Category Archives: Leadership

Taking Stock of Today’s Business World

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.44.13 PMThe best business leaders want to innovate, embrace change, and create new business approaches because they recognize the need to evolve.  And yet in business too many leaders still do things by the book and stick to the logic of reason and results to the exclusion of other ways of thinking.  Too many of us think and operate primarily this way, especially during difficult times.  The uncomfortable reality is that disruptive ideas come from the combination of instinct and play, so we’re pretty much thinking backward when it comes to engaging innovation.  We’re rearranging our companies rather than exploring the many ways we could create a completely different kind of company.  Organization has the potential to add the most value when it follows creative imagination possibilities, no when it precedes it.

Popular thought says that by applying more analysis, focusing more on results, and working harder to get those results, we will get to the new and different.  But that is not the case.   This is a forceful approach to change, but it’s not actually a smart approach to change.  It’s certainly not a very creative approach to change. Given this way to thinking, however it’s no wonder that we’ve developed business models that are hard to sustain.  The fragrance industry, the car industry, and the media industry, for example, have all been predominantly operating in the same way for many years, still try to innovate with reason to get results, and still hoping that if they use the same business models and the same management models they will be able to capture the market, keep sales afloat, and maintain margins.  But that is not in the cards.  In fact, the odds have been against it all along.

On an even larger scale, it’s no wonder that we’ve developed economic models that are not sustainable and that contribute to dwindling resources, climate change, and pollution.  The way we’ve been thinking about development has been through the linear, rational management systems.  But life unfolds according to very different principles.  Most likely, if we haven’t integrated the fundamentals of play, intuition, and instinct into our development models, it’s because we haven’t conceived of them in the first place.  Yet they present a huge opportunity.

It’s clear that we have evolved, progressed, grown, and prospered through a model that largely excludes the fundamentals of our ecosystem.  But we’ve reached a place where the disconnect is so big that we have no choice but to think differently–really differently–and innovate radically. Play, intuition and instinct show us how to do just that.  They show how we can think in a way that includes the fundamentals of life, the randomness of play, and the power and adaptive nature of our instinct for survival while responsibly harnessing our propensity for aggression and leveraging our valuable scientific heritage and its instrumental tool called logic.  And if we’re able to do that, then we’ll be able to innovate and change more easily.  We’ll also be able to prosper in a way that is more balanced between cooperation and competition, without compromising our ecosystems, our survival, and our legacy for future generations.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011. 

Navigating the shift to play or Get Over Inertia (Part 4)

Because creativity is such an important factor of success in business today, play should be part of every CEO’s mandate, and companies should be rated according to the level of playfulness of their culture in the same way as they are rated as a great place to work or as a socially responsible organization.  A number of practical steps can be followed to navigate this cultural shift toward play, which then can become easier than it seems.

If innovation is key to corporate success, and if play is the door to innovation, then the next logical question (logic does have it place!) is how to create a corporate atmosphere that is conducive to play, how to turn workers into players.

Think about what play look like.  It is personal, engaging, and interactive.  It is often exuberant and messy.  It is filled with light, color, and sound.  When you think about play, you may instinctively think about a children’s playground or children’s toys.  Now, think about corporate offices, or, more specifically, corporate boardrooms.  There are lots of straight lines in boardrooms, (or perhaps, artistically, an elegantly curved accent wall); there is typically an imposing table made from fine polished wood or sleek metal.  That table likely suggests a hierarchical seating arrangement that people intuitively understand: the boss will sit at the head of the table and the chief advisor will sit next to the boss or perhaps will anchor the other end.  The rest of the employees will fill in the sides of the table.  So, before the meeting even starts, everyone knows his or her relative importance.  And everyone knows that polite behavior is expected: sit up straight, papers stacked neatly in front of you, a pen at the ready, smartphone close by in case of an emergency.

These rigid boardrooms are where major strategic decisions are being made about innovation and the future of our organizations.  They represent a very logical environment geared toward conscious conversations that will unfold in a very linear and efficient way.  They appeal to the 20 percent of our intelligence that lives in our conscious mind with its wealth of creative ideas, and the intelligence that we can reach through play.

