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Leadership: The Practice Of Granting an A

What way of showing up and travelling (being) lies at the heart of human-centred leadership?

This is the question that I have been pondering over the last month. It occurs to me that it comes down to one’s embodied stance towards one’s fellow human beings and in particular the human being one seeks to lead or is leading.

As a leader what is your stance towards your people? How do you relate to and treat your people? Do you see your people as defective – lacking something is some or other domain? Or do you see your people as whole, complete, and perfect? Do you treat some of your people as A’s, others B’s, many as C’s and some as D’s? Or do you grant each and every person in your organisation as an A and treat him/her accordingly?

What is it that I am getting at here? I invite you to listen to and reflecting on the following (bolding mine):

“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept …… it would be pointless to compare one … to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of …. developing skills, mastery and self-expression.

We call this practice giving an A. It is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them ….

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life …. When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect ….. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art Of Possibility

Allow me to make this real for you. In a recent Customer project, the folks in head office were doing all the decision making and not involving anyone from the branches where customer interactions took place. As I probed and listened I found that the head office folks listened to the people in the branches as being unskilled, lazy, selfish, resistant to change. That is to say that they had granted these folks C’s and Ds. And treated them accordingly – excluded them.

I had never met any of the folks in the branches. Yet, I granted them A’s just as I granted the head office folks A’s. After several weeks of encouragement, the head office folks invited several people from the branches into the discussion – to review the prototype that had been built and provide feedback. What was the outcome?

The folks from the branches were delighted to be asked for their point of view. The came to head office, they worked with the prototype, they provided useful insights into the way that work occurred in the branches and suggested a number a tweaks that would make the prototype useful and thus increase adoption. In the process respect and relationship were cultivated between all and a bigger team was created. The leader of the head office team became enthusiastic about my suggestion: involving the folks at the customer coalface early and deep in the analysis and design of any and all changes to the ‘way we do things around here’.

Listen To These Words of Wisdom: Transformative Wisdom

I wish to end this conversation by leaving you with the following words of wisdom (bolding mine):

The freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork and relationship. It is for wholeness and functionality, in the awareness that for each of us, excess stone may still hide the graceful form within…

The practice of giving an A both invents and recognises a universal desire in people to contribute to others , no matter how many barriers there are to its expression. We can choose to validate the apathy of a boss, a player, or a high school student and become resigned ourselves, or we can choose to honor in them the unfulfilled yearning to make a difference ….

When we give an A we can be open to a perspective different from our own. For after all,  it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will really listen …

In the measured context of our everyday lives, the grades we hand out often rise and fall with our moods and opinions. We may disagree with someone on one issue, lower their grade, and never quite hear what they have to say again.  Each time the grade is altered, the new assessment, like a box, defines the limits of what is possible between us.”

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility

Summing Up

It occurs to me that a human-centred leader calls forth the very best from us through the ‘granting of an A’.  Through focus-alignment s/he amplifies the power of this ‘very best of us’ in the service of a possibility that leaves us (human beings) elevated: moved, touch, and inspired.  And thus creates a context that call forth the extraordinary accomplishment from a team of ordinary human-beings.

I thank you for listening to my speaking and wish you a great day.  If you find yourself inspired to show up and travel as human-centred leader then I encourage you to get hold of a copy of The Art of Possibility.  And learn-embody the practices that are outlined in this delightful-transformative book.

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published in November 2014 at CustomerThink.

What Is The Access To Innovation Including CX Innovation?

Some time ago I found myself in a workshop listening to and observing that which was occurring. As time flowed onwards and my existence kept ebbing away, i found myself sad, deflated. Here were a group of intelligent people who were charged with charting the future of their organisation. And that future included the label of ‘a customer-centric organisation’. There was much talk about customer obsession, trust, customer experience innovation etc.

So how is that I found myself sad and deflated?  I found myself present to that which did not appear to show up for the rest of the team. What was I present to? The following says it as well as it can be said:

We construct realities and then forget we were the ones that constructed them. When our relationship with reality has a kind of “is-ness”or “fixed-ness” to it, – it limits what’s possible and allows only for options like explaining, trying to fix, resisting or accepting. The answer to the question, what does it mean to be human, gets looked at only through that lens. The movie The Matrix says it well: “Welcome to the desert of the real.”

