What the Business World can Learn from the Black Panther

So many super hero movies make the bad guy very evil, and the good guy very good, so there’s no question of who you should root for. I thought the movie Black Panther (yes, there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to wait to read this) did a great job of making the bad guy very understandable.

I’m going to digress for a moment so no spoilers will show up in the beginning of this article. I was reading some Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends & Influence People, originally published in 1936) the other day, and his very first chapter is about how people we consider the bad guys consider themselves good guys. Apparently a then-famous bad guy called “Two Gun” Crowley shot a police officer for asking for his drivers license, but Crowley wrote in a letter “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.” Carnegie’s point is that no one blames themselves, no one sees themselves as the bad guy. Crowley thought he was defending himself, even though to the rest of the world his actions looked reprehensible.

Likewise, Erik Killmonger in Black Panther believed he was doing the right thing. There is no question that there are Black people across the world being treated poorly. He believed that having better weapons would allow these oppressed people to rise up and destroy their oppressors, allowing them to be fully free. In fact, everyone loves a story of how the oppressed win freedom from the mean bullies in power – look at Star Wars. Everyone believes they are Luke Skywalker, no one thinks they are Darth Vader.

The thing is, how you do a thing matters. Giving people freedom is an important goal. Doing it in a way that kills people is not ideal. Killmonger wants to fight partly because his father was killed when he was a child – but now he’s lost his humanity. He is fighting because his heart was broken, but he’s willing to kill his girlfriend, his allies, his cousin, anyone standing in the way of his goal. In fact, it looks like he would end up as a dictator, rather than providing people more freedom.

The thing is, Killmonger wasn’t entirely wrong. He was right that there are people who need help, that he could help. He was right that Wakanda was standing by and doing nothing, even though they had resources available to help.

What would have happened if T’Challa dug in his heels and said it’s my way or no way? There could have been a victory, but it would have been hollow. It would have been two strong forces fighting to see who was mightier, with many more dead, and with no heart, no humanity left. But that’s not how the story ended. Instead, the king realized there was validity to his opponent’s views, and there was a way to incorporate Killmonger’s desire to help his people with T’Challa’s desire to protect his people. This was a much more satisfactory ending, because the promise was that many more people would be helped without killing others, and in the end heart and humanity matter as ways to be in the world.

That brings me to business. You knew I was going to get here eventually, right? I see many people in business trying to defend their ideas, unwilling to admit that their opponents might have some good ideas too. What happens? People nurse grudges, like Erik Killmonger, until they are strong enough to fight back. Or, people work against the goals of their organizations, like Okoye was helping the women escape from their captors in the beginning of the movie. (According to Gallup, 17% of American workers are working against their employers’ interests.) And instead of coming up with the best ideas, people fight for their way until there’s no one left to fight.

T’Challa had to change what his father had done, and his father before him, for generations – he had to open Wakanda to the rest of the world. This was not a popular choice. But it allowed him to accommodate the desires of Okoye, and Killmonger, and others who felt Wakanda wasn’t doing enough to help other Black people around the world. He had to be willing to stand for his belief that leading with heart was as important as protecting the country his ancestors had founded and kept safe from the world – and he did it because he knew they were strong enough to protect themselves should anyone want to take over. It wasn’t only heart, and it wasn’t only muscle, it was a combination using the best of both.

Do you as a leader listen to your people? Do you listen to your heart? Do you always do what has always been done, or are you willing to hear new ways? Can you be flexible and humble enough to incorporate new ideas into your own? I see T’Challa as a hero, not for being able to fight and survive, but for being able to find a path that can give everyone what they really want – a way to help the people who need help while staying whole themselves.

I haven’t given myself a plug lately – if you need help listening to your people, please contact me. I can help you be a hero too, without bloodshed and without revolution. I don’t have a heart shaped herb, but I do have tools that can incorporate all of your peoples’ good ideas, which leads to happier, more productive people, and better ideas to bring into the world.

Insight

Johan Roos, one of the creators of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, summed up it’s essence as:

“Seeing the same in a different way and
creating entirely new insights,
in enjoyable ways”

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A lot of people are trying desperately to find ways to see the old in a new way. How are we going to come up with the Next Big Thing? We need to find a way to get new ideas that can make us successful.

But think about this – how fun are your meetings? Do you even get insights from them? How rewarding are brainstorming sessions? Are they something everyone dreads?

I believe that being too serious, too afraid, or too disengaged can make any meeting tank. New ideas flourish in a more lighthearted environment. Anything we can do to help our meetings be important but not dry is invaluable. The more serious we get, the more heavy lifting each idea needs to do, and the more likely we are to reject it. With levity, we can let ideas float around for a while to see what about them is valuable, and let multiple ideas bubble around until some of them coalesce into a plan.

