A ‘pull’ approach to data-gathering

When we gather people in a room, our first instinct is often: what information should we push out? 

When our task is to gather feedback from people, our first instinct is to ask: what information do we need to hear?

In both of these common organizational rituals, the focus is on the content.

But before the content…comes outcome.

What do we really need from our participants? And, why?

If all we need is compliance, a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response is fine.

If all we need is information, we can send a list of questions, or a survey.

But when we want to bring people together around an organizational change, some new process, or a common goal, we often need more.

We need engagement. 

The difference between asking for information and asking for engagement is involving employees in co-creating the data-gathering experience. It involves pulling on their intrinsic motivation and connecting your ask to something they care about.

This requires us to focus more on the people we are surveying and not just the answers they will provide.

People love and appreciate feeling heard and being involved, especially when the change affects them. Change is personal. We can treat it that way by taking a personalized approach to data-gathering.

Give employees skin in the game by asking for their expertise, their stories, their insights. 

Give employees a role by asking them to listen for what other employees are saying in the room so that themes can be built upon and solidified.

Show them the importance of their opinion and experience by elevating their status and highlighting their unique role.

Bring them in as co-creators of the experience

Bringing people together around a change effort involves more than sharing information and gathering it. It takes time to build and set the context that fuels ongoing engagement in a change effort. 

Success is not necessarily measured in the immediate clarity of their answers fitting nicely in a box, but in their ongoing commitment to join you in the change you seek. 

Avoiding the quick fix

How many times have you said, or heard someone else say, “So-and-so is such a problem. If we can just change person “X”, our lives will be so much easier”.

Let’s just come clean, shall we? We’ve all thought this at one point or another. In an attempt to taper or avoid conflict, blaming the problems of a work team or family on “Person X” is one popular avoidance tactic.

And, because we don’t like conflict, and because we think “X” and only “X” is the problem, we zoom in on this person and their faults, or we hope the problem will go away with attrition.

Whether we’re part of a family or a work team, it’s easy and natural for many of us to pinpoint the problems of the group on one specific person or cause. Let’s admit it, blaming another person is a reflex, and sometimes that behavior is even reinforced or rewarded.

Often there is something else brewing.

When it comes to change (at the individual, group, or organization level), …the person that we think is the problem…? Well, they are sometimes (read: usually) merely a symptom of something larger.

We call that something larger “the system”.

Successful change interventions take into account a system-wide view. We know that changing one part of the system will often (and must) result in changing something else. It’s about pulling the right lever at the right time and understanding that a change in one person or lever, doesn’t happen in isolation.

If your work team is blaming one person as “the problem” and that person leaves, chances are another “problem” person will arise because the group needs that “problem person” in order to function. Sometimes it’s a scapegoat, sometimes it’s a different role. The group will re-create that conflict and dynamic until it no longer needs it.

The person and the environment work in conjunction, not in isolation. We all contribute to the culture, the dynamics, and the “problems” of a team.

What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.

The Secret to Getting Ahead, via the NY Times

It would be easy to read yesterday’s NY Times profile of Professor Adam Grant and his book “Give and Take” and conclude the secret to success is to give more and take less.

We could come to similar, easily digestible conclusions with other, recent management development offerings. We could “lean in” more, “be more mindful”, or say yes or say no more often. But would this stick, or just make us more resentful, anxious, paranoid, or busy?

One thing is certain, I completely agree and appreciate Grant’s work and his message:

“The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”

As I see it, the key to encouraging more giving is by focusing on the feeling it brings.  In essence, we follow the feeling. Sometimes it is indescribable, but it sticks with us. 

If giving more, leaning in, taking more time for yourself, or saying no more often makes you feel better, more whole, more on purpose, then that is reason enough to do more of it. Perhaps it will allow you to give with more gusto, to listen in a way that offers the support your friend or co-worker needs.

We can save the quantity vs. quality of giving debate for another time. I feel better when I give help, advice, support, encouragement, and that is a powerful, potent, push to do more of it.

Mixing motivation and giving isn’t easy. If we view giving as a means to an end, (“matchers”, as Grant calls them in his research) than we’re missing the point.

Improvisers give in the form of making their partner look good. We give because it is the Improvisers credo. It builds trust. And it fuels creativity by opening us up to more possibilities and points of view.

But we are also good at saying no when we need to, when it feels instinctively wrong.  We are skilled at the polite, “NOPE!”. Guilt or pushing doesn’t motivate giving, that is certain.

“The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying.”

The impact of this work is profound if we give it and share it with others. It is the foundation of a learning organization, of a company of shared social capital and support. And it is sustained not because your boss told you to give more, or because you read about it in an article in the NY Times, but because you know how it feels when someone gave selflessly to you, and you want to pay it forward.

What’s the drill – March 21: StorySlam’s 5 minute storytelling challenge

In January I accepted the challenge to talk about what matters to me, in 140 seconds.

