Friday, August 29, 2008

Use of Analogy

During the Democratic National Convention coverage this week, I caught an interview with John Hickenlooper, mayor of the host city, Denver. He comfortably talked about how being the mayor of a big city is like running a restaurant. A man after my own heart because I love analogical thinking! Hickenlooper, a former brewpub owner, explained that running a restaurant is all about meeting the needs of the public. He says you have to understand "constituency service", learn how to manage conflict, and develop good empathy and communication skills. He explained that the restaurant business taught him that "there is no margin in having enemies". When he talked about being mayor, he said the same thing, explaining that one needs at all costs to be a collaborator and to stay positive, even in the trenches. Taking a longer view of what in his past has prepared him to manage the complication that being the mayor of a big city requires, he points to his career evolution: English major to geologist to brewpub owner to mayor. "I learned how to learn," he says.

Extrapolating from what Hickenlooper offers, I see that he has collected solutions in all of his experiences and is at the ready to apply them. When I am called to work with a leadership team over a long period of time, part of what we spend concentrated time and effort doing is systematically collecting solutions. I orchestrate, in fact, Solution Retreats, which is a visceral analogical thinking experience. Recently I guided the leadership team of an independent school through the charge of understanding the analogous businesses of a liquor store, a bank, a global manufacturer, a hospital, an architectural firm, and a symphony by having them question each CEO over a series of day long retreats. The analogies were not evident to them at first, but each solution retreat yielded new awareness, new understanding, new analytical frameworks, and specific projects for shaping the culture of their school. Learning through stories and conversation provides a richer, deeper, more meaningful and more useful experience than studying facts and figures. Why not create analogical learning experiences and reap the rewards.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Power of Words and Vision and Hope, And Determination

8/28/55...Emmit Till murdered
8/28/63...Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream"
8/28/08...Barack Obama, "Change We Can Believe In"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prepare a Better Speech

Barack Obama will address the Democratic National Convention on the 45th anniversary, to the day, of Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech. I think this is amazing and wonderful given the importance and power each man gives to the power of public speaking. I think leaders of organizations of all sorts would do well to hone their speaking skills, becoming more deliberate in using speeches as an opportunity to articulate their organization's values and product position, and outlining how their organization meets the needs of their audience.

Martin Luther King preached and Barack Obama articulates a deep, resounding message of hope, hope for all. Their resplendent, visionary illustration of what could be, and what should be, aligns with the need for people who are struggling or feel systematically marginalized to believe in hope, which will activate their willingness to work for and demand change.

Every time the head of an organization speaks to an audience, (an internal or an external audience), they are the face, the voice, and the values slate of the organization. Some would advise to wing it, be yourself, just say what is on your mind, be spontaneous, and carefree. I disagree. Each public address is an opportunity to articulate the vision. If the vision is articulated well enough and often enough, others begin the process of co-owning the vision which brings wonderful dividends to the leader and to the organization.

Preparing public remarks is an essential pursuit. I agree that a non-stuffy, genuine delivery adds, but off the cuff remarks that miss the target are disappointing. To prepare a good public address, I always start with questions:

What is the goal of this speech?
Who it the internal audience? What do they need to hear?
Who is the external audience? What do they need to hear?
Who is the stakeholder audience? What do they need to hear?
What is the mix?
What are the three themes that I want to emphasize? How are they related?
What story can I use to illustrate these themes? How can I make an emotional connection?
What is the last thing I want my listeners to hear?
Have I misrepresented or sugar-coated anything? Is it authentic and transparent?

I also recommend archiving all of your public remarks, even if yours is not a public company. Anything you do with great intention and great analysis is worth leveraging.

I look forward to identifying all of these structural elements in Mr. Obama's speech and always aspire to greater ability and facility, as he so aptly demonstrates, before my meager-by-comparison audiences.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tactics for Communicating Vision

The purpose of a compelling vision statement is to inspire and guide in a cohesive way the actions of a group. Once a vision statement has been decided (an intentional, intensive process), it is paramount that it be communicated in a consistent and effective manner. The goal is for the vision to take root and take hold within the organization, and to be known and confirmed by your users' experiences as they experience your organization. Additional happy users can become your best marketers and must be able to communicate your vision consistently and effectively.

