Leaders as Creators

In this series on creativity within organizations, I am reposting this blog post from 2015. In it, I describe the role of leaders as creators.

An artist looks at their work in a totally different frame of mind than a mechanic does. The artist sees infinite possibility. The mechanic sees a problem to be solved. The artist has a vision. The mechanic has a job. The artist works in iterations, continuing to add to the creation what is needed. The mechanic works by elimination, until the source of the dysfunction is found. The artist creates, the mechanic fixes.

As a leader, you are often in the “mechanic mode”. People bring to you problems to be solved, work to be done, decisions to be made, dilemmas to be fixed, and that is a valuable and ever-present part of the role you play.

leaders-creators

The Role of Creator

But how often do you play the role of creator? Of someone who can envision a better future and then find a way to make that vision a reality? How often do you paint a new canvas, rather than making do with the old one, no matter how tattered? How often do you imagine? Experiment? Push the boundaries? Ask what “could be” rather than dealing with “what is”?

The notion that leaders can be creators is a head scratcher for many. What indeed do leaders create?

At the North American Leadership Academy for the Society of International Business Fellows, I taught a session on creating as a leader. That group came up with this list of things that leaders create:

  • Vision
  • Structure
  • Values
  • Culture
  • Opportunities
  • Environment
  • Positive outcomes
  • Processes
  • Strategies
  • Objectives
  • Boundaries
  • Incentives
  • Standards
  • Teams
  • Networks
  • Products
  • Services
  • New Markets
  • Customer Experiences

If you recognize your power as a leader/creator, you approach your work differently. When you are in the “leader as creator” mode, you ask what you want to create. You shape, with intention and purpose, things like culture and values and team. You remain open to possibility and the power it brings. You take ownership and accountability for creating something of value – rather than playing victim to your circumstances.

Creating as a leader is infinitely more difficult than creating as a solitary artist, as there are people and processes and systems to navigate. But it is also infinitely more rewarding – as any leader who has created a compelling vision, a vibrant and healthy culture, or a strong set of core values knows.

If you are interested in learning how to create as a leader, you’ll want to read Chapters 4 to 7 in my book, The Leader’s Guide to Turbulent Times or book my workshop: A Seven Step Process for Organizational Creativity.

So I’m curious – what have you created as leader? What would you like to create?


Have you heard about LEAP? It’s a three-part methodology I created to help corporate individuals make the LEAP to independent consulting. Learn more by visiting leaprightnow.biz!

Pre-enactment: A Way to Create the Future You Want

I am a big advocate of working forward rather than backward. I’ve transformed my life into one of meaning and fulfillment and joy by using several methods of envisioning what I wanted to create in my life, rather than focusing my efforts on what I did NOT want in my life.

As such, I’ve journaled, created vision boards, set HEART goals, and created accountability systems to ensure that I acted unfailingly on those dreams. And, without doubt, it has worked.

Yet, as powerful as those techniques are, none are nearly as amazing as a way of envisioning (and then creating) a better future than one I learned from Joanna Taft, director of the Harrison Center for the Arts  and visionary community leader. (You can see her Ted Talk on Cultural Entrepreneurship here.)

Her question is this. Rather than reenact, why not pre-enact?

Here is the concept. A reenactment is the recreation of an era in the past, in as authentic of a way as possible. People are in costume. The surroundings are true to the period. The activities that ensue and the food that is consumed are replicas of the experience of that time. Reenactments are a multi-sensory way to step back into time – a suspension of the current day and a walk into the past.

Why not pre-enact?

Joanna’s question was why not pre-enact? She wondered what would happen if we created a transitory, but tangible, environment that was the embodiment of the future that we’d like to create. Where people got into character. Where the environment was created through creative staging. Where things were transformed, even for a brief time, offering a glimpse into what might be.

