Be Vulnerable with the Right People

Brené Brown’s hour-long special premiered on netflix this past weekend. I appreciate Brown’s work on mental health. I read her book Rising Strong when I was going through a really hard time in my life and it helped me a lot. So I watched her special this past weekend. Some of the stories I had heard before but it was good to hear them again. But what was really helpful for me was to hear Brown in conversation with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast yesterday. Maron can be cynical and snarky and so can I.  So it was helpful to hear someone with those personality traits work through some of the research and concepts that Dr. Brown puts forth. Helpful because as inspiring as Brown’s research is, it’s hard to put it into practice. She admits this several times in the interview, that putting this research into practice is hard, even for her.

Here are some points from the interview that stood out for me:

BE VULNERABLE WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE. One of Brown’s main messages is that vulnerability and courage are tied. I agree. I once had a mentor who said, “You can’t be brave if there’s nothing to be afraid of” and I love it that he said that. However, Brown and Maron point out that it’s possible to be vulnerable with the wrong people.  And that’s not brave. It’s just a bad habit. And we do it over and over because we know that they will reject us. And we do it so that we can confirm the painful yet familiar story that we don’t belong or that we are unlovable.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES. We all do it. We tell ourselves horrible stories about ourselves. How everyone hates us, how we suck at this or that. Our brains are wired to do this. The work then is to be conscious of that storytelling. To say out loud, “The story I’m telling myself is ___.” To be aware that the story isn’t true even though it’s how we feel. Even though it’s something we go to for an odd comfort.

THIS WORK STARTS IN MIDLIFE. In Brown’s observation, midlife is when most folks start to work at taking off their armor. Armor is the cynicism we hold or the things we do to protect ourselves from our own pain and from other people. At midlife, people start to say to themselves, “This armor is freaking killing me. I get it that it used to keep me safe, but I can’t f*cking breathe. It is no longer serving me.” So they start on a path to chip away at it. It’s not easy. We spent years building it up. But taking it down is possible and it’s worth striving for.

SELF WORTH IS A GIFT TO OTHERS. Self Worth is hard for a lot of us. But to strive for it isn’t only good for yourself, but for the people around you. Because when you show up with self-worth, you’re a better person to be around. Plus, other folks don’t have to carry the weight of your self-hate or have to defend themselves if that hate manifests in you lashing out. It’s hard work to gain self-worth. But it’s work worth doing. For more reasons than I had realized. Pro-tip: Don’t beat yourself up when you stumble.

 

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Check out the interview at the link below. It starts about 10 minutes in

http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episode-1012-bren-brown

Advertisements

Michael Kors on Embracing Self-Doubt

michael-kors-collage

There’s this moment from the show Project Runway that I wish I could find on youtube. In this moment, a contestant is up on the stage receiving critique from the judges. As I remember, the judges liked his work in this round and were giving him positive feedback. Relieved, the contestant starts crying and says, “I had such a hard time with this challenge [sob]. One minute I was happy [sob] the next minute I was in tears and questioning myself….”

At this moment, judge and world-famous designer Michael Kors interrupts the contestant to point something out. He holds up his left hand, points to the contestant and says, “You know that feeling that you are having right now? [long pause]. That feeling [another long pause]. It. Never. Goes. Away. [hold silence].”

When I heard him say that, I felt such relief for the contestant and for myself as a creative person. I thought, ‘If Michael Kors, one of the most famous and successful designers in the world, felt that he needed to stop this contestant to share this insight about his own creative life, then it must be true and it must be important.’

Self-doubt and questioning, this is what creatives do. It’s just how they work. Yes, it makes them a little crazy and it drives their friends a little crazy too (especially the accountants!). That tortured artist thing isn’t a myth. It’s real as alluded to in a well known Kors quote, “Fashion isn’t for sissies.”

So what can we do about this doubt? As with most things that are hard, be mindful of it, even accepting of it. And learn how to manage it. Because that feeling? That feeling that you’re having about your work right now? It. Never. Goes. Away.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Michael’s Night at the Met Gala

repost: Write-storming #inclusion

If you read this blog, then you know that I’m interested in techniques for harnessing collective intelligence. Why? Because the complex problems we face require participation from a diverse array of stakeholders. Why? Because diverse participation, when done right, leads to better outcomes.

If you do a lot of teamwork, then you know that it’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting a few people on the project team dominate the majority of the conversation. A great technique for engaging the entire team, and thus arriving at more creative results, is write-storming. What write-storming does is it carves out time and space for all team members to engage in quiet writing and reflection. The ideas that individuals generate during a write-storming session can then be drawn on for group discussion.

