Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Why Don’t Companies Learn?

I read business articles and I am encouraged by their content as they show a shift in how tocreate a healthy company, good for the business and equally good for the people. The articles are like baby steps that we clap for to reinforce. Yea. Good article on “making” work have meaning and purpose. Clap, clap, clap. Yea. Business models for additive manufacturing. Mass customization! New twenty years ago. But, clap, clap, clap.  And how about making a business case for curiosity? What? What about all those business creativity and innovation classes? Still, yea. Clap, clap, clap.

What on earth goes on that learning does not occur or accumulate? What is the deeply engraved model that makes CEO’s and companies dumb?  What literally retards them?Is it the military model of command and control? Is it the cumulative wounds of previous unacknowledged failure (denial)? Are companies and CEO’s so anxious that they turn to action (any action) to quell the fear of not knowing what to do?

I was an EVP of OD and Learning for a global food retailing company and saw some major progress. I brought together a global group of about fifty people to create a learning” virus”. Our mantra became that each person  become “a proud learner and a humble teacher”.  Shockingly the phrase took hold with people who were in the meeting and those who were not. A meeting would be stopped and someone would ask, “What would we do if we were “proud learners and humble teachers”?

We (I had a great team) created self-managed learning groups of Store Managers with a template that worked. Members created their own team results report and one for their own professional development. They supported one another and held one another accountable.

We created global learning focused on day to day issues of food retailing, bringing together people  in video conference to talk about lighting in the meat department, end displays, and how to let go a likeable, but non-functioning associate. Gritty stuff

I have many examples of learning that galvanized a whole company. We had a good run of about 12 years before the over-riding antiquated culture of “business” gradually oozed back after a leadership change. The humble teachers and proud learners gradually, and not so gradually, left the company.

What seems to allow the old organism to renew its grasp as well as to re-establish a sick culture?

—fear that creates a frozen response—same response to all issues

—too many outside influences that take over the primary culture ie. Consultant teams that live inside and become a ghost management team

—Obsessive focus on cost

—Loss of the sense of a “whole” company in it together

—Fear of fear that shows up in lack of truth telling that could heal and energize

—Check lists of minutia instead of overall purpose allowing any behavior that works

—Searching for too big a solution all at once that entails betting the farm so it never happens

—Dis-integration at every level, horizontal and vertical

What is the root cause of these attributes? You tell me.It circles around the trust of democratic small (“d”)  and the fear that creates overly tight leadership (autocratic at best, dictatorship at worst). We need to turn the light on this lurking business model that has a hold on a larger transformation.


Monday, September 10th, 2018

The Chaotic Leader

Chaotic Leaders

There are many chaotic leaders. There are many leaders who change their minds, their strategy, their schedule, their point of view often and quickly.  There are many leaders who act without vetting their ideas with experts and/or the people who work for them. There are many leaders who rant and rave in their private office. There are many leaders who expect total blind loyalty from the people who work for them. There are many leaders who are unaware of their impact on those who get the work done. There are many leaders who don’t “get” the need for process and principles to guide decisions.

Too often these qualities seem to come in combination. The result is:

—Discouragement for people who want to get the work done

—More conversations about the leader than about the work

—Confusion about what the work actually is

—Fear, fear, fear of the arbitrary (Remember, random reinforcement makes people nuts.)

—Constant irritation that turns to anger that can’t be expressed to correct the irritation

—Disappointment—because people still want a leader they can respect

—Profound disengagement that leads to losing of top talent

—Time and effort muted so that effort does not equal results

In industry, chaotic leaders don’t last long. The Board and the stock price are not tolerant.There is no fixed time to wait out a chaotic leader. There can be expensive contracts to pay outbut stopping the damage is worth the cost.

I’ve coached chaotic leaders who have realized their impact and changed their behavior. It takes fear of losing a job they want, willingness to be self-aware, hiring good people to counter-act impulsive decision making and keeping the good parts of chaos that translate into flexibility, openness, urgency for action, and willingness to risk.








Monday, September 3rd, 2018

Blue Collar Kid

I am a blue-collar kid from a family of workers.My dad never wore a suit to work. He wore “work clothes”—dark brown pants and shirt, always clean and pressed. He worked three shifts—days, nights and four- to -twelve. After retirement, he still slept according to the rhythm of those shifts. He carried his lunch and coffee with him each day.

We lived in a house with and alley and he would go out the back door and down the sidewalk to the car. His walk to or from the car was always the same. It was matter of fact. He was an oil stillman. As he said, “my job is boring until a tank blows up”. And one day more than one tank  did. He was at home and ashamed not to be killed with his buddies. Slumped and sad, he wept all day smoking his Lucky Strikes.

My dad was pro-union and a member. He hated mistreatment or unfairness. I would hear him talk to my mom. He was asked many times to become a supervisor but would not, could not separate from his buddies. One year he took me to the annual Christmas party and I left loaded with more gifts I’d ever been given at one time. My dad was treated like a celebrity. He knew everyone. His nickname was Bud. (Probably because his first name was Withington.) I remember one group of his buddies laughing about how big a raise they could have had based on the cost of the party. It was good-natured cynicism.

