Every organization develops its own language and stories over time. It’s “the way we do things around here.” Some have long lists of acronyms.
Scott Berkun observes about his year at WordPress.com, “Every corporation has the same platitudes for the importance of clear communication yet utterly failed to practice it. There was little jargon at Automattic. No “deprioritized action items” or “catalyzing of cross functional objectives.” People wrote plainly, without pretense and with great charm.”
We all want clear communication. Jargon and acronyms are only two of the things that cause miscommunication. Distractions, choice of words, and different cross cultural experiences do too. Unless the person I’m communicating with can accurately translate what I have said, little or no communication takes place.
Notice the words, jargon, and acronyms you use today. Which could be replaced with a simple, clear phrase?
Meeting of the minds
Berkun, S. (2013). The year without pants: wordpress.com and the future of work. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
One of the things I love about Organization Development is that it integrates disciplines from philosophy to sociology to art to neurobiology to adaptive systems and beyond. It nests into my love for learning. (Hmmm, I just used the word “love” twice in as many sentences; . . . the words remain as written.) I care deeply about learning, synthesizing, and sharing information and ideas.
Friday I heard Maria Popova interviewed by Flora Lichtman:
And the education system is, in a way, this antiquated universal vaccine model: We think that we can cram it all in a few years of formal schooling, and it’s going to protect us for the rest of our lives. But the way I think of learning and creative curiosity is as a kind of immune system against the life of mediocrity. … It requires constant boosts and constant sort of shots against that and priming the mind and the creative muscle.
Yes, this is a creative image! A few years of formal education, whether 12, 16, or more – at any age, cannot provide the knowledge we need to navigate all the years of our lives. That is why I seek exposure to a broad range of people, cultures, and organizations. That is why I read newspapers, blogs, peer-reviewed articles, and books from many locations and disciplines. That is why I love discussions in person and online that challenge my way of seeing and being in the world.
Where do you get your booster shots for creative curiosity? For life?
After reflecting on this, consider checking out Popova’s site: Brain Pickings.
Just tell me what to do!
Yesterday Jon and I went on a long-awaited Saturday adventure. Our adventures begin with a destination in mind, while actively looking for side roads and the unexpected along the way. Encounters: beautiful Kansas scenery in the Flint Hills; a palette stimulating lunch at an eclectic restaurant; and, intriguing byways. There was our usual non-sequential, wide-ranging, random-topic conversation.
Then – a stop in a local art gallery proved pivotal. Not pivotal because we bought artwork. Not pivotal because it held art that spoke to us. Pivotal because we walked out saying that we didn’t understand what the artist was trying to communicate. Our adventure went forward. But 24 hours later, it’s the artwork that didn’t resonate that we’re still discussing.
The discussion continues because it doesn’t fit comfortably with our models of the world. We have a choice. We can dismiss it and return to our regularly scheduled life; or, we can wrestle with it. How do we intentionally engage what doesn’t resonate? Do we stop and notice things that are “closer than they appear?”
Some questions I’ve asked myself: What memories or stories come to mind? What emotions arise? Does this fit with other things that I’ve liked or disliked? The next time I design something new, how will this experience influence my creative process?
What adventures have you had that continue to extend your boundaries?
Imaging new maps
In the afternoon they came unto a land,
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
– from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s
“I’m bored.” I’ve heard this from the kids – bored with summer vacation or bored with the tedium of school lessons or bored with sports that require repetitive practice. Boredom in organizations can show up the second day on a job or in the sixth month of a project or after years in a career. Boredom in organizations is held responsible for all kinds of things. It gets blamed for the lack of productivity and innovation, for the lack of commitment and curiosity.
My response to the kids, “It’s good for you to be bored.” I say this instead of suggesting something for them to do. If we seek to fill the boredom with something, with activity, those things become a flight from boredom rather than valuable in their own right. Bertrand Russell said that “a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men.” There is value in boredom.
Joseph Brodsky offers a suggestion: “When boredom strikes, throw yourself into it. Let it squeeze you, submerge you, right to the bottom.” When boredom strikes, I stop. I step out of the context I’m in. I go for a walk, get a drink of water, gaze out of the window. I do my best not to run to a different activity. After all, boredom is an emotion, an experience. It will come and go. What will I do with it?
Is boredom valuable?
The Philosophy of Boredom
The assumptions of scientific management
Obsession with simplicity is front and center in Insanely Simple by Ken Segall, the man who put the famous “i” in Apple’s product names. Even if you’re not an Apple fan, this book offers insight into the ways our organizations function. Segall looks at ten behaviors and values that support Apple’s value: simplicity.
He tells sticky stories about Apple and other companies. Sticky because they stick in my mind. I’ve been telling these stories to family and friends as I read, not waiting to finish the chapter before I’m saying, “Jon, listen to this one.”
