of Washington in Seattle and at locations in New Zealand and Australia.
HITLabs explore the "interface" of humans and machines. There are currently about 20 projects, mostly conducted by students from various educational disciplines, locations and highly diverse backgrounds. Some of the best known projects involve the creation of "augmented reality," such as Magic Book (see this pdf), the invention and development of the virtual retinal display (that scans images directly onto the retina), and Virtual Reality applications in such disparate areas as entertainment, therapy and medicine. Since 1989 when HITLab Seattle was founded, about 30 companies have been spun off from projects, two of which are now trading on NASDAQ at a market capitalization of over 8 billion dollars.
In addition, Tom runs his own side enterprise, RATLab (for "Rockin' and Thinkin'). He is professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering with adjunct appointments in Electrical, Mechanical and Human Centered Design Engineering.
|Q. Tom, you work in the incredibly sophisticated world of human/machine interactions. How does that reflect your own deeper sense of vocation?
A. My Vocation, capital "V," comes down to appreciating that people have much more power than they think they have, and my job is to empower them, unlock them, then help them link their minds globally. This is especially true for young people. My job is to help them realize what they can really do and how to make a contribution. That's my Vocation. But my Avocation is just as important, which is to bring love into the world, because that's the magic dust for everything. The way I think about it is at the top level we use language to communicate, but that's just the surface. Going deeper we come to share differing perspectives and learn a great deal from each other. But if you really want to help people open up, you have to get to their motivation. If you understand that all of us are just trying to figure out how to be happy, then all you can do is love.
Q. How on earth did you get to this place of bridging these two worlds, one highly technical and one so deeply personal and emotional?
A. Well, I grew up with loving parents, and although they weren't perfect, somewhere in the mix I figured out that our fundamental motivation is congruent across our circumstances and backgrounds, race, religion -- all of it. And I've found it true again and again, the more I get to know people and what motivates them, the more I love them. And so my mission has become to help them realize their own capabilities and the responsibility that goes with that. This whole thing with a university education is that it is so much larger than "get a degree, get a job." I try to help people understand that it's about their legacy, what they will leave to the world in terms of relationships -- the people they work with, their families, everyone. A hundred years from now will anyone care that yes, you got a job? There's a much bigger charge that comes with that education.
Q. So how do you instill this, Tom?
A. To begin with, I try never to underestimate people. I try to help others see the spark of divinity in themselves, which is their creativity. The very word, enthusiasm, means, "God in us." If we let it motivate us, we can do incredible things. Once in awhile, for example, I find myself with a post grad who has already absorbed the 'system,' which is typically to ask the professor who is going to supervise that person's Ph.D program what the professor needs done. The professor, who has a lab and an agenda for his or her own research, says, "drill here, take the core samples, then we'll write it up; if you do a good job you'll get your degree." I go an entirely different way. "I don't know what you should do," I say in response to the student's question. "What do you want to do?" and maybe suggest, "Why don't you just drill a bunch of core samples for yourself and see what happens?" Invariably the person finds something that he or she is deeply interested in. Then I become a kind of mentor -- I hate even thinking of myself as a teacher or some 'sage on the stage.' Instead, I might ask at some point, when solicited for advice, "Have you thought of this or that?" But it's not my project at all. It's their project, what they can do, and I'm just carried along by it to support them.
Q. Doesn't that really run counter to the traditional university system?
A. Our educational system is so badly broken. We shove people through it, reinforcing old silos of thinking, as if the world was actually divided up that way. But mother nature doesn't come in silos or disciplines. It cuts across everything. Rene´ Descartes did us such a great injustice by encouraging deconstruction of the world. The best education is trans-disciplinary, where the vision itself comes from a diversity of perspectives. It's the old story of the blind men and the elephant. When they actually talk to each other they get a better picture. That's what we've tried to do with the HITlabs. We have people from all over the world. We have engineers, but we also have psychology students and artists. The point is that right now what we've got is plenty of theoretical science and the question is what will we do with it? We need to solve problems. We need applications. And to solve these problems we must take a cross-disciplinary approach: medicine, social networking, anthropology, all of it -- combined. That's how we'll get there. The students totally get it, but the university system has not caught up.
Q. Which, in fact, makes you a maverick, doesn't it?
A. Yes, I'd have to say that and if you are one, then it is also true you have to be able to take some lashes for it. You have to both play the game institutionally and reject it at the same time. There is no better evidence for this than our current funding mechanisms. Funding from traditional sources is a conservative old boys club that wants proof of success before a grant to study has even been submitted. So what us researchers have learned to do is submit for explorations that have already been done. It's anti-learning, anti-risk, anti-mistake -- and mistakes are exactly what we need in order to learn. There are ways forward, but right now the system is archaic, anachronistic, and it is frankly killing great people with great ideas who don't quite fit the dance they're expected to do. I love my colleagues. They are talented and brilliant, and too many of them feel beaten down.
Q. So how do you sustain yourself?
A. Well, I think you have to remember why you are doing what you are doing. You have to derive energy from something. For me, a good part of that is the feedback I get from students I've supported, sometimes after they've left, gone out into the world and found the job that really sustains the passions they found at HITLab. They write to me, tell me they are happy. That deeper motivation thing. If I can see I've helped them, that sustains me.
Q. Tom, your views are so positive and encouraging about people in terms of creativity, but what about someone like Steve Jobs? His approach apparently was quite different -- abrasive and demanding.