Her pre-enactment theater project is a community based one. The core question this project centers around is: “What would it be like to reimagine the Monon 16 neighborhood as it ought to be–equitable, vibrant and just?” The current state of the Monon 16 neighborhood is one with 19% unemployment, 32.7% living below the poverty level, abandoned houses and vacant commercial space.”

Pre-enactment is described here, from the project web site:

Our stage will be the entire three block commercial stretch of Monon 16. Set designers and property owners will make both temporary and permanent improvements to the physical structures to depict a healthy neighborhood. These physical structures will serve as the setting for actors and neighbors to engage in site specific and interactive performance, to help the community envision a healthy neighborhood. We will work for 12 months with local actors and set designers from large and small theater companies, and collaborate with visual artists, community stakeholders and three schools to perform visioning exercises. This work will help neighbors plan for the future by re-envisioning the Monon 16 area “the way it ought to be”. Instead of economic development at the cost of displacement, Pre-Enactment envisions a just, equitable and vibrant neighborhood where everyone is included in economic prosperity.

While yet a few months away, I suspect that pre-enactment for Monon 16 already has profoundly changed the neighborhood. It has created conversations of possibilities. It has pulled people together to dream and envision. It has opened eyes to potential rather than problems.

Pre-enacting in Your Life

And so I’m intrigued by ways to repurpose this concept of pre-enactment, of envisioning and then creating a stage and acting into the future you want to create. I wonder if we might pre-enact:

  • The customer experience you would like to create
  • What your business will be like 5 years from now
  • A healthy, vibrant team culture
  • An ideal family day
  • The successful outcome of a team project
  • An amazing work day
  • The future for your community group
  • An ideal day in your dream career

For pre-enactment moves us from mere thought to pure action. It creates community as we hear others visions. An environment arises where we step into the future with our full senses engaged, seeing what could be and gaining confidence that so much is possible. And that we, working together, can create that future we so vividly pre-enacted.

What do you think? Where might you pre-enact something?


Evergreen Leadership is excited to announce we are accepting nominations for the second annual Community Builders Award. The Community Builders Award recognizes and connects emerging leaders (between ages of 25 and 40) across the state of Indiana who are actively working to improve their leadership and the communities they live in.

SMART goals or HEART goals?

I suspect that you have been taught to create SMART goals. You know, goals that are:weighing the value of SMART goals vs HEART goals

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time Based

Things like:

  • Increase sales by 2% by December 31.
  • Exercise four hours a week between now and June 15.
  • Have a coaching conversation with each member of my staff in 2016.

These are goals for those who like to check the boxes, measure results, and make tangible progress visible.

However, lately I’ve been wondering if SMART goals only represent a tiny part of what really matters, what really makes a difference, what really makes for a life worth living. For I’ve seen what happens when we create SMART goals, especially when we are going to be measured (and rewarded) for them in a work setting. We think small – remember they must be achievable. We divide our work into small fragments, losing sight of the overarching purpose. We document the doable into a tiny time box.

I wonder what would happen if we also created HEART goals, ones that are:

  • Holistic
  • Enduring
  • Aspirational
  • Really Matter
  • Timeless

Some examples:

  • Provide experiences for our clients that dramatically improve their lives.
  • Live a healthy and active life.
  • Support and encourage my staff in ways that matter.

It seems that, at the end of the day (or month or year or your life), HEART goals are what really matter. That while amorphous, they provide meaningful guidance. That they can call us to be our best selves. And that we intuitively know when we are living up to our HEART goals without using yardsticks and spreadsheets.

The reason SMART goals are effective is that they provide a way to break big things into smaller pieces that can be measured. However, you have to know what the BIG thing is. My suggestion: start with a HEART goal and then, and only then, create SMART goals in support of it.

I’m curious! What HEART goals do you have?

How to Cast Vision with Your Team

Hate to tell you, but if you are patiently waiting for upper management to proclaim their vision for your work and your team, it most likely is NOT going to happen. Or at least in the degree of granularity you might be hoping for.

