Building Safety in Your Organization

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 connectedwe 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
  • Make sure everyone has a voice

 

Take it further:

Daniel Coyle website

Daniel Coyle at RSA (video)

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Leading with Empathy: Yourself, Your Team, Your Customers

When you are leading a project, it’s tempting to focus on the solution. But it’s much more important to lead with empathy. Leading with empathy allows you to understand problems all around you. And once you understand these problems, you are in a much better position to build solutions. In terms of leading a product team, there are three levels of human relationships with which you need to engage empathy: yourself, your team, your customers.

Empathizing with yourself might seem like an oxymoron because the very definition of empathy is to stand in someone else’s shoes. That said, sometimes you need to see yourself as someone who really cares about you sees you. When you need to understand your fear, as a trusted friend might, and distinguish which parts of it are within your control and which parts are beyond your control, then focus your energy on the former. You need to be kind to yourself, just as a friend would,  and tell yourself that you belong here. Empathizing with yourself is the first step to leadership. If you can recognize your own hurdles, then you can help others work through theirs.

Empathizing with your team is important to leadership. It’s important to know what each team members goals are. Because when you know that, you know what motivates them and you can help them align their own motivations with the work that needs to be done. Motivated team members are the best team members. It’s also important to recognize the different points-of-view that your team members bring to the table and verbally acknowledge that you value that diversity. This acknowledgment quells doubt and builds confidence. Empathizing with your team members to understand and appreciate their motivations and their diversity creates enrollment. Enrollment is what you need to lead your team. 

Empathizing with your customers or users is a path that’s becoming more well known these days. This shift in thinking about project management is a shift from focusing on the bells and widgets of the solution or gadget that you want to build to paying attention to the problems that your customers have. Paying attention requires empathy. It requires emersion in your customer’s problems. The field of anthropology offers us a thorough set of tools for doing this that has been adopted by several prestigious innovation programs.

Leading with empathy will help you understand the problems at every level of the project at hand. Understanding problems will help you lead your team and customers to create and enroll in solutions that are driven by empathy. Empathy all around.

 

Take it further

Empathizing with yourself: Hardwiring Happiness

Empathizing with your team: Radical Candor

Empathizing with users: Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

4 Ways to Level Up Technology Education

When technology is taught out of context, it can only get us so far. But when we pair it with disciplines that teach effective methods for intentional change, then we can make the world better. Here are a few pairings:

  • Technology + Design. Students learn to empathize with users and to employ design processes to develop solutions that give their users super-powers.
  • Technology + Sustainability. Students learn models for human, biological, and ecological systems and to identify and leverage points in a system for positive change.
  • Technology + Entrepreneurship. Students learn how to create and test business models and use that knowledge to inform their product development process and launch.
  • Technology + Leadership. Students learn how to navigate fear, set goals, build highly functional teams, and develop trusting relationships as they work on technology projects.

What other pairings might we explore?

 

Managing Fear

If you are an artist or inventor, managing fear is part of your daily routine. When your job is to create something out of nothing or explore unknown territory, fear has to be a part of that.

Fear shows up in many forms. Its goal is to keep you from doing the work that you are supposed to be doing. World-changing work. Fear doesn’t want you to change anything. It’s busy trying to maintain the status quo. So your first task is to recognize it in its many forms:

  • Self-deprecation. That voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough to pursue your dreams? That’s fear telling you that. It’s trying to scare you into inaction. And it’s really good at doing that.
  • Worrying. That habit you have of worrying about things so much that they paralyze you? That’s fear. Again, trying hard to scare you into inaction.
  • Resentment. The stories you tell yourself about how other people are ruining your life by the demands that they put on your time. That’s a form of fear.
  • Busy Work. If you find yourself spending most of your energy on tasks and putting little to no energy into higher level discussions or projects, that’s fear.
  • Advice. If you find yourself giving advice to a lot of people, that’s a symptom of fear. Fear to face your own life. So much easier to focus on others.
  • Oo. Shiny. If you are constantly taking on new projects, that’s fear. Fear of finishing something because if you finish it, it might fail. Better to never finish it at all.

So what do we do about it?

