Planning as guessing

A guess is an estimation, a commitment to an assumption. That's what planning is, no matter how we treat plans as more than guesses. We work from strategic, operational and project guesses all the time. When our guesses work, it's usually because we stay question-focused along the way. Learning creates agile guessing, the most productive form of guessing possible. Next time someone suggests the need for a plan, use guessing as more accurate and realistic language. 

D in the corner

One of our connecting experiences in organizations connects people through stories to discover each other's essential abilities.  It's the opposite of diagnostic tools that put people in personality boxes. One of the worst examples we've heard about was a retreat that was designed to connect the owner to the company. The group was segmented into subgroups of their personality boxes. The owner ended up sitting alone in the corner, begin the only one in his personality category, labeling him as a "D." Quite a paradoxical outcome that typifies what often happens. The alternative is to show people how to form new connections around stories and essential abilities. 

Liberating structures at work

One of the hallmark indicators of good cultures is freedom. People feel free to connect, contribute, collaborate, grow.

Here are some structures that support freedom at work. 

Task initiative agreements: teams agree that anyone can take on and share any work that needs to be done.

Work transparency: anyone can see what anyone is working on at any point in time, ask questions, ask for and offer help.

Ubiquitous conversations: people can have virtual conversations related to any task, meeting, project or question update. 

Working from your Why: working with intrinsic motivation by knowing and working from your work why. 

The more people feel a sense of freedom in their work, the more meaning, trust and connection they experience.  These accelerate performance and the growth of the business.

The change management fallacy

Leaders who "roll out" change programs worry about resistance. They should. People resist what they don't help create. They argue that certain kinds of change must be done by colonistic imposition. It's a logical argument for leaders who don't know how and lack trust of people, and don't know how to build cultures of trust. Fortunately, this learning is possible. Change can cause more inspiration than perspiration.

The consequences of obsessions with quartlerly performance

When companies continue the practice of obsession with quarterly numbers, there are a host of things they intrinsically care less about.  Unfortunately they are all lead indicators like culture, learning, proactive investments and strategies. Managing lag indicators like quarterly numbers makes it impossible to act on the root causes of performance beyond the current quarter. All of this is fixable, and easily, with the right rigor.

Rethinking accountability

We still hear leaders claim their diagnosis of inconsistent performance as a "lack of accountability." What we know about inconsistent performance is how it is closely related to an external locus of control. People perform poorly when they think they are the object rather than source of power. Powerlessness leads to mindless, careless, apathetic work. 

When holding people accountable means enforcing more control over people with threats and confrontative conversations about their deficiencies, external locus of control increases. People who get fired or demoted are often people leaders are "holding more accountable."

People perform better when they work instead with an internal locus of control. This manifests as working with a sense of trustworthiness rather than fear, apprehension and risk aversion. Smart leaders support the growth of trustworthiness by coaching people on how to work by agreement and focus on learning and success. 

Getting the questions right

Machine and artificial intelligence, robotics and smart automation. Following the arc of these curves, we arrive at a world where most jobs can be done without people. This is the world of cost-reduction based profit growth. It will be prominent in business and strategic plans, as well as economic and social policy considerations. These are new questions that will challenge the boundaries of our sense of social responsibility. If anything, they will expand beyond the familiar and will impact every national and global business and economy. Another opportunity to get the questions right.

Growing our potential

It's interesting to think of our potential in specifics rather than generalities. For instance, we can think about our potential for writing well. The strength of our potential for writing is equal to how well we have learned to write well, through reading, expert guidance and practice. Little learning equals little potential. We grow our potential through learning.

The focus on growing our potential in any ability through learning is the opposite of a deficiency approach to our weaknesses. We don't will our way out of weaknesses. We learn our way into new levels of potential. This is true for any ability we want to begin or strengthen in mastery and consistency. 

Realizing your potential

At the core of our potential is everything we can physically do. This includes things we do well and other we don't, things we do consistency and those we don't, and things that align with our why and those that don't. 

To enagage any aspects of our potential is to realize our potential. Each part of our day is an opportunity to realize more of our potential. The intention to realize more of our potential goes beyond the intention to just get things done. It infuses action with meaning. It grows our potential. 

We can consider what kinds of our potential we can engage in any task, meeting, conversation, project or relationship. It's useful to regularly check in on and update our potentials inventory we plan our days, weeks and months.  

