Back in the day, each organization had one clear objective, and each person in an organization had one clear job that helped the organization realize that objective. We knew what to expect and we could execute our function without too many surprises. The cobbler made shoes, the barber cut hair, and the farmer grew crops. Each had certain tools they needed and each needed certain people who knew how to use those tools. Occasionally someone might come along with a better tool and then someone had to learn how to use it, but those advances were relatively few and far between.
The hive mind was making our world a very different place at a very fast clip.
And then computers and software came along and changed everything. Suddenly we were able to adapt by leaps and bounds. The tools that were created to help us do things better and faster were so agile that they could literally be adapted while someone was using it. The person who used the tool was able to give constant feedback to the toolmakers about how to make those tools ever-better. It was no longer just the toolmakers’ brain thinking up better tools, it was dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of brains thinking about how to make the tools better. The hive mind was making our world a very different place at a very fast clip.
Today we have the opportunity to make tectonic shifts in business, education, the arts—virtually anything we do where people gather together for a common mission. But there is one thing that’s holding us back. We are pushing innovation and entrepreneurial spirit using a 19th Century organization model.
We are still organizing people as if the technological revolution never happened. We still create specific positions for specific jobs and find the person with the specific traits that match that position. We think of our organizations as if they are stagnant—their missions un-evolving—and staff them accordingly, with a rigid org chart that assigns each person explicit tasks that help get the widget made. We feel compelled to organize our organizations like a toolbox or desk drawer—a place for everything and everything in its place, but people are not things. We are highly complex, constantly evolving beings who, as a species, have virtually infinite potential.
The organization should not define what people do. People should define what the organization does.
By creating structures that dictate how every person should behave and act, we lock ourselves into a way of thinking that prohibits rapid progress and revolutionary change. The organization should not define what people do. People should define what the organization does. People should be allowed to drive the change by creating an environment where they can seek out new opportunities and new challenges.
Organizations should be adaptive systems. They should be simultaneously responsive and proactive—quickly coming together to form the optimal unit for any given emerging threat or opportunity. Strictly focusing on current operations is stagnancy and stagnancy is death. It results in people disengaging and organizations being left in the dust by the new fresh-eyed competitors. (And if you think your area, business, or industry doesn’t have new competitors, you’re probably already doomed.)
And how does an organization go about practicing such an adaptive model? Development.
Hire people who can tackle the job at hand, of course, but those people must then be given the opportunity to grow. Creating a culture where development opportunities are only granted as rewards or concessions is dull thinking. That kind of attitude will surely drive top-performers elsewhere. On the other hand, a culture where development is the rule—where it’s expected of everyone and built into the job—is where great people gravitate and do great things for the organization. What’s more—and this is an essential point—getting people to develop competencies that match the position or needs of the organization is backwards. Again, it’s the people that drive the change. It’s individuals’ development that will dictate where the organization goes and grows, not the other way around.
This is by no means a small change in how we’ve been operating for millennia. The idea that organizations will now be rapidly evolving units driven by a collective intelligence is even a bit scary. Nonetheless, if we are to constantly drone on about the need for innovative thinking from the people who make up organizations, we must provide them with a culture and environment where they can cultivate and actualize innovative thoughts.
10. “Back in My Day”—If it’s not your day anymore, then go home so someone whose day it really is can step up and lead. Complaining about the newest generation to enter the workforce and the fact that they have different experience from decades past just highlights your own naïveté. People change with each generation and we all adapt appropriately, and leaders guide the way.
9. Pouting—There are cynics, there are critics, and then there are pouters. It’s fairly safe to rule out someone as a leader when all you hear from them is complaining, but when you hear pouting it should remove all doubt. If you want to be a leader, you’ll need to learn how to resolve problems rather than mope about them.