We all want to have work with meaning – and as a leader, it is your job to help create that meaning. The good news is that each of us has the ability (and perhaps the obligation) to cast vision – for yourself and your team.

A vision without action is a dream.

Action without vision is a nightmare.

The notion of vision scares us at times. It sounds big. Pretentious. Unknown and unknowable. You might struggle with deciding what is “too big” and what is “too little”. I encourage you to acknowledge the doubts and plow ahead. I’d much rather put my effort toward a “too big” vision than none at all. And if you err by starting small, you will have at least started. Small steps are better than no steps.

Think of visioning in dreamlike termsIt helps me to think of visioning simply as painting a picture (or visual image) of where we want to head. And thinking of it in “dreamlike” terms allows me to be less precise than a goal, and freer to imagine what is currently unimaginable.

Vision starts with a BIG question. These are provocative questions about possibility. About envisioning a future you would like to create. Most importantly, it creates focus, energy and momentum forward.

Step 1: Craft an aspirational statement in advance

Then present it to your team. Begin with “What would it look like if… ” and then add on. For example, What would it look like if…

  • Our customers referred us enthusiastically to all their friends?
  • You went home every single day energized and proud of the work you do?
  • This was the best team you have ever worked on?
  • We had a 99% customer satisfaction rating?
  • Everyone in the company wanted to know our secret about successful innovation?
Step 2: Give everyone time to reflect on the question

Post the question in advance, giving those who need time to process a bit of alone/quiet time to think. 5 to 10 minutes is fine – too much time and people overthink it. When they overthink it, they tend to dial back.

Step 3: Dialogue and discuss

Allow time for the group to bring together their ideas. Structure the time so that everyone both gets a chance to speak and is listened to. Clarify that we are dreaming, not doing, at this point. It is OK to think about possibility and leave probability for another day. This is exploring, not committing. Although, in my experience, much of what surfaces actually is doable. And trust that the big ideas often can be adapted to fit your time/resource/energy limitations.

Step 4: Capture an image that illustrates your vision

This this image (of hands holding an evergreen in soil) inspires my vision to nurture leadership talent through Evergreen LeadershipTake the concepts, ideas, and phrases that surface and look for an image (or images) that capture the intent. Here is the key point: this is not about words on a flip cart or white board. It is about a picture, an image, or a metaphor. For example, this image inspires my vision to nurture leadership talent through Evergreen Leadership.

There are a number of ways to do this. You might:

  • Take a photo walk – Get out of the building and ask everyone to capture a photo that is a good image for the vision that is emerging. Share – and select one that resonates. Print it and post it. Make copies for everyone.
  • Create a collage or vision board – Gather up lots of magazines, art materials, some glue and scissors, and put the words and images that illustrate your vision on a poster board.
  • Agree on a generative metaphor. For example, Disney theme parks use the metaphor of a show. Employees are cast members. Customers are guests. There is a back stage. The metaphor can be used in so many ways to capture the experience Disney is wanting to create.
  • Have a variety of visual images and select ones that best illustrate your vision. You can collect your own or use the Visual Explorer Images from The Center for Creative Leadership.
Step 5: Begin to step into the vision

Create no more than 3 tangible next steps that can be done to make forward progress. These may be small and even exploratory. Insist that they are doable within 30 days and are done within that time-frame. In 30 days, review the image and the progress made. Pick three more. Repeat again, and again, and again. Pause quarterly and celebrate progress. You’ll be surprised at the momentum you’ll gain and the progress you’ll make.

Want some help doing this? Call me! We facilitate great retreats and visioning sessions.

Mary Parker Follett: Influential Visionary

I stumbled across Mary Parker Follett’s name about six months ago in the book, The Power of Collective Wisdom. My curiosity got the better of me – and I dug deeper. And what I found was the work of a brilliant women with great influence. Some call her the “mother of modern management.” How is it that I know her work and not her name?