  • Learn to recognize it. Even if changing your behavior feels impossible, just recognizing symptoms of fear is incredibly valuable. It puts you, and not your fear, in the driver’s seat even if you just sit there for a while listening to the radio and not going anywhere.
  • Commit to changing your habits. Succumbing to fear is a habit. We perfect this habit over the course of a lifetime. Changing it is hard and you will stumble, perhaps for the rest of your life. But committing to change isn’t too hard. Just say yes and when you stumble, say yes again.
  • Distinguish what you can and can’t control. Then take those things that you can’t control off of your plate. Yes, bad thoughts about them will creep up, perhaps even daily. But if you have identified and named the worries that you can’t do anything about, you will spend less energy worrying about them.

If artists and inventors talked more openly about fear and how they manage it, perhaps more people would be able to see themselves as artists and inventors. They wouldn’t be scared off by the illusion that artists and inventors are confident uber humans. The truth is, artists and inventors are filled with fear just as much as the rest of us. The only difference is that they have accepted that managing fear is a part of their work.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

In this twitter thread, @suhail calls on CEOs to talk more openly about fear

Teachers are the ultimate leverage points

I care deeply about who goes into technology as a profession and what they decide to do with it. Why do I care about that? Because technology is a powerful lever. It has an enormous impact on society and the world. When it’s in the hands of thoughtful people, it can scale amazing things. But in the hands of less thoughtful people, it scales mediocrity and distraction, and even worse, destruction. And since we need more truly amazing things and less mediocrity and distraction and destruction, we need to nurture thoughtful technologists who will design and launch amazing things.

How is it that some people go into tech and others decide not to? There are a few factors. Role models and cultural signals are huge influencers. Growing up, I didn’t have tech role models or see any signs from the people around me that tech was a path. So while I loved lego as a kid and I excelled at shop class and mechanical drawing in high school, I didn’t find my way to engineering. I didn’t know it was an option. I pursued art.

Ten years after art school, I discovered Industrial Design and finally found where I was supposed to be. A rich mix of art and design and engineering and systems. I was home.

But I didn’t become an industrial designer. Instead I put my energy into teaching, into trying to fix this problem I had in my youth. I wanted to help young people discover their inner techie earlier than I did. I still want to help them do that.

But I’m burnt out on teaching. Ten years of it and I’ve only reached a few students a year. Yes, I’ve helped set those students on a path to making and launching deep technology. But that’s not enough impact. It’s too small and it’s too slow. I need to level up or quit.

Recently I’ve been thinking that I want to quit teaching and try something new. Maybe even go back to being an artist. But the world keeps telling me that my teaching is my art. I need to lean into that. And I need to find a way to leverage it.

I think I’ll turn my focus from educating students to educating teachers. Teachers are the ultimate leverage points. If you can empower a teacher to teach technology in a thoughtful way, a way that inspires their students to become world changers and inventors, then you can reach, let’s say, 50 students over that teacher’s career — students who discover the path to designing and shipping meaningful technology. And if you can empower hundreds of teachers to teach technology in a thoughtful way, you can reach tens of thousands of students. And if you can teach a few of your peers to teach teachers, then you can reach millions of students. Leverage.

Your Team is a System

Your team is a system made up of people. People with a range of worldviews, experiences, motivations, and skills. If you want things to go well with your team, you need a kind of double vision. You need to see the system as a whole as well as the smaller relationships and individuals within.

There are a few things you can do to help this system be the best it can be.

BE CLEAR ABOUT THE GOAL. RESTATE IT OFTEN

Leaders tend to internalize the goal and assume that everyone on the team has done this as well. But team members can get distracted from what the goal is. This distraction leads to messy decision-making. It’s your job as a leader to be consistent in reminding your team of the goal. If you are designing a charter school, for example, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the features this new school might have and if your team members forget the goal, the criteria for the decision-making about these features can go off course. So remind them of the goal. The goal in the school example might be to serve students in a way that their current school isn’t doing. The goal might be to help these students be good people in the world. Remind your team of that. Once a month sounds about right. It will help guide your team’s decision- making.