Dr. Marian Cleeves Diamond, one of the world’s foremost neuro-anatomists advocates the establishment of “playful environments.” I too believe that we need to create offices, boardrooms, and activities that engage our playful nature—a corporate sandbox or playground.  We are playful by nature and efficient by necessity.   So let’s embrace our nature, and less effort will be needed for the same, or better, results.  When we do this we can break through the mental barriers that are keeping us stuck. Certain corporations are already doing this. Some of the things that they do to create a play-friendly atmosphere include:

–       Allocating significant time in which employees are explicitly encouraged to play

–       Creating, or giving employees access to, physical spaces that are conducive to play

–       Giving employees implicit and explicit permission to “fail” or be “unproductive” in their pursuit of innovation.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

Get Past Inertia (Part 3)

In a group, because relationship add complexity, inertia grows exponentially more difficult to overcome. My inertia plus your inertia is more that 1 + 1 = 2, and when we add a half-dozen colleagues or try to take on a company with hundreds or thousands of employees, the task is truly formidable. Even if Kim decides she is ready to be brave and try a new way of organizing the Monday morning meeting, all of a sudden she confronts the realization that her change will affect her staff members. What if they don’t like her new approach to meeting protocol? Will they refuse to cooperate? Stop having lunch with her? Go over her head, complain to her boss, and expose her to a negative performance review? Kim has a problem. How can she try something new without so unnerving her colleagues that they stonewall a potentially good idea before it ever gets off the ground?

So, in addition to the natural preference for staying with a mode of being that has proven itself to be safe, getting past inertia is also difficult because of the emotional reaction of others. You have to show people that change will be beneficial to them; you have to make it both nonthreatening and inspiring. Play is key to overcoming the emotional component of inertia.

You are probably familiar with the saying that you must fight fire with fire. Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute for Play concluded, after years of research, that “play is no less important than oxygen…it’s a powerful force in nature that helps determine the likelihood of the very survival of the human race.” When we realize that the part of our brain that is responsible for our survival (the fight-or-flight response) is the same part of our brain that contains our capacity for play, it puts play in a new, more powerful, and clarifying light.

Play in face lives eye-to-eye with inertia; both are rooted in our brainstem, where you also find the part of the brain responsible for our survival. Play and inertia are in the same weight class, peers in a very exclusive executive suite where core strategic decisions about our present and future are made. But they are having a little war. Inertia, the more conservative of the two, believes that the smart move is to not move at all, to stay with the plan that got us this far safely. Play, the wild child, wants to dream a little dream, take the afternoon off, find Atlantis and create a new society there, because sitting here is, quite frankly, killing its buzz.

Play—our wildly creative and childlike nature—opens the emotional door. It offers an arena in which people become naturally more flexible. For example, think about music. You go to a rock or jazz concert and when the music starts you may sit or stand quietly, taking it in, being polite, and heaving appropriately. But over the course of the evening the music takes you over and you become more comfortable, then relaxes; you may start tapping your foot or swaying in time with the beat, or even dancing spontaneously with the stranger next to you. You behavior just changed without any effort on your part. This is the magic of play. Knowing that play is rooted in the same brain area as our instinct for survival is a good enough reason to give it the benefit of the doubt.

One you let the genie out of the bottle, once play is in full swing and inertia banished (at least at that particular moment), things ca move fast This is especially true with a large group, because just as it is harder to move a group out of its inertia, once the groups does get moving, it can be force to be reckoned with—in the best possible way. Then the challenge transforms into how to manage your newly creative, very energized team. How to channel their creativity into the winning innovations your company seeks without putting a damper on their enthusiasm. Playful energy will beget as many dead end and failures as it will successes. You have to be able to tolerate this, and you have to create an atmosphere in which your team will be able to tolerate it—even better, embrace it.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

Why Ritual is an Important Part of Leadership

Ritual is powerful and can be used to engage people in ways that words alone cannot.  Rituals are meant to affect the body through regular repetition and dramatic staging; as a consequence of that drama and repetition, they affect us at an instinctual level and influence the mind in ways much deeper than logic and reason.   From sacred ceremonies including school graduations and the public swearing in of elected officials, they mark the most significant moments of our lives, individually and collectively.  On a more mundane level, they help us navigate through the average day—the morning cup of coffee, a hot shower.  They send a signal to our brain that something of note is happening.  In all cases they help us harness energy, stabilize our minds, and have faith in the future.  In doing so they channel our thrust for survival in constructive ways.  By conveying a sense of purpose to important aspects of our lives, they help us find meaning, go past inertia to move through the challenges of life, and creatively reach beyond the bounds of logic.  Rituals powerfully harness the law of survival, the law of reaching beyond boundaries, and the law of inertia.