When we regularly notice the usefulness of any specific potential, we can turn it into more of a habit so it automatically kicks in when we need it most. The more connected we are with our potentially, the more we live and work with confidence, clarity and courage.

3 Steps to Buiding New Habits

Much of personal success is more about habit building than will power. Good habits give us the focus, energy and persistence required to do what we want to do in life.

Now that we have the science and research of habits, habit growing is now possible. Here are three simple steps. 

Know your why

The more clear we become on the potential benefits of a new habit, the more energy we have for growing it. 

Give it time

Literally, decide when - in what situations and what conditions - in your daily and weekly schedule you will practice the new habit.

Progress in steps  

Increase the consistency and frequency of practice one step at a time, aiming for ongoing progress rather than instant perfection.


The art of pep talks

A recent HBR piece outlines three secrets to talks with people that work. Three strategies create focus, trust and passion.

We create focus through uncertainty-reducing guidance on how things can get done. We create trust through empathy for what people struggle with. We create passion by illuminating the meaning of what people do in the larger narrative.  

These three simple approaches empower people do work together at their best. 

The Real Shelf Life of Strategic Plans

What is the shelf life of strategic plans? 

Many organizations resist strategic plans, weary of how quickly they become out of date. Most that still  do them shelve them after two quarters because of their unintended irrelevance. 

A couple of years ago, we guided a struggling company product division in strategic planning. Their sales were steadily disappointing in what were believed to be promising global markets. The group was fragmented and diverse. Their sense of the future was dim, which made them far more reactive than proactive. They felt more that their past was their destiny instead of a starting place for renewal.

We used the Agile Canvas model to shape their growth. When we did their first two quarter update, over half of their canvas changed. 

The reasons were many. The team changed. They had new talents to understand and engage. They had new learning that inspired reimagining their long view and many of the near view definition of strategic projects. Their achievements opened space for new constellations of known and unknowns. As old problems were solved, solutions led to new problems and opportunities, New questions emerged. 

Over the course of the next year, they went from the lowest performing division in the company to a star team with doubling sales that continue. The agility of refreshing their plan every two quarters empowered them as never before. They discovered the power of balancing being responsive and proactive.

The research is that planning assumptions, no matter how valid and reliable, are accurate at high levels for about two quarters, after which their accuracy diminishes. This is reality, and as such more opportunity than risk. Smart organizations plan and invest accordingly. 

Big Logic

As much spotlight as we give Big Data, we would be wise to share attention with Big Logic.  This is the art and practice of considering intended and unintended impacts in large social systems like organizations, communities and networks. It is discovering impacts, not speculating or assuming what they are or could be based on our mental or political models. It's asking new question about what actually happens when we do and don't take action on any parts of social systems.

There are so many examples of old ways of doing things that result in paradoxical outcomes, things getting worse or sustained in status quo when the "right" things are done.  How we come to new questions is considering natural patterns of how people think, behave and interact. Big logic is more than big data. It is pattern sensing beyond the conclusions and collusions of data.

The politics of both-and

It is paradoxical to asssociate politics and inclusive thinking. In inclusive thinking, we sit on the same side of the table, considering how to optimize or scale the advantages of anything and minimize or mitigate the disadvantages. Every strategy has advantages and disadvantages. To whom each is favors is irrelevant to the the effort of inclusive thinking. 

Politics as usual is exclusive either-or thinking. Either-or is the basis of win-lose which in an interdependent world results ultimately in lose-lose. Both-and is the basis of win-win.

One of the signals that a person, group or community has moved from adolescent to adult cognitive development is the movement from exclusive to inclusive thinking. It is quite possible, in that all it does is combine in new ways the kinds of cognitive operations that 8 year olds are capable of handling. People only need to learn how to do so. The rewards are abundant. 

The vitality of unrealistic ideas in creativity

Unrealistic ideas are vital to the creative process, even and especially in shared creative work sessions. It's no coincidence that groups manage to generate the most uninspired and cliched ideas as they strive to come up with realistic ideas that aren't criticism and rejection magnets.

It's also no coincidence that so many of the best ideas on the planet originated in forms that would seem to most reasonable people as unrealistic. Much of the best features of our world represented what would not long ago be deemed the impossible by experts and clueless alike.

We are in large measure more creative, alone and together, when we let all the unrealistic ideas we can generate spark and seed new ideas that work far beter than what the status quo offers.

