Sunday, June 29, 2008

Clever or Wise

"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."
- Naguib Mahfouz

I have a friend who is in the throes of considering where to celebrate his 50th birthday. High on the consideration list is Cairo. Wow! What a great place to celebrate fifty years of his journey so far - a place of great wisdom, mystery, and historical impact. Of course, if it is indeed Cairo, I know just what I shall give him.

One of my favorite writers is Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz, born in Cairo in 1911, spent his life until 1972 as a civil servant in the Egyptian government bureaucracy. His appointments included Director of Censorship in the Bureau of Art, Director of the Foundation for the Support of the Cinema, and consultant on Cultural Affairs to the Ministry of Culture. Concurrent with his government work, Mahfouz was writing. He published his first novel in 1939 and published ten more before 1952. His retirement in 1972 saw a great burst in Mahfouz's creative output. Before his death in 2006, Mahfouz published about thirty novels, more than a hundred short stories, and more than two hundred articles. Many of his novels have been made into films. Naguib Mahfouz was award the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street) is a great piece of work. I read the three novels straight through one summer and was mesmerized. Even now I can transport myself to the courtyard of the family house. The sights and smells of Egypt, a foreign land to me, became burned into my mind. Mahfouz writes about the political and the mundane in such combination that a shared sense of journey across continents, a shared humanity, emerges. The other becomes familiar through the motions and meanderings of daily life. This trilogy will make a great gift for my friend if he travels to Cairo.

To be a clever man or a wise man, a question of old. Mahfouz's answer in the above quote speaks to me. I believe that cleverness is about power and ego, while wisdom is more about seeking solutions that solve root causes. A clever man shows, sometimes spouts, his knowledge. A clever man relishes in center stage. A wise man, however, is still learning, still searching, and still open, regardless of age or position.
Wisdoms questions, without fear. Questioning, a wise man knows, leads to a fuller, more expansive outcome.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Activating A World in Us

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
- Anais Nin

Anais Nin is best known for publishing her journals which span more than 60 years. Nin's journals intimately chronicle her emotional life, her physical life, her spiritual life, and her intellectual life from age 11 until her death at age 77. The journals are fascinating because you can trace on the page the development of Anais Nin as a multi-dimensional being. Born of artistic, worldly parents, Nin's perspective from the beginning was non-traditional, open, rather unencumbered, thus it seems natural that she delves deeply into the world of psychoanalysis and erotica, what a wonderful combination!

The inspiration Anais Nin offers any one of us is this: the power of an open perspective and the power of questioning the conventional. Page after page of her journals is full of these two aims. Her whole life was full of these two aims, and this worldview led her to some interesting places, interesting situations, and interesting people. To remember that she was writing so openly and graphically about her relationships, as unconventional as they were, back in the society of the 1950s and 1960s is incredible.

We could jokingly say Anais Nin got around. But, I would say it non-jokingly - Anais Nin got around, met and worked at getting to know deeply interesting and interested people. I love her quote above that speaks to how we can activate the innate worlds of intelligence, motivation, and passion in one another. To connect our internal bodies of knowledge and intuition is the power and purpose of collaboration, and I love being able to think of Anais Nin, radical that she was, as a collaborator, one who melded what she had with others in hopes of creating something bigger, better, more.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lackadaisical Risks

"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of
- Daniel J. Boorstin

Daniel J. Boorstin was a very learned man who did a lot of things in his ninety years. To me this is what is intriguing about him, or anyone - doing a lot of things that have common threads running throughout. Boorstin was a learner and did not shy away from things he had not done before. He was an American historian, professor, attorney, and prolific writer. Boorstin wrote more than 20 books, including a trilogy on the American experience and one on world intellectual history. In 1974 he won a Pulitzer prize in history. Boorstin also served as director of the National Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian and as Librarian of Congress.

