Practice Makes Perfect – Or Does It?

My father is a professional musician. He always told me that only perfect practice makes perfect. If you practice your mistakes, you get really good at making those mistakes!

This makes sense for anything where you are training your fingers or body to do something the same way over and over. Musicians, dancers, martial artists, all want their muscles to think for them from having practiced until perfection is innate.

What about other arts? I think practice makes easier, in a lot of ways. My husband is a professional artist, and he says everyone has 10,000 bad drawings inside them, so you’d better get started drawing to get them out. The more you draw, the more you learn about drawing, and the easier it is to draw next time. The more you perform, the more ease you have with performance.

I read about a ceramics teacher who divided his class in half. The first half he graded on quantity – they’d get an A if they used enough clay and made enough stuff during the semester. The second half he graded on quality – they’d get an A if they made really good stuff. What he found was that the half that made a lot of stuff kept practicing, learning from mistakes, trying something new, and getting better and better. The half that focused on making really good stuff spent a lot of time talking about it and planning it, but the stuff they made wasn’t that good.

So, another reason practice makes perfect is that practice allows you to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It lets you try out new things in a safe space.

The problem comes when all you do is practice. Or theorize. Or talk about it. At some point you have to do it. Experience comes from doing.

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I took a class with Caterina Rando, and she doesn’t like the idea of practice. She says just go out there and do it. The doing is practice of a sort, in that you get better and better the more you do it. But if you spend all your time trying to get perfect before putting yourself out in the world you’ll never get anywhere.

The thing is, mistakes teach you something. No one will ever get to be so good they don’t make any mistakes – and if they did, they’d be boring and stunted. You risk mistakes to try something new. You risk mistakes to get bigger, brighter, and more amazing. But if you don’t risk it, you stay small and dim.

Mistakes aren’t the enemy. Staying stuck is.

In improvisational acting, mistakes are celebrated. People feel like they failed and are encouraged to say Yay! Mistakes are a sign that someone stretched. They tried for something. They learned something. This is a cause for celebration, not demonization. It takes courage to fail, loudly, publicly, and on stage. But if it’s not actually a failure, if it’s a sign you’re human and striving and it gives permission to everyone else to be human and striving too, that’s a victory.

So, practice scales. Practice tai-chi. And then get out there and dance. Wildly, imperfectly, and perfectly you.

Please Don’t Know Everything

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I went to a networking event last night and talked to someone about why it’s difficult to hear from people on your team. He mentioned the type of manager who thinks they need to know everything already.

Are you that kind of person? Do you feel queasy when you think your people might question you? Do you go into meetings already knowing what outcome you’re looking for? Do you think you know best, and the rest of the people in your organization are just hands to execute what you dictate?

If so, you are why 70% of the American workforce feels disengaged at work.  Please stop knowing everything.

The truth is – bosses might have great ideas, but they’re not the only ones who do. Chances are the people in your organization were hired for their smarts, abilities, experience, etc. They also have great ideas.

It takes courage to admit you don’t have the whole answer, and to ask others for their viewpoints. It means the meeting might take longer, people might disagree with each other and with you, emotions might run high. Or, if people are unused to being asked for their ideas, maybe there will be silence. They might not believe you want to hear from them. They might be afraid of being made wrong, or simply of being visible from speaking up in a quiet room.

There was a quote from the TV show Agents of SHIELD which I probably won’t get 100% correct, but it went something like this: What if no one has 100% of the answer, but 100 people each have 1% of the answer?

We have complicated problems these days. The problems are bigger than we are, and might take a lot of brains to figure out. Maybe it will take 100 people giving input to whip an idea into shape. If the boss won’t listen to their team, everyone loses.

