The Latest Get up to speed with my most recent writing.


Appreciative Inquiry

Last week I attended the Fourth Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit.  One of the key topics was the implementation of Appreciative Inquiry, which really challenged the way I think about how I understand the value systems of my coworkers.

At its heart, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. AI is not so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but AI is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to “inquire” into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes.

Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution. In Practicing Organization Development: A guide to leading change and transformation, William Rothwell, Roland Sullivan, and Jacqueline Stavros

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Source: David L. Cooperrider at Champlain College

Stuck in my Routine

The passing of my grandmother Joyce last week kicked off one of the worst weeks of my life.  Her death was instantaneous, but unexpected.  She felt no struggle, fear or pain. She just left.  For her, a happy moment with her husband turned into an endless emptiness here on earth.

But for me and the rest of my family, our lives went from our daily routine to a tragedy we could barely contain. It didn’t feel so much like driving your car into a wall — even that gives you a few seconds of preparation — but more like waking up in the hospital not knowing what happened to put you there.  My family and I aren’t wrestling with what happened in that moment that she died, we’re trying to figure out what happens next.

After a few days of anxious preparations, we had a funeral, buried her, and people went back to their homes to get back into the routine of their home lives.

For me, this idea is highly discomforting. Life isn’t the same anymore, and pretending it is just stresses me out. So, I left town to do some soul searching.

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A CEO's Job Is a Messy Job

I'm an organized person.  Actually, that's probably a massive understatement.  I've obsessed over personal productivity for 15 years, and created systems to organize my rather chaotic life.  Living messy is hard for me, and I constantly need to remind myself that often times, its my job to mess things up.

Here's the thing about valuable people.  They always have too much to do. It's a simple case of cause and effect. When you are valuable to others, they want and need more of you.  This doesn't scale.  The more people learn to depend on you, the less able you are to help them.

As CEO, there's nothing more valuable than your time. Your time is your ability to help. It's why we say "thanks for your time" when someone serves you. Time is everything.

And so, to be valuable to many people, in a finite amount of time, things fall apart. It's physics, there's just no getting around it.  You can't fit it all in.  And so, we create a huge mess.

  • We are late to meetings, and not in the totally excusable 5 min "sorry for the traffic" late. Seriously late.
  • We drop the ball on promises.  Things that really matter to real people you care about.
  • We make silly mistakes by taking shortcuts. Personally, I'm guilty of delegating things to my team without good expectations.

You're probably thinking that I'm a crazy person. With some better GTD coaching, better delegating, and great supporting staff this would be much more controllable, right? Surely executing more effectively would give you more time back, right?  Not so. I've been deluding myself with this argument most of my career. 

Here's the truth.  Better productivity systems, organization and staff are critical tools, but they make you more productive. That means you can serve more people with your time, but it only overload your plate even more.  You become more like a stunt car driver than a civilian driver.  Barreling at high speeds, fast turns, unknown obstacles, and an occasional crash.  When you drive fast, no matter how experienced, you make a mess.

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How to Read a Book in a Week ... and do it week after week.

For over 4 years I've been reading a book every week. Its one of my favorite habits and creates new learning opportunities for me all the time.

I still accomplish this just about every week, and it's lead many of my colleagues intrigued with how I pull this off while running two organizations and a home life. Much to their surprise, this habit is largely the reason I have the opportunity to do just that. 

When it comes to your time, reading is one of the most valuable investments you can make. A few hours in a book will return years of wisdom.  There are few investment opportunities with that kind of ROI. That newfound knowledge will make you more effective with the limited time you have.

There are two challenges to overcome if you want to build this habit for yourself.  First, you have to learn how to read a single book in a week, and secondly, you have to build enough discipline to do it week after week.

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Learning to Trust

How do you decide if you should trust someone?  Do you trust by default, or does someone have to earn your trust?  What factors go into that decision?

What if I told you that this way of thinking, that you can consciously decide who to trust, is one of the most damaging aspects of your professional mind?

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains the two mental systems that control our mind:

The subconscious mind is the part of the mind we don't directly control. It takes input in the form of experiences and observations and guides us to survive.  Our subconscious doesn't understand language, and manifests itself as feelings. 

