Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

What if? – Shifting Paradigms

What if everything you know and believe in is turned upside down? What if all your paradigms are put to the test? This is a little extreme and might not sound very attractive, I admit. But let’s say some of what you believe in and hold for true and objective is shaken up. How could this change your views, your practices, and your outcomes? With our need for predictability and stability, a major shake-up might sound like close to a nightmare for many people, but let me put that in a different perspective for you.  

We have all learned that following (preferably agreed upon) rules is considered a sine qua non of rationality and of scientific reasoning and work, but isn’t it true that most breakthroughs, inventions, and new ways of believing and looking at the world are the result of breaking away from those rules, of violating the rules, and of stepping out of the confining restrictions that these rules place on us? Just think of the time when people were convinced that the sun circled the earth, because this is what they thought they saw. This seemed objective and true at the time. As Thomas Kuhn, influential American scientist and philosopher asserted, the function of a paradigm is to provide puzzles for scientists to help them solve problems. In science a crisis arises when confidence is lost in the stability of the paradigm to solve issues. This crisis often results in the existing paradigm being overthrow by a rivaling paradigm. I believe the most interesting response to a crisis is to search for a revised framework and theory, something that seems to be necessary in the fields of politics, economy, and business to mention just a few.
But how about our thinking at an individual level? According to Karl Popper, the Austria born British philosopher , the revolutionary overthrow  of a theory is one that is logically required by the occurrence of an anomaly. In our daily life, however, we too often seem to disregard anomalies. We regularly perceive them to be annoying and inconvenient nuisances without giving them or our failing theories and practices much thought. We might incorporate these anomalies as the imperfections in life. In some cases this might actually be an effective and sustainable way of looking at deviations and imperfections. In other cases, however, it might not be at all. Main point being:  Most of us likely benefit from increasing our awareness of the anomalies in our thinking and acting and how we can use them to our greatest advantage, whether it implies revising our theories and practices or not.

Even in the case of debating, where the goal is to exert flawless arguing without any imperfections or failing argumentation, we tend to perceive the person with the missing or failing arguments to be on the losing end. But I wonder whether this line of thinking prevents development and innovation from taking place, and it sure makes life a lot less interesting. Maybe we should follow this line of thinking: Personal and business knowledge, just like scientific knowledge, is subject to revision as new evidence comes to light or new ideas emerge. How different would we think, act, collaborate, and operate if we would apply this to our personal beliefs, our thinking, and our business practices?  Even more so, shouldn’t we be actively seeking new ideas and evidence rather than frantically holding on to our present beliefs and practices as if they were life vests in stormy weather?
Whether with other people or within yourself, argument, debate, and challenge what seems to be known. Put this at the core of your personal development. Building on existing knowledge and challenging what’s already known (or what you think you know) in the light of new ideas and perspectives is what helps you advance and innovate, both in your personal and in your professional life.  Let’s shift those paradigms in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

5 Development Ideas for 2012

In the spirit of new year resolutions, which I generally don’t care much about (why wait, even if it’s just another hour, right?), I want to trigger you with 5 suggestions for accelerating your development, regardless of your station in life, your job title, or your field of expertise.

1. Actively benefit from the wisdom of thought leaders – the ones that provide you with new perspectives and ideas.  Watch their webinars, read their books and articles. Listen to TED talks and, not to forget, draw from people around you and contemplate on their wisdom, attitudes, choices, and coping strategies. Every time you indulge in your webinar, book, talk etc. have a small notebook with you and jot down some thoughts, quotes, actions and other reflections inspired by what you just read or heard. Some of my clients have called this little booklet their ‘Business bible’, others their ‘Growth book’ or their ‘Little green book of wisdom’. Whatever your title, make it personal, actionable, and inspiring.

