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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

As good as it gets: Different people thinking and talking differently

“Oh please, don’t be so weird, act normally, will you?” – How often do you hear parents utter something to this effect to their children, yourself (and myself!) included?

“What planet are you from? This is totally out of context!” – How often do you hear colleagues and managers say something to this effect to the employee who stepped out of the so-called box?
“There is totally no proof to this. We have not found any evidence supporting this hypothesis!” – How often is a phrase like this one used among scientists or (self-proclaimed) experts in whatever field of expertise?

“Don’t ask so many questions!”  I particularly cringe when I hear this one.

Unusual perspectives, off questions, unexpected approaches, ‘weird’ responses … I love them, most of the time. When our children start with “Mom, I have a question” I often respond with “I love questions”. I love questions because it lets me peak into their mindset, what they’re thinking about, what they’re struggling with, what they’re wondering about. I love it because it starts a conversation and a thinking process. And I love it even more if they surprise me with their question or if I don’t know the answer to their question. Because then we’ll fantasize, hypothesize, and wonder. This is how new ideas are born, often with old or known ingredients. Call it problem-solving, creativity, innovation or plain good conversation – I love it. Our son says I read a lot about philosophy or leadership (and he’s not far off). He jokes about it and at the same time seems to enjoy the many conversations about a variety of topics as well as wondering about the many things we can wonder about, which is anything really, including those things that seem set in stone but really are not. Often, there is no one answer to the question being posed, and I’ll deliver (and ask for!) as many different perspectives on the topic as we can come up with. 
So let me present to you some off questions and perspectives from people who think beyond, who combine the in-combinable , and who turn concepts upside down. 

n  The Jack Welch question: “What would you do differently if you had just been hired for the job?” No further introduction needed if you ask me. Just contemplate the question and be brutally honest and open-minded.

n  Ron Ashkenas: “Rejection is critical for success.” Rather than viewing rejection as that painful situation causing emotional doubts about our own competence and self-worth you can decide to take a more constructive approach to rejection: It can force you to come up with more ideas, it can redirect you to different paths, and it can keep you humble and open to learning.

n  Barbara Kellerman: “Leaders are obsolete.” Kellerman argues that “the leadership industry has been peddling the idea that great leaders can change the world. This worked in a time when followers ac­tually believed in their leaders. .. Power has shifted decisively into the hands of followers rather than leaders. Followers –those of us who are not leaders – expect more in every way… Leaders are just not the stars they used to be. We know too much about them, and hold them to impossible standards. They do not have the same room for manoeuvre any more. We chase them down using social media, having started from the premise that they are all crooks anyway… So, what is the point of trying to teach leadership when leaders have become impotent, and what matters is the crowd?” Not much, concludes Kellerman. Her industry, she says, needs to rethink its purpose or become obsolete.

n  Marshall Goldsmith: Instead of asking or giving feedback, ask and give feedforward – Feedback is typically focused on the past, and on what someone did wrong. The problem is that most people don't like to give nor receive negative feedback. Uncomfortable topics—those that need the most attention—are either avoided or the feedback is neglected. With “feedforward” people can focus on hearing the suggestions without becoming defensive or worrying about their reply. People respond better to ideas they can still act on.

n  Charles Duhigg: A sharp awareness of the difference between a habit and a conscious decision can mean the difference between failure and success at a company: Is how your company functions truly the best course of action or did it develop simply because that’s the way it’s always been done? Asks Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. He cites a study which found that nearly 45% of all daily behaviors are based on habit. By developing a keener sense of how — and why — someone chooses to take an action, you can start to develop a framework for predicting future patterns according to Duhigg.
How about you? Do you love questions, do you enjoy to turn things upside down? Do you appreciate ‘weird perspectives’?

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