Conversely, the conscious mind is used for analysis, reasoning language and systematic thinking.  It's who you are talking to in your inner dialog.

Furthermore, it's important to understand that the conscious mind can easily influence the subconscious mind, and eventually overpower it. 

A pathological liar will eventually believe their own lies.  At first they know they are lying.  They choose their lies consciously.  But overtime, their conscious mind overpowers their subconscious, and the truth is repressed.  They believe their own lies, and live their life out of alignment with reality.

The same is true about trust, and I have a dangerous habit that I need to work on. When I sit in front of someone that I subconsciously do not trust, I ask myself why I don't trust them.  I deconstruct my history with that person. I look to understand the intentions behind their actions.  In my head is a fictional representation of who I want them to be, and I consciously find supporting arguments to defend that position.

This is classic overthinking.  My subconscious has a much more honest understanding of that person, but my conscious mind overpowers it. Much like the pathological liar who believes his own lies, I trick myself into trusting someone I shouldn't. The truth is repressed, until reality comes crashing back.

My perception of reality will never be more true than actual reality.  To fix this bad habit I must learn to always feed my subconscious truthfully and listen more closely to my gut instinct. 

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Cynefin Framework

Using the Cynefin framework can help executives sense which context they are in so that they can not only make better decisions but also avoid the problems that arise when their preferred management style causes them to make mistakes.

The Cynefin Framework is a very interesting model for leaders who need to evaluate the effectiveness of their leadership styles in complex situations.

Dave Snowden's Cynefin blog explores many case studies of the framework in action, but I think you'll find the video and link below to be a great place to start.

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Source: David J. Snowden at Harvard Business Review

Playing the Game of Business?

Thinking of your business as a game to be won is perhaps the most singularly damaging attitude you can have as an entrepreneur.  

Games are a battlefront, with a winner and a loser. Which side do you want to be on?  The winning side, of course… right?  I would argue that this is an unhealthy thought process. This is a false paradigm which dramatically overcomplicates the reality of the business world.

Business is not about stealing customers, destroying competitors, or being bigger and larger than the companies around us. Wealth, power, size and influence are all byproducts of serving value to others.

Our purpose as business people should be to always seek to add the highest value to those whom we serve, without condition for ourselves. When our ego is present, we are lead astray by our fear, greed and insecurities.  It’s only in the complete absence of our ego that true leadership exists.  

Treating business as a game infects our thinking by putting the focus on winning or losing.  But, win-win scenarios are the only paths to success.  Any other situation perpetuates a downward spiral, despite the potential illusion of short term success.

What happens when you create a situation where your company thrives at the expense of your customers? If you don’t create enough value to sustain your involvement in the project, your customer can’t afford to pay you. As a result, they leave and you suffer the loss of a customer. A win-lose always becomes a lose-lose.

Lets flip the script. Consider a situation where you provided a service for a customer, but after the work is done they renegotiate the deal with you for a lower price.  The work is no longer at a sustainable rate for you, and so you can’t serve that customer anymore. Without a vendor, the customers business will suffer.  A lose-win always becomes a lose-lose.

Enter competition.  If a customer can’t sustain you as a vendor, another vendor will avail themselves in your stead, right?  That is, indeed, virtually always the case. But, that’s not a competitive loss. It’s merely your failure to serve by not finding a win-win, which gives your customer no choice but to look elsewhere. The company which provides the highest value becomes the vendor, by the nature of the way the world works. 

Prolonged gains, like those required to create a profitable business, don’t come at the expense of others. Quite the contrary. We must live to serve each other in a spirit of oneness if we are to find mutual success.

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How to Define Outcomes and Manage Tasks

One of the keys to effective executive productivity is to manage tasks and map them to predefined outcomes. Over ten years of working various productivity systems, I got quite good at handling things that were expected of me and kept my projects moving forward. But about six months ago I had an epiphany that changed all that.

My epiphany was that most of the tasks I track were things that I was asked to do, and only a few were things I thought were valuable. Meaning, I was quite good at helping other people move forward with their agendas but weaker at managing my projects.

To fix this, I needed to think more about the results than the actions. By making a list of the outcomes I am trying to create, it becomes easier to see what todo’s are important to me, and which are not.

To do this, I use an excellent list manager called The Hit List by Karelia Software.

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