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Are You Fashionable in Your Business Thoughts?

If you’ve been following the tweets for this week’s #kaizenblog topic, you are probably wondering what the bleep does Fashion Week have to do with business thinking? More than you cFashion and Business Thoughtan imagine! Have you noticed how there is an idea or a philosophy that everyone must have. Do you remember when everyone was searching for excellence? Or when W. Edward Deming theorized how quality made a difference in cost reduction and continual improvement was our goal? Peter Drucker’s Knowledge Worker, Robert Greenleaf’s concept of servant leadership and Seth Godin’s encouragement to build a Tribe are embedded in lots of discussion about leadership.

Then there are certain segments of the business community that become fashionable and we are urged to be like them. For a while, everyone was to be an entrepreneur. Even our children are to be trained in entrepreneurship. Jack Welch has made quite an impact with his explanation about how he led GE so that many corporations have tried to emulate the model. My friend, Kelley pointed me to this post, SMB Is the New Black as small business is the “It Girl” with attention from Congress, service providers, manufacturers, and people pursuing a long-held dream of owning a business.

And then the books…Jim Collins, Michael Gerber, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Regis McKenna, Daniel Goleman, Robert Townsend, Max Weber, Daniel Pink,  Konsuke Matsushita and so many other amazing minds have introduced discussions about business that make us rethink what we thought was true. Dare I say they encouraged us to think out of the box? We all have particular favorites that are must-refers for us.  Some authors are must-reads no matter what they write. Malcolm Gladwell comes to mind as one of those authors that people feel they ought to read.

There are fads and fashions in business too. It feels like one minute, everyone must develop emotional intelligence. In the next minute, one must write a book to be considered an expert or manage information strategically. The thing is, ideas need time to build that classic status like a LBD (the must-have in all women’s closets; the little black dress). Is all the discussion about innovation going to leave us with nuggets that we end up using every day? Social media has changed how we interact with our customers. We can actually have conversations with customers that are individualized leading to a different sort of seller/buyer relationship.  Whether there are terms (thought leader, change agent) or behaviors (Agile scrum, blogging) that we are so out of style if we aren’t using them somehow. There is always someone telling us what the must-haves are in business but not all of these must-haves have staying power.

What business thinkers do you believe are a must-have?

What do you consider a fad in business currently?

What is the height of fashion in business thought right now?

Join Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge) and me for an active discussion about “Business Thought Fashions-Latest Fads and Trends” on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog, on Friday, September 17, 2010 at 12pm ET. Hope to see you in the Tweetstream!


Is Doubt Really Okay?

Doubt has been on my mind lately. Interestingly enough, Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge, founder and co-host of #kaizenblog) emailed me with the idea of discussing doubt as a tool for building a thriving business.  Since we both find Dan Pink interesting, she sent me a link to this article, Can We Fix It Is the Right Question To AskDoubt is useful for business. Aside from loving the theme of Bob the Builder (there are young people in my life), it was interesting to see someone suggesting that doubt is useful and not to be avoided. Hmm…

Dan Pink writes, “Instead of puffing up himself and his team, [Bob the Builder] firsts wonders whether they can actually meet their goal. In asking his signature question -Can we fix it- he introduces some doubt.” This leads to a conversation of possible options and then a decision is made. The key piece here is the conversation, whether or not it is a “self-conversation”, that is started by doubt.

To me, this is most intriguing! An internal conversation, a “self-conversation” could allow doubt to be used productively. Why do we avoid doubt? I worry that positive thinking, The Secret, the Law of Attraction may be creating an unfortunate taboo. If we keep focusing on how we’re so special, so wonderful, so magnificent, how do we deepen who we are as people?

There is power in recognizing when we are onto something really big in our work. I see this all the time with my small business clients as they step into new roles that combine the roles of visionary and manager. They wonder deeply if they have the talent, the “right” vision, the best way to communicate with their direct reports. At the same time, they don’t doubt that they will do it. They use coaching to go through the process of asking themselves the questions that clarify their thoughts, emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. There is a humility here knowing that you don’t have all the answers and that asking “can we fix it” creates the opening to see the best way forward.

 Are we truly alive if we avoid negative emotions?

Is doubt that negative?

What if it is really doubt, in addition to belief, that makes executing our strategies possible?