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR TEAM MEMBERS. VALUE THEIR WORLDVIEWS

You’ve brought together a diverse team, not by accident, but because you value the creativity that a diverse group is capable of. But along with creativity and diversity comes tension. Embrace it. When things get hard, remind your team why that’s a good thing. Sure, it would have been easy to bring a homogenous group of people together to work toward a goal. But the results would not have the depth that your diverse team’s results will have. Remind yourself and your team that there’s a cost associated with that depth. It’s that you have to put energy into navigating tension when it arises. Help your team see it this way, too. Tension is something to lean into, not something to avoid.

GIVE FEEDBACK. THE QUALITY OF THAT FEEDBACK MATTERS

Even though your team is a system, you need to see each person in it in order for it to operate well. Your team members do not want to feel like pawns in a chess game. They want to be seen as individuals with unique points of view that contribute to the richness of the team. They need feedback from you on a regular basis, not just in a yearly review. If it’s criticism, make it a private conversation. But if it’s praise, make it public. And make it meaningful. “I like your work” isn’t meaningful feedback. An art student gets an F for the day if they give that kind of feedback during a critique. It’s empty. You need to say why you like someone’s work in order to show them that you really see them. If you struggle to get to why you like someone’s work, zoom in on their process: Did they work hard? Were they persistent or creative? Did they show grit and tenacity? If so, call attention to that. Giving people feedback not only on their work but on the process that they used to do that work, isn’t only meaningful, it’s useful. It teaches them that they can face any challenge, that good results aren’t a result of some kind of innate talent or kiss from the muse. Good results are the outcome of hard work and persistence.

IDENTIFY BOTTLENECKS. ADDRESS THEM

Sometimes the system gets jammed up. Empower your team to identify and address bottlenecks when they happen. And rather than throw rocks at the bottleneck, which is often a person, slow the system down to the speed of it. Get everyone in the system moving at the same pace. Then once you do, harness your team’s creativity to figure out how to increase the capacity of the bottleneck. This can often mean taking responsibilities off of a person’s plate. If the system runs better now, then you’ve succeeded. But if you’ve created a bottleneck somewhere else, address that as well. Fine tuning a system isn’t a one and done deal. It’s an ongoing process. And if you are a systems thinker, you might even enjoy it. Iteration is a beautiful thing.

Aligning Different Points-of-View to Make Positive Change

The complex problems that we face are complex because they require buy-in from multiple stakeholders. Take STEM Education. There is a lot of experimentation in this area. But if true reform is to scale, there needs to be buy-in from multiple stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, school administrators, policymakers, and sometimes even business owners. Each stakeholder in this list has their own motivation and worldview when they are addressing reform. So how do we navigate this kind of complexity? I have a few ideas.

The first thing we want to do is acknowledge the different points of view sitting at the table. So often we gloss over this and pretend it’s not going to present problems. But of course, it does. Any good listener at a committee meeting can hear the motivations behind what each person is saying out loud. And any good listener can see that when these motivations aren’t aligned, those mismatches manifest in clouded decision making. So it’s beneficial to acknowledge diversity.

The second thing we want to do is acknowledge people’s emotions. Our points-of-view aren’t only rational. Our points-of-view are tied deeply to our identity and hold space in our hearts. Emotion in decision making isn’t a bad thing. Unless we ignore it. If we ignore the influence of emotion, then that too manifests in confused decision making. So acknowledge emotion.

Once we have acknowledged the perspectives and emotions in the room, we are ready to frame the issue in a generous way, in a way that accommodates and encourages the diverse perspectives in the room. In an interview with UC Berkeley Professor George Lakoff, he asks us to reframe how we talk about taxes. If we frame tax issues as “tax relief” then the outcome of using this language is that people think taxes are bad and a form of punishment. But if we talk and think about taxes as our dues, as what we pay to enjoy the things that we enjoy in this country: highways, schools, bridges, etc, then we might see paying taxes as an act of patriotism. Yes, they are still hard to pay. But that’s what we do in order to live a good life. We make sacrifices. This is a generous way to think about taxes.

Once we have framed the issue we are working on in a generous way, the group of stakeholders with multiple perspectives are free to generate a bounty of potential solutions to explore. Why do we want to generate a number of potential solutions and not just one or two? Because each time we increase the number of potential solutions, we increase the chances of finding the right one or the right combination of a handful of solutions. If we revisit STEM Education as an example, a diverse group is likely to come up with curriculum ideas that are all over the map. This can feel terrifying for the teachers in the room because they know that they are on the line to implement the ideas that are decided on. To help those teachers relax, we can assure them that this is just brainstorm and that analytical decision-making will be coming in the next step.