Rituals can also help in the business world.  BETC, the successful advertising agency in France, provides an example that can easily be adapted to many different businesses and industries.  The founder and chairwoman of the agency, Mercedes Erra, insists that whenever a brief on a new client or project is brought in by an account executive, it is and should be treated as a pivotal moment in the life of the agency.  The brief is the first step in the development of a new campaign.  Its arrival becomes a celebratory moment.  It is the trigger for a professional ritual in which importance and meaning are conveyed.  Food and drinks are brought into a special room, and all of the people who will be working on the campaign gather together to talk about the future of the project.   It is fun and play and serious work all at the same time.  Key elements of the brief are clarified, including the strategic context of the project.  There is discussion about the agency’s or individual team members’ relationship with the client, and any convictions or doubts about the client, their company, the brand, or the communications plan that they want to launch.  But what happens could not be achieved through an exchange of emails or written notes because they would not have the same impact.  Allowing time, staging the meeting in a different way, and having the chairwoman attend the briefing all have a special emotional impact and show the significance of the event.  People can feel its significance, and feeling it is more important than understanding it intellectually when it comes to harnessing creativity and enthusiasm.  Feelings make an impact on our bodies, which in turn influences our ability to solve problems and imagine new solutions.  Such a meeting reaches into people’s psyches, and the meeting’s perceived significance has a long-lasting effect.  Rituals are powerful, as they help us go beyond what’s tangible and conscious.  They reach deep into our unconscious, engage our instinct, and convey meaning.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

 

Metrics Vs. Intuition – Which Is Most Important In A Startup?

As Eric Basu observes, the most effective leadership style balances gut instinct with careful analysis of data points and metrics, and leaders with this balance are difficult to come by. But we would argue that the ability to tap into your instinct through your intuition can be developed and that it possible to facilitate a synergy between the rational mind and instinctual aptitudes. —The Human Company

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 9.53.28 PM

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericbasu/2014/03/02/metrics-vs-intuition-which-is-most-important-in-a-startup/

 

Environments in Which Creativity Can Flourish

It is a truism that the one thing that doesn’t change in life is change; we are constantly dealing with the unknown. A decade immersed in the performing art and cultural studies gave me a new perspective on the how modern world deals with change. When directing or acting, I had to accept that great art is not about control. It is about having discipline in the preparation and surrendering during the performance. Management, at lease the way I had experienced it, is about controlling the environment to ensure flawless execution and reach the expected results. Management is a powerful means to reach one’s ends, but my artistic journey made me realize that in the modern world, our fear of change and our inability to deal creatively with the unpredictability of change lead us to seek control over the process of life. This means that although management should be about stabilizing our environment to facilitate the natural creative process belying any human activity, we attempt to control the process to secure the results we want; we do everything we can to eliminate the unknown, but in doing so we work against the creative nature of life.

Excerpted from The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass, 2011.

It Is Not the Business of Business to Solve Society’s Problems, but Business Itself is Now Viewed as the Problem

In today’s environment where voters demand politicians rein in finance and corporations some businesses are trying to reinforce the consensus that they can be viewed as an engine of progress and a source of optimism. However corporate behaviors will not radically change without investors and customers asking for more long-term thinking and higher ethical standards.

Capitalism thrives by looking past the bottom line

Obama’s Leadership: The New Way of Leadership?

We have all read criticism of President Obama leadership style: too indecisive, seeking consensus for too long, not able to make strong powerful decisions quickly.

I disagree with this. Our President has taken relentlessly hard tasks at heart—2009 bail-out—and made swift decisions—BP oil crisis in the Mexican Gulf. I will argue that he offers a new leadership style that deserves our attentive consideration as the modern way of leading.
Read More

Harnessing the Power of Ritual for Business Innovation

How often do you engage in rituals? Probably more often than you think. From daily routines like the first cup of coffee in the morning or the story you read your child at bedtime to the most culturally significant celebrations, including weddings and bar mitzvahs, rituals are almost certainly a part of your personal life. But are they a part of your professional life? If not, you are missing out on an extremely powerful management tool, especially if what you are seeking from your team is creative innovation and out of the box thinking in the context of a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Research done by neuroscientists shows that 80% of our brain’s grey matter is dedicated to non-conscious thought and that imaginative play is one of the most direct means of activating our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Read More