Why is it TRUE?

I was in a meeting last week running through a demo of our behaviour change tracking software and was asked where my notebook wall-paper image was from. Its Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains located in the East African Rift, a truly stunning place. I was then asked about the caption on the image.

As a behaviouralist and researcher pretty much everything I do with work, involves assisting businesses with understanding, improving, changing or modifying people behaviours in some way or other. I believe it is up to me to practice what I preach, hence the caption as background on all my devices. Continuing on from my previous post about taking control of our attitudes, this caption is a very powerful tool in being able to actually do so.

We know that in excessive of 60% of everything we do each day is an automatic habit, and that as life gets busier more things are being ‘pushed’ to habits, because Busy Brain Syndrome continues to relentlessly erode our brain bandwidth. Whilst we intellectually understand that we do have control over our attitudes, most of time (90%) we actually have no conscious cognizance of our attitudes and prevailing beliefs. We put ourselves in DRIVE and off we go.

Our underlying attitudes and beliefs determine the way we see the world, and the way we react to ‘every‘ situation and person we come across – period.

The reality is that for the majority of people, these underlying attitudes and beliefs are not even their own. They have been acquired through family, school, friends, work, media, literature, culture and a whole host of other influences. If we examine disagreements from simple things such as attending a family function to global conflicts, what underpins each side of these disagreements is a belief or attitude that is emphatically ‘true’ for each side.

Negotiators skills lie in breaking down these concrete ‘truths’ that people hold to various extents, so that a new perspective or ‘truth’ can be applied by each party to resolve the conflict or disagreement. The caption above facilitates ‘being’ your own negotiator at all times. through being mindful of what ‘your’ truths are in any given situation.

I find that the most challenging aspect of this process is to actually be mindful or aware, of how we think and behave in any situation. Are we actually being ‘open minded’, objective, really listening and understanding the countless situations we find ourselves in from day to day? Or are we in DRIVE and operating on what we subconsciously believe to be TRUE?

Breaking a habit is hard because of the nature of habits – they are unconscious. The fact that I have this caption on my device (s) wall paper/background means I am subliminally programming myself over and over to be aware and pay attention with all interactions with people, and situations I find myself in. In effect, this causes me to stop and think rather than ‘just reacting’.

By not ‘assuming’ anything to be true, means that you can truly have an open mind. This is not to say that we don’t have preferences and preferred experiences, we do. However when we ask the question why is this true?’ we are much more likely to open our minds, rather than unintentionally, blindly reacting to people and things with closed minds.

This is most liberating as the problem with ‘truths’ is that people tend to become boiling mad when ‘someone or something’ transgresses’ their truth, and the media is littered with such stories on a daily basis. I would hazard a guess that the majority of ‘behavioural issues’ within organisations also have ‘concrete’ individual truths’ at their core.

There is a place for ‘truth and beliefs’ however, if we actually paid more attention to how much these ‘truths’ drive our behaviours, and behave with integrity and respect at all times, then we would all get along a bit better.

Leading for Profit or Purpose?

The purpose of a business at its core is no different today than it was back in the days of the great traders of the Indus Valley 1000’s of years ago, for example. To these traders it was simply, I have something that you want which I trade for something I want, or for $. Why? To support myself, my family and community. Trade has always been at the forefront of innovation which has propagated new things that people wanted and have traded since time ad infinitum.

From the 1950’s it seems that the essence or purpose of ‘trade’ was replaced by volume. The focus was no longer upon what I produce or trade for my tribe who want to trade with me, but rather on volume and as much profit as possible. Fast track to today in our digitised global world of shareholders who are from all over the world, not delivering as much as possible means unhappy shareholders and bad press. For these businesses the focus is on getting more and more sales, rather than focusing on delivering excellence, which means ensuring that the people delivering your product or service can do so and are supported and recognised for the value they add.  For the profit focused business it is about keeping the shareholders happy, which includes family members in some family owned businesses. There are many exceptions to this thankfully, and most smaller businesses are still traders – value is the focus.

When there is a focus at the ‘top’ within a business on crating as much profit as possible, what tends to happen is that the pressure to ‘deliver’ is passed on to ‘operations’ and that pressure increases the further down the line you go. This does not sit favorably with the majority of operational employee’s, who come to work to deliver value because they want to feel good about what they do. They care and are motivated MORE about what they do in delivering the product or service to a customer, than they do about making profits for the business.

Yes granted making profits for the business is important as it keeps them in a job. However, they are employed to ‘do something’ in the delivery chain – that is what they are good at and is what ‘rings their bell’. What occurs with an overemphasis on ‘profits’ is that operational people don’t feel valued. They don’t feel valued for what they do, their specific unique contribution and why they turn up to work each day. People believe it or not are really only concerned with their own contribution. Sure they are part of a team, but really the bit that matters most to them is their bit, the part they play. Trust me this is a great thing for businesses – those businesses who are most successful today are so because they get this and they leverage it. They are the employer’s of choice, the businesses where time fly’s because people are getting what they want, they feel good because they matter and know that what they contribute matters and is valued.

We all need to ‘feel’ valued, and to feel that what we contribute at work matters. What people actually want at the end of each day is to go home with the feeling that what they just spent 7+ hours doing, was valued and mattered. In businesses that are purpose driven rather than profit driven, the way things are done around here – their culture – is different. Managers or people leaders know that their primary default role is to support and acknowledge their people. Their prime focus and main job is to recognise their people’ and acknowledge their efforts, with results usually being that excellence is delivered on time every time.

However, in a profit focused business – these same ‘people’ managers are more worried about the pressure of volume and increasing the return for shareholders, and in many cases their remuneration is linked to the bottom line. Recognising and acknowledging their people takes a back seat – something that they do if they get around to it, because they are too busy meeting the pressure from above.

What we find is that these business have to create systems, and processes to make sure that people managers recognise and reward their people – it is almost as though it gets in the way of business – “you mean I have to take time to say well done?”  To the purpose driven business – which by the way all employees want to work for, the very idea of this is madness. The irony is that profit comes from purpose, it doesn’t work the other way around.

Who is more IMPORTANT, leading edge thinkers or leading edge adopters?

History is littered with creative, innovative thinkers who were ahead of their time. Sadly, in so many cases their creative contributions are only recognised posthumously. The more well-known of these cases are with artists, Van Gogh as a most tragic story. Creativity as a concept is associated more with the arts than with other advances in humanity. However creativity at its essence is a different way of thinking. It is an ability to take a ‘problem’ or limitation’ (efficiency within our organisations for example) and project to a future state and develop a new way of ‘doing’ that eradicates the problem. That in an of itself is one part of the process. Creators also connect the dots from that future state back to the current state and devise a process to bring those for whom the problem exists, towards the future state solving the problem.

This is where it gets tough.

Creating solutions is the job of creative thinkers, however the implementing and achievement of resolution of the problem, is the job of creative adopters. 

We have a gross shortage of enabled creative adopters currently. The world is ‘screaming out’ for these people to step up. Why are they not stepping up?


Fear of getting it wrong, fear of perceived consequences, fear of losing face with their peers, fear of the shareholders reactions, fear of it impacting their careers and the list goes on. At such a time in history where relentless change is hurled at us on seemingly a daily basis – never before has the need for ‘creative adopters’ in our organisations to step up, been more urgent.

What we need are fearless leaders who find the ‘creative adopters’ within their organisations, every organisation has them. They must be enabled to do what comes naturally to them, implementing new better ways of doing things. These fearless leaders need to support their creative adopters with a team of ‘domestiques’ who will rally around them and not allow others to ‘finger point’ if at first they don’t succeed – ‘failure is a whole other post’. Seriously – how did we get to the point of ‘mistakes’ are a capital offense in our organisations????

Poignantly – the Tour de France is a great lesson to us. The GC (winners) potentials are the creative thinkers – they cannot win this race without their ‘domestiques’ creative adopters – PERIOD. Once again sport gives us a road map for creating success.

I was born a creative thinker (99% on the creative index) just as people are born artists, and solutions come to me like a prolific artist. However, these solutions are completely useless without ‘creative adopters’. I meet them all the time and have a list as long of my arm of all these extraordinary people who are currently constrained and champing at the bit to be what they were born to be – creative adopters.

Creative adopters are INFINITELY more important than the creative thinkers – the yang does not exist without the yin. Our organisations will become efficient and keep evolving in synchrony with the changes in the market when we enable our ‘creative adopters’

Ironically the fears preventing enabling ‘creative adopters’ to produce their magic are exacerbated by Busy Brain Syndrome which locks our minds into negative – imagine the gear shift in a car, BBS locks us into Park – our creative adopters are in PARK – going nowhere.

Going viral marketing and propaganda or brainwashing communication concept as a lit match lighting a group of other volatile matches shaped as human heads as a symbol of the fast speed of social media network distribution and hype.

Going viral marketing and propaganda or brainwashing communication concept as a lit match lighting a group of other volatile matches shaped as human heads as a symbol of the fast speed of social media network distribution and hype.

Aware Leaders make a difference by default

I had the privilege to attend an event last week run by three of the best speakers in this country. The event was about making a difference – I was initially skeptical as there seems to be a fair bit of ‘lip service’ paid to ‘making a difference’ these days.

Thankfully my skepticism was totally unfounded – the event was truly inspiring and the key take out was, “what do your actions and endeavors do for the people you interact with”. What this means is ‘how do your interactions leave people feeling’?

Do people feel empowered, enthused, motivated and excited by interacting with you? Or do they feel ‘shafted, defensive, protective, vulnerable and devalued?’. Or perhaps they feel nothing from your interaction, ‘whatever’!

I certainly came away from this event empowered, enthused, motivated and above all excited by the fact that so many people (100’s) would be doing things a little or a lot differently having attended this event. The power of contagion was at work.

Imagine if every interaction people had with their leaders within their organisations left them feeling 1.0% or even 0.5% more motivated than they were before the interaction?

Aware leaders make it their business to focus on how they are impacting the people they lead. They do this by first being aware and mindful of themselves and their habits having learned to observe these habits.  They also pay attention and note how they feel about each interaction they have throughout the day, which means they are focused on how they come across to the people they interact with.

This may seem like hard work – and it is in the initial stages of learning to overcome busyness and distraction in the moment to be aware and focus. It is not long before these aware leaders create new habits and suddenly they find their ‘workload’ or ‘busyness’ seems to have lightened. Why?

Because they find themselves surrounded by people who are mindful of their own interactions and what each of those interactions do for the other person. The effectiveness and efficiency of these people is extraordinary. Why?

Because the small daily improvements they have made as directly shown by their ‘aware’ leaders, has made staggering longer terms changes to their effectiveness.

Are atrocities perpetrated by humans increasing?

Humans have treated each other poorly for eon’s. When we collectivley experience events such as the past weekend, Orlando, football hooliganism, and the random slaying of an entertainer, amid more local events – many people feel unsafe and that the world is not a pleasant place. We hear things such as people are so self-centered and their is no respect……..

To put things into perspective. The world is a much safer place, and tolerance of each other as humans of any race, creed, colour or any other segmentation we assign to people, is consistently increasing. We don’t have to go back to far to times when ‘violence’ (intolerance) against colour, creed or sexual orientation was societal and ‘entrenched as community values and law’. Stalin checking off names at the end of the day of people to be arrested ‘legally’, most of whom would not survive their trip to the ‘camps’ is within the lifetimes of many of us.

We also need to remember that the media is in the business of ‘selling stories’ and ‘sensation’ sells. The expanded media and the sheer bombardment when ‘stories’ break is overwhelming. As I have written about here before the media don’t necessarily control our thinking, however they absolutely control what we ‘think about’ as consumers of media.

The media know they have a limited window to ‘capitalise’ on these stories – they need to make money like everyone else, so they make the most of it. The danger with this to the general public is that the relentless negativity focuses peoples’ thinking negatively –  I am not for on moment suggesting that any of these acts of violence are not appallingly negative in every sense of the word.

The best thing we can do collectively is to focus on the incredible response to these events around the world – the people in the streets saying we will not tolerate this violence. This is what we need to hang on to – and the reality that collectively, we are so much more tolerant of each other. We must expand this to be ever more mindful of ‘what we are thinking about’ consistently. After all we are products of our collectively thinking. Marketers and marketing scientist have know this for decades – lets continue to change the collective intolerance of ‘violence’ one thought and one action at a time.