2. Actively use what you’ve experienced and learned in other walks of life and in previous careers and settings to enrich and benefit your present career and setting. I find it amazing how many practical insights and effective strategies and wisdom is lost merely because people do not know how to translate from one experience or setting to another. I recently met with a colleague who asked me about my strategy when hitting golf balls. Now, you have to know this was my first encounter with golf balls ever, and it was part of an introduction to his unique method of helping his clients gain insight into their attitudes, habits, and strategies while playing golf. My immediate response was that I focused intensely on the little round hole that I was supposed to get the ball to roll into. I was not worried about missing it. I was not focused on the route the ball had to go before reaching its goal. I was merely focused on the hole and on my ball smoothly and confidently rolling towards it. And I told him this was something I had picked up when I was learning how to ride a motorcycle. When learning to ride an obstacle course on a bike, the main mistake of riders is that they focus on avoiding the obstacles, which focuses their attention to the very thing they’re trying to avoid - the obstacles - and so they run into them. And so did I the first time. When I was told to focus my attention on the smooth, curved, path around the obstacles, and on achieving my goal of touching the space in between the obstacles, I never ran into the obstacles again. The main lesson: What do you focus on? On avoiding things or on accomplishing things? Do you focus on the black background or on the colored foreground? So my advice: Take experiences and lessons-learned from your volunteer jobs, your times at college, your job as a soccer coach with one of your children or your experiences as a lay photographer and translate them to your world of business or whatever setting can use some inspiration and wise lessons. 

3. Go back to school. Take a class or a course and immerse yourself in new learning. This keeps your mind sharp and open to new and different ideas and experiences. It’s called continuing education and is an old and very effective way to keep moving and developing.

4. Seek someone you trust and that you can learn from. This, of course, doesn’t always have to be a paid professional, but whoever it is, ask them to be your coach or your mentor. It’s not so much new insights and tools, but new ways of hearing about them, of a possibly unique way of combining them, of renewing your interest in them and of learning how to apply them to your particular person and situation. It’s about forming a trusting and longer term relationship with someone who has your development as his or her interest. Someone who does not shy away from confrontations and provocations and who knows that this, at times, is the only or the best way to get through to you – to get you moving.

5. Take charge of your health. As author and renowned psychiatrist John J. Ratey writes in his book Spark, the transformative effects of exercise on the brain and on general health are huge. Exercise can help you beat stress, lift your mood, decrease memory loss, sharpen your intellect – it helps you function better overall, simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat. The evidence is undeniable: exercise physically remodels your brain for peak performance and is your best defense against things ranging from depression to ADD to addiction to aggression to menopause to Alzheimer's. The message is loud and clear: get in shape, not just as a resolution for the first month of the new year, but as a resolution that runs much deeper. One that stimulates you to live, think, and choose healthy.

As Marshall Goldsmith says, one of the biggest regrets old people have with their lives is not their failures. It is that they didn’t at least try to pursue their goals. Don’t become one of those people. Pursue your goals and learn to pursue them in different ways, with new eyes and means, while developing yourself continuously.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Conversation Killers

Credit to who deserves it. This title and the inspiration for this post stem from Roger Connors and Tom Smith in How Did That Happen? (2009). On page 140 they talk about conversation killers as related to acting accountable and holding others accountable. My list of conversation killers applies to many communication situations, including but not limited to the ones on accountability.

I know you will recognize many of these ‘killers’, I am not really telling you anything new. The question, however, is:  Will you recognize them as killers you use?  Taking it a step further, will you not only recognize them but invest in learning to avoid them, which, of course, requires that you understand why you use those killers in the first place? What purpose do they serve you? Is it a good purpose, a good cause, and do you just need to seek different ways to accomplish your goals, or is it wise to adjust your purpose and objectives all together? Questions only you can answer, so let me stick to listing some of the main conversation killers.
1.       Confusing assertive communication, where you honor both parties and their rights and feelings, with aggressive communication, where you overrule and violate the other person, whether knowingly and willingly or not.

2.       Throwing statements, conclusions, and judgments across the table rather than asking questions and listening to what is being said in words and through non-verbal behavior.

3.       Which takes me to: Implying things indirectly rather than stating them openly and directly, and even more of a killer: Denying insinuations and allegations that are clearly implied by what you say, how you say it, or what you neglect to say and do.