8. “Mistakes Were Made”—This phrase was made popular in the Nixon administration, but it’s still used plenty today. It’s a way of casting accountability to the ether, as if to say, “Nothing is in anyone’s control.” It’s the Spell of Absolution that poor leaders try to cast to erase any sore feelings. But it’s really just a great way to show everyone what a horrible leader you are. When bad stuff happens, diagnose the problem and figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
7. “The Buck Stops Here!”—It’s possible that this bromide held some real meaning at one point back during the Truman administration, but now when someone tries to exert leadership by proclaiming, “The buck stops here!” it’s really just subtext for “Someone else screwed up, but I’m righteous enough to take the blame!” It’s code for broadcasting what a swell leader you think you are. What’s more, everyone knows it’s a code, so when a problem needs resolving leaders need to stop blathering about where the blame lies and do something about.
6. Blaming It Up the Chain—This is a lot like throwing people under the bus (see number 7), in that people do it to abdicate responsibility and obsequiously garner favor from whomever happens to be in their proximity. The only real difference here is that if there really is a problem being created up the chain, your missing the opportunity to communicate with someone who ostensibly is a leader and help them make better decisions. A leader doesn’t miss an opportunity to lead.
5. Throwing People Under the Bus—Unfortunately, this is fairly common among people placed in leadership roles but are not actual leaders. People often do it to maintain the illusion that they are deserving of the position they are in. Some heads of organizations even do it in front of clients, poohpoohing staff or simply neglecting to defend those who are deserving of a defense. They may go their whole lives believing they are leaders, but they will be wrong the whole time. A leader owns it (without broadcasting ownership—see number 7).
4. Distain—The moment you feel like the organization, people, or the work itself is beneath you, it’s time to reevaluate. If it’s not part of your vision or something you believe in, then either work with the people around you to guide them to a shared vision and mission, or move on to new pastures, but don’t scoff. Showing disdain for other people’s visions and beliefs is the action of a victim, not a leader.
3. The Screamer— There are people out there right now scoffing at the idea that screaming is a leadership failing because, “THAT’S HOW I HAVE TO GET THINGS DONE AROUND HERE WITH THESE PEOPLE!” Well, let me put it this way: there’s a big difference between a boss and a leader. Anyone can be a boss, but a leader knowns getting people engaged with the mission has nothing to do with decibels. Everyone feels like screaming at some point, but a leader is able to assess a situation and find the more effective response.
2. Emotional Rollercoaster—This one and screaming (see number 3) often go hand-in-hand. If you want to be a leader, you need to be stable and people need to know exactly what to expect of you, i.e., leadership. When people are checking with each other to find out which personality showed up to work that day, you’re causing more harm than good.
1. The Sin of Omission—Inaction is action. The failure to even attempt to stop or correct wrong-doing when you had the knowledge and power to do so is leadership fail number one. It is an insidious failing, which is what makes it so dangerous. A leader’s number one responsibility is to seek out and take action on opportunities and threats. Looking the other way is inexcusable.
- Wholeness—unity, integration, tendency to one-ness, interconnectedness, simplicity, organization, structure, dichotomy-transcendence, order
- Perfection—necessity, just-right-ness, just-so-ness, inevitability, suitability, justice, completeness, “oughtness”
- Completion—ending, finality, justice, “it’s finished,” fulfillment, finis and telos, destiny, fate
- Justice—fairness, orderliness, lawfulness, “oughtness”
- Aliveness—process, non-deadness, spontaneity, self-regulation, full-functioning
- Richness—differentiation, complexity, intricacy
- Simplicity—honesty, nakedness, essentiality, abstract, essential, skeletal structure
- Beauty—rightness, form, aliveness, simplicity, richness, wholeness, perfection, completion, uniqueness, honesty
- Goodness—rightness, desirability, oughtness, justice, benevolence, honesty
- Uniqueness—idiosyncrasy, individuality, non-comparability, novelty
- Effortlessness—ease, lack of strain, striving or difficulty, grace, perfect, beautiful functioning
- Playfulness—fun, joy, amusement, gaiety, humor, exuberance, effortlessness
- Truth, Honesty, Reality—nakedness, simplicity, richness, oughtness, beauty, pure, clean and unadulterated, completeness, essentiality
- Self-sufficiency—autonomy, independence, not-needing-other-than-itself-in-order-to-be-itself, self-determining, environment-transcendence, separateness, living by its own laws
People may try to pull you into their rhythm to put you at a disadvantage. Consciously or not, they want you off your rhythm because they understand that if they can throw you off, you are liable to make a decision or act in a way that is more suitable to their needs.