By way of example of the power of thought and action, a friend in the US picks up litter lying around whilst he waits at the train station. I am sure that every single one of us walks past litter most days, how many of us will pick it up? I have begun to do the same thing – it is extraordinary to watch how other people will begin to notice and pick up litter placing it in bins which are there at the ready. The power of right action.

Design thinking – is it the answer for our troubled organisations?

Deloitte’s latest Human Capital report is a fascinating read and as a credible and reputable document, it is second to none. Unlike the other big four, Deloitte’s did not disband their Advisory Services about 15 years ago. This lends exceptional credibility to their ‘thought leadership’ in this area as they critically, have ‘advised’ businesses all the way through the biggest change in human history ever. This report indicates that ‘organisational design’ is top of mind with business leaders. From my perspective this is great news.

Why? Because the human capital ‘issues’ that have plagued businesses since the beginning of ‘digital disruption’ are a consequence of inappropriate, ineffective and disconnected organisational design. The world has changed so radically in the past 15 years and there is no other time in human history where such a rapid ‘environmental’ change has occurred, expect for a massive meteor hitting the earth long, long ago. Fifteen years is about on par for ‘humans’ collectively to begin to ‘adapt’ to a radically changed environment. The first decade is spent in a ‘state of shock’ almost, where business leaders are faced with insurmountable challenges and ‘expected’ to solve them’.

Well cut leaders some slack – why should they ‘know what to do and how to navigate’ such a dramatic change when the rest of us don’t have a clue. They weren’t handed the ‘manual’ of how to successfully operate a business in a environment which may as well have come from an alien landing in terms of how ‘different and new’ it has all been. Whilst there have been many ‘solutions or idea’s to ‘get people’s performance on par with a fast paced world’ which says ‘faster faster’ – the reality is the ‘humans’ at the coal face are begging ‘slower, slower’. These solutions have experienced limited success and virtually none of them have been sustainable over time.

This brings me to why I was encouraged to see organisation ‘design’ as top of mind in this report. Because like any problem we humans overcome – unless we solve theses problems at the “ROOT CAUSE” the solution will not be sustainable. I, like many others have banged on for nearly a decade about how organisational ‘structures’ and by default processes and systems were efficient for the age for which they were ‘designed’ – the industrial era, but fail catastrophically in the ‘digital, disruptive age.

We left the industrial era behind 15+ years ago – and yet expected ‘business as usual’ with the same design and processes. That just doesn’t make sense. Again to cut leaders some slack – the ‘prospect of ‘changing organisational design is beyond daunting and emphatically cost prohibitive if it is approached head on. How on earth can we possibly change the way our businesses have been operating for their entire existence, and at the same time still make profits when the market is getting faster by the day? Impossible.

What is possible is to solve the problem via the back door if you like – in a ‘disruptive manner’ (disruptive to ‘usual thinking’). Design thinking.

Design thinking is underpinned by rigorous creativity (rigor – focusing on how and why), critical inquiry and ensuring that people and the environment  are respected. Design thinking is ‘limitless thinking’ – which is getting with Einsteins most famous quote – about not being able to solve today’s problems with yesterdays thinking.

Once again to cut leaders some slack – the ability to ‘think creatively’ utilising such techniques as design thinking is completely eroded by Busy Brain Syndrome (http://peopledata.com.au/?page_id=3545) (speed of change causing the clever brain to shut down). BBS has impacted all of us, and leaders more so as they are at the front bearing the brunt of this overload (think front of the peleton in a 40kmh headwind – continuously). The reason I am encouraged by this ‘new thinking’ focusing on the ‘actual cause’ of business output failing to keep up with demand, it that is is showing early signs of ‘those people at the leading edge’ – our business leaders – adapting successfully to thrive in our disruptive world.


Leading Change – A New Approach

Change failure or ‘paralysis’ has reached such levels within organisations, that many businesses are in a state of chronic dysfunction where they are falling behind and some may simply fade away, unless ironically – they change. There is a way, and it begins with decisive leadership. The most critical role of a leader and why they are paid as they are, is to take responsibility and make timely decisions.

