Byron's Babbles

Living & Leading Like A Lobster

As a believer in lifelong learning, I believe we must all find ways to expand and grow. As leaders, it is also one of our most important duties to provide these opportunities for others. Otherwise we become stunted and are not able to grow as a person or professional. In Lesson #33, “Lobsters and Egos,” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader, author John Parker Stewart points out that we can learn from the lobster. 

Additionally, Stewart pointed out that we can use the stress and discomfort of growing and learning to help us cast off the old and make way for the new; just as the lobster goes through a process called ecdysis. Stewart also compared the lobster’s shell to our egos. Here is my spin on what I learned from this story:

As the lobster grows its hard shell begins not to fit. If the lobster does not get rid of this shell growth will be stunted. Therefore, the lobster goes deep among the rocks and finds a safe place to go through this molting process of losing the old shell and growing a new one that fits. Obviously the lobster is very vulnerable during this time. Just as Stewart compares this to our ego during times of learning, trying or taking on new things, or taking on new and expanded responsibilities. Furthermore, just as the lobster must shed its shell, we must drop our ego and become vulnerable to learning and growing. 

Think of it this way: times of stress, learning, growth, and times of questioning the old ways are the stimulus for growth. The rigid shell of old ways of responding needs to be cast off to produce new ways of responding and being.

The good news about your friendly lobster is that when the new shell is in place the lobster is, once again, strong and can go do whatever lobsters do in the ocean. I really believe that being uncomfortable and having some are the best ways to learn. This is a good signal that it’s time to learn and grow. Break free from outdated patterns and find new meaning in your career and life. As leaders we must do this for ourselves and provide this for those we lead. We must, however, provide the safe place, just as the lobster finds for itself during ecdysis, for our people to do this learning.

Are you making space for healthy and adventurous way to live, learn, and grow for yourself and your team?

Making Cultural & Spiritual Connections

Yesterday, my family and I went to see Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. It was part of a four state excursion in one day, which included Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. What a day. On our trip that started last Friday night, we have seen some incredibly beautiful parts of our great country, majestic and powerful wildlife, National Parks and Monuments, and awesome people. Fly fishing Spearfish Creek from Belle Fuersch, South Dakota then all the way through Spearfish Canyon was a truly incredible experience with nature for my son, Heath, and I.

Many times on this trip I thought, “Wow, what beauty God has created.” As I have studied Native American history and culture and had the honor to visit personally with Native Americans on this trip, I have come to realize I don’t appreciate what I believe to be God’s creations enough. Today, at Devils Tower I had the opportunity to learn how sacred places are in the Native American culture and spiritual life. The connections which tie American Indian culture Devils Tower are both ancient and modern. Oral histories and sacred narratives explain not only the creation of the Tower, but also its significance to American Indians. They detail peoples’ relationships with the natural world, and establish those relationships through literal and symbolic language. The Northern Plains tribes, including the Kiowa, Lakota, Cheyenne, Crow, Arapahoe, and Shoshone have the closest ties to the Black Hills area where Devils Tower is located, but there are some 24 other tribes that have a connection there. 

The connection to nature, and specifically Devils Tower, is not only about the creation of the place, but also the people’s relationship to the place. I find this interesting because I don’t think those in my culture think enough about our relationship to nature and our place in it. Particularly our responsibility to what God (as I believe) created. In doing some studying I found that a key difference between American Indian religions and many other contemporary religions (“western” or “near eastern” religions) is the importance of places that dominate the religion of American Indians, as opposed to the sense of time that dominates many western religions. Instead of a focus of chronological events and the order in which they are presented, American Indian religion focuses on a place and the significant events that are connected with that location. Now to be sure, Christianity in my case, has important places, but we do not hold the level of sacredness associated with the important places of American Indian religions.We had the chance to experience one of the most common ritual that takes place at Devils Tower: prayer offerings. Colorful cloths or bundles are placed near the Tower – commonly seen along the park’s trails – and represent a personal connection to the site. We saw many tied in the trees. They are similar to ceremonial objects from other religions, and may represent a person making an offering, a request, or simply in remembrance of a person or place. As with many religious ceremonies, they are a very personal act. My family and I spent many hours hiking on the trails and in the boulders of Devils Tower. I overheard one young child ask his parent why there were red ribbons tied in the tree. The parent actually replied, “Don’t pay any attention to that it is just something those ‘Indians’ do.” Wow, what a missed opportunity to help our children understand other cultures, religions, and our fellow man. 
We must take more time to truly understand and have courageous conversations with those with customs and beliefs different than our own. I so believe in the principles OUR (that means all of us) country was founded on. Freedom of religion is one of those and we need to respect others’ cultural and spiritual beliefs. Take some time and learn others’ beliefs and help our young people understand those beliefs as well. 