Visionary Mary Parker FollettIn celebration of Women’s History Month, I honor this female visionary. Although I never knew her name till recently, my study of her work reveals just how much of my practice in leadership and organizational dynamics is influenced by her.

While we continue to benefit from her work, Follett was born into disadvantage. That disadvantage? Being born in 1869 – at a time when women were denied access to many things: the vote, property ownership, education and most careers. Her aptitude was noticed early; yet at that time women were not admitted to colleges. As such, she did study at the “Harvard Annex”, a place that connected promising female scholars with volunteer Harvard professors. Ultimately, the annex became what we now know as Radcliffe. Follett continued her studies abroad, ultimately graduating from Radcliffe summa cum laude.

Her contributions were many – to political science, business management, leadership theory, social science and business. Her work in civic organizing and community education both influenced those fields and also influenced her research and writing. She was an author, speaker, social worker, and business consultant before there were business consultants (or even many women in business).

Her work was both visionary and countercultural. Well ahead of her time, key themes of her work (paraphrased from The Essential Mary Parker Follett: Ideas We Need Today) include:

Valuing Differences

  • Believed that every voice is essential to democracy; we must seek and embrace differences rather than fear or flee from them
  • Noted that differences provide the opportunity for creativity, innovation, social progress, and true democracy

Group Organization

  • Sees groups are fundamental for personal development, social organization and democracy
  • Believes that groups are how coordination, creativity and growth occur

Integration as a Process

  • Defined integration as a group process that builds on differences by uncovering true interests and engaging in genuine dialogue to come to a creative and novel solution; described as the merging of differences to find a new and creative way to integrate them into something better

Leadership

  • An advocate of “power with” rather than “power over”
  • Sees humans as able to co-create their futures
  • Advocates for leading that is organized around a higher purpose, rather than an individual

 Democracy

  • Draws on her vision of “co-creating” the world
  • Describes democracy as a place where the individual is affirmed, rather than subsumed

It is shameful that her work does not bear her name (had she been a “he”, no doubt we would all know of her work). But it does live on, and as someone who was ahead of her time, provides ample and much needed guidance for the place in which we find ourselves today.  I’ll provide for you a sampling of her writing and a short annotated bibliography if you want to learn more. And note that, as one did in her day, pronouns are solely masculine.

On Valuing Differences

“What people often mean by getting rid of conflict is getting rid of diversity, and it is of the upmost importance that these should not be considered the same. We may wish to abolish conflict, but we cannot get rid of diversity. We must face life as it is and understand that diversity is its most essential feature. Fear of difference is dread of life itself. It is possible to conceive of conflict as not necessarily a wasteful outbreak of incompatibilities, but a normal process by which socially valuable differences register themselves for the enrichment of all concerned.”

On Group Organization

“Thus group organization releases us from the domination of mere numbers. Thus democracy transcends time and space, it can never be understood except as a spiritual force. Majority rule rests on numbers; democracy rests on the well-grounded assumption that society is neither a collection of units nor an organism, but a network of human relations. Democracy is not worked out at the polling booths; it is the bringing forth of a genuine collective will, one wot which every single being must contribute the whole of his complex life, as one which every single being must express the whole of at one point. Thus the essence of democracy is creating. The technique of democracy is group organization. Many men despise politics because they see that politics manipulate, but make nothing. If politics are to be the highest activity of man, as they should be, they must be clearly understood as creative.”

On Integration as a Process

Moreover, the doctrine of integrating interests does away with that of the balance of interests which has so many advocates… In fact, observation of industrial controversy for the last ten years leads me to think that those disputes which are ‘settled’ merely by the balance of power are not really settled at all. The slightest shift of power brings the matter up again with accumulated rancor and hard feeling. The balance theory gets us nowhere in law or politics or international relations.”

