Practicing what you Preach

On Sunday the sermon was delivered by a visiting minister from Haiti. The message was good, but that is not what I want to write about. What I found particularly compelling was the personal passion with which he delivered his message, and the authenticity with which he conducts his own life. He serves one of the poorest communities in Port-au-Prince, yet he so believes in what he does that the service he provides is in itself what he most highly values as compensation.

What a model! …if only corporate America could learn from it …

Imagine an organization where the passion for your work was so strong that merely your accomplishments and contribution was enough to satisfy your internal drive. …Easy to say, hard to do. I know I am not yet ready to foresake the "comfort and security" of a nice $$ compensation package. OK maybe this is a little bit too Utopian, so let’s look at what we can pragmatically learn from Pastor Leon’s passion and authencity.

"Practicing what you preach", means walking the talk! You get the feeling from listening to Pastor Leon that he truly practices what he preaches. You know that he is facing the issues, in one of the poorest places in the worls, head on, without excuse. You are sure that if you were to see him working he would be operating with the same conviction and joy in every situation. How often do we see that in our leaders, or even in ourselves? Why is that? How can we have the passion and authenticity of Pastor Leon?

Context and Intelligence

A few days ago I read a post by Doc Searls, Flattery, that pointed to an older post of his, Getting Flat Part 2. Getting flat: Part 2 is compelling reading. There is a lot there worth thinking about, but I just want to focus on one point. Doc talks about how we measure intelligence and how, as a society, we put so much stock in those measures. It is so ingrained that I find myself "grading" people on their "intelligence" almost immediately upon interacting with them, I guess most of us do that.

After reading Getting Flat Part 2, I came to the conclusion that what I am looking at is not intelligence but decision-making ability. Intelligence is that native ability for the brain to process. In reality most of us are in the middle of the bell curve regarding intelligence. Where the big spread occurs is in decision-making ability. So what’s up with that? I go back to one of my favorite words "Context".

Knowledge is what you know, what you have managed to accumulate inside of your brain. It is unique to you. I like to call knowledge content in context, meaning, everything that you have seen or heard or thought (content) creates the context for what you are about to do next. Your knowledge is your context for decision-making.

So when we label someone as "smart", we are really saying that they have a better context for making the decision at hand than the person we label as "stupid". Chances are that their native ability to process information (intelligence) is similar.

Put me in middle of Tokyo or in a GE Board meeting and I am going to look really stupid. I would be totally out of context. Put me in front of someone that wants to learn about SCUBA or blogging and I look like a pretty smart guy.

We need to stop rating people’s intelligence and start expanding people’s context. Can you say diversity…

Context and Contrast

The other day I was watching Noggin ("television for preschoolers") with my 2 year old. They were singing a counting song and dancing around holding up cardboard cutouts of numbers. The number 4 was yellow, but they were holding it up in front of a mostly yellow background. My first thought was "pretty poor set design, they need more contrast". Then all of a sudden it occured to me that any type of communication need strong contrast to to stand out from the background. Or in other words, to paraphrase Seth Godin, to be seen or heard your message needs to be remarkable, it needs to stand out, …contrast.

As my son went on watching Dora the Explorer, I started writing this post in my head… "what else is necessary to deliver a good message?" The first thing that came to mind was context. For any message to be understood, it needs to be in context. Words, symbols, pictures, books, whatever have no meaning out of context.

My experience is that most people try to deliver a message by focusing mainly on the content. I would add contrast and context as on par with content, and necessary ingredients to make a great message.

Creating the Corporate Blog

A few days ago I wrote Starting the Corporate Blog. Today I read a post at e-mediators about a corporate blogging survey just released by Guidewire and iUpload. (The survey is free but you have to register.) I quickly downloaded it and sent it off to the team lead of our blogging effort. I won’t repeat all the stats here, but my takeaway was that the results seemed to reinforce many of my own thoughts about the current blogging environment:

  • Smaller organizations are adopting faster than bigger companies
  • Bigger companies are mainly concerned about "losing control of the message"
  • Many are hearing the buzz about blogs, but still do not understand the benefits of blogging

I work for a BIG company, so you can guess where we are on the adoption curve. There absolutely is a fear of losing control! Figuring out the benefits is fundamentally what this blog is all about.

In my mind blogs, done well, are a tool to facilitate transparency within and into an organization. Transparency begets trust, trust begets loyal stakeholders, etc. It is all about the conversation!

Shared Language

The longer I work the more I am convinced that poor communication is the root of all problems. And conversely, all jobs are fundamentally about communication. Most of the time spent in meetings, on the phone, composing email, etc. is about the creation of a common set of symbols to be used to share knowledge. What I have found is that most concepts are commonly understood between different disciplines, the difference is the language. "…oh, I know what you are talking about, we call that…". This leads to huge ineffiencies, because quite often, two parties spend a lot of time trying to convince each other of the "correctness" of their concept, when in fact they are arguing the same point, just using different language.

Always define the shared lexicon first then begin the debate. You might be amazed at how much time you will save and how much better your outcomes will be.