This is one reason why bringing in something like LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can be beneficial – it involves play, which makes it more fun and lighthearted than more serious approaches, but it still gets serious work done. At the end of a workshop, you may understand more than you did before, have ideas of what to do next, compassion for where others are, and a group pride in the work done, without having to slog through some terrible situation to gain group cohesion.

It only takes one person being disengaged to make others stop paying attention; it only takes one person being afraid to keep others from speaking up too; it only takes one person being too serious to keep the atmosphere heavy and uninviting. I’ve seen one person stop brainstorming in its tracks more than once. It takes everyone to make a meeting work.

What are you doing to make your meetings work? How do you keep the atmosphere light, inviting, open, and full of possibility? How do you keep people from shutting everyone else down? And how do you find new insight?

We’re All In This Together

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I was talking to my husband about what he wants in a team. He’s worked in a number of companies, with a number of different teams, and I was wondering what he’d say. The first thing he said was he wants team members who are professional – and one of the points he made was that professionals care more about the success of the project than they do about benefiting themselves.

I think this is an interesting, important, and often overlooked piece of working in teams. People often want their ideas to be implemented without any change, because they like their ideas and want to be The One With The Ideas. Or, they want recognition, or praise, or a promotion, for what they contribute, so they want their contributions to be separate and recognizable. This is human nature – there’s nothing wrong with it! The only problem comes when the desire for recognition or power comes before the good of the project.

Part of the benefit of working in teams is that a good idea can become better when many people share their perspectives. A good recipe blends the ingredients, and relies on all of them to make the food taste good, without any one standing out. If the rosemary says it won’t cooperate unless the sage withdraws its contribution, everyone loses. A good team with a supportive leader will recognize all the flavors, not just the ones that stand out, and the individuals will all feel like they contributed to something amazing, and larger than anything they could do alone.

I actually like to take this approach to life in general, not just work. We’re all in this life together. We could step on each other to try to get ahead, but then we end up with a lot of hurt and anger. Why not support each other along the way? Why not treat life like a project we are all trying to make better, without individual egos getting in the way? It feels good to help others, and it feels like a relief when others help us. There’s something very powerful about knowing that everyone on the team has each others’ backs.

The idea of having another person’s back is an interesting one. It makes me think about that moment in a meeting when you have to choose whether to speak up or not. Have you ever been in this situation: you talked with your friend at work about a new idea. Your friend spoke up in a meeting about the new idea, and the boss shot it down. What do you do? For most of us, the survival instinct says don’t challenge the alpha. It’s not worth it to align ourselves with a sinking ship. But then, will your friend trust you? If you still think it’s a good idea, will you say so? It takes courage to speak up when you know the boss is against the idea in order to back up your friend. Really, it’s also backing up yourself and your ideas, but it’s also threatening a sense of survival and safety.

This is why I help teams create safe spaces to speak up. I don’t want anyone to feel like they will get shot down for speaking up. I want to help groups decide together whether an idea is worth following without making anyone feel stupid, or unsafe, or unworthy. For the project to be the focus, not the worth of the humans who have the ideas.That’s one reason I use LEGO® bricks in my workshops – it puts the focus on the ideas as modeled in LEGO®, rather than on the person who built it. People aren’t trying to solve people any more.

What do you look for in your teams?

Constraints on Creativity

I got to be a substitute leader for Nora Scully’s Art Spark today. I asked people to build what gets in the way of creativity, and what supports creativity for them. These are some of the responses:

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What gets in the way of being creative is having too many thoughts in my head pulling me in too many unrelated directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is what I need to be creative – all the parts laid out in front of me, but with some clear space to work in. I need time and space available, but I also need to see all the options to figure out what can go with what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is me in my DJ booth. I don’t really DJ, but I like to play music to set a mood or create a soundtrack for an event. I like to help people come together through music.

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I get my best work done when everyone is doing their part like a well-oiled machine, and I can rely on other parts getting done. So I can relax and focus on my part.

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What supports your creativity? What gets in your way?

Trust

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How would you characterize trust?

I led a workshop today in which we discussed what was needed to allow us to collaborate. The biggest model made was about trust.

As you can see in the picture, the wheels at the bottom are small, and the elephants they hold up are big. The whole thing is precarious. The elephants are both going the same way as long as trust holds, but if it falls apart the whole thing will collapse and the elephants will no longer be working together.

