We have long taught that breakthroughs are most likely to occur when criticism is fully heard and the positive potential of conflict is mined. In her new book, Collective Genius, The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, Professor Linda Hill, faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School, says that leaders whose organizations innovate best are those who act as “social architects,” creating a safe collaborative space where team members can “keep pushing and challenging one another.”
The research of Hill and her co-authors suggests that successful innovation leaders have a capability they call creative abrasion: They are able to spark heated but constructive debates that amplify differences as opposed to minimizing them. “Conflict is what generates a marketplace of competitive ideas,” says Hill in an interview with strategy+business.
Generating a wealth of ideas is pointless without a second capability, creative agility, which Hill says “is about testing and refining ideas with feedback, reflection, and adjustment…The idea is to act and learn as quickly as you can, and then make necessary adjustments. When you do an experiment, it’s OK to get a negative outcome, as long as you learn from it.”
We want to hear: What do you think about the link between conflict and innovation? Can you give us an example of productive disagreement on your team? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
With employment on the rise, turnover is once again a key concern for employers. As a preventive measure, reports The Wall Street Journal, companies like Credit Suisse are analyzing data predicting who might have an eye on the door.
What they are seeing is a multi-faceted picture of what motivates retention—or not. Factors like pay, or even workers’ relationships with their bosses, can be trumped by how connected employees feel to their teams. And, “at Credit Suisse, managers’ performance and team size turn out to be surprisingly powerful influences, with a spike in attrition among employees working on large teams with low-rated managers.”
While no single piece of data predicts retention with certainty, many of the numbers appear to highlight the power of employee engagement. When workers are bonded to their teammates and when those teams have effective leaders, the impulse is to see things through. The rewards go beyond the monetary: It is hard to put a price tag on the sense of self-worth, excitement, and accomplishment that engagement generates.
On the other hand, it is easy to put a price tag on unwanted attrition. The median cost of turnover for most jobs, says the Center for American Progress, is about 21% of an employee’s annual salary. William Wolf, Credit Suisse’s global head of talent acquisition and development, says a one-point reduction in attrition saves the bank $75 to $100 million annually.
We want to hear: Why do you stay at your job…or what has made you want to leave a job in the past? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Change can seem frightening. So it’s not uncommon for individuals—and organizations—to resist new ideas and default to justifying their current behaviors. However, a new study suggests that focusing on important values is a less threatening way to initiate new behaviors.
Researchers used brain scanning to observe how people respond when given advice about positive behavioral change (e.g. increased exercise). Before being given the advice, half the group was given a self-affirmation exercise involving thinking about a value important to them. The hope was that these kinds of thoughts would trigger activity in the part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for processing information about ourselves. Then each participant was tracked to determine whether or not they heeded the advice.
The result: Those primed with self-affirming thoughts not only displayed a lot more activity in this part of the brain, but also engaged in actual behavioral change in the following month. The control group showed no changes.
We believe priming for change with shared values can be incredibly valuable in an organization. Leaders can inspire others to embrace change by affirming the long-term goals of their organization and emphasizing the ultimate good that can be accomplished.
We want to hear: How have you been successful in initiating change—either on a personal or organizational level? What over-arching values have helped you navigate change? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
The Oakland Unified School District, one of California’s largest school districts, is at the forefront of a new approach to school discipline. Instead of suspending or expelling students who get into fights or act out, its restorative Justice program seeks to resolve conflicts and build school community through talking in group interactions called “circling up.”
According to a recent NPR story the district’s as-yet unpublished research shows the percentage of students suspended at schools that have fully adopted the program has dropped by half, from 34 percent in 2011-12 to just 14 percent in the following two years. Data also show that chronic absence is down dramatically and graduation rates are up at restorative justice schools. The program’s success has inspired several other urban districts—including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Denver—to try some version of the approach.