#creativity #innovation #design

The Design HUB

A Design HUB is a work session dedicated to the design (or redesign) of anything. It can be the design of any kind of product, process, program, event or experience. It engages three elements: habits, use and beauty. Together these nurture the organic growth of design that works. The power of the process is how it engages every thinking style and talent around the table.



What are people already doing?

Whatever we're designing or redesigning for, people are already doing. Before PostIt Notes, people were already attaching paper to paper using paper clips and staples. Postits brought about a completely different feature for the same function, replacing sturdy solid materials with inferior glue.

New design gives people a different way to do what they're already doing. Here, we identify what for users is working and not working, what's most and least convenient, what adds value and what doesn't. Understanding current habits gives us a unique and deeper perspective on what else might be possible.



What features and functions would be optimally useful?

We create usefulness by making something more accessible, useable with fewer steps or effort, producing a higher quality experience, requiring minimal or no maintenance, easy to personalize or share.

We generate as many feature and function possibilities, no matter how much we might judge them as "realistic" or "unrealistic." We consider interesting ways to introduce any kinds of technology and sociology into the options that emerge.



What would make this more beautiful?

Beauty is aesthetics, simplicity and familiarity. Anything judged as attractive feels more useful and representing higher quality. Beauty entices us to assume that more attention went into the design and production of something.

Just considering the beauty of something we design adds another perspective on the importance of the user experience, which infuses more creativity and pragmatism to the overall value of the design.


#creativity #design

Why we need to be designers

There are countless ways we have design opportunities. Each of our shared dreams calls for something new that will exist and work because it's well designed. We benefit by learning as much as we can about design from any design discipline. Any discipline adds value, from the arts to technology and architecture.


Why wellbeing matters

High performance in any area of our lives requires a healthy mind. Nothing good happens wihout it. And the largest part of our mind is our body. The level of our performance never exceeds the level of our wellbeing. Anything we can do to grow habits of wellbeing directly pays off. 

What responsibilities do companies have?

In modern economies, money is freedom. Successful companies have financial freedoms to do and get away with whatever they can. They deploy marketing, legal and lobbying assets to keep the scope of this freedom optimally stretched. 

What companies can and should be responsible for is a new question. It relates to the people who make the business successful, investors and market champions, the users who depend on its deliverables and the countless impacts and implications of every business on people and planet.

An exceptionally simple model for the best meetings possible

 Agile Meetings

This is a simple, flexible question-based model for organizing any kind of meeting, or conversation seeking shared outcomes. The group stays collaborative and productive whatever the scope of work, diversity of participants and time available. The process doesn't require any special kind of hierarchy or pre-set agenda.

The model features four actions.

1. Identify the questions: Everyone is invited to share the open questions they want the group to work on at that point in time. Questions can represent any kind of wishes, concerns and issues. Each is spoken aloud and written on (physical or virtual) cards. Add backlog questions to what emerges.

2. Organize the questions: The group sequences the questions, considering factors of importance, urgency and dependencies. For each question, estimate the beginning and end dates when questions need to be worked on.

3. Triage the questions: Identify on the spot assignments - people who volunteer to work together on any question after the meeting. Any question that at least 2/3 of the group wants to work on gets worked on by the group in the meetings as time permits. Undone worked on questions move to the backlog.

4. Work the questions: For questions selected for the meeting, start work on each by identifying all the knowns and unknowns. Keep everything visible on cards. Any new questions that need more work gets assigned on the spot or added to the backlog.


The What-Ifs

What if the meeting lacks strong leadership or a clear topical agenda? It doesn't need either. If either exists, we still follow the same four actions.

What if people go off scope during the meeting? Everything gets formed as a question on a card and is either assigned on the spot or added to the backlog.

What if everything intended to get done in the meeting doesn't get done? Anything worked on that goes undone by end of meeting is either assigned on the spot or added to the backlog.

What if there are key people not present? They are patched in by phone when needed or invited into assigned on the spot work after the meeting.

What if we have people dominating and disappearing? Make sure people write each of their ideas on cards, one item per card, and read each aloud so the group stays optimally engaged.

What if email becomes inefficient for organization? Try if possible to never use email, only a shared space, ideally a free, secure Trello Board that optimally keeps everyone on the same page and new people quickly engaged.