Everybody Loves a Superhero

Here is an exercise your team can use to establish a positive energy going into a learning session. Have everyone take at least two full minutes to list everything they can think of that describes superheroes in general: what motivates them, how they treat others, what they do in the face of danger, and how they complement other superheroes.

If you are in a session with more than seven people break into groups of four to seven people for the exercise. Have people offer their list to the group. Once they have done so, ask a member of each group to recite for the room a list for their group.

Why it works: When we’re asked to think about the positive traits of a particular group, we invariably compare ourselves with the group—and in a phenomenon known as positive bias, we usually start by looking for similarities. A study published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, From Student to Superhero: Situational Primes Shape Future Helping (Leif D. Nelson and Michael I. Norton) discusses the research related to this dynamic.

One Caution: We are not encouraging false hero behaviors - where one person looks to “save the day,” often from a crisis they created. Real heroes are too humble and powerful to play that game. The point of the exercise is to create a positive bias and expectation of a fun and positive learning session.

Engaging People in the Work

Here's a perspective on employee engagement you may find useful. It identifies five keys to engaging people in the work. In summary, they are Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection. You'll find many of these ideas in the Transformational Legacy model.

One very important element of the model is missing - that is the importance of understanding personal and shared core identities. Understanding how those identities must be connected to Purpose for work to have Meaning; and daily renewal through Mindfulness is necessary to sustain the energy required for Growth and Connection.

It's not Magic; it's Mindfulness. Read the article for a good perspective on the importance of engagement.


Who Are You Calling an Elephant

Many people have found Jonathan Haidt’s Elephant and Rider analogy helpful in understanding the nature of change. The analogy, which argues that we each have two sides – an emotional side represented by the Elephant, and a rational side represented by the Rider. Chip and Dan Heath included the analogy in their book, Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard.

We have a concern with the analogy. It positions us as having an emotional side as sophisticated as a big, dumb animal with limited intelligence, while suggesting that to be human we must embrace a side of us that is fully rational. Our dumb animal side does not want to change unless our smart human side can successfully motivate us to do so by appealing to our emotions. Ouch.

We’re challenged by the analogy because as fully human we are emotional beings, with reason being only one form of understanding available to us. Our understanding is also informed by our experiences, and by inspiration that comes from outside reason and experience. Together these forms of understanding create a faith, a system of beliefs, that inform our actions.

Our experiential and especially inspirational understandings are the aspects of ourselves that compel us toward change and growth. It’s our rational understanding – the Rider – that is holding us back from change. Our Riders have been taught from a very young age, especially through our educational system, to undermine our experiential and inspirational understandings, and in the name of reason conform to inflexible standards of behavior.

So as emotional beings, is there one aspect of how we understand the world – reason, experience, inspiration – that keeps us from embracing change? Some might argue that experiences, primarily those that we label as bad, hinder change. However in that case it is not the experience, but the label we reason for the experience, that hinders change. Our naturals selves embrace change and growth, and it is an over emphasis on analysis and reason that gets in the way.

To connect this to Transformational Legacy, it is often an over emphasis on reason that gets in the way of connecting with the purpose of our work. We need to integrate reason with experience and understanding, and work on that integration daily. In doing so we will find that the desired change and growth comes easily.

Behavior, Coercion & Identity

When discussing change efforts the conversation often includes the issue of changing behavior. The perceived need is to model or mandate new behaviors, making it clear to people what behaviors are and are not acceptable. Some methods are overt, manifesting as rules and policies. Other methods are less direct.

Occasionally someone will express a concern that behavior change is coercive. We agree that it often is. And the results from coercion are often short-lived, dying after the threat of penalty, such as loss due to withholding of prestige, participation, money or other desired outcome. So, are there methods of persuasion to change behavior that are not coercive.

We challenge the idea that behavior is what needs to be affected. While different behaviors may be needed if an organization is to change, behaviors are a surface expression of who people perceive themselves to be in their organizational roles. Because these perceptions are tainted by layers of expectations, assumptions, and superficial beliefs – by the person and by others – behaviors expressed do not represent the genuine person.

