Get Yourself Into the Race

 re·sil·ience

Pronunciation: \ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\

Function: noun

Date: 1824

1 : the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2 : an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

In anticipation of a presentation I will be giving, I talked with Kim Dority about the essential ingredients for a successful information professional. Without hesitation, she said “resilience.”

I nodded to myself and added it to my PowerPoint presentation. But since then, I’ve been thinking: what does resilience really mean? It could mean that, like a punching clown, when you get knocked down, you have the wherewithal to get back up again. Certainly, this is a good trait as it takes character to “get back in the race”, but when you are down, you know there’s got to be a better way. 

Last week I heard a sustainable energy engineer talk about “building resilience into a system.” He was saying that rather than optimizing a system, you could increase strength and increase the possibility of success through building alternative pathways. Alternative pathways to success –now that is very relevant to the information professional right now. 

So, I asked Kim for a little more insight on her version of resilience, and here’s her take on it: 

“The ability to “get back up” is a part of the definition of resiliency, and especially speaks to issues of character and determination and confidence. But I also think that an ability and willingness to learn from our experiences, good and bad, is what turns the “getting back up” into making forward progress toward wisdom, and greater success, however one defines it.”

 Resiliency to Kim means:

  • Ability to get back up when life knocks you for a face-plant
  • Ability to accept setbacks as a natural and welcome part of growth, rather than as a sign of failure – it means you’ve got the courage to try new things, which is requisite to achieving anything in your life
  • Ability to move beyond comfort zones in order to respond to new opportunities
  • Ability to manage our usual reaction to change – i.e., fear or defensiveness – and instead embrace the adventure
  • Ability to see obstacles as momentary delays, for which you will seek alternative solutions. The engineer’s “alternative pathways,” are an on-target analogy

Kim continued with a good metaphor: body surfing, which has passive and active components. “I liken resiliency to body surfing, where your goal is to use the energy of the wave to achieve your goal. Everything I need to know I learned bodysurfing in Southern California… 

  • Anticipate
  • Position for opportunity
  • Paddle like crazy
  • Enjoy the ride, but know it will end
  • Don’t take the sand in your suit personally
  • Know that a new wave is always on the way

 That’s kind of how I think about resiliency! I think its critical issue for information pros!”

Bright Spots

Great article about shifting your frame of reference.

Switch: Don’t Solve Problems–Copy Success  By Chip and Dan Heath,  From FastCompany February 1, 2010

Find a bright spot and clone it. That’s the first step to fixing everything from addiction to corporate malaise to malnutrition. A problem may look hopelessly complex. But there’s a game plan that can yield movement on even the toughest issues. And it starts with locating a bright spot — a ray of hope.

What Might Be

Earlier this week I attended a presentation by Roger Martin, the author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. There is a great article about the book in Businessweek as it was one of their top recommentations for 2009.

The event was held at the new, and very cosmopolitan Ziba Design building on Ninth and Northrop in Portland. The crowd was large, hip, and enthusiastic.

As his thesis, Martin poses this question: “Why aren’t companies more innovative, especially since innovation is such a competitive advantage?” He investigated the obvious answers–that  companies like what they already have or that they don’t have the resources–and he found they were not true. Companies really do want to be innovative.

So, what is impeding innovation? From his research, Martin concludes that it’s the subtle ways that people think that block changes in process and structure that lead to innovation.

Martin then outlined three ways that people think. The first is analytical thinking which looks at data from the past to predict the future. Its goal is a reliable outcome, but the limitation is that when you are looking to innovate you cannot use inductive or deductive reasoning to prove something new. In fact, Martin goes so far as to say “prove it” is the enemy of innovation.

Another way that people think is intuitive thinking, which has the goal of creating “what might be.” Its purpose is to know without explicit reasoning. This method of thinking has 100% validity, he said, because it lacks parameters.

The combination of both approaches is called abductive thinking, and its purpose is to integrate the past and future, and to combine reliability and validity. The intersection of analytical and intuitive thinking is where innovation occurs.

He argued that corporate life is dominated by analytical thinking, and that it has been pushed so far that it is counterproductive. He gave suggestions for intuitive thinkers to understand and empathize with analytical thinkers. He also challenged analytical thinkers to share reasoning and data, but not conclusions with intuitive thinkers.

If you change structure and process, then culture shifts occur. Cultural shifts lead to innovation.

As SLA looks to become Future Ready and posits “what might be,” we need use analytical and intuitive thinking to engender new processes and structures to support our members.

What’s your dominant way of thinking? Analytical, intuitive or abductive?

Are you driven?

Last night, the uniquely Portland bookstore “Powell’s City of Books” hosted author Daniel Pink, an engaging speaker and author of A Whole New Mind, Free Agent Nation, and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.

I’d gained some real insight from Pink’s previous books and already purchased Drive—as the title is just so darn compelling. I’d also heard positive reports about this book from Jeff de Cagna at Principled Innovation.

