When you start a new project, it’s tempting to get right into it. Create those to do lists, assign tasks, and get it done. But according to Leigh Thompson, author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, leaders do well to take some time at the beginning of a project to build trust with their team. This is done, according to Thompson, by addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room: goals. Leaders need to discuss projects goals and get to know the goals of individuals on the team. The latter is often overlooked. The leader also needs to facilitate conversations about expectations from the leader and from the team members. And provide tools for giving feedback throughout the project.
There are many definitions of professional behavior. One of the more problematic ones is that you should bury your emotions at work. Of course, it’s important to exercise some control over your emotions so that they don’t become a chronic distraction to you and your team. But control does not mean bury. It’s healthy to acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of your colleagues. Sometimes things happen that cause good feelings. You want to celebrate those. And sometimes things happen that cause bad feelings. You want to deal with them as they arise.
Some very quick DOs and DON’Ts for professional behavior at work
BUILD & MAINTAIN TRUST. Create a culture of trust with transparency, honesty, vulnerability. You don’t have to be the boss to do this
BE INCLUSIVE. Help everyone on your team feel seen and heard. Again, you don’t have to be the boss to do this
TROUBLESHOOT. Recognize bottlenecks and address them. Lean into problems that are uncomfortable
DON’Ts (counters to the points above)
Create a culture of insecurity with fear, opacity, and gossip
Be the only one talking and the only one who shares their goals out loud
Ignore problems and hope that they will magically go away. This isn’t what happens. Unresolved problems grow into resentment
There’s a lot of good writing about how to implement the positive points above. Here are some of my favorites:
I’ve written about the leadership book Radical Candor before. Radical Candor is often misunderstood as: “be honest with your direct reports.” But there is an important precursor to being honest: you need to develop a trusting relationship, understand the goals of people on your team, and to appreciate different flavors of goals. Some employees are on a steep growth trajectory (easy to recognize as “good”). While others are, by design, on a more steady growth trajectory.
Either way, taking time to understand the goals of the people on your team builds trust and thus helps you lead effectively and enroll them in achieving collective goals for the organization.
So how do you get started? Here are some tips from the Radical Candor website:
Get feedback from others — Show everyone how you benefit from their candor. Lead by example.
Give feedback — Remember to Challenge Directly and show that you Care Personally. Use our tips for moving towards Radical Candor, and make sure to find out how your feedback feels to the person receiving it.
Encourage feedback — Take simple, visible actions to push your team to give each other praise and criticism.
If you do this, you are on your way to good communication, trust, and effective leadership. And if you don’t, you might reflect on how your current method is working (or not working) for you and for the members of your team.
Take it further
Tons of tools and tips on the Radical Candor site: here
At present, I’m reading a leadership book called, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. In the book, the author claims that successful organizations have three things in common: They build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.
Building safety is step one. How do we build it? We send a consistent stream of signals that reinforce the belief that people in the organization are connected. Coyle calls these “connection cues.”
In successful cultures, leaders continually provide a steady stream of small, powerful behavioral signals—we are connected; we share a future—that moves people away from selfish behavior, and creates cohesion and cooperation. Successful cultures aren’t smarter—they are safer.
What cues signal that safety is a priority for your organization? Here are a few tips from the book:
Overcommunicate that you are listening
“Yes.” “Uh-huh.'” “Got ya.” These cues encourage the speaker to go on
Spotlight your fallibility early on, especially if you’re a leader. Open up, show you make mistakes
“This is my two cents.” “Of course I could be wrong here.” ” What do you think?”
Spark a response in the listener, “How can I help?” This invites participation
Embrace the messenger
If someone brings you bad news, embrace it. That way they know it’s safe to come to you when there’s a problem in future
Overdo “Thank yous”
Saying “thank you” is less about thanks and more about affirming the relationship and cueing safety, connection, and motivation
John Maeda makes important observations about design and how it changes over time. He remembers a time when design was static, pre-computer. And how skeptical designers were of computers then. And how designers’ thinking about computers has changed.
He sheds light on challenging realities. Like even though tech has changed, leadership has not. Professors and heads of universities are still white males. The Bauhaus was half female, yet only the male designers are remembered.
He calls on designers to be curious. To never think that the status quo is good enough. And that that curiosity will lead us to value inclusion. He calls on designers to be mindful of the folks that don’t like change and who will try to stamp out your curiosity.
He calls on designers to explore what computational design means. It changes really quickly, so quickly that we hardly understand it. Also, it’s not the static design of chairs and posters. Computational Design is never done. It gives you data about what works and what doesn’t and you have to respond. Yet, this is not what classically trained designers were trained to do!
He calls out the irony of how we give awards. So easy to give awards to printed books or chairs. So hard to give awards to computational designers whose work is always evolving.
He ends on a note about how he uses his status (his superpower) to promote inclusion: “I’ve been using this special power to say things that people probably don’t usually say, because I can get away with saying it. So, that’s what I’m doing.”