My Fourth of July Leadership Wish!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day in what I would call some of the most beautiful parts of the world – the Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills National Forest, the Crazy Horse National Memorial, and finishing the day at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. All in the great state of South Dakota. We have been prepping for this trip for quite some time and, of course, I have been reading a lot of books. It was so exciting to see so many of the historical sites where important events took place. Also, it was very moving to see sites that had religious and cultural meaning to the people who were the true original caretakers of this land long before it was the United States of America. I question if how we came to have this part of the country would have pleased George Washington. 

As you can imagine, I had the audible books playing for Hope, Heath, and I for the trip out. Reading books is such a great way to learn others’ perspectives, cultural differences, and history. 

The Badlands National Park was such an awe inspiring display of the forming of our earth and the climatic and geological changes that occur over time. We did some hiking and spent time enjoying the wildlife. It reminded us how important it is to take care of and respect the parts of the earth we personally affect. Also, we said a little thank you to Teddy Roosevelt for being a preservationist and ensuring we had these National Parks to learn from and enjoy.

Then, it was off to Wind Cave National Park. Immediately, upon entering the park we encountered buffalo, elk, and prairie dogs. The highlight for me, however, was seeing the place where The Lakota Nation believe was the beginning of their people and the buffalo. It is a small opening in the earth, about 18″X24″ where there is a constant cool wind coming out of the cave. The Lakota believe they and the buffalo entered the world from this opening. It was very sobering to stand in this spot. I wish everyone in the world would take time to understand the cultures and beliefs of others. 

Heath made the comment to me, “You know dad, the Lakota’s belief in their creation from the earth is no less believable than ours, as Christians, of there being a Garden of Eden.” I was proud of him for “getting it.” It doesn’t take away from our own beliefs to understand and respect the beliefs of others. As a state’s rights/individual rights democratic government guy, I question if the way we (the United States) came to be in control of this land is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when penning the Declaration of Independence. Particularly, being founded on the principle of freedom of religion. I’ll let you ponder that question. 

Next, it was off to the Crazy Horse National Memorial. Crazy Horse, as you know, was one of the great leaders of the Oglala Lakota who worked with Sitting Bull and Chief Red Cloud to save the region where we are right now for their people. This memorial is awesome and does not use any tax dollars for creation. As an example of how this is being done is the fact that all the granite that is cut away from the mountain in sculpting is used to build the buildings and roads as a part of the complex. I would recommend everyone do some studying of the inception and continuation of the work on this monument. 

I also had the distinct honor of getting to meet, spend time visiting with, and learning from the author of one of the books I had read in preparation for the trip, Ed McGaa Eagle Man. He even autographed his book for me! Ed McGaa (Eagle Man) was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and is a registered tribal member of the Oglala Sioux. He received his Bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University and earned a law degree from the University of South Dakota. 

He studied under Chief Eagle Feather and Chief Fool’s Crow, both influential Sioux holy men, and is honored by the Sioux for having participated six times in the Sun Dance ceremony.

He also served as a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, receiving eight air medals and two Crosses of Gallantry, and was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross.

