Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Experiential Listening

Communication is an imprecise process – no matter how much effort and innovation we may put into choice of words, method of delivery, and focus on key points. Try as we will, the full transfer of knowledge from our mind to the listener happens only in the Vulcan Mind Meld. Typically a just a portion of what is said is actually received by the listener and a fraction of that is retained.

An analogy of how the mind processes new information that I like is of a mail sorting station full of pigeonholes for similarly addressed letters. When new information is received, the mind looks for bins of similar items to authenticate and store it. No bin of similar information but holds some interest – the mind retains it for a period of time as a data point; no interest: no processing. As additional data points are received, the mind may assign a bin for the topic. If not, the data points will be pushed aside for other active thoughts and ideas.

To illustrate - think back to the 1990's and the Y2K issue – when the issue was first mentioned there was little reaction or interest. Over time, with repeated mention and additional interpretation of the impact, it became a significant element of the coming of the millennium. To the mind it went from a data point to an issue.

As we listen, we are processing the information based on what we have been exposed to earlier – through reading, conversation, events, observation, and doing. When we actually do a task or project, we learn on several levels, including how skill and experience can influence an outcome. When I wanted to play tennis, I read a number of books about basics, strategy, and tips from the pros – but truly learned about the game once I stepped on the court to play.

When we listen through the amplification of our own experience, we deepen our understanding of the topic and benefit from the experience of the speaker as conveyed by their story.

Building a website, writing an article, making a table, or trimming a shrub provides valuable 'doer' experience to add to the current body of knowledge. Doing will broaden your perspective on a topic and will make you a more effective listener and learner.

While you may speak from experience, the listener who hears through their experience gets a richer benefit from the information.

Doesn't it make sense to seek projects and activities that expose us to new experiences – to keep current and to learn new things? Learning by doing is a requirement for the New Normal.

How has experiential listening helped you master a topic?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Surface Thinking

Not enough time is spent to develop critical thinking today. We are faced with a tsunami of data each day from 500 channel 24x7 cable and the virtual infinity of the internet. How to sift through or filter all this input remains a constant challengetrying to make sense from it all.

When there is a speech on television, first you get word-by-word coverage, then a commentator says what the speaker just said. People often will simply recite the commentator's points, rather than thoughts of their own. This is Surface Thinking – Listen (the speech); Hear (commentator’s remarks); Repeat (tell others); Adopt (what they have been repeating).

Surface Thinking is not just about current events – academics can slip into it as well. Years ago I taught a course about employee training and development at the University of Maryland. The textbook gave statistics about companies investing in training and the authors stated that larger organizations invest more in training than smaller ones. Sounds logical – except the stats showed companies with: 100 – 500 employees averaged $467 per employee; 500 – 1,000 employees averaged $317; and 10,000+ employees averaged $446.

When I asked my classes if they agreed with the authors, only a few disagreed – unfortunately most just accepted what the authors said, regardless of what the data showed.

There's a huge difference between surface and critical thinking – here's an illustration (from pre-word processor days): A lawyer types 120 wpm and the Administrative Assistant types 60 wpm – who should type the brief?

Surface Thinkers look at the 60wpm vs. 120wpm and choose the lawyer since speed is twice as fast and therefore more efficient; Critical Thinkers choose the Assistant because only the lawyer can write the brief.

From a leader's perspective, what is the effect of Surface Thinking?

Surface Thinking is fleeting – new idea, new mantra. Communication about the mission, vision, and goals must be frequent and from many sources in the organization;

Listen more carefully to the Critical Thinkers for input and ideas – tap into new thoughts and insight for contributions to the results;

Broaden the development of Critical Thinking skills – use stories, internal case studies, and recognition as developmental tools

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Your Business Personality – How to Convey It Easily, Simply, and Free

Early November Google released a new tool in their arsenal: – Plus pages just for business.

Why do we care? Because it's a place, a means, and a mechanism to develop and share our business personality – an electronic business persona that's a media substitute for a face-to-face pre-sales conversation establishing your credibility and why the prospect should listen to you.

What you put on your page is up to you, but what you can do with it is pretty sophisticated.

  • It is searchable (full text and the evolving Google + preference) from anywhere on the web
  • Flexible formatting, including embedded links, graphics, pictures, client testimonials and recommendations
  • Pictures and Video collections – like product highlights, and page access directly to YouTube
  • Link to additional pages, website, blog, catalog...the world
  • Blogs and articles from you, other thought leaders, and your community highlighted (list automatically updated)
  • Small group video conference ability
  • Simple, easy set-up and updating – can do it yourself
  • Cost – free to the individual.
Anything more? Yes - Your Business Personality page can track who's viewing your pages and give you statistics using Google Analytics, so you can tinker and make the pages better. You can even see a graphic of where your posts are being resent – videos and topics go viral on the internet all the time – now you can see how your material is being distributed by others in Ripples.

