Monday, December 29, 2014

Do you love travel? Ummm...

When people learn that I lived in India, Australia and South Africa, have visited many other countries (enjoyed going to Nigeria twice in the last year), or am going on business trips to Thailand and Malta next year, they often ask, "Do you loooooove to travel?"

The answer isn't simple. And people generally get impatient when you answer rhetorical questions with words more than "yes" or "no".

I don't like travel because the shiny excitement has worn off. Sitting in airplanes is exhausting. Especially when a family is in tow, running through airports on layovers is no fun. Even when traveling alone, just showing up in a country and then meeting in hotels with limited visits to the homes of nationals or learning about their culture is frustrating. It just feels shallow.

On the other hand, I am excited about visiting other places and learning how they think, act, and feel differently. I'm especially interested in new places like Malta...I enjoy everything from the history to the foods and asking lots of questions about social trends. And, because I like staying in touch with people, I enjoy making a few new friends and expanding the network that I'll need if I take my kids on a round-the-world journey some day!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

On my reading list: Autumn 2014

Still reading about 50% on Kindle and 50% in paper. Might change if I upgraded to a newer Kindle (I'm still using the original one with the full keyboard, no touch screen, no backlight, etc.)...

The Purpose Economy, by Hurst. Seems a bit culture-bound, but discusses the desire for many of today's workers in America to do more than make a great salary. Instead they want to see their impact and, ideally, how they are helping their community to change the world.

The Advantage, by Lencioni. Best 'management book" I've read in a long time. Probably because the USA's top leadership consultant has summarized the principles from his top selling "business fables". Love his chapter on efficient meetings in particular! His thesis is that companies which hire brilliant people will rarely succeed over companies that hire people who practice true team work. (And, frankly, many times this is easier to find in graduates from lesser known schools...or perhaps no school at all.) Not much data on this yet, but I think he's right.

Leading Change, by Kotter. A friend who built a multi-billion dollar business told me about this author. Lots of great common sense in his books based on case studies and consulting experience. Just started this so can't wait to see how it turns out! The book was originally published in 1996 and re-released in 2012, so it must be good.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (5 of 5)

Of the four steps to making great decisions articulated by the Heath brothers in "Decisive", I think this is the most important in the non-profit working environment. Often we rush forward in frenetic activity and need to balance that with a thoughtful approach about what might/could happen!

Prepare to be Wrong
To make wise choices without knowing what the future holds, we need to stretch our sense of what the future might bring, consider any possibilities, both good and bad. Bookending is considering the extremes of what could happen. (pg 199-201)

For when you have a reasonable idea about future possibilities:
  1. Always ask prospective hindsight questions. Instead of “How likely is it for an Asia American to be president in 2020? What would need to happen?”, it’s better to ask, “Imaging it is 2020 and there is an Asian American president. What are the reasons this happened.” (pg 202)
  2. Conduct a “premortem”. Ask, “It’s a year from now. Our decision failed. Why?” Imagine the future death of your project. Have every team member write down reasons for the failure. Read them out loud. Adapt your plans to forestall as any as possible; use this for worthwhile (vs. worthless) risk mitigation. (pg 203-205)
  3. Conduct a “preparade”. Imagine your wildest version of success. Have everyone answer, “How do we ensure we’re ready for it?” (pg 206)

For when the future is completely unknown or change will be gradual:
  1. Deal with overconfidence. Use a buffer or safety factor. And anticipate problems by having someone in a related domain or similar experience give a realistic preview of a worst-case scenario. (pg 209 cf)
  2. Set a tripwire with hard numbers or other indicators (e.g. rock band that asked for bowl of M&Ms without brown M&Ms; if they found them, they knew intricate stage wiring might be wrong). “We will reconsider when…” needs to be written down at the time of decision. (pg. 226) “Tripwires encourage risk taking by letting us carve out a “safe space” for experimentation. (pg 231)
  3. Give yourself a made-up deadline. (pg 227)
  4. Create tripwires that are triggered by pattern recognition. Publicize a protocol that permits/encourages response when something doesn’t look right. Or, the opposite: “If you see people using our product in a way we haven’t anticipated, let’s talk.” (pg 233-336)
  5. Establish partitions or mini-boundaries. This is effective mostly in issues involving self-control e.g. use a smaller bowl for chips so you consciously get up to refill.