- Gale LeGassick, Landmark Education

Time and again, I find myself in meetings and workshops where the talk is lofty yet where the course of action is merely reasonable.  What magnitude of possibility lies in a reasonable course of action? Reasonable possibility. What kind of possibility is that?  More of the same and results which are merely reasonable. What is another word for reasonable? Average.

The access to new realms of possibility and the generating of extraordinary results lies in the unreasonable.  Unreasonable given the taken for granted “is-ness” yet not at all unreasonable when one lets go of the cage of “is-ness”. It occurs to me that if there was a master of ‘reality distortion’ it was Steve Jobs. Which may explain why it was that he was the source of new worlds of possibility and extraordinary accomplishment.

It occurs to me that the deeper reason that so few organisations innovate – in any dimension – is that the folks who are doing the innovating are reasonable folks taking reasonable courses of action.  What is more reasonable than going for the ‘low hanging fruit’? Or sticking to the proven methods?  Or involving only the people that have proven themselves to be good team players and safe pair of hands?

Innovation is not simply a matter of process / methodology. Nor is it a matter of tools and techniques. At its heart innovation, and that is just another word for transformation, is a matter of being: the being of the folks in the organisation, and the being of the organisation as a whole.  Only those whose being is ‘unreasonable’ have access to generating innovation and transforming business.

Put simply: plodders do not cause innovation or transformation, they simply plod along no matter what tools and techniques you put in their hands.

The accessing to innovation / transformation? Leaders: those who are ‘unreasonable’ enough in their being to put their very being at stake to bring forth, into the world, the ‘unreasonable': new worlds of possibility.

 

 

Transformation: Brief Exploration Of Two Radically Distinct Customer Experience Paradigms

What Is The Context For This Conversation?

I am following the lead taken by Dawna MacLean in her recent post on encouraging businesses to become more human. It occurs to me she is a brave lady worthy of admiration and respect. I dedicate this post to her, in service of the stand she is taking and the possibility that she is living from and into.

There are many actions that I regret. Few bring me shame. One in particular is etched within me despite it occurring ‘a lifetime ago’.  I reckon I was 14 at the time, walking, alone, on my way into the town centre. I am stopped by an old lady, she has a walking stick, she tells me she is lost, she asks for directions. I draw closer to hear-understand what she is saying. She smells! I tell her that she need to turn around. I tell her she is only ten minutes walk from her destination. And I spell out the directions – twice.

A voice speaks to me along the following lines: “Take her hand, walk her there, it is even on your way somewhat. Without your help she will struggle.” Another voice speaks: “She smells awful! You are in a hurry and it will take ages to take her there. You have given her what she asked for. She’ll be fine.” I listen to the second voice, leave her to make her own way, and I walk into town.  I cleaned up a lot of history whilst participating in Landmark Education. And that is one that I never got to clean up.  If that old lady were here today, I’d ask for her forgiveness.

Why am I sharing this with you?  So that you have the context from which to make sense of what I speak-write.  I write is not to help you make it: sell more, be more successful, obtain higher status, live happily ever after.  I write to open eyes, unblock ears, touch hearts. I write to encourage-facilitate a shift of worldview. I write from the possibility of meaningful-fulfilling human lives and the possibility of a ‘world that works for all, none excluded’.  Arguably a world that works must include meaningful-fulfilling human lives.  And such a world has plenty of space for businesses that do great by doing good: enriching human lives, and life as a whole.

What Is The Experience That Goes With Transformation?

The last post ended with “So the challenge of Customer Experience is the challenge of a transformation in worldview.”  When I speak transformation, what am I pointing at?  Look at the following picture, keeping look at it until a shift occurs in what you see.

Gestalt Shift Cuble

 

What occurred? If you are like me then you probably started out seeing a small cube sitting inside of a an ‘open box’ and then came a moment when you saw a big cube from which a small cube (left hand corner) was cut-out, missing.

Please notice, the reality (that which is) has not changed. It is the same picture – nothing about the picture itself changed. Yet, that which you perceived-saw changed and you had something like a surprise: an ‘aha’ experience.  Why?  Because the perceptual switch that occurred was not simple a change-adjustment-variation of what you saw originally. What you saw was distinct from what you had seen earlier. Put differently, a transformation occurred in your seeing.