4.       Finger pointing, blaming, and accusing rather than exploring each person’s perspective and role in the total situation.

5.       Preparing your come-back or rebuttal while losing sight of what is being said and meant right here and now as a result of not listening.

6.       Confusing someone’s ‘no’ or the communication of boundaries with the person attacking you and your character.

7.       The bad old “always” and “never”, often used between arguing partners and in conversations between parents and their children.  These words not only rarely apply to situations, they also block any real conversation because they push the other person into ‘defense-mode’ to prove that your exaggerations are unwarranted.

8.       Confusing your own subjective and inherently limited reality with the one-and-only reality, closing the door to the world of multiple perspectives and realities.

9.       Getting stuck on details when the bigger picture is what matters, or, focusing on the big picture when details are in the way of getting to that larger place.

Again, the value of this post is not in the new insights. There are none in this article. Everything has been discovered, said, and explained before. The value lies in becoming aware of and exploring your own communication skills and killers, in understanding their dynamics, and in finding ways to avoid them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Healthy Habits for 2012 – Personal Development Ideas

No matter how much you take care of you, physically and mentally, no matter how healthy you live, you will likely be guilty of some unhealthy habits, some worse than others. Habits that have slipped into your daily routine or that seem so normal that you have discontinued your efforts to try and change them, simply because you formed a blind spot for it. This, of course, is all perfectly okay, if, when adding it all up, you feel happy, healthy, and satisfied with your job and your growth. But sometimes, you just do not realize what it specifically is that is draining your energy, that some habit or the other is slowly but steadily causing mounting frustrations. Below you find just three out of the many possible healthy habits that I choose based on my experience with clients in my coaching and training practice.

Healthy habit number one

How often are you caught up in a conversation where the other person just doesn’t seem to get what you are talking about. Where you feel you both keep repeating yourself without really getting anywhere. Where it seems that you can’t get through to each other? It’s called miscommunication and is often attributed to the other person. Rather than asking: “What’s wrong with this person?” or “Why is this person so …”, you might want to put an “I” into the equation. What is your role in it all? Practical tip: Clarify the main concept and ask for the other person’s definition on the topic. Make sure you both know what you are talking about.  In a recent conversation with a manager, he showed himself surprised about how one of his subordinates thought of himself as empathetic. The manager obviously thought otherwise. It turned out they had neglected to clarify what they meant by the word ‘empathetic’, which left the conversation hanging in the air, spilling over with misunderstandings and wonder since different meanings were attached to the word. You can avoid this by making it a habit to be clear about terms that seem crucial to a conversation. And while you’re at it, add to that the clarity about your expectations. A good book on the importance of clear expectations as related to accountability is How Did That Happen by Roger Connors and Tom Smith. 

Healthy habit number two

Have you ever felt worse after having verbalized how lousy you were feeling even though it was meant to make you feel better? First, of course, this is due to the fact that there’s no denying to it once you’ve said it out loud. It’s for real now, you feel the true magnitude and impact once you’ve put it out there. Your conversation partner might be adding to the feeling with well-meant encouragement about how difficult or sad it is for you. Another factor, however, is the language you use, and therefore the beliefs you hold, since your beliefs precede your thoughts and language, and more importantly, your feelings. For instance: The more you identify with a label, the higher the likelihood that you’ll start thinking, feeling, acting the label. Practical tip: Say “I feel depressed” rather than “I am depressed”. Do not identify with your feelings or equal yourself to your feelings. You are more than your feelings. You are your motivations, your desires, your experiences, your hopes, your beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes as well as your feelings. Take them all into account, shuffle them around, and realize that your feelings are generally transitory rather than stationary, influenced by many factors amongst which your attitude towards life, towards events, and towards yourself.