Collaboration: Tools and Culture

Like many people, I have spent much of my adult life wondering what I was going to be when I grew up. I think the answer to that question may finally be coming into focus.

I just read Regina Miller’s post "Creating a Culture for Collaboration". I was really excited when I read it, not only because I fundamentally agree with her points, but because the day before she put up her post I updated my resume to target the type of role she is talking about. The introduction to my resume now reads:

Goal: To integrate new techology with social dynamics in order to improve organizational effectiveness by creating organizational transparency through conversations

Areas of Interest: Web 2.0, primarily regarding the use of social network applications to support conversations within organizations, and between organizations and stakeholders.

…I am open to editing suggestions…

I followed her links to Nancy White’s "Challenging the myths of distributed collaboration"; and Steven Coats "The Conundrum of Collabration" . All of this reinforces my own belief that technology is a great and powerful tool, yet it is only a tool. People must use tools effectively to produce results.

I really believe that the new web apps coming out now have the capacity to change the face of organizations, but it will only happen when people understand and embrace the tools. Sounds like the job for me.

Now I know what I want to be when I grow up! …Anyone hiring?   ;-}

Starting the Corporate Blog…

Debbie’s post, Blogging Backlash…, at Blogwrite for CEO’s couldn’t have been more timely.

I attended the first official meeting to discuss the use of blogs for my division of GSK today. This is a good sign. Unfortunately we collectively know very little about what we are trying to accomplish. I expect that we are typical of most large U.S. organizations at this point.

  • The driver for the meeting has come from our top executive and head of Communications.
  • There is little clarity about what a blog is or how it will be beneficial, just that it seems like a good idea.
  • At least half of the people in the meeting do not read blogs regularly
  • I was the only one in the room with a blog.

We have a long way to go, but I am excited by the opportunity.

One interesting discussion point that was brought up, "is blogging fundamentally different in a regulated environment such as the Pharma industry?"

Virtual Infrastructure

Web 2.0   /   Open Source   /   Long Tail   /   Social Network

The fuzzy outline of a new venture is starting to come into view. Organizations, particularly big ones, commit a lot of resources to provide captive infrastructure capabilities. Most infrastructure is not considered to be an organization’s core competency. Yes organizations ARE outsourcing, but that does not change the fundamentals of how the functions get delivered, just the flow of money. Using those things listed above, can we change the paradigm of infrastructure? What would that look like?

I would love to find (or start) a conversation about this. Any Ideas? I have a few in mind but too vague to put into words yet…

Compelling Connections

Most of my posts tend to be more philosophical than pragmatic in nature. I have been thinking a lot about more tangible ways to imbed these philosophies into an organization. One idea that may have some promise is the process of actively building compelling connections into our everyday (work) lives.

As individuals, as managers, as HR reps, as mentors, etc. begin with asking the question, “what is really important to me?” I think this is the type of question that people do not answer for themselves very often. If you could answer that question with regularity, even every day, it would be so much easier to face the deluge of decisions we each face every day.

You may ask,” isn’t that what professional development plans [or whatever it is that your organization makes you do every year] are all about?” I would say no, because those plans start from the premise of what the company wants of you, and then you need to mold what you do to fit that need.

What I am thinking about is an examination of who you are as in integrated individual that includes your work / home / spiritual / recreational self. What is your passion, what makes you tick? If you really understand this, you will make integrated decisions, and avoid the types of conflicts that arise from the competing parts of your life. If you make your decisions in silos (work, home, etc.) you will create problems and stress.

When you can see what is important to you, you can then make more compelling connections to each aspect of your life.

For me personally, I think my kids hold the key to what is most important to me, though I cannot yet articulate it. But if I go with that, it makes many of my work decisions easier. I want to be the kind of person that my boys can learn from. Many times I am faced with decisions with political implications, or decisions with an easy out versus a difficult ethical outcome. If I put it in context of wanting to set a role model for my kids, the answer is often clear.

Find your purpose, find your passion, and then make the compelling connections to all parts of your life.

The Existential Vacuum

I am reading Viktor Frankl’s book "Man’s Search for Meaning". He postulates that the process of an individual’s search for meaning is the centerpiece of their existance. Those that  are not actively seeking or do not have a clear understanding of meaning in thier own life are destined "…to do what other people do (conformism) or [do] what other people wish [for them] to do(totalitarianism)." He defines the meaning in one’s own life as [my interpretation] that which one is passionate about and is driven to achieve.

In an organizational context, I see Frankl’s conformism and totalitarianism at work, all too frequently. Just think how powerful an organization would be if most (or all) of its members found true meaning in their work as opposed to just blindly following along with the masses, or even worse following blindly behind the epic hero-leader.

I found a strong alignment in this thought-line and Kathy Sierra’s post today. When she said:

When people aren’t brave enough for one reason or another, …

I realized these are the same people that have not found their own meaning in life. They have no basis for standing up and being heard, they have no passion to call their own.  … You know what, the reflection in the mirror doesn’t look so great.  This is about each of us, so few have truely found that deep connect to the meaning of their life, and many that do, find that connection outside of work.

How do we bring meaning and passion to our work? How do we avoid the "Existential Vacuum"?