On Leadership

“The skillful leader does not rely on personal force; he controls his group, not by dominating but by expressing it. He stimulates what is best in us; he unifies and concentrates what we feel only gropingly and scatteringly, but he never gets away from the current of which we are and he are both an integral part. He is a leader who gives form to the inchoate energy in every man. The person who influences me most is not he who does great deeds but he who makes me feel I can do great deeds… Who ever has struck fire out of me, aroused me to action which I should not otherwise have taken, he has been my leader… ”

On Democracy

“The good citizen is not he who obeys the laws, but he who has an active sense of being an integral part of the state. This is the essence and the basis of effective good citizenship. We are not part of a nation because we are living within its boundaries, because we feel sympathy with it and have accepted its ideas, because we have become naturalized. We are part of a nation only in so far as we are helping to make that nation.”

 If you are interested in reading more:

The Essential Mary Parker Follett: Ideas We Need Today edited by Heon, Davis, Jones-Patulli and Damart   This is an annotated collection of her writings, with a brief description of her life and work. My favorite by far, as it organizes her writings into major themes.

Creative Experience by Mary Parker Follett. This is a reprint of her 1924 publication. I started here (big mistake) and am going to have another “go” at it once I am more grounded in her thinking.

Mary Parker Follett: Creating Democracy, Transforming Management a biography by Joan Tonn. This was my second attempt (after Creative Experience). Be prepared – this is a 600 page read. Interesting read as it sheds light on what shaped her thinking and also the situation smart women found themselves in, post Civil War. Accessible, but not a page turner!

Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett. A reprint of a 1940 edition. I’ve not tackled this one yet – but would love a review from someone who has!

Which is More Important – Dreaming or Doing?

I’ve had a heavy dose of visioning in the last 4 weeks. I led a 90-minute session on “Envisioning the Change You Want to Create” for TrueU.  Last Friday, I spent a visioning day with eight amazing women leaders led by Angie Nuttle of CorporateOD Strageties. This, on top if my annual ritual of reviewing the past year, envisioning the upcoming year, and setting goals. With the typical lull in work activity over the holidays, I am feeling I’ve been totally focused on dreaming and not doing.

I’ve seen firsthand the amazing things that can happen when you allow yourself to dream and to put some shape around that dream. People I’ve worked with to envision have started new businesses, traveled the globe, transformed relationships, moved into prosperity, changed themselves and the world around them.

Yet after a month that was rich with dreaming and light on doing, I am more than ready to move out of dream mode and into do mode. And I know that the order is correct – first dream, then do.

Folks get tripped up in this dream/do cycle. There are two types of traps:

Doers

Doers, who believe that dreaming is a waste of time. Far better to do something, anything. And oh, by the way, they are far too busy with all they are doing to take some time to pause, reflect, or allow themselves to imagine anything other than their current state of affairs.

 

Dreamers

Dreamers, who believe that what they think up will magically manifest itself once they articulate the dream in some manner. They create the vision board, sit back, and wait for good things to happen.

 

Both are dead wrong.

This Japanese proverb is a great summary:

“A vision without action is a dream.  Action without vision is a nightmare.”

Bottom line – you must be both a dreamer and a doer. Start with dreaming. It gives you something worthwhile to aim at. It sets your priorities. It ensures that you are busy doing the right things – not just things.  And then do. Work like you mean it. Set goals and milestones. Stretch yourself. Take a risk. Make a mistake or two and learn like crazy. Keep plugging away. Do something that moves you forward every single day – even though it seems small.

So dream a bit and then do a lot. (Keep your head in the clouds and feet on ground!) Repeat every day. You’ll be amazed at what happens.

Here are some past blog posts that may help you with both dreaming and doing:

The Hard Truth about Transformation

The Fastest Route Might Not be a Straight Line

When Planning Turns Into Procrastination

How to Overcome the Biggest Resistance of All: Your Own

Resolving NOT to make Resolutions

Do BHAGs Scare You –They Do Me!

 

The Spirit of the Season – All Year Long

How would you be different if the spirit of this season lasted all year long?

