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.

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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

 

Processing Anger Through Art

I scan TV music and dance competitions to watch the great performances. This one by a young dancer, Jaxon Willard, is worth watching. Also worth listening to is his explanation of the piece to the judges:

“It’s about my feelings toward my birth mom and how I was angry and felt abandoned by her. But then I also didn’t know how to [trails off – crying] I didn’t know how to share these feelings with the mom I have now because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So I just suppressed all these feelings. But throughout my journey and though growing, I learned that I can’t just be mad at my birth mom because I don’t know the full story.”

What a courageous and generous act of empathy from this artist to his birth mom. Mature beyond his years.

Judge Ne-Yo is spot on when he describes the performance and the performer as the “epitome of power and vulnerability. You jump in the air and you float.”

In tears, judge Jennifer Lopez calls out the importance of Jaxon’s journey to his art, “Without your story, you wouldn’t be able to be the artist that you are today.”

Processing emotion through your art can make great art. It can also help you heal.

Simple Rules for Professional Behavior

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

DOs

  • 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:

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Creative Conspiracy by Leigh Thompson

The purpose of feedback is to help people achieve more success

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:

  1. Get feedback from others — Show everyone how you benefit from their candor. Lead by example.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

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)

The Abrasiveness Trap

It’s becoming more well known that being an assertive woman in the workplace is not a quality that gets women promoted. Whether a woman’s manager is male or female, studies reveal that women who are assertive are perceived as abrasive compared to their assertive male colleagues who are perceived as decisive and confident.

There’s a lot of advice out there for women. One of the most popular books on negotiation tactics for women, Ask for It by Linda Babcock, suggests that women should be clear about what they want, but that they should ask for it in a “relentlessly pleasant” tone. To the author’s credit, she comes right out and says, “I don’t like it either, but the research shows that this tactic is highly effective.”

However, Babcock follows this statement with one that has a big hole in it. She writes that if enough women play the game and use the relentlessly pleasant approach to acquire positions of power, then perhaps when more women are in power, assertive women applying for jobs or asking for promotions will no longer have to play this game.

This claim is flawed because, as Babcock points out in an earlier chapter, both female and male managers are biased against women. If this bias magically goes away when more women are in leadership roles, Babcock fails to explain the magic.

So what do we do about this trap? I’m not sure. Perhaps negotiation advice for women should be focused less on individuals playing the game and more on communities of women having their eyes wide open and helping each other out.

 

Take it Further

The Abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews