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Hope Is Not A Strategy

In a recent post I talked about trying to lose weight. Well, it sucks.
Because unfortunately, it turns out you cannot just imagine your way to slimness. If you actually do throw out your scale, eat two avocados at a time, end your night with a pack of Moon Cheese and refuse to do any exercise, you will become an ever-expanding slob.
Just like the experts tell you, losing weight involves a check-in with reality. It is indeed about more vegetables and less calories; getting up and moving around regularly; and yes, you do have to weigh yourself at least once a week.
I could have been more successful months ago, but first I had to get over all the stuff I wanted to believe instead.
The same thing is true about branding. So many times - really, so many times I can't even begin to count them - it's been obvious what needs to happen on the client side, what things they need to do differently. 
And so you tell them.
But the resistance they kick up, the excuses they make, are unbelievable.
The process of arguing about things we can see in front of our eyes is so stressful, so contentious, and so utterly unsatisfying.
When the client doesn't let you do your job and you are reduced to listening to their tortured rationalizations, it's like trying to exorcise a huge, stubborn, multi-clawed demon from inside the belly of a little girl.
In terms of friendships - we've all had one who chose to go down a destructive path. There is that conversation where you say, I'm worried about you, and they tell you, you're overthinking things, I'm fiiiine, worry about your own life instead.
Or we've had family members with serious issues. Dangerous, life-threatening habits that threaten to literally take them off this planet.
But G-d forbid if you say anything.
Or, oddly, it can be just the opposite, they ask for your advice just as a token gesture, and they still go on to do what they want.
Hiring a consultant is so often perceived as the magical be-all and end-all. Whatever name they go by - also coach, also crisis communications support, you name it and there is a professional out there - all are fancy ways of saying, "You've got the brains to help us think things through."
But the client has the brains. Most of the conclusions these people offer are reducible to basic logic.
What we are really asking for help with, I think, is the titanic challenge of moving our mental models - individually and as an organizational culture - into a space where more adaptive, logical behavior becomes possible.
We are asking for help with learning. 
With opening our minds up, just as we were open-minded as children. 
Because as adults, our sense of what can and cannot work gets more and more rigid the more years we have under our belts.
Now I know what you're thinking: You've heard all this before, not once but many, many times.
But thoughts are not enough, are they? If they fail to make an impact. If we still haven't learned from our own primary mistake, which is the refusal to live in reality, or at least to learn what that reality is and adapt ourselves accordingly.
In the future things will change apace with the pervasiveness of metrics that are always-on, always-worn, always informing. Like the FitBit tells you about your steps and heart rate, "pulse" surveys advise about what employees are thinking, Google Alerts tells you what the web is saying about any subject you identify, cars and home appliances monitor themselves for worn parts, and homes signal alerts silently when an intruder comes near.
The measurement possibilities are endless.
And we'll buy them, because we have such a hard time talking straight to ourselves, and no money to burn on shelf-ware consulting.
The truth is, the only thing that makes people change is fear - because as a species we will always take stasis over risking disaster.
Accordingly, when we see the risks created by our own behavior, that's a powerful motivator to do better by a factor of many.
So it's nice to talk about consensus-driving, collaboration practices, knowledge-sharing: All of that is well and good.
But knowing that your plane is going to crash?
That is a powerful reason to strap on your parachute - and jump.
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All opinions my own. Photo by the U.S. Army via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Here to Learn

One time I had to do a presentation about branding.
I sat down with my little slide deck and someone yelled out, 
"I'm very familiar with all this from my own experience at X company."
Keep in mind this is just the beginning of the presentation...like we are literally only on Slide 1.
I mistook the enthusiasm for joy at my undoubtedly brilliant forthcoming oration.
Really the person was about to hijack the entire talk, with a parallel narrative about their experience, their framework, their lessons learned and so on.
I wasn't in a position to say, "hey there, sit down and shut up" because the person was fairly senior in connection with me. And it wasn't like I was there to do a TED talk.
So I sat back and let the senior person do the talking. And fumed, a little bit, but you have to know your place.
...and then about ten years later, I found myself sitting in the senior person's shoes. 
Someone else was doing the presentation, someone younger and less experienced than me, and the subject was also branding. 
Also at about Slide 1, during the introductory remarks, I heard something that I, the "knowledgeable" I, disagreed with.
And I held my tongue at the moment, bit my knuckles till the end, until of course my pent-up ego erupted.
With a "question" that was really a mountain of feedback designed to say, nothing much more valuable than...
You and I think differently about the same thing.
Reflecting on these experience I understand the lesson, though it's difficult as hell to learn.
Better to shut up and be the student most of the time. 
Even if you think you know it already.
The experience of being quiet - of quieting yourself - is what makes you wise.
Dedicated to my wise husband Andy Blumenthal.
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All opinions my own. Photo by Tulane Public Relations via Wikimedia (Creative Commons).

some reflections on a friday



Not every post has to be full of weighty thoughts. 