Using Rational Optimism For Competitive Advantage-#kaizenblog recap

Truth be told, Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge) and I were looking for a way to describe optimism that was tempered by linear logic. A couple of weeks ago there were several reports from around the globe about how optimistic business owners and leaders were feeling about the economic recovery and I got to thinking about how we use optimism for a competitive advantage in our businesses.

As we began to notify our #kaizenblog followers on Twitter about our topic, it came up that Matt Ridley had written a book titled, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. His thesis wasn’t really what we meant but it wasn’t completely off the mark either. Our questions had more to do with disciplined optimism Rational Optimism and your businesswhich combines optimism with some kind linear or logical component.

Semantics aside, can you have rational or disciplined optimism?

When you have semantic issues, you have to start with definitions.

  • Bill Lublin (@billlublin)-“BTW, I’m for cautious optimism-rational is a little subjective for me when discussing optimism”
  • John Reddish (@GetResults)-“I think “rational” (as defined in lit) represents a positive cognitive choice, not totally free flowing.”
  • Joe Sanchez (@sanchezjb)- “Rational optimism-one view: The future can be better but only if influenced. It won’t happen by itself.”

As a group, we decided to work with rational optimism and even incorporate parts of Matt Ridley’s description.

How is optimism the same as or different from hope?

To deepen the definition, we compared hope and optimism. This seemed to bring out a lot of reactions.

  • Joe Sanchez- “Hope is not a method.”
  • Rayna (@RaynaNyc)- “View hope as emotion & optimism relating more to thinking/reason–keep cool & access objectively reason to be optimist.”
  • Sian Phillips (@whatswhat_sian)- “Personally I think Optimism sounds more confident than to hope for something.”

Most of the comments seemed to center on how hope is really more of an emotion while optimism is more of an attitude. Optimism seems to lead somewhere or to something.

When does it make sense to temper optimism?

This question seemed to lead to more discussion about judgment and action. There seemed to be a reluctance around adding judgment to optimism. Perhaps this is due to the prevalent belief that judgment is always a negative. On the other hand, it might be pessimism, realism, or cynicism that interrupts optimism.

  • Stephen Denny (@Note_To_CMO)- “Judgment. The J word. We temper our optimism with command of facts, experience, openmindedness.”
  • Caroline Di Diego (@CASUDI)- “~ Appropriate judgment ~ to make optimistic end results a reality.”
  • Tom Asacker (@tomasacker)- “Action creates optimism, not the other way around.”
  • Mary H. Ruth (@maryhruth)- “I think business at the hard core also has no use for hope. It is science. Optimism is de riguer.”
  • Joe Sanchez- “Rational optimism means knowing how 2 influence (via rational actions) what needs 2b influenced 2 achieve goals.”
  • William R. Younce (@WilliamRYounce)- “Rational optimism=Positive thinking which always puts you ahead of the pack. Makes you more aggressive, better risk takers.”
  • Sian Phillips- “Rational optimism better than overly optimistic in business. Results need to be quantified so don’t imagine out of scale.”

How much of a competitive edge does rational optimism provide for business?

This question drew fewer responses as the chat ended but here are some food for thought:

  • Stephen Denny- “Competitive adv angle is important focus. If optimism is based on forethought + planning, then it’s rational (and a C/E).
  • John Reddish- “Rat Opt gives shape, input, to Comp Adv – in helping to identify logical customers, price advantage calcs & cost savings”
  • Amber Cleveland (@ambercleveland)- “Rational optimism creates large competitive adv. for biz it’s contagious & can create generate support that can lead to success.”

Perhaps the hour was too short to really identify if what place rational or even disciplined optimism has in our businesses. On the face of it, it seems so. It is probable that we have an attitude that things will work out for the best and we can help this along by anticipating and planning for different outcomes. Optimism is a key trait of entrepreneurs.

What do you think about rational optimism?

How do you rate the competitive edge you get from rational optimism?




Critical Thinking=Opportunity For Renewal?

Business woman critically thinking about her performanceDo you think? I mean, really, deeply, critically think about your small business? In the last two weeks, I’ve come across references to how important critical thinking is to business success. From Lizzie Pauker (@lizziepauker) and her post about how everyone’s job benefits from critical thinking to Chris Brogan’s @chrisbrogan) explanation of how he thinks through specific projects and his whole business to even the #kaizenblog chat about critical thinking as the underpinning for a successful business.

What if using critical thinking is really an opportunity for renewal?