Not the commercialization or the excesses or the outward trappings. Not more cookies or trips to the mall.  Instead, think about what would happen if, every day of the coming year, you lived the spirit of this holiday by:

  • Making merry, laughing and playing with gusto.
  • Honoring those that you love with your presence.
  • Giving generously of your time and treasures.
  • Finding the light in the darkest of times.
  • Surrendering yourself to wonder – to birth, to hope, to stars, to great things born in humble beginnings.

And what might happen if in our world we carried the spirit of the holiday forward daily by:

  • Celebrating the acts of generosity that occur every day in the news and on social media….noting and affirming the good that happens rather than the acts of hate, murder, mayhem and sensationalism.
  • Working as hard to create peace as we do to wage war – for peace takes time and energy and resources. It is an active state that requires tending; not just the absence of conflict.
  • Reaching out to those less fortunate and find ways to help them, to lift them up, to share our bounty.
  • Heeding the song of the angels who proclaimed “Goodwill to Man”.  Not just those who look like us, practice our religion, live in our part of the word… but good will to all men (and women).

keeping the holiday spirit glowing all year longIf we can do these things for twelve days, surely we can strive to do them for twelve months. Not perfectly, but with intention. For by striving for love, we can lessen hate. By focusing on peace, we can diminish war. By finding the light, we can navigate the dark. By healing ourselves, we can begin to heal the world. By giving we also receive.

So, as you pause, cease your paid labor, gather with friends and family, take a moment to reflect on the messages that this time of year brings, and determine what parts of this holiday you’ll carry forward. You can be a light in the darkness, you can bring hope to those in despair, and by caring for others you’ll find you’ve cared for yourself.

I send gladness and joy to each of you – for a holiday season, and perhaps a lifetime, filled with light, generosity, hope, transformation and peace. Blessings to all!
~Kris

 

My Wabi-Sabi Life

Question:
What do these things have in common?
The Velveteen Rabbit.
Your worn and favorite pair of jeans.
A dear but quirky friend.
Laugh lines.
Patina.
The family heirloom that is worn a bit on the edges.

Answer:
They all possess wabi-sabi. As does anything that is authentic, incomplete, impermanent, honest, asymmetrical, transitional. Or in other words – just about everything about us and our world.

Wabi-sabi: (pronounced wah bee saw bee) as defined by Richard Powell:
“wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities:
nothing lasts,
nothing is finished, and
nothing is perfect.”

Wabi-sabi as defined in Wikipedia is a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.  Another definition defines wabi-sabi as a noun that is a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay

What I’ve Noticed

The bench I got, on the left, versus the bench I wanted, on the rightOnce I learned about wabi-sabi, I kept seeing it wherever I went…

  • Seeing the beauty of the yellowing (and dying) lily pads as well as the beautiful flower.
  • Enjoying the flavor of a misshapen fruit.
  • Finding a hidden treasure as the result of a missed turn.
  • Reveling in the fat little baby thighs of my grandson and appreciating my lumpy and sturdy older ones.
  • Accepting the fact that the bench made from a fallen oak in my yard has its own beauty, even though I had envisioned this and not what I got.

wabi-sabi-bench

And in my work, I found wabi-sabi as well..

  • Appreciating the client that doesn’t have it quite together.
  • Stopping beating myself up over a missed opportunity.
  • Forgiving myself for an awkwardly phrased question in a coaching session.
  • Being more willing to risk going forward, even though I feared I didn’t have it all figured out.

I’ve discovered that there is a profound difference between accepting imperfection and appreciating it. It is the difference of looking at things as an artist rather than a pragmatist. It is a way of loving what is, and seeing the splendor in it, rather than accepting what is and dismissing it as “less than”.

Bottom Line

I’ve worked hard to overcome “the prison of perfection” – which had, in the past, resulted in me never being happy with excellence, which had caused me to stall way too many times in quest of the last incremental improvement, that had stoked fear that someone would notice the slightest imperfection. And it was good to let go of that.