I’ve been doing write-storming in one form or another for years but I really like how author Leigh Thompson maps out the technique. I’ll summarize here: Write-storming sessions are short, like 5-10 minutes. In a session, team members work silently to generate a lot of ideas on their own. Each idea should be written on an individual index card in legible hand-writing – I recommend all caps for legibility. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, redistributed, and read aloud for discussion. It’s important that the ideas remain anonymous so that the team can focus on the work and not on egos. The next step is for the team to categorize the cards and flesh out the ideas that have the most potential. I recommend fleshing out an array of ideas from conventional & easy ideas to unconventional & challenging ones.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work in FastCo 

 

 

From Self-Esteem to Self-Compassion

In the field of psychology, there has been a shift in nurturing self-esteem in children to nurturing self-compassion. You can see evidence of this shift in the popularity of books by Brene Brown and Carol Dweck and the rising interest in mindfulness practice, especially in schools.

What’s wrong with teaching self-esteem? It has been proven to breed narcissism and unkind behavior toward others. It motivates people to put others down in order to prop themselves up. And high self-esteem can have a negative effect on how we react in difficult situations. This is not the outcome we really want or need these days.

Enter Self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff articulates three elements of self-compassion:

  1. Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment. This means being kind to ourselves when we struggle or fail rather than judging ourselves too harshly which can result in a downward spiral of self-criticism. Self-kindness has us respond to failure like so, “This is hard right now. How can I pay attention to how hard it is and move through it?”
  2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation. This means that when we struggle we realize that we aren’t the only person in the universe in this situation. When we struggle, it’s good to remember that we all struggle. This helps us feel less alone and keeps us from falling into a downward spiral of isolation.
  3. Mindfulness vs. Overidentification. This means that when we struggle, we keep it in perspective. It’s the difference in thinking, “I did something stupid” (mindful) rather than “I am stupid” (overidentification). When we are mindful about our struggles, flaws, and failures, we understand that we don’t always behave perfectly but this doesn’t mean that we are “bad.” We’re just human.

When we shift from self-esteem to self-compassion, we create a kinder world together. That said, many systems still reward narcissistic, hyper-individualistic behavior (grades, for example) and I’m not sure how to navigate that in the context of this shift. What do you think? It’s a doozy of a problem, for sure.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

NYSED.GOV report on Mindfulness in Education, July 2018

What Self-Compassion is Not

The Business Value of Design – McKinsey

There’s a lot of fluffy writing out there about the business value of design. It’s frustrating. So I was super happy to hear this report from McKinsey yesterday which maps out the value of design clearly and includes evidence, themes, problem areas, and advice.

THE EVIDENCE

To tee up this investigation, McKinsey looked at the performance of 300 publicly listed companies over a five year period and pulled out two things: 1. Their Financial Performance and 2. The Design Actions that these firms took. (Design Actions can range from putting a designer on the exec board to deciding to track design metrics).

What did they find?

The revenue growth of top design performers was almost double that of their industry peers.

These are good numbers.

They also found that the business value of design reaches across industry sectors. Their study includes analysis of three distinct industries: consumer packaged goods, medical devices, and retail banking.

THE THEMES

The report defines four themes that contribute to the positive correlation between financial performance and design actions:

1. More than a feeling. These companies bring as much research and rigor to design as they do to other business functions

2. More than a department. Design isn’t done in a siloed department. In fact, the researchers found that siloing designers can actually lead to decreased financial performance. Instead, design-driven firms embed designers in cross-functional teams throughout the organization

3. More than a phase. Design-driven firms adopt an attitude that design is never done. They iterate on their design from strategy to launch and beyond by building prototypes, gathering customer feedback, and turning that feedback into better designs and customer experiences

4. More than a product. Design-driven firms understand that customers don’t respond to individual widgets as much as they respond to the entire experience with their company. With so many physical products having software and service components these days, this should be a no-brainer

 

THE GAPS

Nothing sums up the gaps between theory and practice better than this quote from the report:

If you look at these actions, while they may be commonsense, they’re not common practice, because they need senior management to orchestrate.

Why is it so hard to integrate designers? Well, they are different. What makes having them on your teams great also makes having them on your teams challenging. The advice? Look for “T-Shaped” designers that have a depth of knowledge in design and breadth in related areas like business strategy and technology trends.

