True Grit

6a00d8341c03bb53ef01bb088d1eff970d-200pi NB- “Grit” is found in integrity.

How much grit do you have?




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Skin in the Game


Valeria Maltoni posted “Skin in the Game” on her blog, Conversation Agent. She quoted Black Swan expert Nicholas Taleb about anti-fragile systems. Fragile systems depend on things following the exact planned course without deviation. Government, especially judicial systems are fragile, as are most large institutions which rely on “policy,” to manage complexity. Ironically, this inflexibility is contrary to our human nature.

For the last century, Freud’s view that man is inherently malevolent, has been the guiding algorithm for controlling the masses. See Century of Self.

But recent research confirms just the opposite: humans are kind and altruistic by nature and learn to tolerate oppression imposed by fragile, inflexible  systems.

Which is why it is essential to listen to the wisdom of the Wizard who says that small things done by ordinary people keeps evil at bay.

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What Really Matters

Valeria Maltoni recently posted two articles on her blog, Conversation Agent, that are worth reading and repeating.

Dan Pink on the Value of High-Concept and High-Touch

A Whole New Mind mindmap

When Dan Pink wrote A Whole New Mind, he presented six aptitudes that are highly subjective, socially- and culturally-dependent. In his view these fundamental human abilities are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment. In his view:

  • Design is an asset above function
  • Story is an asset above argument
  • Symphony is an asset above focus
  • Empathy is an asset above logic
  • Play is an asset above seriousness, and
  • Meaning is an asset above accumulation

In the book, Dan uses neuroscience to create a metaphor to articulate the value of what he calls high-concept, high-touch work. He says R-directed is about big picture, contextual, expressive synthesis and L-directed represents logic, sequential, literal, and analytical thinking.

The premise of the book is that we live in the age of Abundance, Asia, and Automation and need R-directed thinking to navigate these forces successfully.

“Design — that is utility enhanced by significance — has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success for at least three reasons. First, thanks to rising prosperity and advancing technology, good design is now more accessible than ever, which allows more people to partake in its pleasures and become connoisseurs of what was once specialized knowledge.

Second, in an age of material abundance, design has become crucial for most modern businesses — as a means of differentiation and as a way to create new markets. Third, as more people develop design sensibility, we’ll increasingly be able to deploy design for its ultimate purpose: changing the world.”

In business design is taking a whole new meaning. Once the province of geeks and designers, the argument that creating better experiences is a competitive advantage has gone mainstream thanks also to Apple’s market success.

“Think about cell phones,” says Pink. “In less than a decade, they’ve gone from being a luxury for some to being a necessity for most to becoming an accessorized expression of individuality for many. They’ve morphed from ‘logical devices’ (which emphasized speed and specialized function) to ’emotional devices’ (which are ‘expressive, customizable, and fanciful’), as Japanese personal electronics executive Toshiro Iizuka puts it. Consumers now spend nearly as much on decorative (and nonfunctional) faceplates for their cell phones as they do on the phones themselves.”

Steve Jobs understood, and made sure that his team aligned behind this understanding upon his return to Apple, that the only way to survive is by constantly developing new innovations, inventing new categories, and giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing.

As we increasingly admire companies like Apple and its digital hub system execution and Amazon and its collection of businesses sharing resources, we come to appreciate the value of symphony, or the ability to see and harness the power of relationships between things. Says Pink:

“Most inventions and breakthroughs come from reassembling existing ideas in new ways.

[…] What conductors and composers desire — what separates the long remembered from the quickly forgotten — is the ability to marshal these relationships into a whole whose magnificence exceeds the sum of its parts.

[…] The boundary crosser, the inventors, and the metaphor maker all understand the importance of relationships. But the Conceptual Age also demands the ability to grasp the relationship between relationships. This meta-ability goes by many names — systems thinking, gestalt thinking, holistic thinking. I prefer to think of it simply as seeing the big picture.”

We call the businesspeople who see the big picture visionaries who can integrate and imagine how the pieces go together. All great entrepreneurs, according to Michael Gerber, are Systems Thinkers.

And talking about systems. Daniel Kahneman labeled the fast, instinctive and emotional “System 1” and the slower, more deliberative, and more logical “System 2.” For a deeper dive on our two modes of thought, read Thinking Fast and Slow where Kahneman provided research and information on the cognitive biases associated with each.

[mind map courtesy of Steve Richards]

Valeria followed up this post with another gold nugget:

The Importance of Learning to Make Trade-offs for Performance

Sustained High Performance_LGE
In economic terms we call them opportunity cost. They involve sacrificing something to do something else. Every day, we trade our time, attention, and resources as we go through our day. As individuals and organizations, we are reservoirs of potential energy that can be recruited to do things. How we spend our days does end up creating our lives.

As Jim Loher and Tony Schwartz say in The Power of Full Engagement, a book I read a dozen years ago, managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. The book’s central thesis is that to be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned.

To make smart trade-offs we should start by defining our purpose, then distilling our truth, so we can identify the gap between the two. For example:

Purpose — “How should I spend my energy in a way that is consistent with my deepest values?”

Truth — How am I spending my energy now?

Action — bridge the gap between the two

Loher and Schwartz explain how to increase your energy levels by tapping four primary sources:

1.physical — including strategies for balancing stress and recovery, fueling the fire with nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise

As a long time, long distance runner, many of the suggestions on building strength, endurance, flexibility, resilience, and recovery helped me improve my form, speed, and enjoyment. I also learned to work in 90-minute bursts and have been experimenting with naps for the last dozen years.