However, the notion of wabi-sabi is deeper than just being OK with imperfection. It causes me to celebrate, rather than tolerate less than perfect. It opens my eyes to the beauty of what is, rather than what should be. It validates and affirms the wholeness and value that is inherent, without comparing it to some irrational ideal. It reminds me of the impermanence of all things and causes me to see the cycle of life and beauty in decay.  Rather than looking in the mirror and fretting about wrinkles, I can see the beauty of the lined face as one that has seen many days of both laughter and sadness and is all the richer for it.

And so, I encourage you to look at things with wabi-sabi eyes. You might be surprised at the beauty it opens for you. And as you do, share with us where there is wabi-sabi in your life!

Ambiguity Abounds – A Simple Model to Deal with it

There are bucket-loads of reasons we are faced with more ambiguity than ever before. Here is a short list:

  • Change is accelerating. What is new is ambiguous by its nature.
  • How to work effectively across cultures has no clear answer.
  • New knowledge. Information is doubling every few years in technical fields.
  • Startups, shutdowns, mergers and new partnerships. And with it the accompanying strategic, cultural and leadership upheavals.

Add to that the more mundane causes of ambiguity, such as lack of clear direction from the top, changing priorities, and difficult and complex situations – and your natural tendency may be to do one of these things:

  1. Wait for direction
  2. Stall and hope clarity emerges
  3. Complain a bit
  4. Carry on as usual

I hate to break it to you – but all four approaches are doomed. Which leaves us in a bit of a conundrum: we need to DO something, but WHAT? The EAA process (my term – named after the vocal sounds I tend to make when challenged with ambiguity) may help you sort things out.

Step 1: Determine the degree of ambiguity you actually have and the relative importance your decision or action holds. You can then take the appropriate next step.

UNCERTAINTY AND IMPORTANCE NEXT STEP
Low Low Do something & move on.
Low High Decide based on what is known.
High Low Decide based on likely best outcomes.
High High Use the EAA Process (see below)

 

When you unearth those situations in which there is both high uncertainty and high importance, you are dealing with the type of ambiguity that causes sleep deprivation, stomach distress, and pounding temples. When that happens, the EAA model can guide your actions.

There are three steps to the model:

  1. Explore
    1. What do you know about the situation?
    2. How is this similar / dissimilar to other situations in the past?
    3. Who might have wisdom or guidance that will help you?
  2. Assess
    1. What possible actions do you have? What are the likely outcomes of each?
    2. What guiding values or principles might you use to guide your next steps?
    3. What is the best case outcome? The worst case?
  3. Act
    1. Take a few small steps.
    2. Evaluate the outcome.
    3. Adjust as needed.

There is one core action that I encourage you to take as you walk through the EAA model – and that is to discuss the situation, the options, and the next steps with others whose opinion you value. It may be that you huddle as a leadership team, that you engage a coach, probe with a mentor, pow wow with your peers, engage a professional, or call together a mastermind group. While you might feel a bit vulnerable admitting that you don’t have the answer, most times others don’t either. Chances are they’ll be either glad you surfaced this or flattered that you asked for their input. You’ll find that an open group exploration of your toughest challenges brings divergent thinking, a richer experience base, more options, and better clarity than one person alone can generate.

The EAA model is rather simple but powerful. Here’s why:

  • It moves from “stuck” and “unstuck”.
  • It precedes action with thought.
  • It leverages what is known.
  • It frames action in principles and values.
  • It is iterative – testing and adjusting along the way.

So the question for the day – What ambiguous situations are you facing? Where are you stuck?

Another View on Sustainable Business

You may or may not know the work of Umair Hague. If you don’t, I encourage you to. Umair is an economist, writer, and very deep and provocative (but readable) thinker on capitalism and creating prosperity in the 21st century. Today I’m going to summarize, as difficult as that is, his book, The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. I’ll not do it full justice, so if you are intrigued I’d encourage you to read the full book, or at a minimum follow his blog in the Harvard Business Review.