About 500 years ago I gave a TEDx talk called “Make Better Stuff.” It was set in the context of the rise of digital fabrication. My talk was a plea to seize the opportunity, to push beyond making 3D printed key chains and arduino controlled toy cars and really engage in using this technology to make the world better. The focus was on the stuff that people made and the call to action was to make it better.
But over the years I’ve come to realize that if you want people to make better stuff, you need to have more diverse people making stuff. You need to have more diverse people studying STEM disciplines at university and participating and leading in the STEM workforce.
The problem is, most of our tech programs attract white boys and men. It’s hard to know why. Is it because white boys and men have more confidence and thus enroll in these programs? Or is it because these programs are written with language and filled with signals that tell them “You belong here.”
So what do we do about it? How do we encourage more women and people of color to shape the present and future course of technology, to make better stuff?
The answer is complex. We need to teach women and people of color how to navigate the status quo while at the same time, teach them to identify and leverage the qualities that make them unique. We don’t want and need more diversity in STEM programs for the statistics of it alone. We want more diversity in STEM programs because we want more diversity, more creativity, more creative tension, more skill in working through creative tension. Because if we do it right, on the other side of that tension, we’ll have a diverse group of inventors challenging the status quo and making better stuff.
We have a lot of creative educators out there who are trying to create and teach curricula that bridges the gap between STEM and The Humanities. Why is this an important thing to do? Because the critical thinking skills that we learn in the humanities will help technologists of the future create and scale meaningful solutions to complex problems.
The barrier that these educators face in this important work is that they are still bound to a siloed evaluation system. This system limits their creativity and ultimately, their effectiveness in bridging this gap.
Why is evaluating integrative student work so challenging? Perhaps it’s because educators and administrators might have to evaluate students on something that they themselves don’t have expertise in: true interdisciplinary work.
But if we are to ask our students to do something new in order to build a better future, than we educators and evaluators need to be generous in figuring out the evaluation side of the equation. Maybe evaluation needs to be done collaboratively with stakeholders who have cognitive diversity, who together can discuss how they appreciate the ways in which their students are practicing interdisciplinarity as well as identify and troubleshoot the places in which their students struggle.
Change of this magnitude requires that the leaders and evaluators of it be vulnerable. They are trying to teach and evaluate students on something that they themselves aren’t an expert in. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s what’s required.
I hosted a “tiny robot” build at an art opening last night. This was a first for me and I have to say, it was a good pairing – the art opening and the build. Artists are makers and so they participated fully and iterated with enthusiasm. I had a blast working with them.
Times like this I wish I had a voice-activated camera mounted to my head because the image above was the only picture I was able to snap. Right at the end of the night. Good picture though. Happy family!
There was another moment in the evening when a young mom with a baby on her hip saw our build and said to her friend, “Here, take this,” handing the baby over, “I want to make one of these.” And when she finished, she ran over to her friend and baby, held up her tiny robot and exclaimed, “Look what I made!”
Additionally, I had several artists chat with me about adding motors to their work. One had a motorized piece in the show – a first for her and it looked great. And another artist said to me proudly, “I just got my first Arduino in the mail today. I want to make my work more interactive.” Both of these artists were in their sixties, by the way. Lifelong learners!
TAKE IT FURTHER
If you are in the area, check out the Cayuga Arts Collective spring show. I had a chance to walk around the room before the doors opened. Beautiful work. Affordable, too.
Last summer I helped write and teach an innovation curriculum for teens and young adults in Saudi Arabia. The teaching team knew going in that we would have to work with the teenage men and women separately–this is common practice in Riyadh. I like working with women in tech, so I was looking forward to this. But what surprised me by this separation was how I was able to observe and compare how the different genders responded to the same programming.
Our curriculum was ambitious. We had projects that emphasized play, exercises that emphasized problem identification and solution finding, and lessons with programmable electronics and digital fabrication. Our strategy as a teaching team was to teach these modules separately and then help students put it all together in their final projects.
What we observed was that the young men were enthusiastic about the electronics and DigiFab, but felt uncomfortable doing the problem identification exercises and were slow to warm up to the play and tinkering exercises. While the women were enthusiastic about all of the content, but that they really lit up when asked to identify problems and use creative methods to explore potential solutions. (The guys kept telling us that women take education much more seriously than men do).
These gender differences are much easier to see now that I’m back in the states. As a rule, the guys like robots and the women like solving complex social problems. There is overlap, of course, there is. But for me, what this difference confirms is that the need for diversity and inclusion in tech is more necessary than ever. If we don’t prioritize inclusion, we have social problem-solvers working in one silo and tech experts working in another. This separation is a barrier to innovation. There is value to be found when we create systems that combine and support diverse teams of innovators. Technology alone won’t save us. But technology combined with complex social problem-solving will.