Ta-Biti Gibson, one of the Oakland schools’ restorative justice co-directors, says, "Instead of throwing a punch, [kids are] asking for a circle. They're backing off and asking to mediate…peacefully with words. And that's a great thing." We agree! We heartily endorse having a protocol in place for talking out conflicts in schools—and anywhere else where differences typically have led to unproductive behavior.
We want to hear. What do you think of the circle up approach in schools? Is there another environment where you think this approach would be beneficial? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
It’s been nearly 20 years since a landmark study found that by age 3, children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than more affluent peers, putting them at an educational disadvantage. Now, a growing body of research is showing that more language is not enough to overcome deficits. The quality of the communication between children and their caregivers is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears. http://nyti.ms/1qFikJu
“It’s not just about shoving words in,” said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.” Her study showed that quality of communication resulted in 27 percent more expressive communication by children over the course of a year.
Experts recommend that adults keep kids engaged in conversation by asking questions, making comments, and inviting children to share their ideas. Using encouraging words is also important (researchers found that higher-income families provided their children with far more words of praise compared to children from low-income families). To help develop more advanced literacy skills, point out words that rhyme or start with the same sound. For more tips visit.
We want to hear: What tips do you have for teaching language skills to children, and do any of these tips apply to other situations? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
“Like Barbie’s Dreamhouse and Hot Wheels, meetings at Mattel Inc. now come with instructions,” says the Wall Street Journal. The recent article refers to the toymaker’s new policy to streamline creativity and overhaul its meeting-heavy culture by limiting the number of people who may attend meetings (10, except for training) and decreeing: “There should be no more than a TOTAL of three meetings to make any decision.”
We agree that endless meetings can be a drain on productivity. Rather than setting strict limits on the number of meetings and participants allowed, we believe leaders should strive to make meetings smarter.
We’ve long recommended our PRES (Point, Reason, Example, Summary) model as a powerful way for meeting participants to get to the heart of any matter. We also recommend the “80/20 principle.” Identify the 20 percent of the discussion that captures 80 percent of the results. Empower participants to call “80/20” when they feel the discussion has reached a point of diminishing returns -- when people are repeating themselves without adding new information. We also urge leaders to ask every meeting participant to be searching for agreements that all group members support.
We want to hear! What do you think should be done to prevent “meeting creep” and make meetings more effective? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
In parts of India and Southeast Asia, monkeys are sometimes trapped by placing food in a vessel that has an opening just wide enough for the monkey to reach one hand through. Smelling the morsel inside, a passing monkey will reach in and grab hold of it, forming a fist—only to discover that it cannot pull its clenched fist back out through the hole. If the monkey remains clinging tightly to the food, it is caught. This attachment trap is often a springboard for discussions on a core philosophical principle: that by clinging to external sources of satisfaction, we lose our freedom. http://www.rubinmuseum.org/brainwave.
The Attachment Trap is also relevant to communication. When we cling to a particular attitude about a person (“I don’t get along with him; we will always argue.”) or a situation (“My co-workers don’t take my ideas seriously and never will”), we remain stuck in a paradigm that we are helping to create. When we relinquish biases that are based in the past or on incomplete information, we free ourselves to create new possibilities. Opening our fists equates to opening our minds.
We want to hear! What experiences have you had with un-attaching from an attitude or belief? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
A recent study by the research group Flurry found that mobile consumers spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes daily on mobile devices—continually stimulated by information. Yet studies also suggest we get our most original ideas when we stop being stimulated and let ourselves get bored.
A recent NPR story cited a study by U.K. psychologist Sandi Mann, who asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task. Participants came up with their most novel ideas when performing the most boring task of all—reading the phone book. Mann says when we're bored, we're searching for something to stimulate us, noting, "We might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation…and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious, which allows different connections to take place.” Studies also show that smartphones impinge on our ability to do "autobiographical planning" or goal setting, which may keep us stuck in a rut.
Mann is now on a mission to “bring back boredom." As longtime advocates of the power of the pause and the benefits of silence, we endorse his vision. Visit this NPR link to learn how to track your Smartphone use.