With a company website, personal blog, my profile, and other on-line material, will I benefit from Google + Business pages - take a look and decide... Click here to see the Muppets Google + Business page

What's it take to set up a Business Personality page? If you have a personal Google Plus site, it is minutes to stand up a Business Personality page – I had one up in under 10 minutes and a robust page after about 90 minutes.

Face-to-face meetings are the most effective in growing a relationship, but can be impossible in an virtual world – Google + Business pages offer you a virtual alternative. Ready to go? Start at:

How can this help you get more business?

SalesLabs next Rainmaker, (Number 9!) is Your Business Personality – How to Convey It Easily, Simply, and Free! - the first 300 seconds of the Capital Technology Management Hub, at 6 pm, Tuesday, December 13th.

Friday, November 11, 2011

And The Winner Is...You!

We participated this week with seven other entrepreneurs in the 2011 CapitalManagement Technology Hub and George Mason's School of Management Technology Startup Challenge to introduce our cloud-based community and supporting tools: MyLeadershipPractice. What a top notch event and great learning experience! Plenty of innovative solutions to specific needs were presented.

2011 Capital Startup Challenge

The competition was an experiential lab for evaluating a new service or product. Here's what came from competing:
  • Makes us think about how to use the service in much greater detail
  • Preparing the presentation begins a dialog about the service:
    • defining features and benefits
    • sharpening descriptions of key elements and what's unique or superior
    • translating thoughts, ideas, concepts, and concepts into words
    • choosing statements which are the most precise and compelling in delivering the message
  • Questions from the judges show:
    • areas they feel are most important:
    • ones that need additional clarification
    • specifics comments about elements that may need further development (new thoughts or just a different priority?)
  • Feedback from the audience indicates the reception of the presentation or topic:
    • non-verbal – are they listening or tuning out
    • verbal – if interactive, did they respond; did they raise questions during or after the presentation
  • You can observe other entrepreneurs:
    • what they identified as a need and how they developed a solution
    • how they communicate about their service or product, deliver presentations, and persuade the judges
  • Pre- and post-competition publicity gives your new service visibility
  • You now have a significant group of people who know about your new service and by competing, they know you are legitimate, not just a dreamer.

In addition to gleaning this priceless information, you have now practiced selling the service in front of 100 people. How easy will it be to present 1-on-1 or to a smaller group now?

With this rich input to work with, you can quickly refine the service, better highlight the benefits of the service, and refine the message you present to the customer – as needed.

I found that presenting at this entrepreneur competition got the juices flowing and raised the level of passion for creating a successful service, valued by the customer.

Why wouldn't someone just jump at an opportunity to compete in an event like this? Only upside gain.

Have you been in a service or product competition? How did it helps your project?

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Project Management by Henry Ford

Imagine the situation as Henry Ford was planning production of the Model T : over 5,000 parts; multiple manufacturing vendors; skilled to semi-skilled production processes; and growing demand.

He addressed part of the production process by determining an optimal assembly sequence and moving the vehicle along to workstations which have the required parts, tools, and trained workers to do the next step in the process.

Contrast Ford's approach to the projects today: many parts or inputs; multiple vendors or suppliers; wide range of skills needed to deliver results – all still apply; and - a twist that Ford did not have to consider – multiple collaborating organizations, locations, time zones, and perhaps languages. The assembly line won't work here. As technology, communications, software, and economic conditions changed, managing projects has evolved in complexity and offered tools.

What has remained virtually unchanged is the need for rapid updates about significant elements of the project – about progress on the schedule, needed or excess resources, identified conflicts or barriers, and project against budget analysis. The changing reality is there are less resources available to process this information and less time available for operations resources to report it.

In this New Normal tools are being developed and refined to respond to the changes: meetings are being replaced by asynchronous communications; reports are changing to email, text message updates and video documentation; needed information is being targeted only to those who need it or want it instead of blanketing everyone (did you hear the one about a new president of the board who decreed all emails will be sent to all board members; killed all communication).

Are we getting better than Henry Ford?

What do you see?

Are you taking full advantage of your blog? Come to BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Thursday, November 3, 2011

There's Talk, and There's Communication

Peter Drucker said '60% of all management problems are the result of poor communication.'

Why is this true?

Communications break down when losing focus on three areas:
  • clarity of what's expected
  • accuracy of what's completed, and
  • timeliness of what's needed.