Another tip for moving to an integrated design practice is to not do it all at once. Instead, pick a project and apply the themes to that project. That’s your prototype. Mock it up, test it, iterate, then scale.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

The full podcast and transcript is here

 

Understanding Intimidation

Intimidation tactics are an abuse of power–a form of bullying.

Intimidation tactics come in many forms. They can occur in personal or professional relationships. Sometimes these tactics are visible which makes them easier to identify. Other times they are more passive which makes them harder to identify.

No matter what side of intimidation you are on, it’s helpful to understand that it all stems from fear. Fear lives in the oldest part of our brains, the amygdala which is sometimes referred to as our reptilian or lizard brain. That old part of our brain has had a lot of practice over the years and is really good at driving fear-based thoughts and actions. But with your own practice, you can teach yourself to override it.

No matter the form intimidation takes in your life, here’s some advice:

If you are the intimidator, cut it out. You don’t need to make people feel bad in order to do your thing. Try to identify what drives your behavior and let it go. 

If you are the intimidated, ask yourself why you let other people’s baggage get in your way. You’ve got your own stuff to deal with, right? That’s enough.

With practice, you can rise above it. Rise rise rise.

 

How (and why) to help team members articulate their goals

According to leadership experts, helping your team members articulate their goals is an effective way to build motivation and trust in your organization because it helps your team members feel seen and heard.

However, a lot of leaders don’t take the time or effort to do this. Perhaps it’s an oversight, perhaps they feel it will take away from the organization’s goals, or perhaps they just don’t know how.

If you are interested in helping your team members feel seen and heard, help them articulate their goals. Schedule a team meeting or a series of one-on-ones to create a space for active listening. If your team members need a framework to get started, here  is a framework inspired by Zig Ziglar – goals, benefits, obstacles, and people:

GOALS. Ask your team members to state their goals. Goals should be stated within the context of the project, the organization, or mission of the organization. Why are you working on this project? If it’s just for the paycheck, be honest about that. But if it’s to further a professional or personal goal, then say it loud. This is a great thing for all members of the team to know

BENEFITS. As a leader, ask your team members what benefits will be achieved by striving for and reaching their goals. If you feel like you need to explore alignment between team member goals and the organization, ask your team members to do that exploration and to connect those dots

OBSTACLES. Ask your team members to articulate what’s in their way. This is sometimes a hard conversation, but believe me, you want to know

PEOPLE. Ask your team members who they need buy-in from so that they have advocates for, and not obstacles to, reaching their goals.

If you take the time at the beginning of each project to check in with your team about their goals, then you will help them feel seen and heard, you will build motivation and trust among your team, and you will help individuals and your organization flourish.

 

 

Leaning into Criticism

I’m teaching a new and improved version of MakerLab to undergrads this fall. The biggest change I’ve brought to the course is weekly writing assignments. The assignments have multiple parts and have at least two components:

  1. Explore a big picture question about the maker movement
  2. Identify a maker from a particular genre and write about their work

The latter component is called “Maker Appreciation” and I’ll dedicate a post to that in future. Quick insight: it’s a great and rewarding exercise.

The former component really interests me…and scares me a little. So far, the big picture questions have been questions like, “Why the maker movement, why now?” or “What are makerspaces and why do they matter?” But for this week, we’re going to move way out of the comfort zone and read some critiques of the maker movement. Why? It’s important to explore the criticism. I mean, if you are in the middle of a theatrical run, you might want to hold off on reading reviews lest they negatively affect your performance. But in other areas of life, you want to understand and acknowledge criticism in real time.

So for an upcoming assignment (not this week, but the next), we are reading Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker piece called Making It: pick up a spot welder and join the revolution and Leah Buechley’s 2014 talk called Thinking About Making.  I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.

Technology and Social Systems

A good amount of inventors work on technologies that they claim will solve social challenges. While their intentions are good, their knowledge of the social side of these challenges may not be enough. Founding director of Data&Society danah boyd argues that technology isn’t likely to solve our social challenges, but rather exacerbate them. “We need to think hard and deep about how we want to marry technology… into the broader social challenges that we’re seeing with those systems.”

One way to do that is to figure out how to help the technologists and social scientists communicate and collaborate. Where’s the app for that challenge? jk

TAKE IT FURTHER

This long interview with boyd on Team Human is fantastic

Goals Build Trust

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 Collaborationleaders 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. 

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Leigh Thompson’s courses on coursera