So, how can you, as a manager, get access to all those great ideas brewing in your peoples’ heads?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask a lot of questions. Become curious about what other people are thinking. (I’m currently reading a book about questions, I’ll write more about this in the future.)
  2. Admit you don’t know everything. No matter how humbling, uncomfortable, or difficult this is, you can’t know things from anyone else’s perspective. Admitting this helps make it easier to hear what other people think.
  3. Be patient. It will take a while for people to get used to the new you, the one that doesn’t have all the answers. People won’t trust you right away, so don’t give up.
  4. Give people reason to trust you. Don’t jump down people’s throats when they disagree with you. Ask more questions. Acknowledge the validity of their points.
  5. Acknowledge your people for speaking up. Thank them for their courage, for their insight, for anything you can find to thank them for. People will do a lot for positive acknowledgement.

(Side note: In college I took a dance class with a teacher who did not give praise out easily. She challenged us, she made us work hard, and she made us repeat things a lot of times. But – when she called out my name to say I was doing it well, I felt like I was dancing on air. I wanted to work even harder, to get that acknowledgement again. I would have followed her anywhere, and done anything for her. Genuine praise for something specific that is done well is hugely motivating!)

Okay, now that we have solved all the problems in the office, let’s go have a great and collaborative day!

Pipeline Lifeline

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I’ve been thinking about how information travels through organizations. There are formal ways – when you are done with this report send it to these people – and informal ways – “Hey Pat, what do you think of this?”.

Proximity is important for the informal communication. I think that open offices were designed to increase this type of casual, spur of the moment, spontaneous communication. Sometimes ideas can be fertilized and grow from chatting with your co-workers. Works in progress can be seen before they are finished and fixed with less effort and expense.

My husband has a bunch of his team on another continent, in a very different time zone. Almost all of their communication must be formal. Daily required status updates. Daily feedback. There are no chance encounters over lunch or getting office supplies.

It seems like people are liable to think the worst of others in these situations. With no face to face contact, no chance to explain what’s going on, when someone doesn’t implement the feedback given it’s easy to assume ‘they just don’t respect me as their director any more. That makes me angry. I’m going to be vindictive or snarky in response.’ Which makes them less likely to implement my instructions. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

These conflicts can show up even in people in the same building, if there’s no contact between them. I was talking to someone at a party recently who said his organization is full of silos. “We” don’t want to talk to “them” if we don’t have to.

Sometimes the divisions happen because each department has a different priority, and it can feel to people that those in other departments are out to get them. Sales just promised a feature that engineering can’t produce in the time allowed. Engineering just made a feature that sales can’t figure out how to sell. What were they thinking?!?

I know all of this is human nature, but it makes me sad. I see people becoming less flexible, less open to input, less likely to encounter new ideas, less likely to offer creative ideas. I know what amazing things can happen when people work together, but there has to be trust to do that, and these silos sap trust.

It would be interesting to map how information flows through an organization. There’s probably already a diagram of who reports to whom, so there is some understanding of the formal process. But where does feedback really come from? An artist might get the design from the concept artist, official feedback from the art director, informal feedback from other artists, and office gossip from a friend in HR. The art director might give feedback to artists, get feedback from the VP, and come up with new ideas from chatting with marketing over lunch. I’d love to bring in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to examine where the bottlenecks are, who is connected to whom, which departments are in silos, where there is cross-pollination.

Who do you talk to at work?

Revising Our Thinking (Advanced Problem Solving)

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This quote has always struck me as both wise and difficult to do something about. On the one hand, the thinking we have now is what led us to consequences, perhaps unintended, that are causing problems. On the other hand – how do you change how you think? Thoughts are just there, like air.

Actually, it turns out that thoughts can change. I think this is fascinating stuff.

First step – pause. If there’s no pause, there’s no chance to question. We believe what we think because it’s always there, informing everything we experience. If we can take a breath, stop the knee-jerk reaction, pause before moving ahead, it gives us a chance to do something different.

