Cartoon-listening-skillsI just discovered that there is an International Listening Association. Who knew? They are a professional organization whose members are dedicated to learning more about the impact listening has on all human activity.

“One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody’s listening”. — Franklin P. Jones

While at first I laughed when I heard of their existence, the more I think about it, the more I can see what they might have to offer.

Having had employees in the past who didn’t do what I really wanted done, I wonder if their problem was that they were bad listeners. While the responsibility for communication is in the hands of the sender, if you don’t have an active listener on the other end, you might as well be barking in the wind.

But how do you know whether you’re not explaining something properly, someone is just ignoring you or whether they might really have a problem listening?

And if listening is a skill that can be learned, how do you teach people to be better at it?

Success versus Mastery

Today’s TED Talk by Sarah Lewis contains an interesting discussion on Success versus Mastery. I’ll let the video speak for itself but wanted to extend something I was writing about a few days ago on perfection.

If success is doing something right one time and mastery is about being able to do it time and time again, Sarah has stated that it is important to celebrate the near wins as small failures are necessary to achieve mastery.

This means though that a perfectionist will never achieve mastery due to an obsession with small successes. Instead of being able to let go when perfect success is not achieved and trying again, the perfectionist will devote entirely too much time to each success and thus never achieve mastery.

The perfectionist will never produce the volume of work necessary to learn to become a master so in itself, perfectionism is the ultimate failure.

Anyone, enough of my sometimes incoherent ramblings. Watch Sarah.



Dentist’s Syndrome

dental-checkupWithin minutes of posting yesterday’s blog on Founder’s Syndrome, I got a call from Guy Burry who regaled me with tales of the founders he has worked with. He also told me about a syndrome that I had never heard of before. It’s called Dentist’s Syndrome.

This is something that CEOs get and it’s pernicious. Think about every trip you have made to the dentist in your life. You sat there in the chair with the dentist sticking things in your mouth all the while she is asking questions and chatting with you.

Chatting may be too nice a way of putting it because dentists do all the talking. All you can say with your mouth full of fingers and instruments is something that sounds like “Mhwp flub falbin.” How a dentist can understand what you are saying is beyond me. After a while you stop trying to say anything intelligible and just grunt yes or no.

After ten years of this, a dentist is pretty much relegated to one-way conversations. She doesn’t expect to get any answers and basically just has to fill in the answers for herself.

And this is exactly what happens to CEOs who are in place for too long.

They start out asking questions and trying to understand the answers. After a while though, the answers sound pretty much all the same and eventually end up sounding like a bunch of grunts and whistles.

As a result the CEO ends up having a conversation only with himself, not listening to those people around him and voila, he has Dentist’s Syndrome: a case of asking questions but not hearing the answers and pretty much filling in the answers that he wants.

Founder’s Syndrome

sandI had an interesting conversation in Waterloo the other day with Trish Crompton, Communitech‘s Digital Journalist about Founder’s Syndrome. I’ve thought much about the syndrome since and realized that it doesn’t apply just to founders of companies but to everyone who works. It is in fact the foundation of the Peter Principle.

First, let’s look at Founder’s Syndrome. According to Wikipedia “The passion and charisma of the founder or founders, which was such an important reason for the successful establishment of the organization, becomes a limiting and destructive force, rather than the creative and productive one it was in the early stages.” This usually means that it is time to turf the founder and get a more experienced CEO.

And the Peter Principle says that people are promoted one level above their level of competence because companies promote people who are great at their jobs, not ones who will be great at the next level. (Which pretty much means that all managers are incompetent.)

So what is it that causes the founder’s syndrome or the Peter Principle? In thinking it through, I’ve realized that what stops people being effective is their inability to learn and to adapt to new situations.

When you stop learning and adapting, you’ll stop being effective and will stop being able to handle the next new challenge. As I’ve said before, you have to wake up every morning thinking that absolutely everything you know could be wrong  if you want to continue to learn.

So learning is the key to continued success. As long as you can learn at the same pace as your situation changes, you’ll not fall behind and be subject to Founder’s Syndrome or the Peter Principle.


Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 9.26.14 AMI’ve had a debate recently about the true meaning of perfection and I thought that derivation week would be a good time to explore this on the web. The surprising thing is that people have a different understanding of what it means than the meaning that was originally intended.

Perfection comes from the Latin ‘Perfectus’ which itself comes from ‘Perficio’ which means to finish or bring to an end. (I’ve borrowed from Wikipedia for much of this analysis by the way.) Aristotle described three shades of meaning to the term. Something is perfect:

  • which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
  • which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better; or
  • which has attained its purpose.

Unfortunately, perfectionists nowadays ascribe the second meaning to the term and never bring something to an end because it can always be made better. This is particularly problematic in the knowledge economy.

Take this blog for instance. When is it perfect?

  • How do I know when it contains all the requisite parts?
  • I could write on this topic forever as I’ll never achieve something that could not be made better.
  • But I could call it perfect when I think I’ve conveyed my point.