We discussed his heritage, cultural practices, religious beliefs and those of the Oglala Lakota. It was so awesome for Heath and I to sit and learn from this great man. If we would all just take time to understand the beliefs of other and really respect them; what a better place the world would be. Everyone needs to take time to read Ed’s book, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. It would serve us well to learn from the arrogance, hubris, and lack of understanding of the leaders of the time that caused the removal of the true caretakers of the land at the time. 
Ed told the story of how General Custer lost at Little Big Horn because he did not understand the Lakota, the superior weponry of the Winchester repeating rifle the Lakota had acquired, and the fact that Custer turned down an extra 800 men. We could point to all of this as bad leadership. It is also disappointing to hear all the times our government negotiated and then did not keep our promises. As Chief Red Cloud said of the only promise kept by the United States: “…They promised to take our land and they took it.” I would like to have a conversation with Abraham Lincoln about what happened here and the vision for our country that he was not able to see through to completion. 

The last stop of the day was Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This was a pretty incredible culmination to a great day of reflection and learning. As you have noticed, I have weaved reflections about the four presidents on Mount Rushmore into this post. It is my sincere hope that I can contribute to our country in significant ways and live the life I have described in this post of understanding and respecting the beliefs of others and caring for this beautiful earth we have been given. This is my Fourth of July wish.

Alternative Truths

This past week I had the opportunity to do an awesome activity with members of The Value Web at their annual gathering. We were all given the task of picking an article that we had individually read in recent months that was impactful to us. We were then instructed to send the link to the article to our facilitators the Friday before the event. Then, yesterday all the articles had been printed out and pinned to boards. Then we went on a hunting expedition to find an article (not our own) that we found intriguing and interesting. We were instructed to get into groups of six. We were then given the Read, Read, and Read Some More protocol to carry out. I have posted the protocols here: 

Of course, the article I sent in was by Peter Block and entitled, “You Are The Guest.” Click here for the link to that article. The article I picked for the activity was “Why bullshit is no laughing matter” by Gordon Pennycook. Click here to read that article.

Interestingly, in our group of six the discussion using the Talk About It protocol revolved around the idea of “bullshitting.” You can see a graphic recording of our discussion, here: 

Graphic Recording By Jessica Browdy


We had a great discussion. Here are some points that really resonated with me: 

  • Conversations leading to trust are more valuable than scientific knowledge leading to jargon
  • Letting serendipity occur and create space is more valuable than engineered space
  • Be intentional to create space for serendipity to occur
  • We must build our emotional capacity to balance science and our beliefs to create space for trust
  • We live in the age of information, which means we live in the age of misinformation
  • It’s easy to bullshit – impress rather than inform
  • For the bullshitter, it doesn’t really matter if she is right or wrong. What matters is that you are paying attention
  • Many will rate sentences with buzz words as more profound than sentences with clear meaning

We also discussed how opportunities arise that we don’t consider, some objectives fall short and some exceed our wildest expectations. We spent time talking and thinking about how many times we have achieved success and realized that it is a combination of a great strategy, solid execution and serendipity. Serendipity is defined as “An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” Pretty straight forward and I’m sure we can all think of many instances in our lives that came about in this very way.

Then we discussed the need to incorporate into your strategy a process to create and take advantage of serendipitous moments. Sounds like planning for accidents, right? We clearly cannot plan for all of the unexpected opportunities that may come our way, but what we need to do is analyze the unplanned opportunities that come out way and search for a pattern of some sort. We need to figure out the commonalities and devise a strategy that increases the chances of the random becoming less random, possibly even somewhat predictable – serendipity.
If we acknowledge that chance and circumstances beyond our control often do play a part in our success and allow ourselves to open our eyes to more opportunities whether we planned for them or not, we will create more serendipitous space.

Tell Me Why I Am Wrong!