What can we learn from this?  Given the same ‘that which is so’ you made sense of it in two distinct ways.  And, this is important, each way of seeing ‘that which is’ occurred as natural, correct and absolute whilst is was occurring the way it was occurring for you. Only by looking at the picture for a sufficient period of time, in a specific manner, did the gestalt like shift in your seeing occur. And when it did occur, it occurred in an instant.  Transformation is like that.

Now think of business and organisational life and apply that which you have experienced here. And learned. Ask yourself this question: is the way that the business world is ‘pictured and talked about’ the only way of picturing and talking about it?  Is it possible that there are many ways of picturing, talking about, and showing up in the business world?  I say that there are numerous ways of seeing-interpreting the business world – that the number of ways is only limited by our imagination AND the influence-strength of the dominant paradigm of seeing.

Customer Experience: Two Radically Distinct Paradigms

Let’s take a brief look at each in turn.

CX Model 1: The Dominant Way of Seeing-Using Customer Experience

It occurs to me that a lot has been written about Customer Experience. For me most of it shows up as shallow, or simply putting ‘lipstick on the pig’.  What am I pointing at when I speak that which I have spoken. Take a look at the following picture:

Dominant Model of CX

Dominant Model of CX

In this way of seeing, Customer Experience is viewed-treated simply as a means of:

  • Increasing revenues
  • Reducing or containing costs e.g. through using lower cost channels to ‘serve’ customers; and
  • Risk management given that every customer has access to a smartphone and social media and thus is in a position to damage brand-corporate reputation.

The goal of business within this dominant paradigm is that which it has been since the ascendency of shareholder value and ‘greed is good’ ethos. This goal is characterised by a focus on self (oneself and one’s tribe), and greed: to extract as much value as possible in the short-term. Any value created for the customer is the minimum that it is necessary to create in order to extract as much value for ‘Self”.

Within the dominant paradigm, CRM (including social CRM) is simply a technology that is used to augment-strengthen the existing business logic: getting as much money out of the customer as possible whilst giving away the minimum; and getting as much value (productivity) out of employees whilst giving back the minimum.

Finally, in this model (as practiced) the deep business logic stays the same. Competition rather than collaboration. Self at the expense of others. Efficiency rather than effectiveness…… Importantly, people are neither trusted nor treated with respect and accorded the dignity that goes with being a full human being; threat, fear, and game playing are pervasive.

CX Model 2: A World Waiting To Be Invented, And Mastered By Few

I call the second model ‘A World Waiting To Be Invented’ because it is only practiced-mastered by a few. The rare few that come to my mind include: John Lewis/Waitrose, USAA, and Amazon/Zappos.  What constitutes this second model? Here is a picture:

 

A World Waiting To Be Invented

A World Waiting To Be Invented

In this model Customer Experience is a subset of Experience. Experience encompasses the experiences of all the participants-actors-stakeholders: customers, ‘partner’s (the people who actually work in the organisation and create value for customers), value chain partners (suppliers, channel partners, outsourced partners…), and the community.

The ‘Goal’ of the business within this paradigm (way of seeing the world of business) is one of creating value for and sharing this value with the whole system (all the participants, all the stakeholders). Such a business is focussed on making a contribution and serving: enriching the lives of all participants. And usually takes a stand and operates from-into a specific possibility. Take a good look at the John Lewis constitution and you will see the stand and the possibility spelled out. Read Jeff Bezos’ annual letters or Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, and the possibility-stand is clearly articulated.

In the model, the business logic of the organisation is designed-operated from the context of creating-generating the kind of ‘Experience’ that is mandated the ‘Goal’.  Put differently, the ‘Business Logic’ now serves as the means of delivering the Experience.  Not the other way around.  Put differently, ‘Experience’ precedes’ Business Logic’.

From where does the design of ‘Experience’ flow?  From the ‘Goal’. Remember the goal is to cater for the needs-welfare of the whole. Which is why ‘Experience’ encompasses all the actors, all the stakeholders.

In this way of looking at the world of business, and according to me, Customer Experience takes it’s rightful place. Rather than dominating the discussion, Customer Experience is seen for what it is, just one component whose meaning-impact comes from how it fits into the other components of Experience. And how it gives life to the ‘Goal’.

What becomes of CRM in this model?  CRM systems are simply tools to give life to the ‘Experience’ that the organisation is committed to creating-generating.  As such CRM systems must take into account the needs of Customers and ‘Partners’ (people who will use the systems) and deliver the kind of experience(s) that these folks are looking for.