Isn't it a relief sometimes, when we give ourselves permission not to think them?

Today is a beautiful almost-spring day here in Washington, D.C.

The flowers are in bloom all over the place.

People are standing around outside.

Bicyclists are running everbody over, as usual.

The hot bar has baked tilapia, and spinach, and avocado salad by the pound.

On a day like today - "TGI Friday" - looking forward to the Sabbath, I appreciate all that is right with the world.

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All opinions my own. Photo by me. 



What Bad Leaders Have In Common

They seriously think the show cannot go on without them.
For example, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is known for her "tight-fisted," "controlling" management style.

Apple's Steve Jobs was known to be a tyrant.

It's a turnoff.
Most people know instinctively that large, top-heavy organizational hierarchies are both costly and wasteful - but it is hard to imagine what could realistically replace them.

In 2011, the renowned management theorist Gary Hamel prompted some serious reflection on the subject with his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review: "First, Let's Fire All The Managers."

By this he was referring to three distinct systemic problems, aside from the fact that top-heavy organizations are more expensive than they're worth. All of these have to do with irrational decision-making:
  • The people with the most power are the most removed from the action.
  • There is a built-in bias to exercise authority just because you can.
  • It is a system that "systematically disempowers" those at the bottom of the triangle.
Hamel's language resonates with outrage: he talks about "eagerness to exercise authority," "bias," "the cost of tyranny," "kill...a new idea."

A distinguishing characteristic of good leaders is that they step up reluctantly. A great holy man, Moses, even initially said to G-d: "Look, I'm not good enough" to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt.
If you watch President Obama closely, he focuses mostly on hiring talent that aligns with his worldview and can execute. He understands fundamentally that the show is an ideology that goes on without him, and that people are the instruments through which ideas become manifest.

Our favorite brands have always rejected bad, tyrannical leadership, espousing a more objective ethos:
  • Google, through its emphasis on "distributed leadership"
  • Starbucks, through its focus on ethics that are graspable by anyone
  • Amazon, by focusing relentlessly on metrics rather than personalities
Countless others, some well-known and others lesser-known, are delegating leadership down and out toward the center, focusing on simple and meaningful metrics, grooming new blood.
Zappos has accomplished a great feat by making an associated management framework - holacracy - go mainstream - even if right now it is confusing, and even if some employees have decided the unfamiliar arrangement is too much for them.

Some CEOs, like Reddit's Ellen Pao, are modeling accountability by admitting they "screwed up," and then stepping down to let others lead.
Even the federal government - a massive bureaucracy - is shifting away from authority-worship, with a growing hum around conversations that focus onmentoring and other ways to bring newer voices forward.
It's time to end the cult of one, once and for all, don't you think?
An adopt a leadership model with an intelligent network - comprised of many small, ingenious, and interlocking teams.

More complicated, yes, but closer to the crowdsourced, social world we now live in.

More likely to yield rationally positive results.
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All opinions my own. Photo by Rishi Bandopadhay via Flickr Creative Commons.

Don't Leave

He was talking to his boss - frustrated.
"I don't see how I can stay here any more."
"Why not?" said his boss, already knowing the answer.
"Because they're a bunch of dumbasses, that's why."
The man was pacing now. His voice gathered steam with every utterance.
"Every decision they make is wrong!"
He was yelling now.
The boss stood up.
He went over to the man.
And started pacing with him.
"Don't leave."
"Why shouldn't I?"
The man's face had turned red now. The effort of unloading his accumulated anger was taxing. For his mind and his heart.
"Because it's when people like you leave that the dumbasses take over," said his boss. "Please, sit down."
He motioned to a chair.
"I fully understand if you want out of here. But I'm asking you to consider another way."
"Yeah, and what's that?" The man was slumped over now. He looked just as he felt, as exhaustion washed over him in waves.
"Stay with us and tough it out."
"Why should I? Really, what is there in it for me, except hassles?"
"Nothing," said his boss. "Absolutely zero."
The man looked at his boss, then he gazed upon his meager wallet.
And after that he gazed at the ceiling.
"I don't like it," he said, after a time.
His face broke out then, into a wide and wild smile.
"But I don't trust guys like you, either. You'll run this place into the ground."
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All opinions my own. Photo by me.