We want to hear! When do you get your most creative ideas? If you’ve tried cutting back on cell phone use, did your creativity grow? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
“Athletics teach you to maximize your strengths, while also asking you to compensate for your weaknesses by relying on the strength of others. [Sports] asks you to embrace and respect the unique skills and talents of your teammates and how what they bring to the table contributes to the overall success of the team.” So says Chris Smith, former college athlete and CEO of Athlete Network.
Writing in Fast Company, Smith says the following lessons, which generate success on the field, build better leaders off it:
Success is a “we” thing – It’s a result of how seamlessly you integrate with teammates or co-workers.
A Diverse Team is Strongest -- Tackling a problem or question from a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds, and perspectives is empowering.
Nobody Wants to Work with a Brilliant Jerk -- Talent will take you places; arrogance, close-mindedness and ego won’t.
We agree. Working toward a common goal and respecting others’ skills is as necessary in business as in sports.
We want to hear! What business lessons have sports taught you? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Good communication and interpersonal relationships are as important for families and schools as they are at work. Aggression and coercion are harmful to the wellbeing of adults and children in any setting. The principles we teach to help make work environments more nurturing are the same as those prevention scientists are now following to help families and schools become more nurturing.
In his new book, The Nurture Effect, Anthony Biglan, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute, describes numerous family and school programs that help reduce the use of coercive behavior. For example, beginning in the early seventies, psychologist Gerald Patterson began to observe moment-to-moment interactions between family members. Patterson and colleagues showed that the main reason families interacted aggressively was that each person got a brief respite from others’ adverse behavior by engaging in adverse behavior themselves. A child might do something a parent didn’t like and the parent might say something nasty or raise their voice. Often the child would cry or whine and the parent would escalate even to the point of hitting, and the child might then desist. The parent’s aggression just got reinforced! Likewise, a mother might ask a child to do something and the child might whine. Perhaps the mother became more demanding. If the child further escalated, screaming or breaking something, the parent might back off. This time the child’s adverse behavior got reinforced.
Our communication programs develop skills for responding to others’ adverse behavior in ways that don’t escalate conflict, but instead promote patient listening and cooperative problem solving. Now family and school programs greatly increase positive reinforcement in order to generate more prosocial behaviors. As Biglan writes, “There is a growing understanding of the importance of prosocial behavior and values, and a growing movement to make all of our environments more nurturing. As this movement progresses we will see lower levels of conflict and problem behavior than we have ever seen in history.”
We want to hear! What proscial skills do you use in the workplace that might also also be effective at home and in schools? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, consider giving your loved ones these gifts – each with more staying power than flowers, cards, and chocolates:
1. Listen when your impulse is to argue. Listening, a rare and pure gift from the heart, requires us to be quiet long enough to ponder our partner’s message.
2. Edit accusations that could make your partner feel put down and judged. Instead, describe your feelings. “I feel lonely” has a different ring than “you’re selfish and unresponsive.”
3. Acknowledge your role in a problem. Every issue has another side. When we describe how we contributed, even unintentionally, to a problem, we encourage our partner to hear us out.
4. Agree on a solution. Reach an explicit, collaborative agreement about what each of you will do differently in the future.
5. Follow up on your agreements. Many attempts at resolving conflict end in failure and fighting, but following up proves your commitment to view conflict resolution as a process rather than a one-shot deal.
As marriage and business partners for 40 years, we can attest that while confronting issues is never easy, avoidance is worse. And we still endorse chocolate too. It’s good for your heart.
We want to hear: What communication behaviors would you like to change in your relationships this year, and what steps are you taking to do so? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We humans have told stories to one another since the dawn of language and civilization. Now business gurus are calling storytelling the most powerful strategic tool for anyone who wants to influence and persuade. We agree!
But what draws people to a particular story? Keith Quesenberry, a lecturer at the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins, dissected two years’ worth of Super Bowl commercials using Freytag’s Pyramid, named after a German novelist who saw common patterns in the plots of novels: Act 1, scene setting; Act 2, rising action; Act 3, turning point; Act 4, falling action; Act 5, resolution/release.
