An article in Forbes magazine asked 'What is the #1 problem every leader has and isn't aware of?' Author Mike Myatt poses that it is problem solving - plain and simple.
When most leaders are asked to self evaluate their problem solving skills, they judge themselves as great fixers. The question is, what do they measure themselves against? In Kraig Kramers CEO Toolkit, he lays out simple tools to help leaders measure their organization. 12 over 12 moving monthly averages and other tools help to measure progress, so that you spend more time looking for why something happened rather than what to do to fix the issue. As everyone says, you can't fix what you don't measure.
Ask yourself: What skills do you employ? They can be simple tools like Kramers, or they can be more esoteric tools. I have even taught recent workshops using Benjamin Franklin's Moral and Prudential Algebra. Anything that helps you to look at both sides, start to consider options and weigh potential actions against each other is all you need. And there are a wealth of resources for leaders if they choose to employ them. It really comes down to what works for the individual.
So begin to identify your toolkit for problem solving.
In a recent report from USC, researchers discovered how being funny changes your brain.
They showed a cartoon from the New Yorker, and asked participants to create one funny caption, and one un-funny caption. Meanwhile, they performed MRI scans on them to record their brain activity.
“What we found is that the more experienced someone is at doing comedy, the more activation we saw in the temporal lobe,” said USC doctoral student Ori Amir, who led the study with Irving Biederman, professor of psychology and computer science. The temporal lobe receives sensory information and is the region of the brain key to comprehending speech and visual cognition. It’s also where abstract information, semantic information and remote associations meaningfully converge.
In contrast, the amateur comedians and non-comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions like planning complex cognitive behavior and decision-making.
“The professional improv comedians let their free associations give them solutions,” Biederman said.
Many business leaders ask me what they can do to create more independent thinkers and problem solvers in their organizations. Now the answer is clear: Send them to an Improv Class! The more experience they get, the more they will rely on making new connections between items and creating innovative solutions.
For information about having an improv class for your organization, contact Andrew for details.
What do you like doing?
What are you great at?
What does the world need?
What are you paid to do?
And where do those things coincide?
For me, it's teaching. Teaching a subject that I am passionate about. Watching the small transformations on people's faces when they suddenly realize a truth about how they work. These things get me out of bed in the morning.
Teaching is also a vocation I fought against for years. Both of my parents were teachers. So I went to school for acting. I got a masters degree. I run a company. And, I teach. When I sit down and think about all the things I do, the one that brings me the most joy is teaching.
So ask yourself - where do those questions coincide for you? And how does that answer change your views on what you do?
According to a recent article in Psychological Science, most people consider themselves great drivers;
"... across all experiments participants believed that they were exceptional drivers—but only according to their own definitions of good driving.
Even when participants were provided with clear definitions for good driving behavior from the National Safety Council, they rated their own individualized definitions as better. The discrepancy between self-ratings and the ratings of others only disappeared when participants were explicitly told to use the expert guidelines as the basis for rating driving behavior."
Since there is no 'standard' for what could be considered being a good driver, most individuals have created their own measurement tool. They decided that the way they drive (fast and texting, or slow and cautious) are the correct ways to drive.
The same can be said of leadership. Since there is no single definition of being a 'good leader', individuals have created their own measurement. For many years, Microsoft believed that the 'stack ranking' was the best way to manage people, even though it caused people to work against each other rather than collaborate. Which leader decided that idea was the best?
We all suffer from a form of confirmation bias, and being aware of our biases can help to bring an objective view to our work. One of the things we discuss in my workshops is focusing on what is different, rather than what is the same. By focusing at the anomalies, we can start to see what is happening in that moment, rather than what we have assumed. Those assumptions can lead us down the wrong path into believing what we are doing is the right action for our team.
So ask yourself: What kind of leader are you? Can you objectively look at what you are doing and re-evaluate your actions? Do you routinely self-examine your practices to stay up to date and current with your ever-changing team?
By beginning to bring awareness to your own assumptions about your abilities, you can then start to make an active change to continually improve on what you are capable of.
Don’t just assume you are a good leader. Be one.
Many years ago I had the honor of working with the head of the Lithuanian National Theater , Jonas Jurasas. I was in graduate school, and he was a guest director of great renown that the school hired to direct a play. The show was a messy circus themed play that was a huge stretch for many of us, and a great challenge for us as actors and artists.
At one section, I had to descend down a ramp overhearing the onstage conversation. I would start walking and Jonas would say "faster!" so I would speed up. Then he would say "slower!" and I would slow down. Then he would say "No! Faster!" and I would speed up. Only to have him say "No! Slower!" I finally took the moment at a great to ask him, “When I make that entrance, do you want me to move fast, or slow?" His answer was emphatically “Yes!”