One way to practice the pause is to meditate. One school of meditation suggests that you notice what you are thinking, and then let it go. Aim for total quiet in the brain. Thoughts and feelings will come through, and rather than getting snagged in them, just let them pass. This takes practice, and honestly, doesn’t work all the time. When I meditate, I spend plenty of time thinking. But even a little practice in letting the thought be separate from the thinking of it helps create a pause. Seriously, even 3 minutes once a week.

Second step – question. I’m going to quote the wikipedia page about Byron Katie for this:

Byron Katie’s method of self-inquiry, The Work, consists of four questions and what she calls turnarounds, which are ways of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The questions are: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? 4. Who would you be without the thought?

Contemporary neuroscience identifies a particular part of the brain, sometimes called “the interpreter,” as the source of the familiar internal narrative that gives us our sense of self. This discovery, based on solid experimental work, show that we tend to believe our own press releases.

If we can question our own thoughts, we can start to figure out where they might be right, where they might be wrong, where they might be more compassionate, where they might be more expansive, etc.

Pause, and question. How often do we do this in our own lives?

I’m going to tell you a parenting story. My son has sensory processing issues, which means he’s sensory seeking a lot of the time. He was playing with a toy on a string, enjoying the feeling of it swinging around his head, swinging against furniture, swirling around on the floor and against the edge of another toy. All that swinging was driving me crazy. I saw the floor being scratched. I saw the toy about to hit things on shelves, about to sweep the papers off my desk, about to hit me. I kept asking him to stop, and he didn’t stop. I was getting madder and madder.

This time, hallelujah and hooray, I remembered to pause, and question. I took a break, went outside, and asked myself what was going on. I helped myself remember that my kid gets hooked by how things feel. He wasn’t continuing to swing the damn thing around in order to piss me off, he was doing it because he liked how it felt. It was hard for him to stop because it fed something in his brain. I had a choice how I responded. I’ve tried yelling, I’ve tried grabbing the toy away, and these things don’t usually end well. What other choices did I have?

Once I calmed down, I went back inside. I told him he could use the toy on a string in a certain area, but not in others, because he could damage things. He agreed, and after a while was done swinging it around and moved on to something else. Relationship preserved, boundaries enforced with kindness, no yelling. What a difference. Pausing, and questioning.

I think it can be unnerving to be still and open to new ideas. It’s much easier and more comfortable to just be Right. All. The. Time. But we can’t solve our problems with our current thoughts and frames of reference. If we are open to new ideas, all sorts of creative possibilities open up. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel like a vessel for new ideas flowing in. (That may be another blog post.) But how wonderful to find a new solution!

Where have you paused, and questioned? What happened?

Two Great Tastes (that taste great together)

What happens when you take two cutting edge methodologies, and mix them together?

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Honestly, I’m not sure yet, but I’m excited about the possibilities!

I met with Steve from the Ask Matt business game (click here to see more) yesterday to brainstorm how we could work together. He and his colleague Daniel and I all built models from LEGO® bricks, then joined them using the Ask Matt connectors.

In the example above, the lower right model represents facing fears and taking risks, the one in the upper middle represents the creative process, and the model on the left is a better future. We think taking risks can help with creativity – and being creative can help face fears. Hopes for a better future can influence creative thinking, and taking risks is necessary for creating a better future. I added in play as a way to help people practice taking risks. This model could be expanded out – what other things can help people take risks? What else is needed for creative thinking? How else can the hope of a better future influence us now? In technology? Social thinking? There’s plenty of room for more information to be added.

One of the things I love about the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is that it can be used to develop complex ideas and metaphors and emotions. It’s possible to use them for strategic planning, in all the complexity of people and their desires.

Ask Matt is much more logical in its approach, but it is also designed to show connections, see what influences what, and it is more clearly set up to help people figure out how to get more of what they want. It shows a road map of what pieces need to be in place to get more of the results you want.

Combining these approaches could be very powerful. Instead of just writing down an idea, you can think with your hands, figure out the parts that really matter, and build a complex concept. Then, instead of connecting those parts with more LEGO® bricks, you can use the arrows and feedback loops and mapping strategies of Ask Matt. This combines strategic planning methodologies in a powerful way.