Quesenberry’s team coded Superbowl commercials for their number of acts and predicted the Budweiser commercial “Puppy Love” would win the ratings. It was the viewers’ top pick in a USA Today poll, and the beer’s sales rose.
When stories don’t work, Linderman says, it’s because we judge, analyze and explain an experience, rather than tell it. In our Persuasion and Influence course we consistently emphasize that a great story includes characters – with their voices -- and a compelling plot.
We want to hear. What has been your experience with stories – both as a teller and a listener? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Credit: Het Nieuwe Instituut
There’s lots of yelling at football games, but for the Oregon Ducks, that yelling is relegated to the stands. The old stereotype of coaches shouting in the faces of players to “motivate” them has given way to a kinder, gentler approach.
“It’s not about who can scream the loudest,” Mark Helfrich, the Ducks’ second-year coach told the Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/1IOCVE3). “We have excellent specialists in their field, great leaders of young men…There’s hopefully a lot more talking than yelling.”
“When you put your arm around a guy and say, ‘This is how it could be done better,’ they understand you care about them and you just want what’s best for the team,” said Marcus Mariota, Oregon’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. “Those guys already understand that they did wrong.”
The Ducks, who have embraced a more soft-spoken philosophy since implementing a “horizontal leadership structure” in 2009, are not alone in substituting constructive communication for a drill-sergeant approach. More organizations are doing likewise as their workforces are increasingly populated by Millennials, who are more comfortable being approached as collaborators.
While we are unabashed Ducks fans, that is not our only reason for endorsing the team’s use of constructive communication as a motivator. It is part of the growing wave of organizations that understand the benefits of viewing each of their members as leaders in their own way.
We want to hear: Is there a place for quieter talking and less yelling in sports? Have you known people – on or off the field -- motivated by yelling, or do you think there is always a better alternative? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We all resolve to build new habits, but many of us lose steam before long. Writing in Entrepreneur, behavioral scientist James Clear offers three tips to stick with it.
1. Start with a really easy habit. Our example: Suppose you want to have more engagement with the people you work with. Making it a habit to say “good morning” to your team members is a simple starting point.
2. Figure out what’s holding you back. Clear says it’s our judgments about ourselves and others that get in our way. Our example: “I am too introverted to be more interactive with co-workers.” Or: “If I become more interactive they might think I’m being insincere.” Of course these are not sound rationales. Everyone is more nuanced than that!
3. Develop a failure fallback. No one changes a habit without setbacks. When (not if!) it happens to you, get back on track as soon as possible.
We want to hear! Are you building any new good habits so far this year? What techniques are you using for making them permanent? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
One morning in Bangalore, India, tech startup founder Archana Patchirajan, told her entire staff she had to let them go because the venture had run out of funds. Amazingly, her high-caliber engineers, who had their pick of jobs, said they would rather work for half their pay than leave her. They worked so hard that a few years later the company, Hubbl, sold for $14 million. Now Archana continues to work on startups from the US and her staff, thousands of miles away, continues to work for her.
When asked why they are so loyal, the staff mentioned their boss’s ability to be honest with them, give them time to analyze mistakes, and even share her own doubts and vulnerabilities. In short, she was authentic. http://bit.ly/1uZG5y0
Some leaders try to project an image of perfection and certainty at all times in order to be respected by others, but pretense often backfires. Our brains are wired to read cues so subtle that even when we don’t consciously register those cues, our bodies react. For example, according to research by James Gross at Stanford University, when someone is angry but hides their feelings we may not realize consciously they are angry (they don’t look angry); nevertheless, our own blood pressure will rise. On the other hand, when we are around someone who is authentic and vulnerable we perceive them as trustworthy—and that trustworthiness inspires engagement and loyalty.
We want to hear: Are you ever aware that someone is trying to project a false image, and how do you react? Are there leaders who inspire you with their willingness to appear vulnerable? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: Enrique Burgos