In the book, Umair is an advocate of capitalism, yet asserts that the capitalist ways of the industrial era are neither healthy nor sustainable. The analogy he paints is that in the industrial era, companies operated as if they were in a “Game Preserve” – where resources were abundant, space expansive, and squashing your competition at any cost were modus operandi. He advocates that organizations need to operate from an “Ark” perspective, where resources are limited, dependencies are critical and working together is a must.

Umair urges organizations to move from creating “thin” value to creating “thick” value. His book provides a framework for this shift – but let me merely describe the difference.

Thin value is short-term, singular-focused, and pushes many costs onto others, including future generations. His example of burgers in America illustrates thin value really well. Let’s say you pay $3 for an average burger and the company has $2 in COGS and makes a profit of about a buck. However, the total cost of the burger to produce and deliver is much higher due to things like the subsidized water to produce the beef, government benefits to low wage employees, and tax incentives for farmers and other businesses in the value chain. Then you can add to that the future costs, such as medical costs for obesity and heart disease, or the natural resource costs from beef production. So, by the author’s calculations that $3 hamburger may have an actual cost of $30 – to society and to future generations.

This, Umair would advocate, is “thin” value, or artificial value – gained through harm to or at the expense of people, communities or society. Thin value is what happened when banks bundled risky loans and sold them as consolidated “assets”, that were in reality worthless, bringing the country to the brink of financial collapse, even though the institutions themselves (and the financiers within them) profited greatly.

“Thick” value, by contrast, is value that matters – that lasts and that multiplies. Profits are gained from activities that have benefits that accrue for people, communities, and the planet, in ways that are meaningful, authentic and sustainable. This is value creation for the long term, for wide swaths of folks, and for the natural environment.

Umair provides many examples of companies moving into providing this type of “thick” value or what he would call constructive capitalism. Here are a few:

  • Nike is finding ways to reclaim, recycle and reuse materials in all parts of its value chain, turning it instead into a value cycle, which is continually replenished with materials that cost less and do far less damage to the environment.
  • Threadless, through its unique business model, has found a way to only produce what is needed when it is needed by deeply knowing what customers value and will buy, and along the way also building communities of artists.
  • Google’s philosophy of data liberation creates boundless value inside and outside the organization through opening, rather than closing, the access to data. The goal is to make it easy to move data in and out of Google products. Contrast this with Microsoft – whose goal is to have their products be the ONLY ones you are able to use.
  • Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, who lend small amounts of money without collateral to the rural poor to seed small businesses. The bank is owned by the poor and has been profitable, with the exception of 3 years, since its founding in 1976. It has provided loans to 8.4 million people in India (primarily women), enabling 65% of them to clearly improve their socioeconomic condition. The bank has distributed over $11 billion in micro-loans with an amazing recovery rate of 96.7%.

Hague is clear that no one company has figured it out completely, but provides rich examples of the five cornerstones that can move companies into sustainability and this “new” capitalism.

I’ll end with Umair’s vision of a capitalism that is possible and indeed, necessary, for long term sustainability:

“A capitalism where companies, countries, and economies reach a higher apex of advantage – one where bigger purpose rouses untapped human potential of every employee, customer and future customer; instead of deadening it. One where fiercer passion makes innovation as natural as drawing breath, spontaneously combusting with the spark of creativity instead of dousing its flame with the lowest common denominators. One where deeper meaning replaces the drab grind of repetition with challenging and compelling work that elevates the soul. Where more authentic power flows from shared principles instead of (yawn) sweeter carrots and heftier sticks. Where greater resourcefulness means being not the natural world’s conqueror, but its champion. Where higher quality value is created by doing stuff of greater worth. And ultimately, where companies compete not just to change the rules, but to change the world.”

Umair raises both interesting and important questions – for consumers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. They may not be comfortable, but they are compelling. And considering how to view capitalism as an act of creating deep, broad, and lasting value over the long term is certainly worth struggling with.

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