One way to use the LSP strategic planning is to find out where you are now, figure out what forces are working on the organization, and then figure out what happens if things change in those forces. Another way is to imagine where you want to get to, and build pieces to help you get there. Ask Matt is a third way, which may prove to be more flexible and clear than the first two. We will have to try it out and see! Who do you know who wants to be on the cutting edge to try it out?

This may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Pure Potential

I have always been seduced by blank books. There’s so much potential in them! The reality never quite lives up to the hopes though – sometimes I write in them, sometimes I don’t, but once something goes in, the possibilities are narrowed and the perfection I seek doesn’t exist.

Recently I’ve started coveting planners. Again, so much potential! I could get organized this time. I could save all the important stuff in one place. Plus, it has the blank book feeling of possibility. Yum! I have a tendency to start a planner, be really devoted to it for a few weeks, then I stop carrying it, or I start writing on scraps of paper instead of in my planner, and pretty soon it’s just another “should” for me.

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Sometimes I think that one reason we like children so much is the potential we see in them. They could do anything! They could learn and grow and become the savior of our economy or ecology or a great musician or anything at all! Once they start working mundane jobs, all that possibility is gone. At least, it feels like it’s gone. It’s harder to get at in working adults, even if it’s still there.

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I also think this feeling of possibility shows up in strategic planning sessions. And, so does the falling back into old habits. It’s so exciting to plot a new course, to envision blue sky possibilities, to come up with ideas that could change everything! And then, we go back to work, and have to put out fires, or deal with drama, or just get buried under paperwork, and all that hope gets forgotten. The new ideas become “shoulds” that feel like burdens, not freedom.

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I have two ideas about how to change these patterns. The two ideas come at it from different directions. One, make friends with not being perfect. One reason a lot of my blank books only hold a few pages is that what I put in there isn’t perfect, so I abandon the effort. But when I can accept that what I put in doesn’t have to be perfect, I can keep going with it. I my not live up to the full potential of the book, but I’m still stretching and growing and that’s all that matters. No one can fulfill all potential at the same time.

The other idea is around habits. It’s easy to fall into old patterns. If we want to change that, we have to work at it. So, I’d say block time into the planner to review where you want to go every day or week. Figure out the best use of your time. Delegate or let things go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But if we don’t focus on the changes we want to make, they won’t happen at all. Starting the day by looking at our guideposts can help us head in the right direction.

My final idea is this: be gentle with yourself. Punishing ourselves when we don’t live up to unrealistic expectations is setting ourselves up to stay stuck and unhappy. Let’s live free and joyous and imperfect but expanding lives!

Rummage Sale of the Brain

One of my strategies as an artist is to look for new input all the time. I look for new ideas, look at other artists’ works, go to galleries, go to open studios, and visit garage sales and places like the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse which have lots of random bits of things that can be crafted and art-ed with. I let these new ideas and materials and possibilities simmer on the back burner of my brain, and new ideas get cooked up.

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In other news, I was reading an article by Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” that was linked on LinkedIn. In it, he says:

The good news is that Adaptability, like each EI competency, is a skill leaders can develop. And, the EI competencies build on each other. Three keys to developing adaptability can be summed up as “Listen Inside,” “Look Outside,” and “Step Outside.”

  • Listen Inside means tapping into emotional self-awareness to recognize what you are feeling, how it impacts your behavior, and whether you are operating from habit.
  • Look Outside is shorthand for looking beyond your usual information sources, paying attention to data that contradicts your current thoughts. This means tapping into skills in organizational awareness, another EI competency.
  • Step Outside involves intentionally stepping beyond your comfort zone and seeking out new experiences, opinions, and environments.