At first I thought it was a translation barrier. Did he understand what I was asking him? His english was quite good, but there had been a few translation errors in the process. So I asked him again, "What I am wondering is, should I move fast, or should I move slow?" His answer again - "YES!"
After a few other questions, he finally clarified what he wanted. He said "you are walking slowly, but you are moving so fast inside!”
At first, I took this as an example of how a crazy Lithuanian Director tells you to do something. I mean, how was this possible? I can move one way, or the other, not both! After a little more conversation with him, I realized what he wanted. He wanted the movement to be physically slow, and the thought process to be very fast, like holding a team of horses back from running. When I started trying that, he would yell out "YES! THAT IS WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR!"
Very often I find myself telling this story as a great example to being able to do two things that I thought were incongruent. In my mind, I couldn't do both - it was impossible. I was limiting what I thought I could do, and what I was needing to do to make the play work. I had been stuck in an 'either / or' style of linear thinking, and was unable to find a win-win solution. The possibility of doing both things simultaneously was alien to me, and so it could never be a solution.
So when you find yourself in an 'either / or' decision process, ask yourself the question: "Can I do both?" Maybe unlocking the linear thinking can be a key to a new innovative solution.
In my work running a company, I love looking at financial documents and balance sheets to discover the ratios between assets and liabilities and figure out an organizations solvency. If you have never seen a balance sheet before - take a look at this tutorial I filmed for the Washington Non-Profits association.
The key take-away is that a balance sheet is a snapshot in time, it is a report of the financial status of the organization at that specific moment.
The same is true with teaching case studies - they are snapshots of what was true at that moment in time. They represent the moment when that event happened, and it may never happen that way again. Many people use case studies as a tool to say 'what would YOU have done?' There is merit in that line of reasoning, however impossible it may be. Since you were not there, and you don't have the same attachment, emotional investment and engagement with the process, it is hard to say what you really would have done.
When I teach workshops I stress the importance of focussing on the differences in a situation, rather than what is similar. Focussing on what is similar can lead me to say 'this is the same as last week...' and place a solution in play that may or may not have relevance. Our brains are wired to search for patterns, so the default for our brains is to say the situations are the same, when in fact they are probably very different.
By focussing on what is different, you can make sure you are staying in this moment, and not reacting to the past. You can stay active to the people, processes and engagement at hand, rather than dismissing new information that can be the key to innovation.
So remember - when you see a situation that seems the same - ask yourself if this resembles a snapshot in time you had previously, and focus on what is different to stay active in the moment.
Solutions you used yesterday are often not the correct solutions for today.
About five weeks ago my wife and I rescued an eight-year old dog named Brodie.
He was transported up to Seattle from a high kill shelter in California, and had been in and out of shelters, foster care and trial stays with families for the last six months. When we met him, we knew we were in love. He has one crinkled ear, some extensive scarring on his head and other ear, is fairly deaf and as lovable as possible. Clearly he has had a tough life (or at least we imagine he has) and we are happy to provide him a forever home.
Since our other dog passed away over four years ago, we have been adjusting to having a dog again. Early morning wake up's for walks (6am?!?! Really?!?!?!) and changing schedules for feeding times have all been a welcome addition to our world.
I am reminded again of the lessons of leadership and shared responsibility from having a pet. When we walk in the morning (yes, at 6am, like clockwork) we practice walking next to each other, heeling when we need to, and not pulling my arm out of it's socket when a squirrel runs by. Sometimes he gets to choose the neighborhood route, which tends to put a little more pep in his step as he makes the decisions and I follow him. We travel the journey together, each day practicing the shared responsibility of the task at hand, even though we are both aware that I hold the end of the leash and am responsible for his care and well being. It is a give and take - and he provides for us the comfort and love that helps us to grow and be productive in our world, and we provide a home and care.
At work I have noticed more of my inclination to share the responsibility of the walk, rather than set out the route and demand we stay on it. As we feel which way will work for all of us, we then chart a direction knowing the goal and that we each can control and give input on how we get there. Even in those moments where we are having trouble lsitening (or deaf - like Brodie) we can still feel how the direction needs to change.
So be aware for yourself; What are the aspects of your journey where you can share the responsibility? How can you let others lead, so that they can have more pep in their step? What can you do to foster someone who needs fostering, and help them to share the responsibility of leadership?
And see how that changes your work for the better.
Just ask Brodie.