Some closing thoughtst that I believe address the fears of most executives in implementing this new process!
  • “Process isn’t glamorous. But the confidence it can provide is precious. Trusting a process can permit us to take bigger risks, to make bolder choices. …We should make sure people are able to perceive that the process is just…Even if the outcome goes against us, our confidence in the process is critical.” (pg 245, 253)
  • “The process need not take a long time to be effective. Even if you’ve only got 45 minutes to consider an important decision, you can accomplish a lot: Run the Vanishing Options Test to see if you might overlook a great alternative. Call someone who’s solved your problem before. Ask yourself, What would I tell my best friend to do? Or what would my successor do? Gather three friends and run a premortem.” (pg 251)
Here's to better, more confident decisions -- both at home and work!!!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (4 of 5)

I loved this quote...but, of course, easier said than done! “Being decisive itself is a choice -- a way of behaving -- not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.” (pg 252)

Attain Distance Before Deciding
“The goal of the WRAP process is not to neutralize emotion. When you strip away all the rational mechanics…what’s left at the core is emotion. What drives you? What do you believe is best…Those are emotional questions – speaking to passions and values and beliefs.” (pg 179)

“In theory, this should be the climax of the book, the part where we come to a fork in the road and make the right choice. Actually, we believe this section may be the least important of the four [because] many decisions don’t really have a “choice” stage. Also, you can usually break the logjam on a tough decision by unearthing some new options or some new information. …Occasionally though, we’ll encounter a truly tough choice [and] blinded by the particulars of the situation, we’ll waffle and agonize, changing our mind from day to day.” (pg 159-160)

1. If emotions are intense, use 10/10/10: a tool invented by Suzy Welch, journalist for Bloomberg Businessweek and O magazine. Think about your decision on three timeframes: How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now? Conducting this analysis doesn’t presuppose that the long-term perspective is the right one. It simply ensures that short-term emotion isn’t the only voice at the table. (pg 163)

2. If emotions are subtle, look at your situation from an observer’s perspective. Mere exposure (the most familiar option) and loss aversion (humans feel losses are more painful than gains are pleasant) will cause us to choose the status quo. To overcome this:
  • Andy Grove would ask, “What would my successor choose?” (pg 167)
  • Another powerful question is, “What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?” Our advice to others tends to hinge on the most important factor. (pg 171)

3. When choosing between two great options, it is usually due to a conflict among “core priorities”.
  • People rarely establish priorities until they’re forced to. Identify and enshrine your core priorities, not just generic values. (Example: a cleft-palate repair NGO had to decide if they wanted to do more surgeries for kids vs. give give medical professionals an opportunity to serve). Write down “guardrails that are wide enough to empower but narrow enough to guide.”
  • Establishing your core priorities is not the same as binding yourself to them. Test your success by preparing (annually or more often) a “stop-doing” list. Set an hourly alarm and ask, “Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?” List actions that are important but not mission-critical; then find ways to simplify and overcome these.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (3 of 5)

The second of four steps in a decision making process that should replace pros/cons in your life!! This is from a summary I wrote for work colleagues a little while ago.

Reality-test your assumptions

1. Spark constructive disagreement:
  • Best practice for executives to assign a few people on the leadership team to prepare a case against a high-stakes proposal. (pg 97)
  • When too much arguing in a meeting, take each option and ask, “What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer?” (pg 99)
2. Asking the right questions of proponents of an option:
  • If a non-hierarchical culture/situation, ask probing, disconfirming questions in meetings i.e. Not “what do you think about this option?”, rather “What problems does it have?”
  • If there’s a power dynamic, ask open-ended questions like “what do you think about this option?”
3. Considering the opposite: give people permission to make a deliberate mistake (leaders consciously decide to try something that’s expected to fail if you see a high potential of learnings/benefits)

4. Zoom out: look at the averages or base-rates for results of a situation/decision like yours. Believe them. NOTE: use outside experts for learning about past/present! Do NOT use experts for an opinion about your decision and the future outcome!!)

5. Zoom in: look at decision/option close-up for texture and what’s missing from averages (i.e. instead of just reading reports/reviews, try a competitor’s product for a while)

6. Ooch (“little bets”, or “rapid prototyping”): run small experiments to test our theories. NOTE: This is best for situations where we genuinely need more information and not for situations that require commitment i.e. give potential hires a trial run, but this wouldn’t apply to Army boot camp. Or, the 25-year-old who wonders about marine geology degree from college should ooch, but the guy who knows he needs an M.A. degree but dreads going back should not ooch.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (2 of 5)

The first of four steps in making better decisions from my favorite of the last year or so, "Decisive" by the Heath brothers. Practical tips that I don't want to forget!