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 7.35.32 AMIn his great book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger discussed the idea that dissonance can be more valuable to leaders and organizations than resonance. We always think about jumping straight to buy-in or consensus, but the idea of having team members push back has tremendous value. I have always believed we should question the views of those with whom we disagree. We need to do this however with yet an open, curious mind. Berger suggested we ask things like: Why might they see the issue this way? Why do I see it differently? What assumptions are we each operating under?AMBQ-Hardcover-Paperback_edited-1-768x634

I have always had two trade-mark questions that I like to ask when making decisions or trying to design new ways of doing things. These two questions are:

  1. Tell/convince me: Why am I wrong?
  2. Can you please talk me out of this?

These two questions have really served me well over the years. It is amazing how many great ideas I have gotten to improve the project or question I am grappling with at the time of asking these questions. The beautiful thing about these questions is that sometimes I am wrong, but many times I get just the right ideas to make something great or keep me from being wrong.

An example of this is a decision I just made official yesterday. As you know we have a program I started two years ago called the Focused Leader Academy (FLA). At its founding we decided to have 15-18 participants selected each year by an application and interview process. This would give us approximately 10% of our teaching staff going through this intensive leadership training each year. We just completed our second cohort and are ready to start Cohort #3. Well, we had 34 applicants, which is the most ever. Long story short, because of the many different complexities of our school, I had the wild and crazy thought of, “Why not accept all 34 candidates and have that many more great leaders developed in our school?” As you can imagine, there are many implications to making a decision like this. Not the least of which are: financial, keeping the experience special, logistics, group dynamics, and managing a group this size.

So, I literally started making phone calls to some of my most trusted people and former participants of the group and asked three things:

  1. What if we accepted 34 participants into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  2. Why would it be wrong to accept all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  3. Please talk me out of accepting all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?

I might add that I also randomly selected some of the applicants and asked the same three questions. I thought is was important to hear the feedback from those that would be most affected by my decision.

Here’s the deal: yesterday I sent congratulatory notes to all 34 and made Cohort #3 of FLA the largest of our history. Why? Because no-one convinced me it was the wrong idea. Most importantly, however, I got all kinds of great ideas on how to make it great with 34 participants. And… even more importantly, I got great advice on how not to let the experience flop with 34 participants. And… from my financial team we already have it figured out how to make it work from a financial standpoint.

I found it interesting that I had one group that was somewhat against at first and one individual that was adamantly against, but after long conversations with both they both came to the conclusion, and I quote, “You don’t have a choice; taking all 34 is the right decision.” Keep in mind these were just conversations sharing versions of ideas. It is about me hearing negative feedback and ideas, not me trying to convince. When entering uncharted waters, I (we all) need my assumptions challenged.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from Berger’s awesome book that reinforces this idea of dissonance:

“In sharing early versions of an idea with the world at large, one is likely to receive negative feedback—which some people interpret as evidence of a failure. But that’s not necessarily true, says Harvard’s Paul Bottino, who points out that when it comes to feedback, “dissonance can actually be more valuable than resonance.” As people push back on your idea, it can be a good indication that you’re entering uncharted, potentially important territory—because you’re more likely to get negative feedback (“That could never work!”) on ideas that challenge common assumptions. “Dissonance is the most misunderstood kind of feedback,” Bottino says. “We really should welcome it and learn to make the most of it.” ~ Warren Berger in A More Beautiful Question

I love Merriam-Webster’s definition of dissonance: “lack of agreement – the dissonance between the truth and what people want to believe.” When I ask team members to tell me why I am wrong, I really want to know. I usually want to really believe something will work or be a great idea, but I need to know the truth about roadblocks and potential pit-falls.

Finally, I do not want you to leave this post thinking I am suggesting throwing out the important of resonance. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Resonance is the positive emotional affect of leadership. Those who are led by resonate leaders are in harmony with the leader’s emotions. Great leaders are effective because they create resonance.  Resonance comes from the Latin word resonare, to resound. Effective leaders are attuned to other people’s feelings and move them in a positive emotional direction. They speak authentically about their own values, direction and priorities and resonate with the emotions of surrounding people. Under the guidance of an effective leader, people feel a mutual comfort level. Resonance comes naturally to people with a high degree of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management) but involves also intellectual aspects.

