Chicken soup for the innovator’s soul

Source: PBS

I asked a co-worker the other day, “should I question my priorities in life when I get completely geeked out when my new issue of the Harvard Business Review shows up?” Wait…don’t answer that. Because I do get really excited.

Here is some more gold from the HBR. Jason Seiken of PBS, discusses how he pushed his team to fail. Not just pay lip service to the idea of failure, but to actually fail. And what was the result? Did Seiken get fired? Did ratings, clicks, viewers, etc at PBS decline?

Exactly the opposite. This mindset – embracing failure and taking risks let Seiken and PBS to some huge wins.

If you have read much of my blog, it won’t surprise you that I find what Seiken did at PBS to be incredibly inspirational. I just love hearing these stories. This is chicken soup for my soul.

Sometimes what you need to do to be successful is the opposite of what everyone else is telling you. The first are last. The last are first. Winning is losing. Losing is winning.

Great stuff Jason. Thanks for your leadership and sharing your story with HBR.

Please read the entire blog entry here:

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Business-school literature has long stressed the importance of taking risks and encouraging rapid failure. In the real world of quarterly numbers, though, embracing failure mostly remains a throwaway line in CEO speeches.

So when I joined the company in December 2006, I decided to deliver a shock to the system. Soon after arriving at PBS, I called the digital team into a conference room and announced we were ripping up everyone’s annual performance goals and adding a new metric. – Failure.

Because if you’re not failing enough, you’re playing it safe.

We learned that to make the culture change stick, we needed to be both radical and incremental.

Radical because we needed to establish audacious goals to inspire the team. Incremental because, well, we didn’t want to get fired. (And because it’s a rare organization able to swallow significant change in one gulp.)

By making failure a requirement, I had shocked them into taking the message seriously. Sometimes it takes a stunt to push people — and organizations — out of their comfort zones and on to lasting change.


Lessons from dancing girl

I wrote a while back about lessons we can learn from a dancing guy. At a concert last night, I was thinking about lessons I could learn from a (crazy) dancing girl.

I’ll set the scene for you. I am with my wife and two other friends at a local venue to see Mumford and Sons. (aside: they put on a great show and I would highly recommend seeing them). Everyone is having a good time, doing the normal concert stuff. Everyone but this girl in the row in front of us. She is dancing (slightly offbeat – someone told me, I would never have known) like we’re at a Widespread Panic concert. Hands are in the air with movement resembling a mild seizure.

Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons (Photo credit: staceymk11)

She obviously didn’t care what others thought of her dancing and I am guessing that pretty much everyone within a few rows thought something. So where am I headed with this?

Do I want to be a distraction. An uncoordinated, unskilled distraction to a perfectly fine concert? Not at all. But I do want to be different. And I want to be un-phased if onlookers within “two rows” of my life are chatting about what I’m up to – it doesn’t matter to me.

If my life looks like a amalgamation of eight different sets of feedback I’ve gotten on my latest mistake, then I am doing something wrong. Don’t try to please everyone.

There should be something unique about all of us. I believes is part of what makes us human. But let your uniqueness be in what you do.

Sadly, it’s somewhat unique to care about others more than yourself. It’s unique to take a risk corporately. It’s unique to pursue endeavors the rest of the world might view as impractical.

I will wait

When have you waited for something really important to you?

The only times I tend to wait are when I have something challenging or stretching in front of me.

I mentioned a few posts ago, but I am giving a talk in a month at a TEDx conference. And I continue to wait to finalize my presentation. I’m excited about the opportunity to give the talk, but I continue to wait to develop the content.

What am I waiting for? I let smaller, less important tasks get in the way of something that is important to me.

What are you waiting for? Denying yourself is sometimes important, but don’t say “I will wait” on something important or challenging.

Dive in head first

p.s. this is a Mumford and Sons inspired post.

These go to eleven

Friday afternoon I received this email from a co-worker:

Hey Lance,

I’ve been reading your blog and I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it.  I thought I’d send you a note of encouragement on your month long journey of blog posts.  I’ve even picked up “The Lean Startup” and plan on starting it this weekend.

Anyway, keep up the posts.

On a scale of awesomeness from one to ten….these (notes) go to eleven!

Source: This is Spinal Tap

How long to do think it took for the author of this email to write this note to me? Probably all of two minutes? But what was the impact? This note was amazingly encouraging.

In some way, encouragement is like trading a good that you have a vast supply of, but the recipient is unable to produce it on his own. That said, one key ingredient is time. Although it may only take a minute or two to send a thoughtful email or text or call, it will be impossible to do if you are self-absorbed (which I will be the first to admit, I am a lot of the time).

Encouraging others takes selflessness. Tim Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage, describes selflessness as literally thinking of ones self less and thinking about others more. If you had to categorize your thoughts what % of time is spent on issues that effect you and what % is spent thinking of others?