This blog entry from The Practice of Leadership blog lists communication tactics that leaders can use to communicate their vision. It would be hard to improve upon their list:

  • Stories. When you tell a good story, you give life to a vision. The telling of stories creates trust, captures hearts and minds, and serves as a reminder of the vision.
  • The elevator speech. Every leader needs to be able to communicate the vision in a clear, brief way. What compelling vision can you describe in the amount of time you have during a typical elevator ride?
  • Multiple media. The more channels of communication you use, the better your chance of creating an organization that "gets" the vision. Use the newest communication technologies, but don’t forget the tangibles: coffee mugs, t-shirts, luggage tags and whatever else you can think of that will keep the message in circulation.
  • Talk to me. Individualize the vision by engaging others in one-on-one conversations. Personal connections give leaders opportunities to transmit information, receive feedback, build support and create energy around the vision.
  • Draw a crowd. Identify key players, communicators, stakeholders and supporters throughout the organization who will motivate others to reflect on and be engaged with the vision.
  • Go outside. Communicate to external customers, partners and vendors with advertising and public relations campaigns, catalogs, announcements and other statements.
  • Make memories. Create metaphors, figures of speech and slogans — and find creative ways to use them. Write a theme song or a memorable motto.
  • Guide the expedition. Use visual aids and updates to keep everyone aware of the progress you are making toward your vision.
  • Back it up. If you’re talking it up, be sure to back it up with actions and behaviors. If people see one thing and hear another, your credibility is shot and your vision is dead.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Purpose of Vision

I ran across this description of vision from The Practice of Leadership blog:

"A vision describes some achievement or future state that the organization will accomplish or realize. A vision has to be shared in order to do what it is meant to do: inspire, clarify and focus the work."

Here are some vision statements that accomplish everything this quote describes.

The Google guys, Sergey Brin and Larry Page:

Google provides access to the world's information in one click.

Chief Executive Officer of Cisco, John Chambers:

Cisco changes the way we live, work, play and learn.

Bill Gates, for the first 17 years of Microsoft:

We're going to put a computer on every desk in every home.

These statement are visions, not strategies or tactics. Everything these companies say, do, decide, plan, design, research, invest in, acquire, divest, hire, cultivate, and express in any way is related, guided by, determined by the vision. I commonly hear here is our mission statement, shouldn't that cover it? Mission statements are often too long, too inclusive, too proper, so much so that most employees can't recite them and don't use them as a decision-making tool. A vision statement is precise, concise, and forward thinking. A common mistake that many organizations make is not taking the time and energy to craft a solid, clear, guiding vision. Many people confuse the difference between vision, strategies, tactics, and goals. Each is different. Each is necessary, and they all flow from the vision. If the vision is weak, opaque, off-target, under-developed, outdated, or flat, the effects will be similar in your organization. The vision infuses. The whole organization will mirror the vision and the level of inspiration, enthusiasm, and commitment with which it is communicated and the level at which it is modeled, lived, from the top.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Have You De-Committed?

Rick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO of General Motors was interviewed recently by Charlie Rose. The whole interview was worth a quote near the end of the hour. When Charlie Rose pushed him to shed some insight on the critical error that GM has made over the years, Mr. Wagoner replied, "The day you de-commit to producing the best product, you are losing ground." He could have gone on to state the obvious which is that once you start losing ground, it is really hard to get back in the game.

How do we de-commit? Is it our attitudes? our actions? our inactions? I would say yes to all of these. Is it our commitment? I would say not so much. Is it our vision or lack of vision? Is it leadership? In my estimation and experience, there are many committed people in organizations that work diligently, but often toward the wrong goal. Maybe a better way to say it is that too often they work toward a goal and not a vision.

Rick Wagoner explained in many ways that GM lost touch with its customers. He says you can have the best product in the world but your company will fail if customers do not want to buy it. "If you don't have the best product, you will not be here in the long haul," he said. And, he added that today's best product will not be tomorrow's best product. You have to innovate and be thinking about your customer's needs and desires five years from now. In other words, you have to work at staying relevant and designing all things around that. And, you have to be timely. It will be interesting to watch along with the world to see if GMs liquidity will stretch to cover its innovation (product to market) cycle.

What do your customers want and expect from your organization?
What changes in the current marketplace must you consider and design into your ethos?
What is the value-added that you offer?
Are you relevant, giving your customer what they want and need in the way they want to receive it?
Would your customers recommend you to others?
Is innovation a part of your culture?