Widen your options
For when you have options but want to ensure good quality:
1. Assess opportunity cost. “What are we giving up by making this choice? What else could we do with the same time and money?” (pg 49)

2. Run the vanishing options test, especially if you hear someone asking “whether or not” to do something. “If you cannot choose any of the current options, what else could you do?” (pg 49)

For when you don’t have many options:
1. Find someone who’s solved your problem.
  • Look inside: ask yourself or colleagues, “Who/what are outliers or bright spots? When there were small successes, why did they occur?” (pg 73)
  • Look outside: “Who else struggled with a similar problem and what can I learn?” Look at competitors and best practices. (pg 69)
  • If you are making an unprecedented decision or still have few options, “ladder up” by looking for analogies and seek inspiration from an industry/situation that is vaguely similar. (pg 82) For example, naming a fast computer chip could include looking at names for fast skis. Designing a better check-out line for retail could talk to a plumber about water flow.
NOTE: Orgs must not forget to then capture these options by creating a “playlist” of questions or possibilities for the next time (pg 73-79)

2. Multitrack: have several teams produce 2-6 meaningfully distinct options and get feedback simultaneously (vs. creating/tweaking one version at a time). Decision paralysis from too many options rarely occurs. (pg 58)
  • executives who consider more options make faster decisions (pg 55)
  • multitracking feels better  because it keeps egos in check (pg 55)
  • it gives you an immediate fallback plan(s) (pg 55)

NOTE: To diagnose if you are being given “sham options” designed to make the “real” option look better, poll colleagues for their preferences and make sure there is not easy consensus. (pg 59)

3. Ensure you intentionally cycle between “prevention of problems” and “promotion of opportunities” focus during your analysis. (pg 62-63)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (1 of 5)

Wrote this for some work colleagues. This is truly the best book I've read in a while!

Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work
by Chip & Dan Heath

More than a trendy business book! Based on literature reviews of ‘decision-making’ and ‘human judgment’ research, it is written by respected behavioral economists who translate Kahneman’s Nobel-prize winning theories into practical tips/tricks.

The authors’ goal? Globally, the “pros/cons list” is the only decision making model that is common. So they propose a 4-step process that isn’t revolutionary, but is comprehensive and reduces the negative impact of human biases.

Purpose of the book: “In recent years, many fascinating books and articles have addressed this question, ‘Why do we have such a hard time making good choices?’ …But less attention has been paid to another compelling question: Given that we’re wired to act foolishly sometimes, how can we do better?” (pg 4)

Thesis of the book: Given research which found that process matters more than analysis in making good decisions (by a factor of six, pg 5), they present a four-step process based on behavioral psychology discoveries. The only other decision-making process in wide circulation is the pros-and-cons list (invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1772, pg 7) but that is deeply flawed. “This book will address decisions that take longer than five minutes to make. …We want to make you a bit better at making good decisions, and we want to help you make your good decisions a bit more decisively. We also want to make you a better advisor to your colleagues and loved ones who are making decisions, because it’s usually easier to see other people’s biases than your own.” (pg 24)

What about our instincts? (i.e. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”, etc.) “Intuitive decisions, which can be surprisingly quick and accurate…[are] only accurate in domains where it has been carefully trained…[this] requires a predictable environment where you get lots of repetition and quick feedback on your choices.” (pg 25) For example, a chess grand master should trust his gut! A hiring manager should not because you only hire a small number of people over most careers and feedback from those hires is delayed and complicated by other factors.

The four villains of decision making (pg 10-18):
  1. You encounter a choice, but you miss options. This is narrow framing – the tendency to define our choices too narrowly.
  2. You analyze your options, but gather only self-serving information. This is confirmation bias – the habit of developing a quick belief about a situation and then seeking out information that bolsters our belief.
  3. You make a choice, but are tempted to make the wrong one. This is short-term emotion – letting short-term pressures, politics, etc. obscure long-term needs and perspective.
  4. Then you live with the choice, but aren’t prepared to deal with unexpected developments. This is overconfidence – thinking we know more than we actually do about how the future will unfold.
The next postings will cover their WRAP Decision Making Process – it isn’t always sequential but generally address each of the four mistakes above. “The value of the WRAP process is that it reliably focuses our attention on things we otherwise might have missed. A more subtle way [it helps] is by ensuring that we’re aware of the need to make a decision.” (pg 26)
  • Widen your options
  • Reality-test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Influencer: a checklist for change anywhere, anytime

About a year ago, I summarized one of my favorite books for my Nike Foundation colleagues. Whenever I'm struggling to provoke change in people over whom I don't have authority (ahem, like my kids), this list of six areas is a helpful prompt to see what I'm missing. Enjoy!