So, what is it that DRIVES us? Of course, there are our biological drives: food, shelter, and finding a mate. And there are extrinsic drivers around rewards, such as our desire to obtain good things and avoid punishment—the carrot and stick.

But there are other intrinsic motivators and that’s really what this book is about. Yes, we need a paycheck, but we engage in work for a myriad of other reasons—because  it’s interesting, to contribute to serving a larger purpose, and to engage in a community.

In engaging employees, most business models stop at the extrinsic carrot and stick rewards. But, Pink says, this model works well only in a narrow range of circumstances, when work is simple and mechanical. It is not effective when creative solutions are needed. Humans have a mix of motives and, after a saturation point, cannot be manipulated to increase their productivity with more carrot and less stick.

In fact, Pink’s research found that when work requires higher level cognitive skills, higher rewards and punishments actually lead to worse performance. (Now you see why the subtitle of the book is “The surprising truth about what motivates us.”) When a problem does not have a clear direct answer, extrinsic rewards are not effective. Once you pay people “enough,” they want to engage by thinking about the work, not the reward.

Pink describes three intrinsic drives that motivate us: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy is the drive to be self-directed. Many business models require people to comply, but autonomy looks instead at engagement. For example, call centers typically time employee calls, monitor all employee actions, and put workers in “hamster cage-like, soul-hollowing settings.” As a result, turnover can be as high as 100%. In contrast, the shoe company Zappos implemented a different model. They give call center employees two weeks training that concludes with an offer of $2000 if the newly minted employee wants to quit. Interesting! For those that stay, which is the vast majority, their instructions are simple: “You know what to do; when customers call in, do it.” So the operators are free to solve the customer’s problem in the most appropriate way—which increased customer satisfaction. In fact, Zappos received customer service ratings equal to the Ritz-Carlton.  

Turning to mastery, Pink stated that as engagement is falling off at work, there is a rise in volunteering. People want to contribute. Open source software such as Linux, Apache, and Wikipedia are salient examples of this trend. People need interesting, challenging problems and will commit time and effort towards fulfilling this need.

How can a company engage our drive to purpose? Tom’s Shoes provides a relevant example as they give a way a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you buy. By doing this, they attract customers who feel good about giving and turn their customers into benefactors. To address purpose effectively, business models need to combine profit and purpose. People are not horses – we have the drive to make an impact on the world and a need to contribute.

Go read the book!  Then, let’s talk a bit more about intrinsic rewards.

Phenomenal results

In a fit of New Year’s reflection, I’ve been wrestling with how to make a more positive impact, you know, on the world. I’ve been a vegetarian (technically, a pescetarian—the fish-eating kind) for thirty years, because that diet is lower on the food chain and  therefore better for the earth. So, I’m committed. But, I’m also an American and Americans use 25% of the world’s resources.

Possibly like you, I’ve been taking a few tentative steps to see what more I can do in terms of sustainability, but I’m nervous about the the guilty feelings of living in an oil-dependent world and having to adopt a reduce, reduce, reduce mantra. But the more I read about it, the more I see sustainability as an opportunity—with an upside for leadership, creativity, collaboration, and the economy. The gut-wrenching downside of our carbon-hungry world is still there, especially if we don’t act. I’m determined to participate—not just in awareness but in action—toward being part of the solution.

Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded states that “green is the new red, white and blue.” It’s a great turn of phrase that he uses to mean that the US has an opportunity to be a global leader in the green revolution. We CAN reduce the negative impact of our current culture. If we act, and start innovating, we can go a long way toward helping the US re-establish its leadership in the world.

To find out about local opportunities, I hooked up with Darcy Winslow, the principal of Design for Sustainable World Collective. She was previously the general manager of Sustainable Business Strategies for Nike, where I first met her. Darcy, in turn, pointed me to the Sustainable Enterprise Certificate at Willamette University that Anne Murray Allen directs.

And this is the stuff I really wanted to blog about! Anne and I talked about “creating a shared vision for people to enlist in.” Anne and two additional co-authors are working on a book about achieving phenomenal results. Phenomenal results—that’s what sustainability needs. Results that are “greater than the sum of our explanations.”

According to Anne, “we need to approach sustainability through first exploring how social well-being is created, supported and expanded.” Assessing and establishing social well-being precedes technological solutions. An increase in social well-being will lead to an increase in financial well-being.

Anne and I discussed how to gain momentum for the sustainable enterprise through the development of shared meaning and a shared point of view. People desire to belong and to contribute. In fact, the two feed on each other: the more people belong, the more they want to contribute; the more they contribute, the more they belong; etc. etc. Then, leadership emerges from contribution.

From that you have a collective wisdom that builds shared meaning that leads to coordinated action that moves mountains.

See what I mean about new opportunities in sustainability? This stuff is exciting!

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