Remember, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations, as resonant leaders, to model and allow for dissonance when incorporating Berger’s framework of asking:

  • Why?
  • What if?
  • How?

Asking beautiful questions will enable us to lead beautiful organizations!

Loyalty: Leveraging Your Expertise

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 9.59.29 PMI am a major fan and student of the late Peter Drucker. He certainly understood both management and how to lead people. One of my favorite quotes (and I have many) of his is, “Never push loyal people to the point where they do not give a damn.” Loyalty has long been valued by leaders. The problem is that many times organizations use and abuse this loyalty to stifle their best leaders into status quo or just going with what the organizations top leaders want to do, or not do.

Unfortunately, the more authoritarian and dogmatic the leader, the more they prize loyalty in their followers. Dictators, both political and organizational, love to surround themselves with “yes-men and women,” eager to prove their loyalty by saying whatever the person in power will find most acceptable. The pressure to fit into and organization led like this is particularly tough for the most talented and strongest leaders. Suppressing these unpleasant realities can be overwhelming. This, what I will call forced loyalty, stifles creativity and discourages people’s willingness to speak the truth about their leaders, themselves, their organizations, or their work. I’ve seen so many cases where too much unquestioning loyalty meant important issues were suppressed until it was too late. This is why I am such a believer in an intent-based and participatory led organization where questioning of authority (short of defiance), may be essential if we’re not to lose our way.Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 9.53.07 PM

So, I believe Peter Drucker was warning us not to just force our team members to have blind trust and loyalty just because they work for us. I hate it when leaders say, “You are a part of this organization, school, or company so just be a team player and conform.” I believe this pushes team members to, as Drucker said, “not give a damn.” I say, “All the more reason for us to want to make improvements and challenge the status quo.” Particularly when these improvements and challenges are in line with the core values of the organizations. In an organization where divergent ideas and open dissent are encouraged, loyalty is actually increased.

Loyalty has become a very precious resource. Some organizations and leaders still excel at cultivating remarkable loyalty within their teams. Nobody likes to work for a phony. In past decades, it was more common for employees to tolerate insincere and ineffective leaders. What we really want are authentic leaders. We need to put a greater premium on authenticity. Authentic leaders can be counted on to say what they mean and do what they say. They’re the same person to their staff, their own superiors, their customers, and their partners. When you’re authentic, your words and actions align with who you claim to be. Your followers shouldn’t be compelled to spend time trying to figure out if you have ulterior motives.

How are you leading your team toward excellence? Are you authentic in your leadership? Do your words and actions align with who you claim to be?

Letting My Lite Shine

file1-2A couple of weeks ago at one of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) retreats I was asked by participants to do a session about how to balance the amount of personal information that should be mixed with our professional lives. This can be particularly tricky in education. Of course I said sure, but I had no idea how challenging of a topic I had taken on. As I began to study I realized that there was not much out there on the topic except for people who thought you should reveal everything and those who thought you should reveal nothing. I wasn’t sure I agreed with either of those theories.

file-1 2Therefore, me being me, I decided to develop my own program from scratch with all my own thoughts for getting the discussion started. I really like to use a through line and some type of building or creating to get the process started. After quite a bit of thinking I decided to use Lite Brite® as the through line and creation activity. I purchased one of the flat screen LED Lite Brites® for all the participants. Hopefully you can all remember the Lite Brite® toy and have had the opportunity to create a picture on one.file-2 2

Mavin Glass introduced Lite Brite® in 1967. It was an electric alternative to painting. To me this was a genius toy to use for this topic. The black paper acts as a filter. Just as we have to filter out what we message/reveal at times. The filter element makes the picture worth a thousand words. The black paper which blocks a portion of the light acts as Lite Brite’s® filter. Without the black paper, the pegs poked in would blend in, leaving and indistinct message. It is not about letting all light out, but what light is limited. This is like asking the question: What is relevant and what is unimportant?