A. My question about his work with others is, "What has been the price?" Are the people who he berated happy with their work? Happy to get up in the morning? Happy to go home? Fear can be a motivator but what about the ultimate cost of that? I suppose someone worried about survival can be creative, but it's a limited kind of creativity, isn't it? It's like strip-mining people, strip-mining the mind. Sure there's gold there, but what have you done to get it?
Q. What's the alternative?
A. You value people, you value what they are, who they are. You give them what they need in order to release their passions, build them up, not use them up, help them actualize their potentials. At the Labs, for example, I often asked students if they have ever had a chance to learn something about the process of creative problem-solving. In twenty years only about five students have raised their hands. So I often start out by offering learning from Edward de Bono's work, the "thinking hats" and ask students to document how they are using these methods as they work in teams; teams, by the way, that have been formed to honor diversity. The bottom line is that this positive approach seems to change everything for them.
Q. As someone on the cutting edge, what do you see now for how technology can help us?
A. Technology is really agnostic. It can be used for good or evil. The bigger question is about how our society will use technology, about how Madison Avenue drives our images and metrics of success, with its incessant focus on what we ought to be. We find ourselves either running from something in the past or fearing for the future. It's pretty much like what C.S. Lewis wrote about years ago in The Screwtape Letters -- make sure we're afraid of something so we stay out of the present, where our power really is.
Right now, technology is separating us as much as bringing us together. Too often our cell phones are more important than the relationships that are right in front of us. It's time we thought of technology as something that solves problems as a servant, not a master. An acquaintance went to Burma recently, went to a small village which he recognized as one where the expensive high tech watch he was wearing might be sold for enough food to feed the village for a couple of years. He watched the people and what he saw was this: they were happy. They interacted. They smiled in a way he couldn't ignore. Does our technology do that for us? Does it get people what they really need, deeply, in terms of connection and meaning? In the end, I believe we are going to have to change our measures of success and quality of life, and decide how technology fits with that. Otherwise, it's just feeding an addiction.
Q. So what are you thinking about now -- what edges are you personally working on yourself, Tom?
A. I think it's part of my role to push envelopes all the time. It would be easy for others sometimes to write me off as 'a flake,' but that's part of the actual price of innovation in this world for work that will truly make a difference. That's hard on me, in a way, but also part of my own enthusiasm -- managing a reputation that might challenge others because I don't exactly fit. Right now I'm interested in the impact of our thoughts on other people. Imagine if there were a "thought meter" that helped you visualize what you were actually doing to other people by thinking about them in a certain way. If you could see your own signals, see how your thoughts hurt or helped others, what the impact of your anger or hatred or love really is, that might change many things. You have to be able to imagine that technology could help us do this, gain this insight, which if we had it, might help us evolve as a race to the next level. If we can imagine it, we may well be able to find a way. Not so long ago, people might not have believed in things that seem commonplace today. That's the point, that we can do things that seem impossible, and this is on my horizon line right now. That's what I'm about.
Q. Do you actually have a way to do this, to create that visual map of our thoughts?
A. Not yet, but I'm working on it. There's more for me to learn in a variety of areas, including chemistry, but yes I am working on it. I'm interested in field theory and have been influenced by Lynne McTaggart's book, The Field. Also Mae-Wan Ho's book, The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms.
Q. Do you have a personal reflective practice that's powerful for you and you are willing to share?
A. One thing is reaching for inner peace by immersing myself in nature. I have a beach place in Tofino, British Columbia. I walk a nearby sandy stretch sometimes with my eyes closed, using the angle of the sun on my face and the sound of the surf to guide me. Sometimes, when the tide has gone out, I also walk in the reflections of the clouds formed in that thin layer of water covering the sand. I walk in the clouds and its about just being. Practices like these open me to all the interconnections -- to all of us with each other, to nature. At times like that, the elements speak to me. We have more power than we know. There is more energy around us for everything we might want to do and create. And its true, when you have a direction, a course, an enthusiasm -- when you are moving -- the planets do align, the elements know how to serve. But when you don't have that, when you're not moving and you don't even have anything to trip over that might spark your passion, the universe doesn't really know how to help you at all.
Q. Finally, what gives you the most hope?
A. The students in the labs, and others who we've had the privilege to work with. They are all fantastic, surprising, amazing people. A few years ago, a group of kids who'd been thrown out of high school came to the HITlabs for a special project. They were defiant, into drugs, promiscuity, weapons, bad stuff. But they also had an opportunity to create something at the Lab in a totally different kind of environment, one that respected them and drew on the very real passions they had. Do you know what they did? They created a game and movie and a rap song about how to avoid contracting AIDS. It was their project and it was stunning. They ended up taking it all over, especially to junior high schools. Who better to connect with this younger age group on a message that us parents might have a very hard time getting across? You have to ask yourself, why was this project so important for this group of high school "outcasts"? What got their excitement going? What would motivate them to accomplish something so important? We have so many assumptions, but when you really put it in perspective, really see what they wanted and how they decided they could be happy, and you love them, too, it all makes a great deal of sense.
LEADERSHIP AND INNOVATION
Links to Creative Process
· Innovation Inspired by Nature.
Writer Tiffany Meyers reviews the evidence that innovators gain an edge by "quieting our cleverness" to see how nature has already done it. Here is "Consider the Tardigrade."
|Click the image, find a poem.|