Click here to contact Andrew for more information on workshops and classes for Leadership Development,
When I was in graduate school, my teacher, Steve Pearson, used to say that each individual creates their own method of working. The idea is that there is no single way to learn; we each have to figure out what works for us, and then take that path. I never quite understood the power of this lesson until recently.
This week I have been facilitating a variety of workshops for various organizations: Valve Software, Amazon, Space Needle LLC, and a few others. On every workshop, when I introduce an exercise for the group, inevitably there are a few people who work to ‘solve’ the game. They look for how to accomplish the task, in order to move onto the next task. It is a linear, goal-oriented mindset that appears to value winning and accomplishment over knowledge and problem solving. What tends to confuse people is when I describe that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to do the exercise; the point of the exercise is to ‘do it’ and have an experience that draws correlations to our everyday habits. The exercise is about bringing awareness, not solving a problem.
As a teacher, I understand that my job is to give people the tools to find their own way, and teach them not to do what I did, but to create their own way of working. Telling someone the Five Best Methods for Productivity might be easily digestible (and highly profitable), however it doesn’t create true productivity. When people hear these lessons, they might change for a week or two, but they will revert to the practiced habits of the past. I have found that when people discover their own five methods of being productive - meaning the five that work for them based on their own experiences - then they actually do make lasting changes.
As an actor, and an artist, this is what we learn from our acting teachers. We constantly practice to see what works for us now, in the stage of life where we are now, knowing that what worked last week (or even last night!) might not be correct for today. Another wise acting teacher once said that each performance of a play must be 10-15% different each night, as each day always presents a bit differently. We strive to find what is relevant for this moment, so we can be present in our work, and not trying to “solve” the play.
So – the next time you find yourself placing the same solution on an issue to “solve” the problem, ask yourself:
By staying present and focusing on the lesson, rather than rushing to get the gold star of accomplishment, you can create real productivity – one that works for you.
Every year we perform an improvised Shakespearian show called "The Lost Folio". The idea behind "The Lost Folio" is that it is a play of William Shakespeare's that was lost in time. We recreate it live, with suggestions from the audience.
This year, I was reminded how fluid the English language has always been, and how many words, grammatical conventions, and idioms were in flux during Shakespeare's time. Due to the influence of new ideas and languages it was ever changing. When the complete works of Shakespeare were eventually published, many scholars believe that moment started to codify the English language, and set certain parts of it in stone.
In improv, one thing I have found is that codifying something, naming it and setting the rules, begins to make it stale. It now has edges - set perimeters - that keeps it reigned in and not fluid. For many new improvisers they get stuck on the rules and the question of "Am I doing this right?"
By codifying something, you stop the forward motion and arrest its development. When you stop a process by naming it, you no longer make it innovation.
When I speak with many business leaders, I ask them "What are hard and fast rules that you adhere to?" Sometimes looking at the assumptions and rules can help to find where we have blocked ourselves from innovation, and where we can open up to new ideas. Ask yourself "If this were all new, and the rules didn't apply, what would you be doing differently?"
So, as I perform in "The Lost Folio" this summer, I look forward to inventing some new words that are a mash-up of many languages, and having fun with a style of English that existed before we were stuck in the rules of grammar.
Contact Andrew to find out more about how to drive innovation in your organization.
There is one thing that separates good actors from struggling actors: How well do you listen?
In my work I get to interact with actors at all levels. A struggling actor knows their lines, and is pre-planning how they will react when they hear their scene partner say something. They are scripting (even if the play is improvised) how the story will come out, and how they will listen. There is a need to control what happens, and what the audience sees, rather than actually listening and being affected by what someone is giving you. In fact, you can actually see them trying to listen, as if listening is something to show people you are doing it. You can visually see them planning how they will respond, rather than listening and reacting.
The same is true for managers. I have worked with many managers who have a "listening face" which they use to "show" people they are listening. When asked to share what they just heard, their retention and understanding of what was said to them is appallingly low. And just like with actors, employees can see when you are not listening to them. They can see when you're merely waiting for their mouth to move so you can speak. They can see when you have disengaged because you have already solved the problem you think they have (even if you are not sure what the problem actually is, or if there even is one!) They can see when you are not present.
This skill is hard to learn, and there are a variety of methods to help you be aware of how you listen and how you can improve. After a few of my exercises, I have had participants say "This was the first time I really was able to hear what someone said..." Imagine if all your staff felt that way, like they have been heard and appreciated.
Honing this skill can affect your bottom line in multiple ways: increased engagement, improved customer satisfaction, innovative directions, happier and appreciative staff and family, etc. It's a simple skill that we often overlook in the wider scope of our work.
Find out how to increase your listening potential - email Andrew today.