However, the decision-making shouldn’t be framed as,”Which choices are right and which are wrong?” We should strive beyond either/or thinking to integrate the best ideas. Roger Martin, the former Dean of Rotman School of Management wrote a book about how the best leaders get alignment from multiple stakeholders. The book is called The Opposable Mind and in it, he claims that when great leaders are faced with choices that seem to be in opposition of each other, those leaders use integrative thinking to find a third way. With our STEM Education example, STEM Educators might proclaim that coding is the most important thing for a student to learn. While a parent might declare that teamwork is the most important thing that students can learn. And then a local business owner who has agreed to take on some students for a summer internship might believe that product management is the most important skill for students to learn. Integrative Thinking allows us to see that those three learning objectives don’t have to be in opposition. They can be integrated. A talented educator can craft lessons in which students learn to code while working in a team using a proven product management process.

Aligning these different points-of-view by acknowledging diversity, framing the problem in a generous way, brainstorming on multiple paths forward, and using integrative thinking to find the best solution is how we bring folks together to solve complex problems and make positive change.

Let’s do this.

note: This post was originally shared on Medium as a response to a prompt in Seth Godin’s altMBA program

To inspire people to move forward, we have to meet them where they are

I’m a futurist. I write and think a lot about the evolving relationship between people and technology. In all of my work, I try to engage people in a discussion about this. Whether I’m teaching an intro class to undergrads or sitting on a board for k-12 or coaching early stage startups or facilitating workshops with STEM Women.

In this work, I meet two kinds of people: people who are already engaged in deep thought and conversations about the relationship between people & technology and people who aren’t….yet.

It is my goal to encourage more people to engage in these conversations. Why? Because technology is a force. It scales really well. And active citizens are positioned to shape what it’s scaling in a way that passive citizens are not. So we need to be active and not let the future be shaped by an elite few.

As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff proclaims in one of his book titles, we must program or be programmed. Just look at the average person’s use of facebook and the confusion around the companies’ ethics violations to see how passive engagement with technology plays out. We end up getting tricked into blindly working for facebook, generating content for free that they then turn around and capitalize on.

So how do you encourage passive users of technology to become more active? The answer is surprising — you need to be empathic and you need to be vulnerable. It’s not enough to plop a gee whiz technology kit in front of an inactive user and say, “Just explore — be part of the future!” No, you really need to stand in that person’s shoes and understand why they have a passive relationship with technology but even further than that, why they think you are wrong to be promoting an active one. Empathy and vulnerability.

Most of us were brought up in an environment that taught us to not challenge authority and to let an expert few invent, manufacture, and disseminate new technologies. And while we feel comfortable expressing little acts of rebellion here and there — a tattoo, eating weird food, whatever — we are hesitant to stand up and be an active change agent. Managing our own lives is hard enough and there are so many distractions.

Please don’t tell me that on top of all that, I have to be a hacker to be a responsible citizen of the world. Because that stresses me out. But if you can show me how to be a change agent in a way that acknowledges and helps me push through fear and stress and anxiety, well then, I’m all ears.

From Goals to Options to Decision Making

Articulating goals can be scary and overwhelming. Especially big lofty goals that keep us up at night or goals that we put off for years by telling ourselves, “Maybe someday. Maybe someday.”

Even when you can articulate a goal, figuring out how to move forward on it can seem impossible. It’s so charged with emotion and failure-issues and dark and twisty-ness, that it can be hard to see it for what it is: a beautiful idea that deserves attention and clarity.

There are tools that can help you navigate that dark and scary territory and move toward the sun! These tools take you on a three-part journey: Goal Setting, Generating Options, and Decision Making.

For Goal Setting, Zig Ziglar has a framework that asks us to identify a goal, parse out why pursuing this goal would be beneficial, name the obstacles that we perceive are holding us back, and identify people who we need to work with to move toward our goal. This framework helps you untangle the complexity of naming a goal for yourself so that you can articulate a path forward.