2. emotionaltransforming threat into challenge and developing depth and resilience through active engagement with others and with our own feelings; habits and skills are patience, openness, trust, and enjoyment

3. mental — as in learning visualization and mental preparation with appropriate focus and realistic optimism, learning to manage time and harnessing creativity

4. spiritualhaving a ‘why’ to live with honesty, integrity, courage, and persistence, developing capacity through passion, commitment, and service to others

Developing supportive habits and skills is a good first step toward building capacity for stronger and more established competencies in all four areas [see image above.] Relationships play a role in building capacity and activating potential:

A relationship in which you do most of the giving and receive very little in return ultimately prompts a sense of deficit and emptiness.”

We may or not may not be aware of the trade-offs we make between immediate benefit, cost, and long-term consequences, including unintended consequences. A few examples in the book (adapted):

A pessimistic attitude creates less disappointment, is less risky, and involves less vulnerability now, yet it carries reduced positive energy, undermines interpersonal effectiveness, and thus happiness and reduces performance, health and happiness over the long haul.

Poor work/life balance characterized as long hours away from family and limited time with friends means accomplishing more at work, having less emotional risk, avoiding responsibilities outside work and comes with a cost to intimate connection, which leads to resentment of family and friends. Over the long run unfulfilled relationships affect a tendency to impatience, anger, and escalate into burnout, regret, guilt, and loss of passion.

Multitasking like answering emails while talking on the phone may give the temporary illusion of accomplishing more in short term, with a feeling that you are being productive, however it leads to divided attention, likely lower comprehension, and thus lower quality of work. Being less fully engaged with people creates shallow connections with others.

Poor diet like high fat and sugar, for example, creates immediate gratification, and is often the product of convenience. However, it may result in high cholesterol, increased weight, and less sustained positive energy. Long term, this may lead to an increase in risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and early death.

Some of the trade-offs above may seem obvious, yet bad habits are hard to break because they are automatic. Self-control and self-regulation, before we create better habits, require we make conscious choices. Change, like choices requires a higher investment of energy, and commitment.

We can experience pleasure without any investment in psychic energy, whereas enjoyment happens only as a result of unusual investment of attention, said Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In his work, Csikszentmihalyi contrasts pleasure with enjoyment. He says pleasure feels good, but it’s conservative, and leads to status quo. While enjoyment is like happiness in action, leading to greater skills. Enjoyment leads to a “triumph over the forces of entropy” and is like building psychological capital.

Learning to make smart trade-offs is important for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and it comes with a long-er term benefit of improving our performance.

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Learning from Experience

Kudos to Valeria Maltoni for posting this.

Learning Through Experience


In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a series of labs for different groups spread across a few cities. I am designing them as interactive experiences because we learn the most when we participate. Thinking back to the most creative times in my life, I can draw a few dotted lines to moments when I’ve been fully immersed in an experience.

I still chuckle when I visualize the look on the face on my mom at discovering that I had taken apart the few toys received as gifts to make something else out of the parts. The plain boxes they came in were the best — they became rooms for my sisters’ dolls. Building gave me tremendous satisfaction, the plainer the parts, the more immersive the experience.

Today I see my niece with all kinds of dolls, bricks, and kits and I cannot help by wonder if getting them used to having the dots and instructions so young for what we have already figured out somehow diminishes her confidence in her ability to invent something of her own.

We were so happy, coming in dirty and exhausted from days spent figuring out how to be with each other with little in the way of prepackaged stuff.”

Valeria followed up her Learning post with a Challenge.

Challenging Limiting Frames

Fear of failure often keeps us from experimenting with ideas and expanding options.

In Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull describes many fight-or-flight situations at Pixar, and then at Disney — circumstances when trading imagination for a safe bet were tempting:

Originality is fragile. And in its first moments, it’s often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock ups of our films “ugly babies.” They are not beautiful miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be.

In other words, our ideas rarely come out in perfect form. It takes persistence and work to make them that way. And we need to protect those seedlings to help them take form. Further down, he says (emphasis his):

[…] I want to say something about the word protection. I worry that because it has such positive connotation, by implication anything being protected seems, ispo facto, worth protecting. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes within Pixar, for example, production tries to protect processes that are comfortable and familiar but that don’t make sense; legal departments are famous for being overly cautious in the name of protecting their companies from possible external threats; people in bureaucracies often seek to protect the status quo. Protection is used, in these contexts, to further a (small-c) conservative agenda: Don’t disrupt what already is.

As a business becomes successful, meanwhile, that conservatism gains strength, and inordinate energy is directed toward protecting what has worked so far.

Protecting a new idea, especially during the gestation process when it is kind of ugly, has the opposite function, says Catmull. An original idea is worth protecting because of its newness:

[…] and that is precisely what is most exciting about it.

The solution to helping bring new ideas to life was broadening their view, and by doing so, creating new lenses through which to look at their work. And that is why I like so much the cheeky quote above attributed to Disney. Because it reminds us that we should work on expanding our options, including that we do not have to accept the constraints we are given.”

Which is to say, in cybernetic terms, experience may be our worst teacher…

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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein –

“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”

“What storytellers do — and this includes journalists and TED and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size — is help shape our stories of how the world works; at their very best, they can empower our moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, they help us mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope. Truth and falsehood belong to this mediation, but it is guided primarily by what we are made to believe is real.”

“What we need, then, are writers like William Faulkner, who came of age in a brothel, saw humanity at its most depraved, and yet managed to maintain his faith in the human spirit. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he asserted that the writer’s duty is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.” In contemporary commercial media, driven by private interest, this responsibility to work in the public interest and for the public good recedes into the background. And yet I continue to stand with E.B. White, who so memorably asserted that “writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life”; that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”’

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The Need for Speed

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