As leaders we must choose delivery design and place our pegs in a way people will understand our message. We have to design how much light to let through and design the picture in such a way it tells our leadership story. Remember, simplicity is not stupidity; instead it causes a better understanding. Lite Brite® is such a simple toy, but gives us such a great example of developing a balance of how much light to shed and how much of our true colors to reveal. The Lite Brite® bulb symbolizes our message – our thoughts, words, beliefs and ideas that we want others to know. The pegs then symbolize our points. Just as the pegs are colorful and beautiful, so are the differences that we bring into the world.

“It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences.” ~ Aristotle

To begin our discussion I had the FLA participants take their Lite Brites® and make a picture by either using templates provided or a picture created by them. Here is a picture of all of their Lite Brite® creations: file-1

The participants then needed to describe why they did the picture they did and reveal something about themselves and their own leadership journey. This prompted an amazing discussion. I have included the graphic recording by Sita Magnuson here:file1-1

What Will You Reveal?

Your message won’t be bright if there is no light, but will chaos if all light is revealed. As a leader we need to take complex issues and deliver them in an understanding manner. We need to be adaptive leaders and make adjustments/orientations according to context. There is value in vulnerability and authenticity. This opens the door to dialogue and community. We decided in our discussion that knowing decreases judging. We need to experience feeling, listening, seeing, and embodying. We must decide what we will reveal and break down the barriers that are not useful. How will you let your Lite shine?

Share the Financials – the $100 Tool

culture_works_fbad_1This is a guest post from Kris Boesch originally published on www.choosepeople.com/blog

Share the Financials – the $100 Tool

Be open with your team about the flow of money. Sharing tells employees they’re important. Commitment grows and confusion declines.

Every year in an all-company meeting I would share our financials with the team using the $100 Tool (described below). It was amazing to see the light bulbs go on. Their entire awareness and attitude would shift. They would come up to me for weeks after this meeting with ideas on how to make and save the company money. They now realized why it was so important to take care of the trucks (cost of truck repairs) and to charge customers for boxes (high margin product) and not to forget moving blankets at the customer’s home ($13/each – easily four hours worth of profit.)

Some organizations are worried about sharing their financials, either because they’re struggling or very successful. Sharing financials when you’re in trouble is the only way engage your employees’ support. It helps them understand the urgency in your voice. Your employees aren’t stupid. They know if something’s off. Sharing the financials puts fears to rest because rather than grappling with the unknown, they can see what you see and participate in generating money making and saving solutions.

If you’re on the flip side and very successful and fear employees will want a bigger piece of the pie, communicate your growth plan and the need for cash to fund investments in equipment, technology, personnel or assets. Rather than envisioning all the extra money going into your pocket, they see it as a shared savings account. If you’re not looking to grow, make sure your people are well compensated and appreciated. This may also be a good time to share the risks and rewards of owning a business.

Use the $100 Tool to share your financials in a tangible, accurate, concrete way.

  1. Get one hundred one dollar bills.
  2. On a flip chart or white board break down by percentage your high-level income streams:$43 – local moves, $37 – national moves, $12 – storage, $5 – boxes, $3 – insurance. On another page or board break down by percentage your high-level expenses (fuel, truck repairs, truck maintenance, furniture repairs, regulatory fees, marketing and networking, utilities, insurance, rent, payroll – including workers compensation, payroll taxes, and benefits.
  3. Speak about how your organization makes money. Share which verticals, products and services are the most and least profitable. Explain why you choose to keep those that are less profitable — (loss leader, bread and butter, competitive edge.
  4. Then speak about expenses. As you detail each expense, hand out the dollar bills to individual employees. Saying for example:
    You are my landlord you receive $4 for rent.
    You are my accountant you receive $2.
    You are my utilities you receive $5.
  5. Speak to employee payroll, payroll taxes, work comp and benefits last. Employees are always wowed by the comparatively large piece of the pie that is directly theirs.
  6. Then show them, with the dollars left in your hand, how much profit is left.  Explain this profit is taxed, leaving a net profit and how that money has to be used to pay off debt as well as to reinvest in the company to spur growth. Explain how it is this money – the money that’s left over – that funds raises, better benefits, new uniforms, additional staff, or new equipment.
  7. Help them understand which numbers they can impact and which ones they can’t. You want them to leave knowing how they individually can help the organization make and save money.
  8. Depending on your team, it can also be valuable to explain the difference between profit and cash available. You may want to share the role of revenue to profit. Clarify that without profit, revenue is wheel spinning. Small increases in revenue beyond goal can cause exponential increases in profit due to the relatively static nature of overhead costs.