Asking questions comes from curiosity. Your curiosity leads to wanting to make something clearer and/or more workable but what if there is more? Maybe the SWOT analysis is more than an examination of how well the business is working. We are given opportunities every quarter to not only examine the performance of our small businesses but to also examine ourselves.

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet, they pass by themselves without wondering. —St. Augustine

How are you performing?

Examining your own performance can be daunting as we often fear that we will come up short in some way.

  • Are there failed dreams that you need to let go of?
  • Are you on the cusp of making your imagination as real as Willie Wonka’s factory delights?

 So many stories lie in the questions evaluating your performance. The beauty lies in using critical thinking to see what, why, and how you are leading and managing your business. Do you think?

How do you renew your relationship with your small business?

What questions do you ask that improve your performance?



Kaizenblog Recap~Critical Thinking-Underpinning of Effective Business Strategy

Critical ThinkingQuestions, information, concepts, implications, assumptions, interpretations, conclusions…all parts of everyday thinking. In business, our thinking style can make a big difference in how our businesses perform. Our beliefs and actions stem from how we think so it makes sense to stop and take a look at our thinking.

Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge), co-host and founder of the #kaizenblog chat, and I were chatting via email about various topics when we got curious about how do people really think about their businesses and areas of expertise. How many are willing to do the hard work of thinking? How far are they willing to go to build thoughtful and effective business strategies? It’s too easy to fault the accelerated pace of business and say it prevents you from taking the time to think. If you don’t take the time to ask the questions, what will happen to your business?

Just a quick note-since there are only 140 characters per tweet in Twitter, you will see abbreviations, text speak, and mispellings in many of the quotes. It can be challenging to express a complicated thought w/ proper grammar and spelling with Twitter’s restrictions as well as keep up with a fast-moving discussion.

How do you describe a critical thinker?

To start this week’s #kaizenblog chat on Twitter, it made sense to start with knowing what a critical thinker might look, sound, or be like. (You can find the full transcript here-Transcript for #kaizenblog-Critical Thinking) Often with the word, critical, in front on thinking, we can caught up in the nuance that critical means negative or complaining. In this case, critical is more like discerning or containing careful evaluation and judgement.

Joe Sanchez (@sanchezjb) seemed to anticipate this question with his response, “Always b continuously 1) learning about ur mkt, 2)question ur biz strategy, & 3) validating ur strategy assumptions.”

Caroline Di Diego (@CASUDI) noted, “Sometimes you can learn an enormous amount being a fly on the wall.”

 Tom Asacker (@tomasacker) responded, “Someone who is always trying to determine the meaning or significance of what she observes or experiences.”

Stephen Denny (@Note_To_CMO) explained, “Critical thinking is avoiding the knee jerk preconception. Asking questions before hurling conclusions.”

Leigh Duncan-Durst (@livepath) fleshed the definition out with this tweet, “Critical thinking is internally and externally facing. Essential: confidence, humility, & honesty with applied rational thought.”

For some participants, they wanted to get really clear on what critical thinking actually looked like:

  • Lizzie Pauker (@lizziepauker)- “-the question is what assumption is being made? is there evidence to support? is it relevant?”
  • Mr. Sanchez- “Critical thinking also means applying context to context. Is there alignment? If not, why? What does this mean?”
  • Heidi Cool- “When thinking critically, we have to be ready to challenge our own assumptions and maybe change our minds.”

Amidst these interesting points, a few people noted that there may be some obstacles to critical thinking such as its very nature is challening and not being able to communicate in an inviting way to examine an alternative point. Laura L. Crum (@LauraLCrum) wondered if our prejudices actually interfere with our ability to be fair.

What value is placed on ability to synthesize/analyze in business strategy?

As usual there were a couple of side conversations but one seem to center on speed and ability to analyze data. On one hand, there is a high value placed on the ability to analyze but the perception that “everything is urgent” may preclude from really using the information productively. There was also the theme that the ability to analyze and synthesize in service of business strategy had to include all levels of the organization.

  • Ms. Crum tweeted that the ability to synthesize and analyze “only seems appreciated at the higher levels, while it should be encouraged all the way down.” This was seconded by Joe Sanchez and Nathan Blair (@nathanburrblair)
  • Ms. Di Diego responded “A lot of value is placed ~ however the speed factor of analysis etc…maybe has more value today.”
  • Mr. Asacker picked up the theme of speed but added a twist, “Speed critical today. Spend less time analyzing, and more time modeling (trying to reproduce results)
  • Nick (@marketwire) suggested, “Get people involved from diff parts of the org to gather insights and to build teamwork. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.”
  • Mr. Denny tweeted, “Many speed culture CEO’s I’ve interviewed say collect all evidence from everyone, heated debate, rapid alignment (CEO job), go.”