Healthy habit number three

Do you recognize the following? You left a company because it turned out to be too much of what you didn’t want it to be or the misfit was so bad as to cause mediocre functioning, increasing stress, and great dissatisfaction.  For quite a few people it can be very tempting in such a situation to become revengeful, to start blaming everyone and everything (or at least a few people, right?), to look back at everything with tainted glasses, and to want the company and its (or some of its) people  to fail at what they do. Unfortunately, I have seen too many people in my coaching practice spending their precious energy, time, and skills at getting back at companies and people, literally or in their minds. Practical tip: Be honest with yourself and examine your thoughts and feelings. Anger and sadness related to grieving about the failed match between you and the company or job is perfectly normal, to a certain degree. It is part of the grieving process so clearly described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. At the same time, however, be honest with yourself about your own role in the situation (the anti-blaming strategy) and, most of all, remind yourself to focus on what to learn from this situation and on how to focus your energy, time, and efforts on a better, healthier future. 

Wishing you healthy habits for 2012 and beyond.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Detox Time – Why Wait Till Jan. 1?

You see a new e-mail arriving at your virtual doorstep and you can’t resist opening it. You never know.  Could be important, right? Your smart phone beeps and, as Pavlov would have loved to see it, you automatically check your latest text message, outperforming any well-trained animal and enjoying (are you really?) the instant gratification known as being connected, responding instantly, being seen, or whatever the gratification seems to be. You respond without giving it any serious thought as to what would be the wise, the efficient thing to do for you. Or you give it a thought and decide otherwise. That darn urge.

What do the so-called experts tell us? Efficiency and productivity experts seem to agree on at least this: Do not switch from A to X to L and then back to A again. It doesn’t make you faster or smarter and it certainly doesn’t make you more efficient or productive. Focus, full and undivided attention, and smart scheduling is what’s being preached. So what are you going to stop doing? What are you going to give your undivided attention and time? What is on your “To prevent and ignore” list? How are you going to let go of the interference?
No lists with tips here, I’m sorry to disappoint you. It’s up to you – it’s what works best for you. Because, the other side of the story, the opposite perspective of eliminating and (re)focusing is that for some people it’s not intoxicating or poisonous to be checking and switching. For some people it really works to check some tweets while working on a challenging task (still, switching constantly probably wouldn’t work for them either). For some people it helps to move from that delicate report they’re writing to a news article. It takes their mind off the roadblock they’re facing and it clears their thinking, even if they switch more than once. Reading some tweets and articles can provide you with new stimuli and perspectives – perspectives you might not have had access to if you had not taken that side road to twitter or Harvard Business Review’s website just to name two.

So am I for or against distractions and switching? Neither. I think there are two main questions to be asked:

1.   When is it beneficial to distract myself and when is it not?

2.   Which are usually my motivations to allow distraction and switching to take place?

Denial, procrastination, and response-pressure do not seem to qualify for great motivations - renewing and looking for fresh perspectives do. Hence I ask myself: Am I procrastinating a dull task? Am I fleeing from a difficult situation or am I reloading my energy and seeking new eyes with which to look at what’s at hand?
So my resolution for right now (why wait another 13 or so days?): honest self-reflection regarding my habits, my motivations and my level of efficiency. Different days and moods might well lead to different conclusions. As long as it is within my awareness and under my control, I will be on the path to detox.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Morning Thoughts

Scientific and technological advancements provide relatively few answers to the questions of life. As philosopher Immanuel Kant advised us, we need to muster the courage to use our own intellect. This intellect, however, is highly dependent on the place you were born, the stimuli you were exposed to and many other factors influencing you and your thinking. Life could easily have looked differently for you. So be careful not to identify with your roles too strongly. Live life as a piece of art, as a journey, make your life an essay. Trade the real life for the possible life, use your imagination and watch this attitude take you to uncharted territory. Reality could easily have looked differently, so make sure you don’t prematurely pin yourself down, and, above all, realize that you create your own reality. An inquisitive mind, courage, trust, perseverance, and a good sense of humor can be great allies in this endeavor. As Dutch philosopher Hans Achterhuis declared: “I want to understand. Rather than bumping my head repeatedly I choose to analyze and challenge the concepts underlying my thinking in order to progress.” What would it be like living, loving, working, and collaborating if we’d all do this? Let’s strive to enquire, to research, to dissect, to question, but also to feel and experience in order to build upon what’s already there but possibly hidden from us.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Leadership. What for?