If there was a thought tracker that I could attach to my brain, I think I would be embarrassed at the breakdown.

As I have mentioned in other posts, this is something I am trying to change. One small step I have taken is to try and call/text a friend everyday on my drive home. Similar to posting every day, it is a routine that I hope to make a habit.

It only takes a couple of minutes to let someone know that you care or that they are doing a good job, or that they knocked the last project out of the park.

We’re all in this together. You will work for a long time. You will be with your family for a long time. You will be in friendships for a long time. Spend some of your time thinking about and encouraging others.

DTBC Day 0: Be vulnerable

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Today was a great start to the Design Thinking Boot Camp (DTBC). I was surprised by the importance of being vulnerable. I’ve called this day 0 because today was just for coaches and apprentices.

Tomorrow DTBC begins with about 70 participants. We will be working on a design challenge for JetBlue that centers around improving the ground experience for passengers at SFO. One of the first things we do is actually go to SFO and interview people there.

We were asked to write down the one thing that we wanted to impart to our teams when we are doing empathy work at SFO tomorrow.

Anna-Love Mickelson‘s (who has inspired another blog post) 1 thing was to push her team to be vulnerable with the people they interview – because, if they are vulnerable as an interviewer, they are more likely to get stories and emotions from the people they interview.

I thought this was an awesome point to keep in mind, but not just for DTBC, but for life.

In the business world, many successful people have gotten to where they are by being assertive, powerful, confident, etc. The idea of being weak is laughable to them.

But to be an emphatic  leader, you have to take some emotional risk. Being vulnerable means that you could be hurt. Humility is a required character trait. Weakness are strengths. Losing is winning. Being last is being first. Discomfort is comfort.

But in that risk, there is great reward. By opening up, you get to see who people really are at the core and have the potential to help meet deeper needs.

So I am adopting Anna’s goal of pushing my team to be vulnerable with each other, with the people we meet tomorrow at SFO, and more importantly, with people in their lives and organizations once DTBC is over.

The Opposable Mind

I was recently reading Roger Martin’s article entitled “How Successful Leaders Think” and I was struck by this term “opposable mind”. It immediately made me think of this picture:

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Most of us operate on the right side of the picture (“converge”), where we try to make trade-offs and converge to the one “right answer.” But, as Roger Martin points out, truly great leaders intuitively can hold divergent ideas in their mind and develop a new and better solution (vision, direction, etc). Integrated thinkers (as he calls them) actually welcome divergent ideas because it is necessary to their thought process. Let me say it another way…they need divergent ideas as a part of the learning process.

Although reading this article was the first time I had heard the term used in this way, Martin reminds us that this is not new.

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A great example of integrated thinking happened last week in Omaha at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting. If you’re not familiar with the spectacle that has become Buffettfest, over 30,000 people fill an arena in Omaha to hear Buffett and Charlie Munger’s take on a wide variety of subjects. 99.99% of these 30k people LOVE Berkshire and Buffett. (See below for a visual)

Despite having so many fans around, Buffett invited one of his toughest critics to the show – Doug Kass, president Seabreeze Partners Management and Berkshire bear. I don’t buy that Buffett invited Kass because Buffett is so confident he could answer Kass’s questions – rather, I believe Kass was invited to help stretch Buffett. Buffett has said before that he could be wrong and welcomes intelligent debate.

Buffett’s actions point back to the heart of Roger Martin’s article:

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Buffett is working the tension of introducing other ideas. He realizes that he doesn’t have the one answer and that a key ingredient in his development is divergent thinking. And speaking of Darwin, here is a quote from Buffett during the annual meeting in Omaha:

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So how often do you work your opposable mind? Are you in an echo chamber where everyone looks like you, thinks like you and acts like you? Do you like to listen to news shows were your beliefs are supported? Work out your opposable mind by having thoughtful conversations with people who are different from you. Seek to understand and welcome the divergence – I believe it will help your thought be more sophisticated and the path you end up taking will be more informed and potentially surprising. I love Roger Martin’s description of the difference between “either, or” and “both”. It makes me think of my previous post on “yes, AND

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Everybody can do ‘or’ – strive to do both through integrated thinking.

Edited to add this amazing endorsement.

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First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

I heard of this video from the brilliant Anna Love-Mickelson. It struck a chord with me, because reminds me a lot of what I am trying to do with design thinking at Protective Life. Sometimes, I feel like this shirtless guy dancing. (I kept my shirt on when we did the Harlem Shake). But much of the time, I feel like there is a movement afoot and there are lots of “first followers” that have surrounded me.

I love these lines in the video:

If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.

Be public. Be easy to follow!

But the biggest lesson here – did you catch it?

Leadership is over-glorified.

Yes it started with the shirtless guy, and he’ll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened:

It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.

There is no movement without the first follower.