Clarity of What's Expected – Projects which do not have clear goals, vision, and mission set out in specific and measurable terms cause confusion and fall short of desired results. Keeping the goals in front of team members helps to focus on outcomes.

Accuracy of What's Completed – Detailed, appropriate input from team members about what is completed and the status of in-progress activities is necessary to manage project completion – appropriate data verses extensive data is the key here.

Timeliness of What's Needed – Timely reporting of appropriate data permits effective allocation of resources and contingency planning, when necessary, to make use of idle resources or target resources to correct delays..

How would you approach improving these three related areas?

Weekly status meetings for the team was popular when everyone was in the same facility. As the team expanded beyond the immediate area video, audio, and computer-aided technology added, but did not appreciably change the result. A weekly one-hour meeting of eight people 'invests' one person day (8 hours) per week during which 88% of the time is waiting to present your information. Getting the data without the meeting seems may be an alternative.

Weekly reports don't require simultaneous attendance, but do need preparation and production time to compile the information in the prescribed format and distribute it to the project leader. Week old information, no matter how quickly distributed is still old information when received.

As project teams evolved to teams from several organizations, locations around the world, and perhaps different languages, communications have become more complex and critical to successfully completing a project. Project software is intended to communicate data to the project leaders and staff in an organization. Does this solve the needs?

An example - for a membership project, I received a report from a software system which was a ½ inch thick sheaf of paper with tasks, priorities, and benchmarks – and a person with a full time role of keeping it up to date and complete. Although detailed, it did little for clarity, accuracy, and timeliness needed to improve project success.

How do we get the needed information, to the right people, in real time, wherever they are located, in a simple, straightforward fashion, and also have a means of sharing with others what the team members have learned working toward the results?

What's needed in your organization to simplifying prompt, accurate complete communications to make projects get more successful results?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learn By Doing

When talking about leadership, Dick Davies said “leadership can not be taught – it can only be learned.” It caught me by surprise at the time, but has stayed with me as a fundamental in developing leaders. Learn by doing.

In my youth, I wanted to learn to play tennis and read several books about the basics, strategy, and techniques offered by the luminaries of the sport. When I got to the court I found that my tennis education was just beginning – you can not learn tennis from a must 'DO' tennis on the court to learn to play.

This applies to leadership as well – books and stories help us understand aspects of leadership in a non-dynamic way. This is useful data – but is not usable information if we are not in a situation to apply it...let's call that the real world.

Leadership is learned by doing. The first step is to start with your own personal skills. Presidents Washington and Lincoln did not have a Dummies Guide to learn to be leaders – they taught themselves by developing their personal activities to
support accomplishment and results.

First lesson is – make commitments and keep them. This means you must remember what you have committed to and plan for the delivery as promised. “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”

Good beginning. How to you approach this task? Write on 3x5 cards each day what is UP – Pending – In Process. Or use your computer, smartphone, or sticky notes to record this information. Are you consistent in writing things down and have a system to assure delivering as promised?

Hopefully it's obvious that you would use your system for your professional commitments – but do you also include your social, family, community, and other commitments on the daily 3x5 system? Keeping commitments for a leader is not just for the day-time job.

When I learn something I like to tell someone what I've learned. Why? By articulating what I've discovered and the resulting benefits, I find it deepen the lesson – something about putting it into words and declaring it to another that makes it real and memorable. In addition, hearing it as a story is useful to the other person – they are exposed to the new-found information as well as the process used to obtain it. Sharing this experience is a gift.

Story goes, there were two woodsmen in the forest chopping down trees – a big strapping new woodsman and an older, seasoned woodsman. They started cutting first light and the young guy was chopping away with great vigor hour after hour, while the older guy would stop every half hour for a few minutes. As the day wore on the older woodsman's pile was getting higher than the young woodsman's – which drove the younger guy to chop faster and swing harder.

At the end of the day, the older woodsman had a huge pile of wood - the younger guy had a significantly smaller pile and was exhausted. Out of breath he said to the older guy – I've been working constantly all day, while you were always taking breaks, but in the end you chopped more wood than I did – HOW? The older woodsman said I sharpen my ax every so often – it cuts better that way.

Learn by doing. Communicate what you've learned to others on the team to help them know more and improve.

Sound like leading?

Do you have a story to share to help us learn more?

More about learning and leading and a tool for doing, communicating, learning:
The Capital Technology Management Hub StartupChallenge is Tuesday, November 8, 6pm at GMU. At this event, audience rules! We need audience, startups, interested parties. Come investigate Sales Lab’s new business! See the future up close and personal.