Strategic thinking and planning.
Business acumen.
Innovative thinking.
Adaptability and flexibility.
Long term vision and goal setting.
Coaching skills.
Collaborative decision making.
Problem solving skills.
Eagerness to learn and admit mistakes.
Team leadership.
Transparent communication … 

A pretty long list and it continues, I’m sure.

In the intriguing and overly crowded world of leadership, a lot of the attention goes to the definition of great leadership, whether it’s called servant leadership or any other buzz word. Probably even more focus is on what kind of beliefs, attitudes, insights, and skills are needed to be a great leader. Large numbers of books, workshops, turn-around events, and lectures have focused and will focus on leadership and what it takes to become that great leader.

With so much attention on the what and how of leadership, I believe the more profound question to be: Leadership, what for? Luckily, this question is gaining more and more attention, but often from a perspective of doing good for the community and of social responsibility by for profit companies. Of course, this is an important aspect of doing business, and my own Moors Coaching & Training – Charity is a small, humble example, providing high quality coaching, workshop, training, lecture, and leadership development services totally free of charge to non-profits working for great causes. Again, just one small example of social entrepreneurship for the benefit of the greater good, and I’ve had many people applaud me for this charity business, which of course, makes me feel good, no denying there. But, the main question for me is: why do we do what we do and for what? Whether it be my personal leadership in how to lead my life while influencing people around me, not in the least our children. Or whether it be the leadership of Jeff Immelt at General Electric, John Chambers of Cisco Systems, or Matthew Spitzer, president of Doctors without Borders (and don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t mean to imply I’m playing in their league) – the biggest question of all is not how do I lead, but what should it lead to, whereto am I leading? A more sustainable world? A peaceful world? An inspired workforce that is adding meaningful value to customers while enhancing their own skills and insights?

What gets me closer to the “whereto” of my leadership in life:

n  To stop thinking just about objectives, tasks, and outcomes and start focusing on my effect on others.

n  To add to my focus on immediate concerns, the consideration of the long-term implications of my decisions.

n  To be familiar with my inner life such as my motivations, my fears, my values, and my purpose.

Do you know your purpose for living – for being in this world?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Questions to consider and thoughts to ponder

If you regularly visit my blog, you will have noticed I love questions. Not for the sake of questions, but for what they are capable of stirring up, for what they illuminate, unravel, reveal, and shed light on. This post covers questions to consider and thoughts to ponder. If it just gets you thinking in a different way, perceiving something from a new angle or trying new ways, I’ve accomplished my goal.

Seven questions to consider
n  Do you know what is really worth hanging on to and what’s weighing you down?

n  What has made you successful in the past that you need to change in order to move forward?

n  How often do you allow the pressures of conformity to hold you back?

n  Could it be that the best way to embrace change is to create it yourself?

n  How would a difficult situation that you cannot control change if you changed your perspective?

n  How often do you bring a variety of perspectives to the table?

n  Could it be that, in everyday life, you assume as certain many things that, on closer scrutiny, you find to be full of apparent contradictions?

Seven thoughts to ponder
n  A problem is only a problem if you think about it as such.

n  People who are certain might not be capable of learning much.

n  Your obstacles can do two things: stop you in your tracks or force you to be creative and adaptable.

n  One of your fiercest enemies is thoughtlessness.

n What you choose to see, believe, and think is how you develop and change.

n  Your ideas can enslave or liberate you. It’s up to you.

n  At times it's better to ask a new question rather than trying to solve an old problem.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Great Ideas And Good Intentions Gone Awry - Developing an Eye For Unintended Side Effects