Enough for today. I may elaborate on these models in the future. If you find yourself moved to share your thoughts then I invite you to do so.

 

Change/Leadership: The Wisest Words Spoken On Creating Change?

“The only way we really create change is to enter any situation with the humility to listen and to recognize the world as it is, and then the audacity to dream what it could be, to have the patience to start and let the work teach you, to be willing to lead when you need to lead, and to listen. To have a sense of generosity and empathy ….. If there’s one value that is immutable, it’s integrity or respect, for others and for yourself.

The best change that comes to the world is when all parties are seeing each other as equal, and all parties have the opportunity to be transformed.” 

  •  Jacqueline Novogratz

Why Innovation Is Rare: The Problem of Knowledge & The Curse Of Expertise

Do We Know It All?

I’d like to start this conversation by getting us mindful to a definition:

ignorance

ˈɪgn(ə)r(ə)ns/

noun

lack of knowledge or information.

“he acted in ignorance of basic procedures”

I say that our ignorance is vast.  And we are not present to our ignorance because we are convinced that we have an accurate grasp of the world: we know it all!  Our hubris blinds us that which history makes vividly clear: each age is deluded in its conviction that it has accessed the truth of what is so.  Does this remind you of Socrates? The Oracle claimed that Socrates was the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing.  On that basis we are not wise – nowhere near close to wise.

Do You Remember This Starbucks/’Milk’ Story?

Why have I launched into this conversation?  If you read this blog then you may remember this post and this narrative:

Last week, while on an average holiday shopping trip, my mother and I decided to stop by Starbucks to get a quick snack…..

When we got up to the counter, my mother placed our simple order, at which point she asked for a “tall” cup of two percent white milk. This is how the conversation played out:

“Mocha,” said the barista.

“No. Milk,” my mother repeated.

“Mocha?”

“No. Two percent white milk.”

“Oh… Milk!”

….. I attempted to withhold my personal thoughts. Milk. You know, that white stuff you pour in the coffee? Yes, well, we want an entire cup full of that. Minus the coffee, of course.

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out, but not without a few stifled giggles.

Making Sense Of This Story Through The Insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein

You may also remember the follow up post where I made use of the insights of Heidegger & Wittgenstein. And in so doing attempted to point out that:

  • every human being is always a being-in-the-world  – which is to say that the human being and the world are so interwoven that they are one not two;
  • every human being finds himself, at every moment, situated-embedded in a particular world e.g. the business world, the academic world, the public world, the world of home etc and that world ‘takes over’ the human beings working-living in that world;
  • a word such as ‘milk’ does not point at a specific object rather it, and every word-utterance, is a social tool for coordinating social action in a specific world – think for a moment what ‘milk’ means to a woman that has just given birth and compare that to what ‘milk’ means to a supermarket;
  • that the confusion that occurred at Starbucks and with the barista was due to the narrator’s mother turning up in the Starbucks world of coffee and using the word ‘milk’ inappropriately – akin to you turning up at your friend’s home for a meal, enjoying the meal and then asking for the bill; and
  • to really understand a world (e.g. the advertising world) one needs to live in that world by taking up a role in that world and doing that which goes with the role taken up.

After reading this follow up post, Adrian Swinscoe commented (bolding is my work):

I really like your exploration of this issue from a philosophical angle and learnt a lot from it…. 

However, at the end of the post I found myself wondering if the heart of the problem was something quite humdrum and that the barista just didn’t listen. She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

As you point out, if we don’t get out of our way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.

Now I want to address the points that Adrian is making. And that means grappling with the problem of knowledge and the curse of expertise.  Let’s start with Adrian’s statement “if we don’t get out of our own way and our own ‘heads’ then we’ll struggle to understand and really help and serve others.”

Is It Possible To Get Out Of Our ‘Heads’?

If I was to get out of my own ‘head’ then whose ‘head’ would I use to be able to make sense of the world in which I find myself? Besides we are almost never in our heads, we are mostly on automatic pilot immersed in cultural practices and taken over by our habits.  If this was not the case then thinking, genuine thinking, would not be so effortful for us.  Let’s listen to Charles Guignon:

If all our practices take place within a horizon of vague and inexplicit everyday understanding , then even the possibility of something obtruding as intelligible is determined in advance by this understanding …….. the questions that I can ask and the kind of answers that would make sense are always guided by my attuned understanding of “ordinary” interpretations …. Without this understanding, nothing could strike me as familiar or strange.