My dad hated mistreatment or unfairness and so he grew to be decidedly anti-union as he saw the corruption in them and their betrayal of labor. He died a Republican with a nice investment portfolio. He believed in honest, hard work. And he thought capitalism was the best economic system, although at one point, I believe he was a card carrying communist. Not sure

My dad was refined (I smile because he worked in a refinery!!)  His prized possessions were a collection of The Harvard Classics and box set of Famous Classical Music. We ate in the kitchen except for Sunday (depending on his shift schedule). He would be still dressed from church, white shirt with cuff links, tie thrown over his shoulder and he carved the roast or chicken at the table. He watched the first Julia Childs TV show on publication television and was a good cook when my mom let him into the kitchen. A too strong curry and a raisin pie were his worst experiments that we teased him about forever. His chocolate eclairs were famous and his pizza, homemade crust and all. He brought home our first ever avocado we ate it while it was hard as a rock. Who knew that is needed to be soft?

My dad labored to give me a college education. He called me when I was a new mom and said, “Your mom and I are coming to see you so you can take us out to dinner. I just paid off your college debt.”  He made 4000 dollars more a year than my college annual cost. I never heard a complaint or grudge. He loved visiting me at college (DePauw University) in Indiana and made life- long friends with the retired CEO of a large oil company at one Dad’s Day. My dad was literally on strike at the time they met. They talked and talked and talked in a corner while his daughter and I were irritated that they weren’t going to the football game with us!

Every prom dress of special outfit I had came from my dad putting a good suggestion in the suggestion box and getting a bonus or from trading shifts and from working on holidays. He took me to buy my wedding dress.My dad labored with endurance and optimism that his work mattered to his goal of a college education for me and my brother. He labored with pride. He was never late and never called in sick.

I thank all of you (and those of us who might labor differently). And I wish for us all: respect for laboring, a livable wage, recognition and use of talent, and the knowledge that your work is worthy and matters. I’m proud to be a blue collar kid.








Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

Got Me Thinking


I just turned the last page of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan.  Second time in two days I’ve done that. Rare for me to dig into a book like that. For business I scan for what pertains to a particular circumstance or possibility and then dig in at that point. For pleasure, I zoom through books because I am always famished for the next one. I am a bookworm. Munch, munch.

Pollan’s latest book hit on what interests me in so many arenas that I slowed down but stayed excited. I see so much good coming as various disciplines tiptoe to converging or layering their perspectives. I liked the history of psychedelics because I lived through Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. I see how the kind of research going on now was beaten into oblivion through a cultural scare. It forces the question of what we are cultural killing now through fear. It takes perspective to see our blind spots. Or a truly disruptive and creative experience—like psychedelics or meditation or a devastating experience.

Much about the book concerns a shift in perspective no matter how brought about that reduces ego and allows an expansion of thinking that includes other systems, other  people and new ways of seeing and being. I can imagine my former Board of Directors, squirming and wondering what this OD person is talking about. And then I can see them curious—out of desperation for something  breakthrough. Most of our companies and institutions are a mess. Old is not working. New isn’t here yet. And we are in a kind of entropy or random chaos trying to redefine, restructure, reinvent and the “re’s” aren’t working (as in “again” and “back”) We are wearing out our companies and our people by digging and digging deeper trenches that don’t branch out into enough possibility, diversity or variance.

This is not one bit woo-woo (ugh, I hate that word only slightly less than Koombaya) when it is used to push away concepts uncomfortable to business.  So it was very interesting to read Pollan’s research  of the brain  brain changes during use of psilocybin or meditation. I’ll let your read the book to understand the chemistry of the brain but here is the nubbin. The default center of the brain shuts down during both of these experiences and new pathways, chaotic pathways, nonsensical pathways, fruitful pathways, refresh the brain with new entries to assimilate and use. This poor CEO of the brain works so hard to keep order and ends up with too much order, too much rigidity, too many repeat solutions, too much dullness, too little joy and awe. Now what does that mean for business, companies and institutions?

Here are a few excerpts from How to Change Your Mind:

1–As I write, the practice of microdosing—taking a tiny, “subperceptual” regular dose of LSD as a kind of mental tonic—is all the rage in the tech community”.

2–James Fadiman (psychologist and writer in psychedelic research and Willis Harman (noetic scientist) administered LSD to artists, engineers, architects, and scientists. All described themselves as stuck on a particular project. Subjects reported greater fluidity in their thinking, as well as an enhanced ability to both visualize a problem and re-contextualize it.

3–Robin Carhart-Harris (scientist) cites research indicating that this debilitating state of mind (sometimes called heavy self-consciousness or depressive realism) may be the result of a hyperactive default mode network  which can trap us in repetitive and destructive loops of rumination that eventually close us off from the world outside.

4–Italian Ethnobotanist, Giorgio Samorini talks about a “depatterning factor” during which old patterns fall away. “The more possibilities the mind has at its disposal, the more creative its solutions will be. It’s like variation in evolution. It supplies the diversity or raw material on which selection can then operate to solve problems and bring novelty into the world. “Homo sapiens might have arrived at one of those periods of crisis that calls for some mental and behavioral depatterning (whis is what happens with Psychedelics).

Business and organizations were not the focus of the book. But that is where my mind kept going. (My default center has a will of its own!)  Nor am I recommending an LSD trip in the C-suite. But the old patterns for organizations and work need refreshment. We want agile leaders but the entire business has to move easily and freely to adapt. Often when we try to “disrupt” the result is a tweaking of the engrained brain paths of a business.

In my work as an OD executive here’s what helped.

— Designed play that loosened the tightness of thinking.

—Synectics which is a tight method for loosening up ideas.

—Bringing unconventional people into ideation sessions

—More meetingless days than days of meetings

—Digging deep into unrelated industries

—Killing “more, better, faster”

—More purposeless conversation

How to be productively loose during times that create anxiety, demand constant production, create a sense of hopelessness and burnout along with the feeling of being on mean never-ending StairMaster will take a new kind of thinking and leading. Brains need refreshing first. The rest follows.