Owners tend to wonder how to represent their compensation when sharing financials. In the process I recommend above, simply roll your compensation into payroll. By being open with your team, you can begin to create a culture of honesty.

*****

Kris Boesch is the CEO and founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom line. Her new book, Culture Works, and accompanying workbook are available now on her website and will be available on Amazon around May 15.

Thanks For Not Being An Expert

file 4

My Awesome Delta Flight Attendant!

I wrote the following post yesterday during a day of flight delays trying to get to Pensacola, Florida to ultimately hook up with my family. Literally, I wrote the post in the cover of the book I am reading by Frederick (Rick) M. Hess, Letters to a Young Education Reformer. This post came to mind as I was reading the chapter entitled, “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” Here’s what I wrote in the cover of the book:

Thanks For Not Being An Expert

I was inspired to write this post, honestly, by my flight attendant. She kept me up to date on what was going on during a day riddled with delays and cancellations. I had started the process in the afternoon yesterday when my flight to Atlanta was cancelled. I then started the process at 6:30 this morning and had been cancelled and delayed again until 12 noon when we finally got on the plane. I now did not think I was going to make my connection in Atlanta to get picked up by my wife and son in Pensacola, Florida. It might not have been quite as big a deal except for the fact that my son, Heath, and I were scheduled to go bow fishing tonight. rick_hess_book_portrait

For the trip I had brought along my friend, Rick Hess’s new book,  Letters to a Young Education Reformer. It is an awesome book and while sitting on a delayed plane I read the chapter “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” As a guy that does not really believe in using experts, subject matter experts (SMEs), or consultants, I loved this chapter. Really, it’s not that experts are bad, but we just shouldn’t rely on their word as the final word. As Rick says, “I’ve found that experts often forget that their expertise represents just a tiny sliver of the world, and thus overestimate how much they know and what it can tell us. And that can cause problems” (p. 32).

My flight attendant let me know that my connecting flight had been delayed in Atlanta. She was not sure why we were not taking off, but she would see if she could find out and would keep me posted. Keep in mind, I was about the only friendly person on the plane. With so many flight cancellations and delays from the rash of storms across the south and eastern seaboard, everyone was struggling to get where they needed to be. The airlines were struggling to get pilots and flight crews where they needed to be.

file 4

First Draft of This Post Written In The Cover of Letters to a Young Education Reformer

Here’s the deal; my great flight attendant did not try to be an expert, nor did she even want to be an expert. She was a great example of what I believe we should all strive to do – not give blind guesses or speculate. She certainly had flown enough to be considered an expert, but she did not try to baffle me with expertise or make assumptions based on past experiences like this one. Instead she impressed me by leading with clarity, not certainty! She used the tools and information available to keep me informed of my circumstances. As the expert flight attendant, she did the precise task, using her available information and training to keep me informed of what was going on. When I got to Atlanta she let me know we were at Terminal F, Gate 1 and that I needed to go to Terminal C, Gate 41. She also assured me I was going to make it because my connector flight had been delayed and I now had 1 hour and 10 minutes to make it on the plane. Just like with airline industry schedules, in education we don’t always have a lot of certainty as to what will work, we just need to strive for clarity. 51bHghz6ihL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Remember, the experts get it wrong all the time. The reality that when people become emotionally invested in their predictions, they cannot see straight—no matter how experienced or educated or smart they are. They become blind to other view points or the actual facts of the situation. All too many times experts begin speculating on past experiences and not the situation at hand. In his new book, “Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers,” Nat Greene calls this the “Expert Curse of Knowledge.” Experts think they know things and then don’t look at all the options. Experts should never be put in a position where their opinion means more than yours.