The titles are based on Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign. The ideas focus on managing and leading effectively:
- Think Brutal. Openness and honesty mean no guessing at what managers are thinking and expecting.
- Think Small. Small groups of smart people who include the final decision maker will succeed quickly.
- Think Minimal. Communicate and focus on one theme that people will remember.
- Think Motion. Create project timelines that include the right timeframe and the right people.
- Think Iconic. Find and use an image that symbolizes your theme.
- Think Phrasal. Use simple sentences. Use simple words. “Simplicity is its own form of cleverness (p. 202).”
- Think Casual. Informal conversations connection, inspire, and create.
- Think Human. Intangibles are often more important than metrics.
- Think Skeptic. Don’t let a “no” or extra work stand in the way of acting with Common Sense.
- Think War. Use your bullets wisely. Remember the passion you have for your idea.
Keep your highlighter handy for the pithy quotes. Keep family and friends handy for the sticky stories. Choose the idea you’ll work with first. This book is light enough to be a summertime read and compelling enough to share with others in your organization.
How do you “Think Different”?
Review: Great by Choice
Ken Segall’s Blog
It’s been almost two years since I did a series of posts on Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball. Recently Jon read the book. He read “hairball” stories aloud and told stories of his own as ideas percolated.
Reminded of the book’s continuing relevance, I’m choosing to run the risk of getting more emails and links from companies specializing in hairball management of the feline sort. I’m bringing the “hairball” posts back to the top of the reading list. And, if you want a light, but thought-provoking read for the upcoming summer season, I highly recommend the book!
Start here (Orbiting thought – Over and out) and follow the thread or begin with Orbiting thought #7 and thread your way to #1.
My teacher got rid of my imagination…
Meep, meep …!
If you choose to read the quotes or the book, which experiences come to mind as you read?
This past weekend I visited the Kaufman Museum’s exhibit: In the Fields of Time. On a card, tucked into an experience station, I discovered a card with Dr. Emil Haury’s rules for his anthropology courses.
Several of these rules resonated with me. Patricia Crown included these in Remembrance of Emil Haury. She writes, “He repeated these rules in every course he taught and he lived them.” I share them here, hoping that some of them will speak to my readers as they have to me:
- Never wear a hat while giving a professional talk.
- Never use jargon.
- Avoid the use of the word “very” in professional writing.
- Try to have one good idea every day.
- Keep a research journal at all times and write down those good ideas.
- When your research project is complete, look at your journal and perhaps there will actually be one or two good ideas in there.
- Write three pages on something every day, you can always throw them out later.
- Always write your introductions last, so that you specify what you plan to do after you know what you have done.
- Living conditions make or break field schools.
- At the end of the semester give your teaching assistant a large bottle of the alcoholic of his or her choice.
- Treat everyone as if he or she has something intelligent to say, even if they don’t.
- You may try to quit archaeology, but once it is in your blood, you will never get away.
- People with wacky ideas are important to the profession in forcing the rest of us to clarify our arguments.
- Don’t try to change anything your first year in a new job, or you will wound some egos.
- If you are lost in the desert, the one thing you need most for survival is a piece of string.
From: Crown, P. L. (1993.) “Remembrance of Emil Haury,” Kiva, 59(2):261-65.
Which rule connects with you? Do you have a story to illustrate a rule?
Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist
but the ability to start over.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Idea for reflection – 32
My Aunt Elizabeth and I were talking last night about the fact that each of us remembers different shared experiences. What she recalls easily – I do not, and visa versa. I remember my Uncle Don taking us for a drive on Interstate 80 in Nebraska before it was paved. We drove down the paved ramp at Beaver Crossing onto the eastbound lanes, then covered only in gravel. We cruised with the convertible top down at 20 m.p.h to the next exit at Milford. What makes that memory so strong for me? Are memories personal or are they constructed through the stories we tell?
Neuroscience is still exploring how memories are made and persist. Yi Zuo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her colleagues assessed how dendrites (branches between neurons) form in mice based on three different types of activities, compared to a control group that did nothing out of the ordinary. Her results: dendrites appear, grow, persist, and disappear in response to training and learning.
“I think it is a very active process,” Zuo says. “The neurons work very hard to form clusters, to place spines close to one another. Even after a short training period on the first day, a mouse makes a lot of new spines—they might make double what they make in an ordinary day, but these spines are not clustered. Only after repeated training are they clustered.” Previous work in her lab demonstrated that new neural connections form within an hour of the training session.
As human beings, memories are created because our brains are constantly open to change. Memories grow and persist when we are actively experiencing, discovering, learning, and telling our stories. Life-long learning is essential.
What are you actively learning and discovering? What memories have shaped you or your organization?
The Biology of Learning
Spine Tuning: Finding Physical Evidence of How Practice Rewires the Brain