There is a lot to be inspired by Boorstin and his life of perpetual learning but this bit is my favorite. When President Gerald Ford nominated Boorstin to be Librarian of Congress in 1974, the nomination was supported by the Authors League of America but opposed by the American Library Association because Boorstin "was not a library administrator". I love that because I get that all the time. Basically, the ALA said "we can't trust him because he is not one of us". One of us myopia - it's a disease. Of course, the nomination was approved by the Senate without debate.

The ALA back in 1974 when faced with a new leader from outside their ranks suffered from the illusion of knowledge. They assumed that to administrate a library you have to have risen from the ranks. Their illusion of knowledge created a trust barrier. The alternative analytical approach in this situation would have been to look at Boorstin's success in other areas and have deduced that the temperament, qualities, and skills that made him successful in those arenas were transferable to their playing field.

I think the illusion of knowledge occurs because we become complacent and comfortable with the status quo. We stop learning. We become lackadaisical in our work. Lackadaisical means we are without interest, vigor, or determination. We become listless and lethargic. Ignorance develops because literally knowledge passes us by when we stop reaching. Our knowledge becomes irrelevant, a mere illusion of knowledge. And, the result is that we analyze situations and make decisions with old knowledge such that new discovery is off limits to us. A leader who is lackadaisical risks steering his organization severely off course.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Think In New Ways

During the summer I spend a lot of time traveling, meeting new people in new places. Inevitably one of the first topics of conversation is the proverbial what do you do? I usually ease my way into the conversation by saying I am a consultant. As expected, the comeback is what do you consult about? Sometimes I have trouble explaining what I consult about because working to improve the effectiveness of a group of people that work together is different at each place, with each group, within each different industry. I don't really have my two minute elevator speech down. The other day I came across this poem by Robert Bly, and I think I shall adapt his first line to create my answer from now on because it is really the key to doing differently, to doing new things, and to doing same things with a renewed spirit.

I teach people that work together to think in new ways --
simple, to the point, under two minutes, authentically descriptive. I like it!

Things To Think by Robert Bly

Think in new ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever hear,
vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he's about
to give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time, or that it's
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Great Work or a Job?

Commitment is passion. Commitment says I dedicate my whole being to this. Commitment should be deep, root, a source of energy. Work that you are committed to creates this paradoxical cycle: the more you work the more energy you have. Commitment should be that place where intellect and gut intertwine, where values are transformed into actions. We use the word commitment lightly, or numbly, because many of us are not reflective about daily life and how we spend our time. We hold a job, not engage in great work.

We think of work all too often as a job, not as a commitment, a passion, a chance to show daily what we believe in. To use an ancient term that Carl Jung recast, we should see our work as our mandala. Our work should be that sacred place and sacred endeavor that allows us to give our gifts to the world. Our work should feed our sense of self and our sense of purpose. We spend way too many hours at work, physically and emotionally, for it not to. If work is not a great source of creativity and pride for us, then we are doing the wrong work. And, the wrong work has no chance of being great work.

Steve Jobs, in his commencement address to Stanford Class of 2005, says it well:

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. I’m convinced that the
only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. Your work is
going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly
satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do
great work is to love what you do. Don’t settle [for less]. As with all
matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

Work is about the heart as much as it is the head. We must find work we can be committed to and passionate about in order to create greatness for others, and for ourselves. We must help others find work they can be committed to instead of just holding jobs in our organizations.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Strategic Imagination

Innovation, changing from old ways of doing whatever it is that you do, is difficult for many reasons. One of the first reasons is because most people really want to do a good job and they have arrived at what they believe, what they do, how they do it through a convincing process and have worked it, perfected it, lived it, and strived to do it very well, whatever "it" is. To change from all that, to innovate, is a process that takes strategic imagination. And, it takes leadership. And, it takes time to move into the new thinking and doing positions that you want people to adopt.

Strategic imagination is a marriage of very different skills. It is paradoxical. When planning into and for the future, imagination and creativity are critical. You can't know the future for certain. You can research trends, imagine what the future will be by collectively considering the impact of the emerging trends and how they impact each other. Using your imagination combined with your expertise and knowledge of your industry to paint your driving vision is a critical step and effects the rest of the whole process. The more people that are brought in to this step, the better they are led and challenged to think expansively, the better the vision becomes. Envisioning must be a full, expansive process, not a edict handed down whole.

