Resistance Is Futile

As a solo-preneur, I am the only one available to do everything needed for my business. I am quite good at facilitation and public speaking, but notably less good at putting systems in place, making follow-up phone calls, everything having to do with PR, bookkeeping, etc. The things that I am not good at, I tend to resist doing.

Resistance is an interesting beast. I have a tendency to fall into a pattern of being both villain Snidely Whiplash and the Damsel In Distress: “You must pick up the phone.” “I can’t pick up the phone.” “You must pick up the phone!” “I can’t pick up the phone!” Sadly, there is no handsome stranger coming up and saying “I’ll pick up the phone for you!”

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Or maybe, not so sadly. There would be no growth for me if someone else stepped in. No one else can represent me the way I can. And with the kind of work that I do, people will work with me directly and somewhat intimately. If they don’t like me, that’s a problem. So I need to be the one talking to them.

I’m going to digress a bit here, but I promise I’ll get back on point. Many years ago, I viewed exercise as punishment for being overweight. I didn’t understand why thin people exercised – they were already thin, and there was no other possible reason someone would go running. Several things had to shift in order to change this outlook. One, I had to start loving myself at the weight I was. I couldn’t wait to love myself until I got down to goal weight. I need and deserve love and respect at every size, weight, mood, and possible configuration of myself. Two, I had to start to find other benefits to exercise. I had to discover the feelings of enjoyment in movement, enjoyment in being outside to walk, in feeling my heart and lungs work, in feeling stronger each time I went up that darn hill.

I have lost some weight since I did these two things, but that doesn’t matter very much. What matters is that I no longer see losing weight as the only thing I can do that has any value. I see radical self-care as a rebellious act, and rejoice in seeing the strength and tenderness in myself as perfect right now. I am SO MUCH HAPPIER now that I’m not always feeling unworthy and inadequate based solely on the size of my hips. (Sometimes I feel uncomfortably close to the people in the seats next to me, but it’s still only one aspect of who I am, not the only metric that matters.)

Resistance to exercise has gone way down. Now I look forward to my dawn walks, and feel the lack when I don’t have them. I don’t always eat healthy food, but I enjoy the feelings of health and strength in my body when I do. I seem to have slipped the leash of Snidely Whiplash by focusing on all that is good and lovely in myself, regardless of size or reaching a goal weight.

So, to get back to my work discussion above, I found a way last week to slip the leash of resistance around making phone calls. I feel a lot of anxiety about making calls. I’m afraid I won’t get the right person on the phone. I’m worried the other person doesn’t want to hear from me, and that I’m being pushy and rude. I’m anxious I’ll feel stupid and inarticulate and let myself down by doing a bad job of talking on the phone. But I managed to look at all these stories I was telling myself, and to realize that they were only stories, not the truth. That other stories could be true, that people want to hear from me, they’re just too busy to call me, that I’ll look professional and capable if I pick up the phone and call them. That in fact I AM professional and capable, regardless of what other people may think. And, most importantly, that I have something to offer that can make their lives better. I don’t want to push it on people for whom it is a bad match, but I do want to offer it to people for whom it is a good match.

I had the good luck to get a person who was happy to hear from me on my first call. That helped fuel more calls after that. And it helped reinforce the stories that are more positive and helpful. I feel my resistance to making calls today is lower than it was last week because of this experience. It’s like martial arts, meeting force with love rather than more force.

It’s so interesting to see how these stories play out in my life, because I also help people in the work world change the stories they tell. I know how easy it is to believe that someone who isn’t there, who did something I didn’t like, is out to get me. And I know that there are a million other stories which are just as likely to be true. There is no reason I need to get trapped in a story that doesn’t serve me, and I can help you get out of your traps too. Teams often team with mistaken stories that go unchallenged for years. (See what I did there? Team as noun and verb? Makes the English Major in me proud.)

What are you resisting? Resistance may be futile – but you need not be assimilated.

Employee Engagement

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I just heard the most amazing statistic – only about a third of all employees are actually fully engaged at work. About half are not engaged, and the remaining almost 20% are actively disengaged, and sabotaging their employers through lack of productivity, gossip, rumors, and sometimes even working against the interests of the company. I found this staggering. I don’t have the exact numbers (I was getting dressed while watching a webinar, so I didn’t take notes) but it was something like 17-18% were actively disengaged.

I can believe there are 17% of employees who are bitter, bored, or malevolent enough to sabotage their employers. But it’s the half of all employees who are merely not engaged that is amazing to me. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, given things like poor service at restaurants (especially when the restaurant is mostly empty and there’s not much for the server to do). But this means half of all goods made and services rendered and buildings built and roads resurfaced (or maybe more – I wouldn’t be surprised if certain jobs contain more of the not engaged than others – I would expect more rocket scientists or doctors to be fully engaged, for example, than road workers) are done by people who just don’t care. I don’t know about you, but I really hope my house was built by people who cared at least a little. I don’t want it to fall down around me! And I want my doctor to care about my health at least a little.

