Facts vs Narrative

In reading several books lately and through several observations, I’m better understanding the need for leaders to look for the facts and avoid the narratives. Too many leaders have a narrative or worldview or agenda they are driving that are not based on facts. It might be regarding climate change or it might be spending in an organization or it might be a new program that someone wants to start or stop. In many cases, poor leaders are driving or driven by the narrative independent of the facts.

The facts are sometimes hard to spot and the facts might not be the facts because they might be created or driven by a narrative further up stream. So even the facts needs to be questioned and discussed. However, if you want to be a leader, if you want to have an impact, if you want to succeed, you’ve got to be looking for the underlying facts.

In some contexts, this means looking for the ‘root cause’ in others situations it might be clearly understanding ‘the goal.’  Either looking backwards to the cause or forward to the destination. In either case, find this first. Look for this.

The world is a strange place right now with narratives driving so much.

Exaptation

Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation used the word exaptation to describe new uses for existing solutions. The word has a biological background and use, but it can be applied to anything. I’ve written about this book before on a post about being cross disciplinary and spreading good ideas.

David King has started a new company called Exaptive which is doing work with a tool and methods designed from the ground up to facilitate leveraging ideas, methods, solutions and data across different disciplinary areas. Very interesting. You can follow their blog here.

Diversity Wins

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I’ve written a bit before about diversity and how it fits into getting better results and how it is a key part of collaboration success. I’ve recently finished the book Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age by Steven Johnson. As mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of his material which I’ve referenced here and here.  He writes:

When groups are exposed to a more diverse range of perspectives, when their values are forced to confront different viewpoints, they are likely to approach the world in a more nuanced way, and avoid falling prey to crude extremism.

and a key thought:

Diversity does not just expand the common ground of consensus. It also increases the larger group’s ability to solve problems. The pioneer in this line of research is the University of Michigan professor Scott E. Page. He has spent the past twenty years building a convincing case for what he calls the “Diversity trumps ability” theory, demonstrating the phenomenon in sociological studies and mathematical models. Take two groups of individuals and assign to each one some kind of problem to solve. One group has a higher average IQ than the other, and is more homogeneous in its composition. One group, say, is all doctors with IQs above 130; the second group doesn’t perform as well on the IQ tests, but includes a wide range of professions. What Page found, paradoxically, was that the diverse group was ultimately smarter than the smart group. The individuals in the high-IQ group might have scored better individually on intelligence tests, but when it came to solving problems as a group, diversity matters more than individual brainpower.

and in summary
We want diversity for another reason as well: because we are smarter as a society—more innovative and flexible in our thinking—when diverse perspectives collaborate.
In a corporate setting, it means our teams needs to contain diverse backgrounds and experiences with some new ideas and some older experiences mixed together.
And as a leader, it means I need to really be dialed into listening to opinions of people who differ from me because they might have a perspective that I can’t see. I once told one of my staff that I was blind to something that she felt passionate about and she later told me that meant a lot to her to hear me say that to the group.
Diversity wins.

Cross Disciplinary

When I was in graduate school, I remember sitting in a vector calculus class and realizing how the thoughts in this class were beginning to merge together with an earlier electromagnetic fields class and my current complex analysis class. The thoughts and ideas were overlapping and merging together. It was a moment of clarity for me as I saw how these different disciplines began to fit together.

This draws me back to Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From which I’ve talked about before here and where he writes about exaptation and liquid networks and how ideas can blend together, cross over, and become something new. He uses the phrase ‘idea sex’ where ideas blend together to become something new and perhaps amazing.

I just finished reading one of James Altucher’s books, The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth after following him online for a long time. In the book, he talks about reading all the time and in several places about tying different things/thoughts/disciplines together. He, like Johnson, use the phrase ‘idea sex’ where you combine two ideas into a new better idea.

This is not just taking a good idea and applying it to your problem or space. It is about blending ideas together in a new fashion. One day at work years ago, we had a network cut that isolated one of our key sites off our corporate network and to make matters worse, the tool we used to communicate bulletins about outages was hosted at the site cutoff. We lost the channel we used for corporate communications with this outage. In thinking about this, I realized we should have an off-network communication channel and at once, we realized that Twitter could be that channel. We could create a private account on Twitter and only allow approved people to see the tweets of that handle. Then we’d have a communication channel for broadcasts 100% off our network. We used a social networking platform in a new way to solve a problem and it cost us nothing.

I see this all the time. When I read the book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) I could see how that applies to several problems in a University setting and I shared it with friends there and I also had work related applications in mind.

Tying all this back together, I think we need to

  • Be reading all the time and reading across disciplines. Don’t just read in your area of expertise, but read across lots of areas and include fiction in your reading too.
  • Connect people together and have more meaningful conversations and not just about the weather and the score of the game. Talk about politics, about what you are reading, about what struck you on a blog post or in a twitter feed, talk about ideas.
  • Share great ideas and nuggets of information with others that might help them in their endeavors with no expectation of anything in return. Become known for sharing ideas with others.
  • Listen deeply to what others are saying and perhaps what they are not saying.
  • Become a person who facilitates the success of others. Countless leadership books talk about this.

