On Saturday night I went with some friends to see Michael Franti & Spearhead play at Pier Six in Baltimore. Before the concert one friend extolled Franti’s gifts and promised it would be an uplifting experience. Really? A concert? I expect concerts to be good fun and entertaining but uplifting? Hmmm…
He was right. Franti’s paints his blend of reggae, hip hop, world music on a larger canvas. Throughout the show he brought people of all ages, shapes and sizes onto the stage to dance and play with him. He danced and sang his way to the back reaches of the venue. Each band member shared time in the spotlight and their wireless instruments enabled them to dance their ways into the crowds too. They exuded such energy and joy I knew that they were having a blast playing for us.
Enrolled is the word that came to mind. And explains the perceptible difference in my experience of the talented, energetic opening act and the fabulously engaging Franti and band. It got me to thinking of how this could be translated into a work experience. How can we enroll others in what we do? How can we ‘go out into the audience’ and bring the experience we want others to have to them?
Some strategies based on what I saw from Franti:
– Engage: Understand the audience and meet them in your delivery
– Work on a larger canvas: Get rid of artificial boundaries
– Dance & Play: Build fun into the experience
And keep adding to the list to make the experience you deliver uniquely yours.
It isn’t the circumstances that are crucial, it is what we say about the circumstances that matters….what assumptions am I making that I don’t know that I am making???
Thank you (and YouTube) for the reminder Benjamin Zander
I’ve been having the same stress dream for years. You’ll be familiar with the drill: I realize only days before the final exam of a class–usually calculus or Spanish–that I will fail as I haven’t been to class or done the work for most of the semester. Often the reason for this impending doom is optimism: throughout the semester I thought I would catch up next week. Sometimes it’s a time management issue: the class is the third class I have on Wednesdays and I get caught up in my preparations for the first two. Always, it is too late to drop the course, there is no way for me to be ready in time and I will most definitely fail. The dream ends with me poised to cram and hope that I will somehow miraculously pull through.
I had the dream again Monday night. Only this time there was a twist to the ending. When I came to the realization of the predicament I put myself in, I started exploring options. I worked on the possible alternative outcomes. I weighed the pros and cons. I came up with the solution of withdrawing from the course and having to explain the lurking notice on my transcript in the future. I then planned for a tough next semester with the additional course to make sure I was still on the trajectory to an on-time graduation.
That addition made for a new perspective. My stress dream became a problem-solving dream. And it left me thinking where else I could my life I could achieve similar transformations. And wouldn’t it be nice if I could always plan my way out of bad dreams…
I’ve just finished watching this brief TED Talk with Tom Wujec about the “marshmallow challenge.” It’s a collaboration and innovation challenge that asks participant teams to build the tallest structure they can in 18 minutes. Their building tools?
- 20 sticks of spaghetti
- A yard each of string and masking tape
- A marshmallow that must be placed on top
Typical goofy but fun management training & teambuilding exercise, right?
Are you surprised that newly-minted MBAs suck at the task (too much focus on devising the perfect plan and no backup)? Or that recent kindergarten graduates excel (their view: lead, schmead…Let’s start with the marshmallow and keep going ’til something works)? Bet it’s no shocker that CEO groups do slightly better than average (it’s their job to solve sticky ambiguous problems).
For me, the magnificent moments of Wujec’s talk surround the addition of executive admins and the limitations of incentives.
- Executive Admins: CEO teams that include executive assistants are among the highest performers. Wujec suggests this is because they have group process and facilitation skills. The teams that have people with special skills and who pay attention to the work and the process get more done. Um, yeah. Sounds pretty basic right? But do most organizations or even workgroups have that? What would it look like if for every meeting and every project we had someone who took on the role of paying attention to the process of how we achieve our work? And if we slowed down enough at the beginning and the end and just checked in?
- Limitation of Incentives. This won’t be much of a surprise to anyone familiar with Daniel Pink’s work on motivation. When Wujec offered a $10,000 prize to the team who created the tallest structure, all teams failed to build something viable. Four months later after the same teams had studied innovation and learned about the importance of prototypes, their results were among the best.Wujec offers this formula:
- Incentives + Low Skills ≠ Success
- Incentives + High Skills = Success
Newsflash: Sounds like, “Success = Flow.” Hey, maybe we should strive to find ways to get our teams, work groups and emerging leaders to achieve this state that encompasses single-minded motivation, and a mindset in which all members are completely engaged, engrossed and fully immersed in the task at hand. What might that look like? And while we’re at it, how about we create and continuously promote environments that balance challenge and skill (the former slightly exceeding the latter), consistently provide clear goals and timely feedback, and pay attention to how we’re getting the job done?
Seems like a sensible way to build successful, sustainable, collaborative structures. And ones where sticky stuff doesn’t topple down from the top.
In today’s Management Tip of the Day: 3 Classic Strategy Mistakes to Avoid published by the fine folks at Harvard Business Review, the cautionary words advise against:
- Keeping underperforming businesses.
- Pushing growth.
- Cutting back on cost-cutting
The same can be said regarding career advice albeit slightly modified. Beware of:
- Keeping underperforming or outdated habits. What are you doing today that you should stop doing? Some behaviors and habits may have served you well earlier in your career but may no longer be getting you the results you desire. Some may be downright derailers. Identify these and move away from doing them so you can focus on the activities that will provide you the most benefit and help you catapult your career forward.
- Pushing for growth. Haranguing your boss to give you new responsibilities and varied projects won’t lead to advancement unless you are knocking it out of the park with your current responsibilities. What can you do to make sure you excel at your existing responsibilities? Are you building strong, solid relationships with your peers before looking to schmooze with those above you.
- Cutting back on cost-cutting. When things improve, remain focused on the bottom line and on accomplishing your goals. Even as times improve, organizations are likely to be leery of expenditures and quick to make cuts in underperforming areas. Keep building your skills, be judicious in what you ask for, continue to prioritize needs and build strong business cases for major expenditures or investments including salary increases.