I know that a lot of work is boring. I hated a lot of the desk job I did years ago. It was tedious and frustrating and never seemed to end. But I still think there are ways to make work mean something. One way to make it mean something is to get the input of the people who do it about the direction it should go. That means having a way to get the input of everyone involved. And I know that the more I think my employer doesn’t care about me, the less likely I am to participate when invited to. So employers need something more than just a suggestion box. But think of the payoff! What if you could shift your workforce to be 50% fully engaged, instead of only 30%. What if it was 75% fully engaged! Think how much more productive everyone would be. Think how much lower the turnover. Think how much more money you’d make, how many loyal customers you’d gain, how much innovation you could come up with. What is it costing you to have so many employees who just don’t care?

By now you know that the work I do helps get everyone engaged. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® gets everyone building, and talking about what they built, and involved, and playing, and serious, and giving input. I can tell you right now that if the bosses ignore everything they learn from LSP sessions, the disengagement will grow. But if they use what they learn to change the direction of the organization, those employees will be the best thing to ever happen to that business. We are talking real money, real success, real ROI. This personal stuff really makes a difference!

Play Is Good Business

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As you probably know by now, I’m a geek when it comes to communication, connection, play, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and teamwork. I’m not so fluent, or interested in, business, marketing, finance, and other MBA related subjects. So it was odd for me to pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review this month. They cleverly put LEGO® bricks all over the cover, so that it would catch my eye. Surprisingly enough, there were a number of articles in it that aligned with my areas of interest and expertise. So I thought I’d share some of them with you.

There is an article that talks about the diversity of work styles and perspectives based on brain chemistry. By talking about Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, Deloitte can help people understand each other better. One of the things that intrigued me about this article is the notion of “cascades.” “Once ideas, discussion, and decision making start flowing in a particular direction, momentum keeps them moving that way. Even if diverse views exist on the team, they probably won’t change the flow once it’s established, as people often hesitate to voice disagreement with an idea that gets early visible support.” (HBR March-April 2017 pg 54)

In order to prevent cascades, it’s helpful to start out getting ideas from the minority views. And it’s especially important to hear from your sensitive, risk-averse, introverted people. They will not stick their necks out to challenge what feels like a waterfall landing on their heads.

(One reason I love the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is that it helps introverts and extroverts play on a level playing field. Just saying.)

Later in the magazine there’s an article called “Strategy in the Age of Superabundant Capital.” There are two passages that intrigued me: “When capital was scarce, companies attempted to pick winners. Executives needed to be very sure that a new technology or new product was worthwhile before investing precious capital….With superabundant capital, leaders have the opportunity to take more chances, double down on the investments that perform well, and cut their losses on the rest. To put it another way, when the price of keys is low, it pays to unlock a lot of doors before deciding which one to walk through.” (pp 73-74) This jives with what I’ve been saying about needing an idea incubator. It’s easy for ideas to be rejected quickly, sometimes even before they are spoken. But having a lot of ideas may be the best way for a company to survive. Therefore it needs to be safe for odd ideas to be spoken, and for tender new sprouts of ideas to grow before being subjected to scrutiny.

Also in this article: “But great ideas don’t just materialize. They come from individuals and teams with the time to work productively, the skills to make a difference, and creativity and enthusiasm for their jobs. As long as companies continue to focus too much attention on managing financial capital, they will devote far too little to ensuring that the organization’s truly scarce resources – time, talent, and energy – are put to their best use.” (p 75) Yes! People matter, and their ideas matter, and fostering creativity helps the whole organization succeed.

And finally there is the article “Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions.” The CEO of Charles Schwab says the CEO bubble takes two forms: “people telling you what they think you want to hear, and people being fearful to tell you things they believe you don’t want to hear.” (p 78) His solution is to get out of the office, and talk to people around the whole organization. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t even plan to learn it. Many leaders don’t want to be wrong or appear wrong ever, and will defend decisions that aren’t working. More successful leaders are willing to admit to mistakes, and to pivot as needed. “Innovation always involves at least an implicit acknowledgment that you were wrong about something before….The question for leaders is how to go about embracing the notion of being wrong.” (p80)

If innovation is so painful, if learning what you don’t know means hearing about problems and places you were wrong, it can be difficult for leaders to hear what their people know. One reason I like LSP is that it puts the problem into the form of a LEGO® model, instead of the form of the person across the table. Since people can only ask questions about the model, not the people, it makes it easier to bring up places that need to be looked at without making anyone wrong. A good facilitator will also keep the conversation positive – not where someone screwed up, but how we can move forward given what we know now. And play can help make being wrong, or not knowing, not be a crime.

I love finding support for my ideas in a very traditional business magazine! I hope this inspires you to pick up something you wouldn’t normally read, to see if there are any ties to things you are interested in. And I hope that this gives you some confidence that there really is a solid foundation in reality and business for my somewhat new-agey and woo-woo ideas!