– See more at: http://www.kornferry.com/institute/train-your-brain-for-change#sthash.Aw56QMBK.dpuf

This made me think about my artistic habits. It also made me think of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. After all, part of what makes LSP work is that people think with their hands. Which means they need to have a big old pile of LEGO® bricks on the table from which to choose. The amount of possibility lets them sort through and figure out what they want to build, and say. Maybe something they never thought about before. Maybe something they never had the courage to say before.
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Sometimes someone will feel the need to sort the bricks before they start building. When this person is the boss, it worries me. It makes me think that perhaps this leader feels more comfortable in the position of being in control, and that perhaps they don’t invite in opposing views. They may end up in what the Harvard Business Review called  a CEO Bubble, or Daniel Goleman refers to as “feedback deserts.” They don’t really want a lot of ambiguity, possibility, chaos, new ideas, or additional information cluttering up the clarity of their desk or vision or direction. But this also means they are less likely to be flexible and adaptable when the inevitable need to change arises.
It is difficult to tell a leader that you think they lack the necessary flexibility and adaptability to change with the changing world. You may well end up changing jobs if you do. Some people crave poking through rummage sales, some people think it’s garbage and don’t want anything to do with the chaos and clutter. I don’t think that LSP will single-handed-ly change a person’s innate nature. But perhaps, maybe, possibly, introducing such a leader to more new ideas can open him or her up to a little more change. Maybe, it’s possible, that giving such a leader an article like this one can help them think about bringing in information from more sources, including ones that don’t feel comfortable. Possibly, maybe, perhaps, they can be convinced to water their feedback desert and get more options (with the corresponding lessening of clarity) to bloom.

Creativity Games

I haven’t talked about creativity games in a while, so I wanted to touch on them again. As I’ve mentioned, play provides a way to create a space where there is no winning or losing, which makes it safer for people to practice speaking up. This only works, of course, if the people in charge are making it safe by appreciating all answers, not preferring some over others.

I think it’s cool that even if people don’t speak up, just by thinking up the answers they can stretch their comfort zones and exercise their creativity muscles, so it will be a little easier to speak up next time. Or the time after. Whenever it feels safe enough and they feel confident enough of their answer.

I’m going to draw some cards from the game Disruptus. This is a card game by Funnybone Toys designed to help people stretch their minds. There are four choices of what to do with the cards, then a box full of pictures of things. The four choices are:

Improve. Make it better: Add or change one or more elements depicted on the card to improve the object or idea.

Disrupt. Look at the picture, grasp what the purpose is, and come up with a completely different way to achieve the same purpose.

Create 2. Take any number of elements from each (of two) card(s) and use these to create a new object or idea.

Transform. Use the object or idea on the card for a different purpose.

I’ve selected 4 cards at random:

DisruptusCards

How can you improve, disrupt, create, or transform these images?

Here are some ideas I came up with; I’d love to hear yours. (Just as an aside, my insecurities come up too. I want to label these ideas as silly, or somehow put them down, so you won’t judge me too harshly for coming up with unusable or stupid ideas. But I’m not going to censor myself because of these insecurities. Please don’t censor yourself either!)

Disrupt: The sink is to wash hair in a hair salon. What if there was a chair that could rotate upside down, and lower the person into a sink? Maybe into a series of sinks, for shampoo and rinsing and conditioning. The person would need to be strapped in, but they might not need plastic covering since they will be above the water.

Create 2: That clothes hanger looks like it would work for a zip line with the rope. Maybe a zip line for clothes from storage to your hand, or a zip line for a person to get from one place to another. (We could even include the tall building and make a zip line that ties two buildings together!)

Transform: Use that high-rise for a farm. All those windows can let in light to grow plants. Maybe the center of the building can be used to trap and store rainwater.

Improve: Rope is really thick. That makes it good to support heavy things, but it makes it hard to tie it or tie things to it. But you could make a rope with a strand that has loops in it. So the loops would be tied into the strength of the rope, but would be sticking out all over so things can be attached.

What ideas do you have? I’d love to hear them!

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!