Strategies follow from vision, and the better the envisioning process, the easier the strategies are to see. The strategies become logical, an obvious bridge, between where you are and where you have decided you want to be. Key to this step is to be realistically aware of, beyond the surface, where you are. You have work to ease people out of denial regarding what you are currently like. You have to look under the rocks in each division and department, beyond the fact that things get done, and look at the individual pieces, people, processes. It is hard. It is messy. It takes tremendous desire and belief in the vision. And, it takes radical, sincere, courageous honesty among all parties.

Two additional skills needed to define strategic imagination are flexibility and reflection. I see these two skills are interconnected. Reflection is key from the very beginning - sensing a change in necessary, surmizing where you are currently, identifying what parts need to be done differently. Many people, and many, many organizations are not reflective. They apply very little critical thinking to past beliefs, assumptions, endeavors. Reflection provides the insights. Reflection provides the honest perspective. Reflection reveals the gaps. Reflection provides the intellectual and emotional growth. The more and better you reflect, the more you will reveal and grow. With each new insight, you need the skill of flexibility to allow it into the vision. You must maintain vision yet flexibility within as you work to fill the gaps and voids. And, flexibility allows you to create as you go based on the newest information at hand from within and from outside. Flexibility helps you create to fit a situation, to improvise as needed.

In the process of innovation, paradoxes prevail. There must be planning with flexibility, creativity with logical thinking, vision with past awareness, leadership that inspires others to leadership to an extent that all are at once leaders and followers. And, a uncomfortable sense of nagging urgency that must be balanced with patience that is also forward focused. And, don't let anyone be fooled, work to help everyone learn this early -- innovation has no end.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Understanding Innovation

I attended a meeting recently with a client to interview a company my client hoped to hire for a project. The meeting went well, the expert was on her game, and I received one of those little Aha!'s so necessary for continued personal and professional growth.

At the end of the second hour as the meeting was about to wrap, my client talked reflectively about the many projects we had initiated at his company in the last two years. It was in his reflection that my gift was hidden. He said, "See, Jamie keeps trying to fix us with all these things. I don't see us as broken." Boom! Without meaning to or even realizing what he had said, my client revealed a deep assumption and misunderstanding crucial to the sustainability, relevance, and continuation of our work together. In this casual remark, he told me that he believed that change was necessary when things are broken, that change was a fix. Therefore, it follows, unless something is broken, change is not necessary, bad. (If it ain't broke, don't fix it.) After two years of close collaboration, I was saddened yet thankful to be handed his root level belief.

Change is highly misunderstood. Change in itself is not a goal but a method. Change is the process by which things become other than they are currently. Things can change for the better or for the worse. Change can happen with intention - you initiate and manage change. Or, change can happen to you - the marketplace factors move and you don't react or change in response. This resulting gap is what I call the relevance gap and it is creating by a company maintaining the status quo, not staying in step with the environment.

Change should be undertaken not to fix things but to re-align. Change for change's sake is futile. Change in order to re-align, re-new, or re-situate is innovation, and innovation is a critical strategic skill. Innovation is not invention. Innovation is the chronic process of analyzing the critical market factors of your industry and the evolving needs of your customers and situating your company, its knowledge, and its people to meet the current demands.

Innovation, change, is what keeps you the same. Change is what allows you to maintain your valued market position. An organization does not change itself. Instead the leaders of a company or institution can initiate change which means to bring the knowledge and resources to the system so that people can re-consider their automatics beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors. New knowledge and understanding can help people in organizations challenge their limiting concept of what is necessary, their confining ideas of what is possible. New knowledge and understanding can enliven strategic imagination. New knowledge and understanding undermines the status quo so that the people can innovate and re-new the business they engage in together.

Change does not fix broken systems. Change innoculates systems from becoming broken.

Change is a lesser word. Let's come to understand innovation and alignment because they convey more meaning, intention, purpose.