This sounds a lot like how trust works. Sometimes something real gets in the way of trusting – someone says something hurtful, or doesn’t do what they say they will do. Sometimes it’s all based on the stories in our heads – the something that is said is experienced as hurtful even though it’s intended to be positive; there was some misunderstanding around who was going to do what. Collaboration takes constant communication, which sometimes means revealing the hidden scripts in our heads that shape how we see the world.

I love these LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops because you can get a wealth of meaning into a simple model. With a good story behind it, all the details mean something, and the model is a compelling and vivid explanation of something someone experienced or thought.

Has trust ever felt like two elephants balancing on tiny wheels to you? What happened? Did the elephants stay together, working in synch, or did they start pulling in opposite directions? How does your group keep trust together?

Listening With Your Eyes

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I came across this quote while looking for something else, and saved it because I like it so much. It’s so true – if you don’t want to hear what other people have to say, they will stop sharing their thoughts with you. Your team has so much skill, perspective, creativity, possibility, and innovation inside, but if you value being right more than being open, you will lose all of it.

A few months ago I referenced an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about getting the CEO out of their bubble. No one likes giving the boss bad news, and so a boss that doesn’t seek out what’s going wrong will likely never learn about it.

That’s right. Not only do you need to listen, you need to actively seek out people to listen to. It’s a great first step to not tear the head off of anyone giving you news you don’t want to hear, or ideas that don’t fit with your ideas. Keeping an even temper ALWAYS can give people a little more trust and courage to approach you. But that’s not enough to really get a full view of what’s going on in your organization.

When I bring workshops using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology to an organization, one of the advantages is that people can store a lot of information in a single LEGO® model. It means they don’t have to store their story in their heads, because it’s backed up in the model, so people can listen more fully to others. Plus, there is something to look at while listening. This ‘listening with their eyes’ helps people understand what is being said, and remember it more fully. Being encouraged to ask questions of the model if there’s something that they don’t understand also helps keep people engaged and involved in what the other person means.

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People need safe space to meet face to face to be able to function well as a team.

The good news is you don’t need to have LEGO® bricks in the office to be able to listen with your eyes. Look around your organization. Do people look tense? Are all the shoulders up around the ears? Do people take time at lunch to eat and talk? How late to people have to stay to keep up with their work load? Listen to your organization. Do people sound impatient? Tired? Frustrated?

Sometimes merely asking how things are going is enough to get to meaningful information. But if you have had a history of killing the messenger, or if you rarely emerge from your lair, you may have to dig deeper to get to real information. Start asking questions about what you see, and really listen to the answers.

A quick note about listening: Not knowing things might make you uncomfortable. I hate it when someone points out a place I think I know things but I don’t. It makes me feel inadequate and stupid. Here’s the thing – you’re not supposed to know everything. That’s why you have people. So please take a deep breath, or whatever else calms you down, and allow the discomfort to wash through you and away. In the end, what you learn will be worth all of the icky feelings.

Hearing Every Voice

I care a lot about getting every voice heard. Sometimes people get talked over because they are introverted. However, it often goes along with social status. Straight white men are the most likely to be uninterrupted. If you are a woman, or gay, or a person of color, your chances at being heard go down.

I will be speaking about Hearing Women’s Voices in a Man’s World next week at the EBWN meeting. If you’re local, I’d love to have you come out and hear me in person!

   “Hearing Women’s Voices in a Man’s World”

You are invited to join us for lunch and a great presentation by keynote speaker, play professional Talia Dashow on Wednesday, August 2nd.

Have you ever been in a meeting where only the most powerful or extroverted (or male) people speak up? Businesses lose money when people don’t feel able to speak up – there’s higher turnover and lower efficiency. Talia helps teams make meetings a safe place to speak up so all employees are engaged, happy, and productive.

In her presentation, you will learn:

  1. Techniques to even the playing field so that every voice is heard in a meeting.
  2. The importance of hearing every voice in the group.
  3. How to create safe spaces for new voices to emerge.

Talia DashowOne of Talia’s methods in her presentations is using LEGO® bricks which are more interactive, engaging and memorable for groups.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Talia has studied how people communicate for decades, starting with her own struggles to learn how to connect with people, and then observing how individuals and groups interact and work best together. She has received training in community mediation and in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY and has combined that practical knowledge with her creativity and playfulness to help people “play well” with others.

Don’t miss this great presentation, beautiful golf course views, fabulous lunch, fun networking, and opportunities to learn and grow. Gentlemen are welcome.

 https://ebwn.org/hearing-womens-voices-in-a-mans-world/

 

The meeting runs 11:30-1:30 in Alameda, California. Let’s play with LEGO® bricks and talk about how to get every voice heard!

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?

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!