Are you acting too much like an expert or spending too much time listening and following experts?

Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters

file 9Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters
By Scott Whitbread and Nat Greene

Decision-making and problem-solving are two very different techniques for conquering different challenges that businesses face. Choosing the right one in the right situation can mean the difference between business success and failure. However, businesses frequently use decision-making techniques when they should be using a problem-solving approach. This leaves important problems unsolved and value locked away.

The Difference Between-Decision Making and Problem-Solving

Both decision making and problem solving involve using information to inform an action. However, this is where their similarities end.

Decision-making involves choosing between different courses of action. The process of decision-making is clear: each option is evaluated based on a set of parameters or criteria. But the outcome is not as clear: the outcome from the decision only becomes clear when a decision is made.

Problem-solving involves finding a root cause among many possible root causes, whether or not the true root cause has emerged as a possibility in anyone’s mind. The outcome is clear: the problem should be solved in order to bring a business process back to optimal performance. But the process is not clear: what is causing the problem is not yet known, and the problem solver must explore the process without yet knowing their destination. They do not know their destination until they have discovered the root cause.

A detective is a problem-solver. Their role is to unequivocally determine who committed the crime, and thus exonerate all other suspects, and thus their objective is clear. Their journey is not clear: they may never find the criminal.

A judge is a decision-maker. Their journey is clear: they look at evidence, circumstances, and precedent in order to arrive at a judgment for a convicted criminal. But their purpose is not always clear: they face competing goals, including justly punishing the criminal, giving satisfaction to the victims, appeasing the public, setting an example for others, and not over-burdening the prison system.

In business, a problem to solve may be the explosion of the SpaceX rocket on September 1, 2016, which required detective work in order to identify the root cause. Product quality problems, talent retention problems, and customer service problems all fit this mold.

In business, decisions may include where to build a new facility and at how much capacity, what product to launch, who to hire, or what security system to use. All of these decisions are choosing between alternatives that are already apparent.

As in the case of a crime, decision-making frequently enters at the end of a problem-solving effort. Once the root cause to a problem is found, the business may need to decide between different possible solutions in order to maximize the value of the actions it takes. Before solving a problem, a business will choose which problem to devote resources to solving.

Why it Matters

When businesses correctly identify a challenge as a decision or a problem, they are able to apply the correct technique to overcome the challenge. But frequently a business will treat a problem as a decision, use the wrong approach, and fail to solve the problem.

One large chemical upgrader facility experienced frequent outages due to failing process pumps. These pumps cost millions of dollars apiece, and the outages were costing the business tens of millions per year. The pump seals were wearing down after a few months, causing the process chemical to leak. As pumps were replaced with spares, the business worked with its vendor to choose between potential upgrades for the pumps: harder seals, larger seals, or different geometries. They treated their problem like a decision to make, and despite multiple upgrades, they continued to experience outages.

When they pivoted to a problem-solving approach, and acted more like detectives, they closely observed the failures themselves, and found the presence of small, hard foreign grains. These grains caused excess friction and wore the seals down. Further problem-solving found the source of these grains–the “culprit”–and they were able to solve the problem.

How to Choose the Right Technique

A decision is the result of choosing among several alternative possibilities. You will see a decision in front of you when the business is attempting to take a step, and the next action requires identifying and evaluating the values and needs of the business in order to select an option that maximizes these.

A problem is an ongoing, intermittent, or one-time failure of a process or system to perform at an acceptable level. If a process produces errors or unacceptable products or outcomes, does not run as quickly or efficiently as it should, or poses a negative risk for a business during operation, you are experiencing a problem and should use a problem solving technique.

Choosing the right technique for your challenge requires understanding what kind of challenge lies before your business. Learning to recognize and differentiate between these kinds of challenges will help you pick the right approach, and successfully overcome the challenge.

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Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.