No business, regardless of the industry, is immune from this analytical framework.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

In Tribute to the King

I am not embarrassed to admit that I love Elvis. But, I will say, I am able to keep that love in perspective. I am not like one of his adoring fans that travels to Memphis from places far away to pay homage and partake in The Vigil during what Memphians call "Death Week". But, then again, I don't have to travel far to appreciate Elvis because I live here and make my way to Graceland more than once a year to take out of town visitors. Signing the wall at Graceland is a must if you ever make it to Memphis.

In tribute this year, I offer an appreciation of Elvis' famous lip. Many have tried, but few can perfect it. Click this link and follow the photo stream to see the Baker best effort.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Some Good Einstein Quotes

My favorite:
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

A close second:
"I have no special gift. I am only passionately curious."

A reflection of how his mind works:
"My power, my particular ability, lies in visualizing the effects, consequences, and possibilities, and the bearings on present thought of the discoveries of others. I grasp things in a broad way easily. I cannot do mathematical calculations easily. I do them not willingly and not readily. Others perform these details better."

The importance of focus and humility:
"The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working. One is tempted to stop and listen to it. The only thing is to turn away and go on working. Work. There is nothing else."

"It's not that I'm so smart; it's just that I stay with problems longer."

Regarding education:
"It is not enough to teach a man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he -- with his specialized knowledge -- more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person."

"The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgment should always be placed foremost, not the acquisition of special knowledge."

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

"Wisdom is not a product of school but of the lifeling attempt to acquire it."

Too Good to Ignore, (and something to think about for one's self):
"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."

A hint as to where to begin to comprehend and apply this quote:

  • What are the unarticulated and unconscious assumptions that create my mental model?
  • Am I practicing disciplined and open lifelong learning?
  • Do I believe absolutes or am my beliefs adaptable and responsive to context and environment?
  • Am I evolving in developing the layers of my understanding and conscious reflection as I age?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Recommended Read

I read a lot. I have not always been a reader and I don't read particularly fast. Anymore, I find that taking in information, as much as I can, the best quality that I can, is critical to being relevant in the 21st century. Besides, being informed gives meaning to my life, helps me make meaning of my life.

I recommend that everyone be informed, and I am not the most sympathetic person when it comes to excuses. The most common excuse people offer, and I hear it a lot, is I don't have time. I am married to a dyslexic man and have a dyslexic son who both read more than most people despite the effort it takes. They don't complain about the time it takes. Not to be flippant and in all sincerity, we all make time for the things we value. I would much rather hear someone say, I don't value reading/learning/taking in information, or I don't make time. Then, we would have something to talk about that began with honesty.

I just finished Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. This book is a balanced portrait of Einstein the man and Einstein the theorist. It was refreshing to see Einstein's humanity in the many struggles of his personal relationships and his disdain for the rhythms of daily life. It is humbling to see how his mind worked, especially in that it didn't work well for everything. Einstein struggled with basic math and was not a talented teacher. He lacked empathy and compassion and had few close relationships that were not bound by physics. It is inspiring to realize that Einstein's great discoveries were primarily made possible because of his conscious unwillingness to accept and conform to conventional thinking.

The most inspiring message for me from the book is the importance of developing and sustaining a compulsive sense of curiosity and marvel, a creative spirit, and a great independence of thought. Einstein believed that freedom was the basis for all of his thought work. "The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit," he said, "requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice." This nurturing of creativity and independence is what Einstein believed was the fundamental role of government and of education.

Asking in our educational systems how we instill the values of creativity and of independence of thought and of a driving, seeking curiosity instead of requiring allegiance to conventional doctrine is an important new question. We need to create a collective celebrated regard for thinking and problem solving instead of valuing and rewarding inert knowledge. Like President Eisenhower declared of Einstein, we need to become a society that highly values "thoughtful wonderers."

Einstein Archives Online -- Be curious!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

An Inspirational Vision

Be the change you want to see in the world.
-Mahatma Gandhi

My life is my message.
-Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi lived his life by these visions, both equally and individually powerful. To exemplify in our daily life, and to dedicate the whole of our life to what we believe is good for the world is noble. Taking the time to determine the change we want to see in the world and believe it enough to work toward it incessantly is a long process, in and of itself. But, who could argue that each of us making our lives as purposeful and focused as possible would make the world a better, more meaningful place for everyone.