For this reason Heidegger says that all explanation presupposes understanding…… The legitimate task of seeking explanations is always conducting within a horizon of understanding that guides our questioning and establishes procedures for attaining clarity and elucidation. Through our mastery of the shared language of the Anyone, we have developed specific habits and expectations that enable us to see things as obvious or puzzling...

A detective trying to make sense of how a crime was committed …. might take even the most mundane item in the room and ask how it came to be there ….. great advances have come about in the sciences through the ability of individuals to step back and question what had been taken as obvious and self-evident. But such cases of departing from established habits and expectations make sense only against a background of shared understanding which remains constant through such shifts. In other words, we can make sense of unintelligibility and a demand for explanation only within a horizon of intelligibility which is not itself thrown into question …..

- Charles B. Guignon, Heidegger and the Problem of Knowledge

To sum up we are always in our ‘head’ and that head arises and is kept in existence through our shared cultural practices. A particular potent cultural practices is language.  Notice that to operate in society we must speak the language of that society – everyday language.  And to operate in particular world (e.g. world of business, world of finance, world of advertising, world of healthcare ….) we must be fluent in the language of that world.

Adjustments can be made to our ‘head’ and it is not easy to make these adjustments. Why?  Adjustments are not made through thinking – not made through cognitive means.  As ‘head’ is given by roles, habits and cultural practices it is necessary to make a shift in these. How? By moving into and inhabiting-living new worlds. This is what occurs when the CEO leaves the world of the CEO and takes on-lives the role of the frontline employee for five days; Undercover Boss is all about this shift.  If you find yourself interested in that which I am speaking about here then I recommend watching the movie The Doctor (starring William Hurt) – it is instructive in a way that my words cannot instruct.

The Curse Of Expertise

How does Adrian interpret the Starbucks/’Milk’ story?  The same way that many of us interpret it:

She obviously heard something but didn’t properly listen for whatever reason….fatigue, lack of care, language, bias, agenda etc etc.

Why this conviction that ‘that which occurred’ is the fault of the barista? Why this insistence on the incompetence of the barista?  I say that this explanation is so easily forthcoming and attracting (rather like a magnet) because it is the cultural practice to see fault in front line staff, especially as these jobs are low paid, and thus lay blame on them.

What if the barista was not fatigued, not tired, speaks the language well, has no agenda?  What if, on the contrary, the barista is highly skilled in her role of serving coffee to Starbucks customers?  Is it possible expertise, not ignorance, is the cause of the snafus?  Let’s listen to a zen master and see what we can learn:

In Japan we have the phrase “shoshin” which means “beginner’s mind”. The goal of practice is to always keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose your recite the Prajna Paramitra Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it….

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

- Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

The curse of expertise is that the expert only sees that which s/he has been conditioned to see; hears that which s/he has been conditioned to listen to; makes sense of that which shows up through her already given horizon of understanding (see Guignon above). Put differently, the expert is stuck in a rut: all that shows up, including the anomaly, is interpreted in times of the taken for granted.  Which is why altruistic acts are made sense of in terms of selfishness given the Darwinian frame. Or the necessity to postulate ‘dark matter’ given the need to keep the existing model of the universe intact. Or the collapsing of Customer Experience with Customer Service in the business world.  Or the insistence of seeing CRM as technology and business process change rather than a fundamental change in the ‘way we do things around here’.

As a consultant/coach/facilitator what do I bring to the table?  At my best I bring to the table a beginner’s mind where everyone on the ‘inside’ is an expert. Which is why I am often able to see that which my clients cannot see.  The challenge always is to convey that which I have seen to my clients such that they do not reinterpret it into their existing way of seeing-doing things.  Often I fail: despite my best efforts to ‘ask for milk’ I find that my clients interpret as ‘mocha’.  And when I say “No, milk!”, they respond “Surely, you are asking for Mocha!”.  And even if I strike up the courage to insist that ‘milk’ is not the same as ‘Mocha’ I find that they often confuse ‘Two percent white milk” with ‘steamed milk’.  They are not at fault, it is the curse of expertise. And it inflicts us all!

And Finally A Quote

I leave you with a quote that sums up the situation and the challenge beautifully:

Create your future from your future not your past.

- Werner Erhard

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