Altucher’s book is about a lot of these ideas and he even suggests we should host dinners with interesting people. Just bring good people together to meet, share and connect. Perhaps, one of your guests might solve a big problem that another one of your guests is struggling to solve.

There was a wonderful post in the NY Times the other day called The Moral Bucket List which starts by saying:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

Be that kind of person. Be someone connecting dots and people.

Customer Relationship Management Fail (or Success)

thumb_CRM-ButtonI’ve been thinking a lot about CRM lately. About how some organization seem to get it and some simply don’t. And those who get it appear to be fantastically better than than the ones who don’t get it. I don’t understand why some organizations aren’t better at this(or don’t seem to be trying) when I perceive the return to be huge.

I have season tickets with two nearby sports teams. One gets it and ones doesn’t.

In the one case, I needed an extra ticket at a certain level to get a visiting family member into the club space. I called my contact there and asked if I could buy another ticket (they don’t sell single game tickets) and the reply was that ‘he would take care of it and there would be a ticket at Will Call under my name.’  No questions. No hassle. No charge. The same organization has done other great things for us that were not needed or even expected.

The other team, despite much more expensive tickets, barely knows my name. I once asked about getting a guest’s birthday posted on the screen at half time and I was told they would take care of it. Didn’t happen. Wasn’t there. Never heard back from my contact afterwards either. They also seem to take better care of their business customers better than their individual/family customers.

Another organization that I interact with bends over backwards to help me get things done. If I need help, they just take care of it. Even things that they shouldn’t have to do for me, they take care of it because they are great service providers to me. Yes, they make money selling me services but they bend over backwards to help me be successful.

I will routinely have sales executives come to visit me and I find that some know a lot about me and some know nothing. Some have read this latest post here which is funny and interesting to me. They comment on it. That is almost creepy, but it means they are doing some research and they are trying to better understand their customer.

Someone sent me an email recently commenting on my LinkedIn profile in a funny manner. They made the attempt to connect with me from that description. Another person a few years ago noticed my ‘donkey handler’ skill on LinkedIn.

Related, there was an article a few months ago which said the following about sales,

By providing personal, determined, and honest service instead of the hard sell, it’s possible to build long-term relationships instead of quick, one-time sales

Much to think about here. I think I could do sales (but I don’t want the travel).

Collaboration Thinking

I’ve recently being doing some work with friends on a personal project and during the course of our work, notes were shared via mailing a ms word file to all the team members asking for input and additional ideas.

I have to say that I can’t work this way anymore. I don’t think this way anymore.

I’ve become used to working collaboratively on the same document at the same time. Mailing around files to share is the past. Sharing a link and jointly and simultaneously working on the same document is the present.

I’ve also noticed that this is hard to explain to someone who has not worked this way. If someone challenges you to work with some of the new tools like Google Apps, you need to give it a try.

 

A few productivity ideas…

Thought I’d do a post, or several, on some personal productivity ideas. There are literally billions of lists or sites that will share with you the 11 things, or the 12 ways, or the 10 habits and I don’t want to add to that list. But resistance is futile and I must share some things that I use. So, here are some habits or methods or tools that I recommend. Feel free to ignore.

  1. Use Evernote. Get in the habit of saving receipts, pdf files, great articles, things you write, key things to remember, etc. to Evernote. Spring for the premium version and turn on 2-factor authentication and then use it as part of your memory. I can’t stress enough the benefit of using tools to remember and find things instead of depending on your memory. Change how you remember and find things and use Evernote.
  2. Use collaboration centric tools instead of stand-alone tools. Start using Google Apps(or similar) for work with others. Presentations, documents, lists, etc. No offense intended, but if you are doing things with the old office productivity tools and not using tools that are designed for teams, then you are locked into the past. There is a risk that you might be a dinosaur. Don’t be a dinosaur. Use the Google tools or similar.
  3. Manage your calendar and don’t let it manage you. Keep it correct and be looking ahead the next few days. If you can’t do something, even months in the future, then cancel it off your calendar. Respect those you deal with by honoring their time and yours. Be there on time and finish on time. If you are late to an appointment, then apologize. If you know of something years in the future, go ahead and put it on your calendar.
  4. Use a todo app on that smart phone in your pocket. Then everything you need to do, or must happen, or is related to an important deliverable, etc. is recorded on that todo application. You can use Reminders on the iPhone or you can use something far more powerful like OmniFocus which I use.
  5. Use https://www.instapaper.com(or an app like it) to save articles you want to read later. Install the app on your smartphone and you can read on the go.
  6. Use Feedly to aggregate all the web site you want to read. Then go there to catch up on the sites you want to follow instead of visiting all the different sites. You can use Feedly on your smart phone or Reeder to then read articles offline. Highly recommend. Then use Instapaper to save things you want to read later or send things you want to keep to Evernote. I use Evernote to save articles I want to save indefinitely. I use Instapaper as the holding place where I want to think about it further or I want to think about saving it longer. Evernote is only for the gems.
  7. If your todo app can accept email actions and put them in an inbox (like Omnifocus) then learn how to use this feature to forward emails that might require action later and turn them into todos.

There you go. Some thoughts on getting things done and staying organized.