Sunday, March 19, 2017

The meaning of an action is the feedback it receives

A pony named Callie and a small horse named Tonto follow each other around small, endless circles. Have you ever had a job like that?

I don't know how the animals feel about it. But I know what they were accomplishing. I put a 5 year old girl on Callie and I knew she was being brave. She really wanted to ride the pony, but ponies are quite large animals when you are 5 years old. Riding the pony wasn't just a treat: it was an accomplishment.

There are days my work can feel like walking in small, endless circles. I keep doing it in the hope that some people will be able to practice being brave and feeling connect to something just big enough and different enough to scare them a little.

In NLP, we say that the meaning of a communication is the feedback it generates. Remember to look for the results before you decide that going in circles means you're not making progress.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What difference does it make when you get in sync?

Brad Cheeseman Trio at The Steel City Jazz Festival, 2016

Most people think that having more influence means one of two things: either they can somehow eliminate resistance so people will do what they want or they can achieve enough status and power so that people will do what they want. There's nothing wrong with either of those as goals, but there are many things you might want people to do that won't come from choosing the right words or having the power to make people comply.

I am a teacher, and I often teach adults who have more money and power than I do. I don't have a carrot or a stick to motivate them to do what I want them to do. Even if I did, carrots and sticks are not good motivators of self discovery, of reflection or of the pause that comes before a sound decision. The influence I want will not come from carrots or sticks. So I have to look for other models of influence and leadership.

This is one of the reasons I listen to jazz. If I want to isolate the power of rhythm in leadership, I can learn by listening to a jazz trio. Their direction is set by structure (the piece they agree to play together), by rhythm (the key to playing together instead of on top of one another) and by suggestion (one solo leads to another collaboratively).

If they don't have a way to be in sync (to share the rhythm) then they can neither collaborate (suggest) nor communicate meaningfully (play the piece). 

Now think about the influence you want to have on a person or a project. Ask yourself: are we in sync? If you're not, it's  your job to change so that "sync" happens. You can't count on other people to come to to you; you'll have to gather them by sharing their rhythm until you can move into something that works better.

Think of getting in sync as sharing a set of expectations that occur in time. Some times you expect action (the sound) and sometimes you expect preparation (the silence).  You can shorten the intervals by increasing the tempo (but then you don't leave time for thought) or you can change the relationships between sound and silence (by changing the rhythm so that sometimes there is more time in between and sometimes less). The beat sets the priorities (so that some actions govern other actions).

It's so complicated. Yet you have listened to music and tapped a finger or a foot. You have listened as musicians layer different sounds to make music. You have walked away from meetings knowing when a team was in sync (and when they weren't). You know that being in sync means that priorities and actions become reliable.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Self-knowledge: How far have you come in 5 years?

What would you say if you met your past self for a coffee? Of course it would depend on which past self you chose to meet. Perhaps you would chat like old friends and perhaps the conversation would be a little guarded, a little judgemental. How do you feel about the connection you have to the person you were five years ago?

This is me five years ago, reading one of the very first copies of the first printing of my first book. I was really excited. I thought that finally finishing a book would change everything. But it didn't seem to make much difference. The business didn't grow. A few people loved what I had written, but for the most part, life chugged along with the same ups and downs.

Like any dream that doesn't quite live up to our hopes, this one stung a little. I kept meaning to go back and rewrite the book for publication and I kept putting it off. Reading it was hard and I had a lot to do that felt more forward-thinking and more productive. So I kept doing that instead.

Until this week. This week I closed myself into a hotel room with my book and started reading and making notes. As I expected, the going was rough in places. There are some places I winced a little, wondering how I thought that transition or that explanation would work for a reader. Some parts of the argument felt a little foggy or a little distorted. And yet. . .

Here was the blue print for everything I have created in the past five years.

It turns out that all the twists and turns have been in service of a remarkably consistent vision of how people work and what work I want to do. And maybe most remarkably (and hardest to admit), I'd like to have coffee with the person who wrote this book. I think we could meet as friends. She's not nearly as confused as I thought she was.

I get to see the path I have been following because I wrote something big five years ago, and stabilized what I was thinking and what was important to me.  You don't have to write a book to do this, but it's worth considering what you were doing 5 years ago that might allow you to step back in time now and notice who you were and who you've become and how those two connect.

Congruence doesn't just mean pulling all parts of yourself together in this moment: it means that this moment contains all your past selves, and it's worth being curious about where they line up.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Problem Solving Through Conversation

I bet you've tried to talk about a problem with someone and come away more confused and unhappy than you started. It's happened to all of us. We know that other people's ideas hold some kind of key to finding what we need. Yet talking about our problems often leads to new problems.

Here's a better way. Understand what kind of help you want and behave in ways that make it more likely you'll get it. Consider these three possibilities:

  1. Have a conversation to learn how someone else solved a similar problem. This means listening to their story and being curious about it. It doesn't mean leaping to conclusions or trying to apply it to your own situation before you've heard the whole story.
  2. Have a conversation to learn how someone was able to persist until they found a solution. This doesn't require that the problem they solved was like the problem you want to solve. Instead, as you listen to the story, ask questions about what was true in their attitude, their surroundings, and their connections with other people that allowed them to keep going when a solution seemed out of reach. Again, you have to be curious about the whole of the story instead of running away with your first insight.
  3. Have a conversation about useful limits. Find out how other people have put constraints on their problems, projects or businesses. Listen with curiosity to the way people generate ideas when they accept or choose limits. And yes, be curious about the whole of the story before you start to apply it to your own situation.
Did you notice a common thread running though all three conversations? You have to suspend your own stuff long enough to be curious about the whole of a story. You have to engage with someone else's experience even after you have the first insight into how it might be useful to you. By maintaining your curiosity a little longer, you'll get to better ideas. And you'll find that other people are willing to share more of their best with you.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Work or Play: Focus on What You Want

Some people say I work too hard. They're the people who know the difference between work and play. Play is supposed to be easy and light and fun and work is supposed to be serious and require an effort.

But it's easier to work too hard if you think you're playing. Imagine that someone at work told you to get down on the floor next to the closet and make art on a paper bag. You'd think the demand was preposterous.

I don't work too hard. It's possible I don't work hard enough. But I sometimes play on the floor until I get stiff and sore. It happens when I am playing with fascinating people making real a vision I can almost bring into focus. Like the best learners I know, I play until my eyes won't stay open.