Tonight, I ventured downtown to check out another public storytelling test-kitchen… the Moth StorySLAM — an open-mic storytelling competition held weekly in NYC and across the country. Here, the rules were a bit different. Brave participants had 5 minutes to tell a true story related to the night’s theme.

What happened in the room tonight was simply inspiring and beautiful. Not only were the 10 stories remarkably polished and moving, but the support, engagement, and positivity emanating from the 200+ people in the crowd was an incredibly special feeling.

The event got me thinking about learning communities, trust, tribes, and the power of story, vulnerability, empathy, and theme to inspire positive change — not just in a 5 minute story, but in a lifetime.

StorySlam events are held in big cities across the USA. Check out the calendar, here.


photo (16) photo (17)



How to listen like an Improviser

Think about your favorite scene from a movie, television show, or a play. If you will, think of a scene free of visual effects and one that just focuses on the people in the story.

Why is it your favorite scene?

If you are like me, favorite scenes emerge because the characters were changed by what someone else said.

When I coach Improvisation teams, I stress the importance of focusing on the relationship between the characters, above all else. The advice can be somewhat vague so I ask students to take it one step further. I ask them to:

“Be changed by what your partner said”.  “Be changed by what you hear”.

Humans find change to be fascinating, even if we go out of our way to avoid it ourselves. I’d argue that we want and root for change when we watch our favorite shows or movies. It is that evolution of a character, and their ability to be changed by what they hear that keeps the character growing and learning, but also quite vulnerable.

The ability to let ourselves be changed by a conversation or an encounter is the key to listening like an improviser. It takes us a step beyond head nods and eye contact, and connects us more deeply to our scene partner because they know they’ve been heard.

TOOL: The Failure Bow

Last year I had the privilege of meeting Ted DesMaisons – a fellow Improviser, also a blogger, Stanford Business School Graduate, and a very gifted man and teacher.

His latest blog post, The Transformative Failure Bow , talks about one of the greatest resources in an improviser’s toolkit: the ability to transform failure and a mistake into a celebration of boldness. It is a learned skill worth practicing. Here he describes the history of this great tool, how he teaches it, and how it creates transformation by shifting our reaction and definition of “failure”.

He asks the question we all could be asking — what are we rewarding? The effort, the result, or both? How do you define the result?

“As Matt Smith affirmed in a recent conversation, “The Failure Bow isn’t designed to reward or focus on the failure. It’s designed to reward the willingness to be transparent, the capacity to remain available in the present moment, and the ability to get back on the horse without residing in shame.” It’s that awesome eagerness that leads an athlete to say “Hit me another, Coach” or a student to insist “Let me try again.” We get knocked down, but we get up again.”

The Transformative Failure Bow 

Ready, set, socialization!

The blog has been quieter than normal lately — I’m chalking it up to an unintentional side-effect of lots of self-induced change.

For me that has meant a new city, a new social environment, and a new academic home. I’m smack-dab in the middle of a socialization bonanza. And it’s got me thinking about how we as teams, and organizations make sense of, and orientate around “what’s new”, and “what’s changed” in a new environment.

As adults, is this something we want to discover for ourselves, and/or at what point in the process would we rather learn the ropes with an instructional guide and a buddy by our side?

Socialization as a process goes both ways, from person to organization and visa-versa. But, as we age, and add more experience to our belts, do we want or need to rely on our organizations for the lay of the land?

We all go through some sort of formal on-boarding process. It can last an hour, a week, 6 months even. My graduate school orientation lasted for just a few hours. There, a new cohort of 100 people who would be spending the greater part of the next two years together walked out of orientation not having formally learned anyone else’s name.  I have to say, it bothered me.

How much mandated socialization is too much socialization? I don’t have the answers, yet.

But a diversity of experiences helps us tune in to how much socialization we need to feel comfortable, especially when we feel like the stakes are raised. Maybe there is no secret formula, but if there is, I envision successful socialization as having these elements:

1. Differences are a commodity, not a liability

2. Socialization is personal

3. It starts before you arrive on campus

4. We are given time to reflect on the change

What would you add to this list and why?

What makes people more creative on some days and not others…

The million, okay, billion-dollar question: How do you create a culture of creativity, and make it last?

Harvard University Professor Teresa Amabile wanted to find out.

Discussing her research into the topic with Bloomberg Television, Amabile and her team compiled over 12,000 individual daily diaries over 5 months, from professionals who were working on creative projects within their company.

What she found, “People do their most creative work on days when they’re feeling most positive emotions, most pleasant thoughts about their organization and their co-workers and strongest intrinsic motivation in their work”.

To put it simply: inner-work life drives performance, and allows teams and individuals to come up with better, creative ideas.

Every area in business requires coming up with creative solutions – and to foster that kind of creative thinking takes more than waving a magic wand:

  1. create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration
  2. tap into those favorite intrinsic motivators of autonomy, purpose, and mastery
  3. Remember that “small wins”, making progress on meaningful work (Amabile’s Progress Principle) matters.

For more: http://www.bloomberg.com/video/what-inspires-creativity-in-the-workplace-xLy2z9V~TGKtienzTsGryQ.html