Think of aggressive sales tactics that pressure you into buying because of limited time (“SALE ENDS TOMORROW!” “INVENTORY GOING FAST!”). They know that the pressure of time, that is, putting you off a rhythm that would allow you to make a proper decision, will be most beneficial to them, but not necessarily you.
Or what about the hot-headed boss, colleague, or client who is forever getting everyone’s heart rate jumping—forcing an accelerated rhythm—by screaming at them or denigrating them. They are throwing everyone off a rhythm that would have greater overall outcomes just so they can personally benefit at the expense of everyone else. They don’t want other people thinking for themselves because they assume their way is the only option.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who will obstinately try to slow you down because they know that delay means denial. We should be willing to give one another the courtesy of allowing each other time for a proper decision, but some people may want to rob you of an opportunity or contribution by slowing down the rhythm to such and extreme degree that it kills the initiative all together.
When working with other people to make progress or contribute in some meaningful way, mutual benefit should be the goal. Whether that’s in high-stakes negotiation, persuading someone at the water cooler to back an initiative, or exchanging money for services. All parties should be trying to operate on an agreeable rhythm. When you sense someone trying to throw you off your rhythm or you catch yourself trying to do the same, it’s time to reevaluate.
Be mindful of your situation and your rhythm and why you are operating on that frequency. Is it the best rhythm for your purposes? Will that rhythm allow you and others to make a proper decision about moving forward? If not, figure out why. Take a pause and determine what the right rhythm should be.
To find out more about he Power of the Pause, check out Self-leadership: The Art and Science of Control.
We spend a good deal of time ensuring that students learn what is known. In fact, we as a society are rather obsessed with it, testing students from the moment they enter our school system to check whether that information is getting into their heads. We do this because we believe that certain information is essential to turning those students into productive, functioning adults.
But there comes a point where we can be so adamant about that goal that we sacrifice allowing them to learn on their own. That kind of independent learning leads to strengths and abilities like discovery and critical thinking. A lack of those strengths and abilities has dire consequences, and not just on an individual level.
In America we idolize innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. It is a significant part of our national identity. We create. We invent. We set the course for the future. At least that has been the story up to this point. If we neglect teaching future generations how to discover and think critically, we will have a much different culture. We will have stagnancy, and societies do not exist in stagnancy. They fade away.
So how do you teach discovery? Provide time and space. Occupying every moment of students’ time with structured learning devours any opportunity to teach them how to apply on their own the knowledge they’re so busy acquiring.
Without a doubt, there are foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities that will help people be better contributors to society, but they are just that—foundational. That is, they are the foundation upon which we build something of substance. The objective of knowledge is not to pass a test. The objective of acquiring knowledge is personal growth and to use that knowledge in a way that allows us to contribute meaningfully to a society.
Discovery is by no means the exclusive domain of the young, but they are the pros. They are new to the world and therefore the world is new to them. They hunger for discovery, and left up to their own devices they are experts at it. And human beings can continue to discover throughout their entire lives, and be good at it, particularly if you did it with gusto when you were young. It makes for a fulfilling life. But suppressing discovery arrests proper development. We may expect people to think critically and discover in the workplace or as functioning adults, but that’s an unfair expectation if it’s been squashed out of them since they started learning.
To hinder or prohibit discovery in the young is a tragedy beyond measure. It is stealing the essence of what it means to be a human being. If we want a future where the world a better place, and we want our children to live happy, successful lives, it is imperative that we give students time to live.