I prefer to use the word ‘paralysis’ rather than ‘failure’. Both words imply the same effect – change not being successful – but have very different perceived causes. Failure implies that lack of success was ‘invariably’ someone’s fault, which leads to further dysfunction as most organisations still operate on last century’s management paradigms where ‘people (particularly leaders) are responsible for increasing predictability ‘. Paralysis, on the other hand suggests there are factors inhibiting success, that if addressed and removed will see change succeed.

Change paralysis is caused by the disconnect and misalignment between a consistently fluid market and ‘old organisational management structures’ that follow ‘good management practices’ rather than adapting to meet market demands. A rapidly moving customer driven market has created a chronic sense of urgency within businesses, where ‘reacting’ is the typical response as an attempt to alleviate and control the chronic anxiety that ‘urgency’ creates. This has resulted in exhausted, burnt out leaders who have developed decision paralysis and thus, business inertia exists where they fail to keep up with change.

This paralysis has no relationship to a leaders ability, experience or knowledge about how to lead effectively. Overcoming decision paralysis requires a paradigm shift where leaders develop a new way of leading and being decisive in a world of complete uncertainty.

That new way is for leaders to ‘let go of the expectation and need for certainty’. Easier said than done, but ironically in our personal lives we have a much lower stranglehold on the ‘expectation of certainty’, particularly with disruption from technology. In fact we expect uncertainty with technology because new things appear all the time and we embrace them.

Letting go of certainty and predictability in businesses is a two step process. Firstly, understand that our organisational structures still operate on the premise that ‘we respond to all demands’. More importantly whilst leaders may know ‘intellectually’ that they cannot possibly respond to the ‘insane’ level of demands currently, they are still hard-wired ‘unconsciously to react to perceived urgency’. This is why ‘self-awareness’ is the most important skill for leaders to develop and master in a fast moving world.

Secondly, leaders need to get to being OK with ‘uncertainty’. What I mean by this is the natural progression with mastering ‘self-awareness’ is the ability to ‘create space’ with decisions. This ‘space’ enables a considered ‘conscious response’ rather than an ‘unconscious reactionwhich is caused by the brain being hard-wired to ‘control and avoid anxiety’.

What also occurs by default when leaders learn to get ‘OK with uncertainty’ and master ‘controlled conscious responsiveness’, is that their energy becomes very clear and focused, whereas when in the ‘reacting to excessive noise mode’, their energy is scattered, which is exhausting. This means they make decisions that are right for the moment and have a cascading effect throughout the organisation. Strong decisive leadership makes for a strong decisive business where people feel ‘secure and stable’ and readily change to meet changing demands.

Political Correctness is Causing Business Dysfunction in a VUCA World.

Decision paralysis with leadership is a fallout from a VUCA (Volotile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, just as failure to change is a fallout with teams. Whilst there is a significant debate and discussion about the ‘VUCA’ caused problem of people and teams failing to adopt and sustain change in the longer term, there is little discussion by comparison on the impact of decision paralysis in businesses.

The irony is that decision paralysis from leadership leads to and exacerbates change sustainability failures with teams of people in organisations. If we drill down to the root cause of both these business challenges, they stem from the same cause, overload and an inability of businesses via their people to keep operations on par with fast moving, fluid market demands.  The beginning point to resolve this challenge is to ‘fix’ decision paralysis with leaders, because this perpetuates failure of teams to sustained change.

Decision paralysis presents in business in its most disruptive and dysfunctional way as changed purchase processes. For business leaders to keep their businesses operating at current levels and stop them going backwards in a fast moving world, they need to be continually implementing improvement solutions. These solutions invariably involve purchases of some description, be that an external system or process, more people, consulting expertise, new machinery or products.

Business decision making which includes purchasing process, has slowed by a factor of 4-5 over the past few years. Meaning urgent problems that need a decision to ‘fix’, are now stalled in no-mans land whilst a ‘decision’ takes five months rather than one. And we wonder why ‘people’ within organisations ‘struggle with change’. The apple doesn’t fall far, imprinting or ‘do what leaders do, not what they say’ is the ‘actual driver of behaviour’. People within organisations ‘see’ this indecision and mimic it, albeit unconsciously.

So what factors are contributing to this decision paralysis? Firstly there is an ever expanding array of stakeholders with often competing agenda’s changing purchase criteria which with any decision by ‘committee’, ends up with the lowest-common-denominator behaviours. This expansion of stakeholders is driven by collaboration and diversity agenda’s which is not a bad thing in terms of ‘contributing’ to the decision making process. However that is just it contribute to, rather than be directly involved in, is optimal.

Political correctness has railroaded the most important function within any business – timely, confident and committed decision making. To my mind CEO’s and other heads of businesses are paid ‘well’ because they take on the responsibility of the viability of the business. How does that responsibility manifest in business success? By MAKING decisions in time, that lead the business to success. What we have now is RISK gone mad, with people involved in decision making when they really should be contributing information needed to support the decision, because they are not experienced in decision making. They have other functions to perform in the business and endless ‘decision meetings’ are a complete waste of their time and expertise.

So rather than the business leader receiving relevant information in a timely manner, that he/she can sort through with ‘trusted advisers’ and MAKE workable decisions, there is an abundance of largely irrelevant information that tends to bury the core issues. Time is added completely unnecessarily, the value of the solution is watered down, and in cases eroded completely.The business is left with the same original problem, a devalued solution that is invariably not fit for purpose and is doomed to be ineffective. Employee’s get to be right again – ‘this won’t work just like last time’.

So how has overload contributed to business decision paralysis? Overload is caused by Busy Brain Syndrome – which for the purposes of this discussion locks people into a negative state unconsciously. BBS causes people to view everything through a negative lens. For example collectively we are fixated on negative statistics – rather than viewing something as having a 90% chance of success, we focus on the 10% chance of failure. This has caused leaders to focus on ‘fear getting decisions wrong’ rather than focusing on the fact that they will get it right, nine times out of ten. In the same way people and teams ‘fear change’ because of what they ‘could lose’ rather than focusing on what they gain. Most of these fears can be controlled with efficient, timely and effective decision making.

What our businesses need is strong decisive leadership supported by stakeholders supplying the right information at the right time. The business leader is then armed with salient information to make decisions in a timely manner, enabling the business to keep up in a VUCA world. Nobody wins with decision paralysis.

Maybe – just maybe some will learn from Nokia

These comments from Ziyad Jawabra on his post concerning Nokia – are common sense.

“They (Nokia) missed out on learning, they missed out on changing, and thus they lost the opportunity at hand to make it big. Not only did they miss the opportunity to earn big money, they lost their chance of survival.  The message of the Nokia story is, if you don’t change, you shall be removed from the competition. It’s not wrong if you don’t want to learn new things. However, if your thoughts and mindset cannot catch up with time, you will be eliminated.

Failure does not occur instantly, just as success does not occur instantly. We have enough ‘flags and warning signs’ along our pathway yet we choose to ignore many of them, not for any rational reason but generally for something else – fear or fixed beliefs that are misaligned to the actual present reality. We know this is the case because of our post-mortums after the event – I wudda, shudda, cudda done things differently. If we had been fully present and actually ‘engaged with the present trajectory’ (which is constantly moving to a future point in time) we would most likely have made very different decisions.

There seems to be considerable levels of ‘resistance’ to moving forward with many ‘traditional businesses’. This is a worrying trend, particularly given that there is an increasing number of new businesses setting up in traditional industries that are designed very differently. They are structuring themselves to be malleable, movable and agile, and are succeeding in acquiring customers,  because they are purpose designed to be ‘responsive’ to customers needs.  Agile does not apply only to processes – more importantly it applies the entire mind-set of the people within the business. A business is not its product or process – it is the ability of its people to meet the needs of customers, this is what creates its brand, its reputation and by default its success or not.

Many traditional business seem the think that longevity, loyalty and tradition will keep them safe – wrong. The modern consumer is none of these things any more. They are short term, fickle, modern and more likely to decide to purchase according to their ‘friends or those around them’ than for any ‘traditional’ reason. Change is really not that hard – and we do it outside of our businesses and workplaces by default. However at work we seem to morph back a century into old structures and ways of behaviour that no longer fit. Perhaps there is a direct correlation between this and the ‘pandemic’ of workplace unhappiness and dissatisfaction.