We each need to go through a sifting process, similar to a prospector panning for gold. By regularly washing away the worthless expectations, assumptions, and beliefs to get to our true selves we then can understand how we personally are connected to our work. We call this true self personal core identity.

When a team can examine their individual core identities, and then construct a shared core identity suitable to their shared purpose, they can then focus on the offers and requests they need to make to each other and others outside the team to effectively do their work and perform at high levels. They automatically act – behave – as needed to accomplish their purpose.

No coercion necessary.

Why Comes Second

The importance of understanding the purpose for one’s work cannot be overstated. Even so, great work does not begin with purpose. It begins with understanding who you are.

Who comes first. Why come second.

Each of us has a core identity, attributes that contribute to our uniqueness that can be summarized by three or four words. Words such as Artist, Builder, Performer and Idealist combine to provide a picture of an individual. While those words do not capture the whole person, they are enough to help us understand what we have to contribute to our work, our communities, our families and ourselves.

When a person peels away the outer layers of dress and applied identities they find that there will be three to five identities at their core. Not every identity is applicable to every context. For example, the identity that serves a person in the home, may be different than the identity that best serves them in their work. It is possible that different aspects of work are served by different parts of one’s core identity. Context matters, and a person needs to be aware of how all aspects of their personal core identity play a role in each of the situations they face.

This is important because knowing a purpose is not enough. One needs to have a passion for their purpose, and in turn develop a passion for the work that serves that purpose. When a person has a passion for their work they are willing to exert the effort necessary to realize high levels of performance. It turns out that the connection between one’s identity and the purpose of their work creates the energy that fuels that passion.

We cannot assume the energy will automatically be there because we know a purpose. Any important purpose we work toward is bound to shared among a group of people, who together shape the definition of the purpose. When a person sees how a group purpose, whether the group is family, work, or community, aligns with their self image as a contributing member of that group, they find enjoyment in their efforts. Without this connection understood, even the simplest work feels like drudgery.

Expanding Our Perspective on Management

In terms of demonstrating an effective path toward operational excellence Lean Management practices elude the interest or capabilities of most enterprise leaders. We suspected that this was in part because Lean Management was largely interpreted from an engineering and scientific perspective. While this perspective has been tremendously beneficial to the people who understood it we believed additional perspectives would illuminate why Lean Management succeeds and why it seldom is sustained.

To gain a fresh perspective we spent three days with a group of artists who immersed themselves in Lean through conversations, exercises and a factory tour. The insights gained from these three days were summarized in a series of articles for the Lean Post.

Expanding Our Perspective on Lean Management, Part 1: A Creative Ethic

Excerpt: There was a sense from the artists that lean as practiced was a mindset, and they could see qualities in lean that mirrored not simply an artistic mindset, but a creative ethic. We choose the word ethic because the artists clearly expressed a moral reverence for artistic work as contrasted with work in other spheres; whereas a mindset, whether directed toward process or results, does not carry that same moral conviction. In other words, an ethic is more of a way of life versus what one does at work.

Click here to read the full article.

Part 2: Lean has its Roots in Spirituality

Excerpt: Lean has its roots in spirituality. The actual statement made by one of the artists was, “Lean has its roots in arts and spirituality.” The statement resonated with the other artists. It was voiced during John Shook’s description of a diagram he created to illustrate a 30-year incubation period for the Toyota Production System. There are several dozen influences, including several religious traditions, as well as pioneers in industry and science.

Click here to read the full article.

Part 3: Lean is a Practice in Search of a Language

Excerpt: We consider this third insight a revelation into why some of us readily accept lean practices as advantageous, and why most other people simply don’t understand its relevance. Lean is a practice in search of a language.

If you uttered an incredulous gasp at that statement, be assured so did we. Lean has a rich vocabulary and a large array of tools that function to structure productive conversations. When English fails us we have Japanese words available. We were surprised that after three days of being immersed in lean vocabulary to hear the artists tell us that lean is in search of language.

Click here to read the full article.

For more information about these insights and the workshop check out the book Lean Conversations.