There were so many tweets looking at cross training and figuring out how to combine analysis and action to reproduce results that we moved onto the last question of the chat.

When do you take the time to examine problems and raise important questions in business?

This where we had some great points that ran the gamut of actual tools to how organizations engage with critical thinking. Lizzie Pauker captured how globally critical thinking can fit into the whole organization with “Critical Thinking needs to be embraced by an org in order to become part of corp culture. Illustrate value of CT & it’ll happen.”

It seems the “how” and “when” have a variety of ways that businesses apply critical thinking:

  • MaryAnn Halford (@MaryAnnHalford)- “Good companies focus on having periodic offsites to examine problems & raise questions.”
  • Mr. Denny- “honestly, this should be a realtime exercise. Sometimes uncomfortable and inconvenient, but needed.”
  • Ms. Cool- “examining problems and asking Q’s should be ongoing, but perhaps more critical and points of change.”
  • Media Collective (@MediaCollective)- “Asking a questions should not be knee jerk, remove emotions from problem Biz need 1. open door policy 2. scheduled think tanks.”
  • Lois Martin (@LoisMarketing)- “As independent advisors we have opportunity to ID problems and pose the hard questions. Must carefully consider how we ask.”

The time we had for this chat was too short despite being an hour long. I encourage you to take a look at the transcript as there is great stuff that I didn’t have room to include. I also urge you to follow any of the contributors involved with #kaizenblog as they are all fascinating and willing to connect.

How do you use critical thinking in your organization?

What positives and negatives do you find in using critical thinking when planning your business strategy?




The Power of Language

In the article, When Language Can Hold the Answer (The New York Times, April 22, 2008), Christine Kenneally writes about research done on language and perception. In a recent study at Cornell, Dr. Gary Lupyan added onto an experiment done with students at Carnegie Mellon in which he added words to describe pictures of “aliens” as friendly or unfriendly.  Dr. Lupyan discovered that all of the participants learned which label identified the “aliens.”  Most interestingly, the participants who used labels learned more quickly than participants who did not use labels.  Christine Kenneally sums up the debate with this question:  “Does language shape what we perceive, a position associated with Benjamin Lee Whorf, or are our perceptions pure sensory impressions, immune to the arbitrary ways language carves up the world?” Research has demonstrated that language and thought do have a relationship.  Language can enhance thought as an add-on feature to more primitive mental behaviors.  This is a good and bad relationship as language can enhance or interfere with our thinking.  Dr. Lupyan notes that language enables us to learn and understand completely new material and facilitate abstract thinking but it can also get in the way of how we remember specific objects.  Basically, how we put words and objects together in categories can be an aid or a hindrance. In research done by Dr. Dedre Gentner of Northwestern, she discovered that language gives us a structure to organize our thoughts. Steven Pinker of Harvard posits that, while a connection between language and thought exists, it does not force a particular line of thinking, refuting the theory set forth by Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir. The debate may not have an answer yet but it is intriguing material as we consider how we use language in our businesses.  In business, we get advice about what to do in our elevator pitches, first impressions, and presenting a certain professional image. What do you do with this information? What words do you choose in your public messages? What words do you use privately with yourself? One client told me a story about how she was talking with a colleague about launching her business.  He jokingly told her to get some kind of counseling and reflected back to her that she frequently framed going out on her own as a negative. Give the same message consistently, it becomes believable. You can create a new reality for yourself, positive or negative. Self-fulfilling prophecies work both ways.  How do you want to be perceived?

Knowing the Competencies Leads to Right Candidate

As I was reading the Sales column by Greta Schultz titled Recruiting the Right People (Boston Business Journal, November 2-8, 2007), I was reminded of how many of my clients struggle with describing an open position to interviewees.  Ms. Schultz’s advice is to start with the identifying the ideal candidate. 

However, there is one step before you identify the ideal candidate.  What exactly is the job?  

This baffles many companies and I have had more than a few people give me that look that says I am nice but completely nuts. 