I read recently that the federal Department of Transportation took over three weeks, many people and countless hours just to write one tweet. This is perfection run amok and the problem with the second definition of perfection. In the knowledge economy, nothing ever achieves perfection in a way that it could not be made better.

In the manufacturing economy you can almost achieve the second meaning of perfection but in the knowledge economy, you have to stop at being satisfied when something has attained its purpose.

That’s why when I do something I always ask myself how little I can do to meet my objective. That for me is attaining perfection. And that’s why there are ofetn speling, grammarical, and compositionel errors in this blog.




imagesWhile we’re having Fun with Words Week here at Material Minds headquarters, I think we should look at the term ‘Executive.’ Much attention is paid to what the difference is between management and leadership. And in company ranks we have managers and leaders.

Fortunately, there is no confusion as to what we should call the people who manage as they are called management. But the leadership of an organization isn’t called that, they’re called Executives.

Frequently you hear an executive saying that their job is to lead and not manage as management is the purview of managers. But then if an executives job is leadership, what is leadership exactly?

That’s where I come down to the meaning of the word Executive. Look at it carefully and it comes from the word Execute. Yes, a CEO’s role is as the Chief Execute-ive Officer. It can’t be any clearer than that. An executive’s prime responsibility is to execute.

That’s why leadership is about setting strategy, inspiring people and executing. An executive who thinks the job ends at setting strategy and who leaves execution to management is not doing his job because the foundation of this job is to execute.


process1Have you noticed that there are a lot of words with similar endings? Suicide, homicide, genocide, pesticide etc. They all end with the suffix ‘cide’ but perhaps you didn’t notice that there meanings are all similar. They all refer to death, destruction and killing.

That’s because their ending is from the Latin ‘caedere’ which means to kill. (Now you can impress people in conversation with your obvious erudition.)

Funny thing is that the word ‘decide’ has the same ending and the same meaning. When you decide something it means that you have to kill something else. And this is why it is so hard for people to decide: they have to kill something.

And they get stuck in the Six Stages of Change and can’t break loose. If you want to help people decide, you must help them through those six stages of change until they reach acceptance and are able to kill whatever they can’t stand to lose.

Or when that doesn’t work, you have to decide, which is all right for many people as they would rather someone else do the killing.


Details Matter (Now)

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 4.30.12 PMA few customer service experiences in the last week have shown me that details matter in a way that they didn’t a few years ago. In the first case, I was trying to resolve a complaint I had with an organization which shall remain nameless as I really don’t want to punish them (yet).

I had tried a number of ways to get heard by the company but no one seemed to be paying attention to me. I sent messages to general mailboxes that were ignored. I sent emails to people by name but in five attempts had received not one response.

So I went on Twitter and found the person to whom one email had been sent and I sent a tweet as well to the founder of the company. Well Twitter obviously is the go-to place for customer service as I got two very quick replies after several months of trying.

From the customer service person who had been ignoring me I got a tweet reply, a phone call, and an email which resolved the problem. In the case of the founder, I got a quick reply to send him a direct message with details. Which I did and we are now exchanging messages.

Before Twitter, Yelp and countless other social media channels, a company could ignore a customer and know that there would be no public record of their failure and that only a few close friends of the aggrieved customer would ever know.

Since this is no longer the case and it is possible to make a very public and direct connection with company employees, details now matter in a way they never did before.

Companies need to execute flawlessly which is a real challenge for leaders but more than that, they have to be very quick about rectifying situations when they don’t execute flawlessly.


The Six Stages of Change

soc_1I was talking with Mike Tobias of Mercanix fame the other day and he related a good story about a bit of systems implementation work he was doing. He was training users at a client’s location and had a really varied set of reactions amongst employees.

Some of them loved the new software, others were skeptical, and others were vehemently adamant that it would never work.

Mike suddenly realized that this group he was dealing with were in fact grieving for the loss of their old way of doing things and that he had to take many of them through the Six Stages of Grief before they could all be onboard.

In case you forget, the six stages are:

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Bargaining
  5. Depression
  6. Acceptance

I had never thought of people reacting to Organizational Change projects in the same albeit smaller way that they react to a death in the family but it really is the same thing.

Some people hate change and you have to drag them kicking and screaming from their old way of doing things. You have to help them grieve. Other people are more open to change and you don’t need to babysit them as much as they move quickly through the six stages of change.


Doing the Gemba

Gemba-in-Japanese-2Every now and then you discover a new phrase that just seems so…. Today it is “Doing the Gemba.” Gemba or Genba is the Japanese term for the real place, or where the action is.

Doing the Gemba is going to where the action is or in American terms, management by walking around (MBWA). But I like Doing the Gemba so much better as it seems so much more Wabi-Sabi than MBWA.

A fundamental part of lean manufacturing philosophy, it enables a manager to see the actual process, ask questions and learn.

But the real benefit of Doing the Gemba is giving your people some attention, in their space, showing you care about their lives, about their work and that you’ve gone out of your way to do it.