Byron's Babbles

Flaw-Tolerant Leadership

This morning while feeding in one of our pastures I came across the most beautiful spider web. There was a dew on, which accentuated the detail and geometry of the web. It was so cool I took a picture and have included it in this post. I tweeted that the spider web either had a geometry or leadership lesson in it. Here is the leadership lesson. 

In researching spider webs just now I came across the research of Markus Buehler, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT. Buehler has analyzed the complex, hierarchical structure of spider silk and its amazing strength. His research shows that on a pound-for-pound basis, it’s stronger than steel. 

Working with CEE graduate students Steven Cranford and Anna Tarakanova, and Nicola Pugno of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy Buehler found that a key component of spider silk that helps make webs robust is something previously considered a weakness: the way it can stretch and soften at first when pulled, and then stiffen again as the force of the pulling increases.
Additionally, these researchers found that spider webs typically only fail or get damaged in small areas. This makes it easy for the spiders to make repairs. If you’ve ever looked closely at a spider web, it still functions even with damage. This what Buehler described in this way: “It’s a very flaw-tolerant system.”

This made me think about leading in a flaw-tolerant way and creating a flaw-tolerant organization. We talk about encouraging taking risks and encouraging failing quickly, but have we made our organizations flaw-tolerant? We need to make sure we are set up like the spider web to have localized failure/damage without it being catastrophic. 

We are beginning to accept the value of failure in the abstract. In other words we have learned, at least that corporate policies, processes, and practices. Conversely, it’s an entirely different matter at the personal level. Everyone hates to fail.

In order to create a flaw-tolerant system, more effective and interdependent upon the decisions made by each departmental leader. We need to be like the spider web and weave our teams together so we can sustain failure or small damage and be able to quickly make local repairs without missing a beat.

Is your organization flaw-tolerant?

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Growth Vs. A Fixed Mindset

MoodElevator-Floors-LarrySennThe following is a guest post by Dr. Larry Senn:

The Mood Elevator is an illustration of the human condition; it is our moment-to-moment experience of life. We all ride the Mood Elevator every day, take a moment and identify what floor you are on right now.

Of course, the goal is to stay at the top of the Mood Elevator more often and there are some techniques that can help you do that. Most of those tricks involve a switch in thinking and changing your perspective.

One of those perspective shifts is focusing on having a growth mindset versus having a fixed mindset. This was researched by Carol Dweck and written about extensively in her book called Mindset. In her writing she explains that if someone has a fixed mindset they believe that their intelligence and talents are fixed traits and they won’t get any better. Compare that to someone with a growth mindset who believes that they can always improve through hard work and dedication. They believe they can always be learning something new and where they are right now doesn’t need to be where they are forever.

This growth mindset can help tremendously in getting you out of the basement of the Mood Elevator. Let’s take a look at the bottom floors and see how you might apply this:

Impatient/frustrated: Let’s say you’re stuck in traffic or waiting for your turn at the DMV. Most people will sit there frustrated at the time wasted waiting, but if you take on a growth mindset you could be catching up on reading that article or listening to that podcast that you claim you never have time for.

Irritated/bothered: When you’re working from home or doing chores around the house and your child keeps bugging you to listen to a story they want to tell you or to go play with them outside- instead of going to irritation or bother, take 5 minutes and listen to them or play with them, you never know what you might learn about them (or yourself) in that short time.

Worried/anxious: Imagine your boss just asked you to take on a new project you’ve never done before and you’re worried you’ll mess it up. Instead think about all that you’ll learn by doing this and how you can translate that to your next project and you might even be able to add a new skill to your resume.

Defensive/insecure: Many of us tend to shut down or get defensive when we’re offered constructive criticism. Instead, take a deep breath, set your ego aside, and look at it through the growth mindset lens. Focus on what you can learn from it and how you can improve.

Judgmental/blaming: Your spouse is driving and is taking (in your eyes) the “wrong way” to the restaurant you’re having dinner. Instead of immediately telling them how wrong they are, don’t give unsolicited advice and just relax. You might learn a new and faster way to your favorite restaurant.

Self-righteous: When you’re talking with a friend and they say something wrong about a current event happening (at least in your head it’s wrong). Instead of pointing that out to them, you might ask why they see it that way. Part of growing it hearing new perspectives on things, and again you’ll probably learn something new.

Stressed/burned out: Stressed with an upcoming deadline at work? Chances are this isn’t the first deadline you’ve been stressed about. Think back to a time this happened before and remember how you grew from it and what you learned.

Angry/hostile: Is someone you know being rude or mean towards you? Instead of getting angry back at them, try asking them how they’re doing. You might learn something they’re going through and you’ll grow more as an empathetic person.

Depressed: If you’re going through something that is tough and seems unfair, ask yourself “why is this happening for me?” instead of “why is this happening to me?” You probably have a great growth opportunity or a blessing in disguise coming out of this tough situation. Focus on how you can grow from it instead of sitting in the discomfort.

51zlHThxx6L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Changing floors on our Mood Elevator is a matter of simply changing the way we think or having a change in perspective. It is simple, but by no means easy. It will take time to start automatically thinking like this but with enough time it will come!

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About Dr. Larry Senn
Dr. Larry Senn pioneered the field of corporate culture and founded in 1978, Senn Delaney, the culture shaping unit of Heidrick & Struggles. A sought-after speaker, Senn has authored or co-authored several books, including two best-sellers. His newest is The Mood Elevator (August 2017), the follow up to his 2012 book, Up the Mood Elevator. You can learn more about Larry and his work at his website, www.themoodelevator.com.

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.