Well, consider this.  Here is a common scenario-imagine you are in the interview and you find an impressive candidate.  You hire the person and then two weeks later, discover that the position you thought the person was perfect for does not really exist and now you have to tell the person there are major changes.  Perhaps you have to explain there is more travel, not enough work, or that the business requires an overhaul to the position.  Typically, it costs quite a bit to hire someone and disgruntled employees cost even more in lost productivity.  

Before you get yourself in that pickle, take the time to get the necessary information jobabout the job.  Map out the baseline competencies that the job requires.  Do some investigation.  Ask managers and other employees what they consider important about the job.  What kinds of interpersonal skills are required?  How much autonomy is expected?  What specific areas of knowledge must the right candidate possess? 

This is an important step because no one works in a vacuum and your company’s departments are really interconnected.  The next step requires you to consider the culture of your business.  Identify the personality qualities that would promote success in your ideal candidate.  Notice if your business is fast or slow paced.  Do your employees like to play or keep focused on work?  Is the culture one of a big family, collegial, or some other description?  Even how offices are situated, the color scheme, and how the furniture is arranged gives you clues about the corporate culture.  These less obvious qualities actually support morale and productivity.  After you know the responsibilities of the job and your corporate culture, you will be able to describe the sort of person who would be a successful employee.   

Knowing the specific competencies of the position will lead you to the right candidate. 


Thinking Time

One of the most important activities a small business owner or executive can do is make time to think.  Whether you subscribe to the ideas of Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, Jim Collins, or many of the other business management thinkers, they share a common value regarding thinking.  I suppose a better word would be contemplating.  

Many of the small business people with whom I speak tell me they do not have time to contemplate what they really want to happen.  There is payroll to make, customer service, finances, information management, and a host of other nuts and bolts tasks.  While this is true, there is this question. 

What if refusing to take the time to contemplate the state of your business and your role in it was actually an act of self-sabotage?  Ugh!  All that time, energy, money, and dreams wasted and your business may stagnate or fail.  Oddly enough, most of us discount the time we have available for thinking.  For me, my thinking time shifted when my son was born.  This took some adjustments but it also acknowledged reality.  While some of my time was clearly overshadowed by the fog of sleep deprivation, there were the other times when I could let my mind wander and generate new strategies, new language, or simply review the current state of my business.  What are some of these good times? Here are some suggestions…

  • While taking a shower, bath, or shaving.  These 5+ minutes could be great times to rehearse an elevator speech or a presentation.  Use the time to set up your to-do list of what you really want to accomplish during the day.
  • While commuting.  You could torment yourself by thinking about the abysmal traffic conditions, the slow train, or the awful weather.  A better use of your time (and reduce your stess level; always a plus) is to let your imagination run wild and consider what would make your business more interesting or even, thrilling to you. 
  • The first 15-20 minutes.  Most of us do not jump into our work right away when we first get to work.  The advantage to using only 15-20 minutes is that you write quickly and avoid telling yourself that your ideas are harebrained.  (You can edit them later.)  Begin with the question, “What do I want?”  Take the time each day to write, draw, or type your goals, your dreams, and your brilliant ideas (i.e. the ones from the shower) in a designated file or notebook.  In the last 5 minutes, review the previous entries and delete or cross out the ones you find boring, ridiculous, or ill-fitting. 
  • Monday morning or Friday morming.  Or Tuesday, Wednesday…any time once a week you set aside 15-20 minutes.  This is a variation on the previous suggestion.  Granted there are times when we do have to jump into our work and do not stop until the end of the day (or night).  That does not mean that you give up contemplating how to make you and your business more effective, interesting, and/or financially sound.  Using the same method already suggested, write down anything and everything for the first 10-15 minutes and in the last 5 minutes, review all of your ideas and edit them. 
  • Whenever.  Creativity can sneak up on us during conversations, using the toilet, or during leisure time.  Use it to your advantage.  Sometimes just letting things percolate in the backs of our minds allows us to get them just right.  Keep your Blackberry, personal organizer, or a small notebook on hand to just jot the idea quickly and review it when you have more time.  One person has told me how she has been known to grab a paper napkin to write down her ideas. 

Taking the time to think about your business is important.  It is just as important as attending to your finances, returning phone calls, or information management.  It is an opportunity to be honest with yourself and make sure you are on track with your business vision.  It can clarify how you want to use your accountant, your coach, or your employees to make your business more