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change
by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzer

Most books are about being a change agent, but do NOT give a theory of influence. We will fail if we only use one of the six factors, even if that particular thing is done successfully (typically companies try #5, incentives). Because we can never really know what is going on in people’s heads and truly change their motivation, we must instead focus on ‘vital behaviors’.

These are revealed by answering the question, “In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?” This is where most organizations mistakenly talk about desired outcomes or what they want to achieve (i.e. we need to build trust among employees) instead of a specific, tangible action (i.e. we need to change the last paragraph of every message from executives).

EXAMPLE: Weight Loss – we often set goals, like losing a certain amount weight a week/month.  The problem is, we’re setting a goal, not a behavior that will get us to our goal.  95% of diets fail.  What are the vital behaviors of those who are successful in dieting?  According to the National Weight Control Registry, the following three behaviors have been found to be the most important to losing weight and keeping it off: A) Exercise at home, B) Eat breakfast every morning, C) Weigh yourself more than once a week (page 42 of the book says “daily.”)

This isn’t a leadership opinion book based on a fad. It came out of two decades of consulting with organizations (starting with piloting the principles in 24 companies, 250,000 employees in late ‘90s). Then in-depth literature review of behavior change learnings over five decades. Then interrogating ‘outliers’ and documenting success stories around the world. Awesome stuff!

The 6 influence factors:
1. Personal Motivation - help people change how they feel about a vital behavior by connecting them with consequences (both positive and negative) through direct experience and potent stories

Inspirations: Pavlov, “try it, you’ll like it”, make it a competition against yourself, make consequence personal

Key questions: What stories do people have about negative consequences? What powerful testimonial of a team that does __ well is inspirational and illustrates a positive consequence? If we have people who resist change, who is a champion physically located near to them who can help them experience the right thing?

2. Personal Ability - overinvest in helping people learn how to master new skills and emotions

Inspirations: Take it step by step, focus on clear/repeatable actions, practice in low-risk environment

Key questions: What specific skills does a person need to do ___? What behavior needs to be coached? And what interpersonal skills are needed to motivate non-compliant team members? How do we get someone to deliberately practice a skill and receive immediate feedback? How do we take complex tasks and make them simple, long tasks and make them short, vague tasks and make them specific, or high-stakes tasks and make them risk free?

3. Social Motivation - harness positive peer pressure (social influence) by engaged leaders AND opinion leaders to encourage vital behaviors

Inspirations: village system of chiefs and elders in clans, negative example of Hitler’s manipulation, compelling nature of early adopters over crazy innovators, light exposes problems, giving away praise motivates people, peer pressure

Key questions: Who are the opinion leaders in each office? Who are the 2-3 people most widely respected? If changes are controversial, how do we hold a public discussion? How do we put resisters in the midst of a social circle that rewards the right behaviors?

4. Social Ability - Provide help in order to change how people act during crucial moments.

Inspirations: Mohammad Yunus and self-help/micro loan groups, wisdom of crowds, find strength in numbers (social capital), point out blind spots and the value of outside perspectives, training of trainers

Key questions: What help will people need from the community? What consent or cooperation will I need to change behaviors? How do we promote solidarity among any ‘graduates’ of training that we give?

5. Structural Motivation - modestly (!) and intelligently reward early successes; punish only when necessary. BE SURE TO USE INCENTIVES THIRD, NOT FIRST. Connect vital behaviors to intrinsic motivation; next line up social support.

Inspirations: demand accountability, negative example of wide-spread failure of corporate award ceremonies, giving small privileges, “catching” and rewarding behaviors and not just results

Key questions: What are small improvements in behaviors (not results) that can be immediately rewarded? What incentives in the past did NOT work? Before any punishment/confrontation, how can respected leaders clearly convey that we’re measuring progress and define consequences? What kind of random checks could be done to see if individuals/teams are trying new behaviors?

6. Structural Ability - change people's physical surroundings to make good behavior easier and bad behavior harder.

Inspirations: sweating the small stuff in NYC like broken windows to reduce crime, “fill to here” dotted line to make invisible expectations more visible, media impact on public perception of issues, new labeling of prescription drugs

Key questions: What are two small things could we change to make behaviors easier (i.e. tech interface, physical tool/reference card at desks)? What visual cues can we provide near each person to remind them of the behaviors they must change? What data can we collect and then present to everyone to illustrate the problem or potential? After starting the campaign, what selected info or data about behavior changes and consequences can we provide to leaders to create mindshare? How can we hardwire the behavior into already scheduled meetings or processes?

Also, there are great corporate case studies (in "Influencer training" section) and inspirational success stories from abroad including Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease and Preventing AIDS in Thailand.