On November 29, 2011 The Economist featured an article titled Be Careful What You Signal, announced by the following tweet: “Using sticker warnings to deter would-be thieves may actually serve as enticements for them to go ahead and break in.” The article discusses the use and effectiveness of stickers such as seen on London vans saying “No tools or valuables stored in this van overnight.” The Economist wonders aloud whether such stickers actually deter thieves or whether they simply draw attention to the fact that the driver is a nervous tool owner. According to Jeff Ely, a game theorist at Northwestern University, the one effect you can count on is that the sticker brings to mind "tools" and "removing tools". Although not exactly the same mechanism, it reminds me of the good old advice to ask your child to talk quietly rather than to ‘stop shouting’, not just because it’s more positive but the ‘stop shouting’ draws attention to shouting, the very thing you want your child to stop doing. It also reminds me of the fact that when I ask you not to think of an elephant, a picture of an elephant immediately and involuntarily enters your mind. Interesting processes that I might cover in a future post.

Getting back to the stickers on vans, this writing in The Economist coincided with today’s article by Nilofer Merchant on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network called Eight Dangers of Collaboration. Merchant writes about the fear of conflicting priorities, the uneasiness of not being the one and only all-knowing expert, about information (over) sharing and about other dangers of collaboration – reasons why collaboration doesn’t always produce the results that it’s heralded for.

Both articles discuss unintended and often overlooked side effects. They have been written from a broad perspective, by people able to look beyond the well-known, the obvious, the expected, and the intended which appeals to me greatly and has been the subject of some of my earlier posts on this blog.

Taking a side-step to the field of psychology, here you learn that all behavior serves a purpose – a premise well-known from the psychology of Alfred Adler. Some examples: The purpose might be self-protection (which is regularly accomplished by keeping others at a distance,) masking insecurity and fears (which might lead to bullying, which is not to say that it makes it excusable, of course), or gaining attention and love (which someone might try and accomplish by behaving overly pleasing and conflict-avoiding). The purpose is the guiding factor, the main goal, and the person finds his or her ‘best possible way’ to accomplish that desired goal. You also learn, or should have learned, that present behavior might serve a past purpose, a purpose that no longer holds true (since you’re safe now, or loved deeply), but the behavior continues. Or, as already alluded to, the purpose might still be a valuable one but the chosen tool (in this case the behavior) is not the best one to accomplish your goal. Not now or maybe not ever, and at least not for the environment but likely not for the person exhibiting the behavior either.

In his classic book Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative sir Ken Robinson extensively discusses how the present educational system, its output, and its founding premises are mostly based on or caused by developments and thinking from the years of Industrialization and that it is ruining the very thing it is said to accomplish: developing creative, problem-solving, independent, innovative minds who are willing and able to tackle the challenges that lie ahead of us. Robinson argues that people and organizations everywhere are dealing with problems that originate in schools and universities. He argues that many people leave education with no idea of their real creative abilities, and worse, with most of their original abilities having been discouraged and neglected during their education. I highly recommend this book with its passionate call for radically different approaches to leadership, teaching, and professional development. It will likely open your eyes to the possibility of unintended effects of something potentially great (or something that was great in the past) and to the devastating consequences of running on expired assumptions.  

Just as scientists incorporate new findings and newly developed technology (or so we hope) into their thinking, into the formation of adjusted or new assumptions, and into the way they do research, so should everyone, from parent, to employee, to business leader, to educator etc. consider two questions:

1.   Which are my premises that I built my theory, my tool, my institution, my organization etc. on? How can I ensure that I do not pass the expiration date on these premises due to globalization, technological advancements, climate change or any other development?

2.   Is whatever I’m working for so passionately, whether it be higher efficiency through collaboration or anything else, actually producing the desired results without unintended negative side-effects outweighing the possible positive outcomes?

My bottom line: Be mindful that a great tool, concept, method, institution, or assumption might have unintended effects that people have difficulty seeing and acknowledging. Be mindful that your great tool, concept, method, institution, or assumption might not be functional anymore (might not serve its purpose anymore). And be mindful that it might be based on old premises that have outgrown recent developments and future dynamics in the world of economics, business, education, politics or any other field. Be mindful, be open to the unexpected and unwanted, think outside of your own field of expertise, look beyond your assumptions, and solicit input from other fields and from thinkers who are not ‘look-alikes’.