There are valuable sub-lessons in this framework as well. Like how social goal-setting is even if it’s a goal that you are setting for yourself. And that when you are social you have to be a good listener in order to strengthen your relationships. And you have to know how to ask for help and not be defensive when you receive feedback. It’s all of a piece!

Once you identify a goal for yourself, the next step (and one that is often overlooked) is to generate multiple options for moving forward.

For Generating Options, you can use the Business Model Canvas as a tool for Idea Generation. Because now that you have a framework for setting a goal, the next skill to develop is to learn how to create many options for getting there. Why create so many options and not just one or two? Because with each option you create for yourself, you increase your chances of finding the right one. It’s like a photographer taking a picture for the front page of the New York Times. Do they go out and take one or two pictures and call it a day? Hell no. They take dozens or hundreds of pictures and with each picture they increase their chances of finding that killer shot.

Now that you’ve generated so many options on how to move forward, how will you decide which path is best?

For Decision Making, there are a series of questions generated by Seth Godin and his team that are helpful. Because now that you’ve articulated an ambitious goal and have generated a lot of options for moving forward, you have to face the scary part, the part that makes it real like, “Holy Sh*t, I’m actually going to pursue this thing.” That part is deciding how to start.

The first two steps toward figuring out how to start are about giving yourself permission and encouragement to start. To do this, you can identify the change agents, the things that help you see that this the right time to make this decision. And then you can identify distractions, the things that are getting in your way like ruminating over sunk costs and or other things that are out of your control.

From there you get to be more rational, you get to examine and analyze the array of options that you’ve created for yourself. You do this by quantifying the odds and payoffs for each option that you’ve created. This helps you evaluate the risk associated with each option. The level of risk you chose is personal and situational and will be different for different decisions you make throughout your life. For some decisions, it’s best to “go big or go home.” For others, it’s best to “think big and start small.”

Setting goals and figuring out the best path forward can be terrifying and so overwhelming that we decide to do nothing, to put it off. But if there’s a decision or a goal that’s been gnawing at you, that keeps returning, I encourage you to bring it out into the light and run it through this process. Because it’s likely that that good idea or lofty goal that you keep pushing back, that you keep avoiding to pay attention to, is actually your calling.

Is Technical Education Enough?

There’s a lot of energy in this country put into creating and providing technical education for underserved students towards the end of increasing the chances that these students will find careers in STEM. I care deeply about how this is handled and sit on boards of multiple organizations that address this issue for a range of students from pre k-12 programs to workforce development initiatives for adults who want to move into technical careers.

We need more diversity in the technology industry for at least two reasons:

  1. Technology Scales Really Well. This is important because when a technology is aimed to scale good things, it scales good things. And when it’s aimed to scale bad things, it scales bad things.
  2. More Diversity = Better Solutions. We need a diverse set of brain power with multiple perspectives to understand complex problems we face today and then invent, implement, and scale appropriate solutions.

But there are a few gaps between technical education and the diverse and inclusive workplace that we imagine. A technical education might be enough to increase diversity – that’s a measurable number like, “How many of our new hires identity as female?” But it won’t be enough to foster inclusion which is less measurable. Inclusion is the creation and ongoing improvement of systems and environments that help diverse talent succeed.

So a good technology education will get someone’s foot in the door. But that won’t be enough to help them succeed in an environment where they may be the “first, only, different” person at the firm. There are a few ways to address this and there isn’t complete agreement on the best path. However, I’ll list some ideas here on some non-technical content that a technical education might include:

  • History of technology, industry, and economics to paint the big picture of how technology and industry became homogenous in the first place
  • Role Models and success stories. It’s important to show students examples of innovators that look like they look like. Include guest speakers or news stories that highlight diverse talent. When making images for public consumption, chose images carefully
  • Communication Skills. Being able to speak and write clearly is key. Bonus points for visual communication like sketching and diagramming
  • Employee training on how to navigate work situations in which it’s hard to be seen, heard, or taken seriously because you don’t fit the status quo image of an engineer or programmer
  • Manager training for industry managers who don’t yet have experience managing and supporting diverse talent

Technical Education isn’t enough. If the 21st century is going to be better and more equitable than the 2oth, we need to integrate history and social skills into the mix.