Friday, July 2, 2010

The discipline of fieldwork

Chris Bailey has a great post about the importance of listening to really determine what a customer wants. Drawing on his Business Anthropology studies, Chris offers five simple ways to listen like an anthropologist:
  1. Shut up.
  2. Be naive.
  3. Get curious.
  4. Show me.
  5. Record it.

Chris does a great job expounding on each of these, and I encourage you to read his full post.

In addition to what Chris has outlined, I'd also add two additional observational strategies that are best used in tandem.

First, it is important to review what Bronislaw Malinowski referred to as the corpus inscriptum - the writings about a topic, especially the formal rules or instructions. In our modern world, this might include what people say about an organization, program, product or service in social or traditional media, or in their correspondence to your organization. But corpus inscriptum can be misleading because the reality is that people don't always accurately report what they actually do.

So, Malinowski adds that you must observe the imponderabilia of everyday life. In short, watch what people actually do. Whether this takes the form of being a "participant observer" among your customers, or crunching the numbers to see their activities, the fact is that what people actually do is a far more accurate reflection than what they say they do.

Thanks Chris for a great post -- and for making me think about how my own graduate studies in social anthropology relate to today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Commercial wisdom

Sports have provided some of the greatest demonstrations of leadership - from the stirring teamwork in Remember the Titans to the words of wisdom of the legendary John Wooden; from the perfection of Don Shula's 1972 Dolphins, to the amazing comeback of the 2004 Red Sox. But my most recent leadership takeaway is from a Washington Nationals commercial. In the spot, a character talks about the experience of a game .. Rising from a seat to cheer, sinking into it when gripped by frustration. It wraps up with a great summary: passion, loyalty and shared purpose: that's community.

A spot on leadership lesson.


- Posted using BlogPress lite from my iPhone

Monday, May 3, 2010

Good ideas are not enough

Tonight I arrived to the Pentagon Metro station at 8:20, and headed up to catch a bus home. I don't usually take the bus, and was pleased to see that the new "next bus" notification system is now working. Well, sort of. I needed to catch the 16A, and the display read 16A ... Next bus, 73 minutes. I decided to check the printed schedule, and low and behold, the bus was due at 8:30. While I didn't know whether that bus had come and gone early, I decided to wait a few minutes before investigating other options. Luckily, the bus pulled up right on time, and departed promptly.

A notification system informing bus riders of the next bus is a really nice feature. However, it is entirely useless if when implemented it is unreliable. Having an idea for changeis not enough ... Implementation is at least as important.


- Posted using BlogPress lite from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sometimes complicated challenges have simple solutions

While change always involves some degree of individual adaptation, organizational change cannot be accomplished by a lone individual. Even the most visionary, influential, creative or powerful individual will need to effect change in others to transform an organization.

In most organizations, the change process will involve a series of conversations, and that is where things can often get complicated. Personal preferences, status differentials, organizational history and individual experiences all play a role in how such conversations unfold. Sometimes what is needed is a way to manage these influences in a manner that empowers individual participants and the group as a whole to support a productive conversation.

When resources allow, the stakes are high or the issues are complicated, a professional facilitator is often retained. But it is also likely that you may find yourself having to play the role of facilitator at some point. Here is an an interesting facilitation card set that Martin Proulx uses in challenging meetings to help maintain some control so that everyone can have a chance to contribute and meeting ground rules can be maintained. What a neat idea for creating agency for a more effective conversation in meeting participants!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Make a Personal Connection

I witnessed the power of making a personal connection on my flight to San Francisco. I was seated near a couple from Russia who spoke little English. This created some tension during boarding. A flight attendent became increasingly frustrated, which showed on her face and body language. Nearby passengers became increasingly tense as well.


Fortunately, another United flight attendent stepped in, and using a mix of German and pantomime, learned that the couple were Russian tourists, with a background in the Russian army. Once that connection was established, the necessary admonitions about storing bags, etc were navigated with additional miming and smiles. Nearby passengers were amused as the flight attendent asked if he could join the Russians' vacation.

The power of a personal connection is strong indeed - a key take-away I learned from my early career in hospitality. Here are some ways to make your connections a bit more personal:

• Use names. I don't mean dropping names to impress people ... I mean using the name of the person whom you are thanking or to whom you are speaking. Afraid of misprouncing the name? Ask how to pronounce it correctly.

• Be positive. Positive energy is infectious. Give a hearty smile and good morning. Give a compliment, or make a positive comment. You'll feel better and establish the basis for positive rapport.

• Ask a question to facilitate small talk. Good standbys include asking about an unusual name or item, or asking an opinion of the book they are reading. Fully listen to their answer, and determine whether they are interested in a continued conversation or not.

• Consider your body language. You say just as much (if not more) through your nonverbal cues as your chosen words. Smiles and touch, when used appropriately, can quickly establish a positive connection.

(P.S. - Composed at 30,000 feet
using BlogPress lite from my iPhone.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wanna swap?

Here's a problem-solving methodology designed to support finding creative solutions:





And yes, that's a fridge magnet -at my parent's house!

- Posted using BlogPress lite from my iPhone

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Making Time

I recently shared that I was committed to taking back control my incoming email in 2010. So far, I have unsubscribed from at least 25 mass mailing lists that had been clogging up my inbox. Most I just deleted. Some I redirected to my personal email account. Let me share, it has been fantastic! In addition to reduced volume, I am able to better focus my attention. It is a real time saver, and productivity booster. Fresh off those gains, I have begun looking at other ways to be a more effective manager of my time and productivity. Here are a few things that are helping:
  1. RSS feeds to my iphone via MobileRSS - I had tried an iGoogle page previously, but it didn't fit well into my routines. MobileRSS is great for me ... I can skim google alert notifications, favorite blogs, as well as ASAE & The Center news releases and other feeds all on my commute on the subway. When I see a topic worth additional consideration, I can view the full item and/or email the link for follow-up.
  2. Online Bill Payments coupled with online banking- Who likes opening envelopes, writing checks, putting a stamp on, and getting the envelope in the mail? Now, I get simple notification of most new bills by email, review the details in a flash, and authorize direct debit from my bank. And a email series of email notifications from my bank allow me to track payments and account balances.
  3. A mix of online and in person shopping. When I know what I want and can wait a few days for it to arrive, online shopping is an excellent convenience, especially with two small children in the house. On the other hand, our BJ's membership has really been great too. Perhaps surprisingly, though, it is not the prices that I really like (in fact, often I think I can do as well or better on specific sale items at supermarkets). Rather, what is most valuable to me is that I am able to get diapers, groceries, printer cartridges, and other needed items such as car seats in one trip. And the BJs close to my house is open late enough that I can do all that after the kids are tucked in.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quantity is important

Jeffrey Cufaude hits on a creativity standard-bearer ("the best ways to find great ideas is to have lots of them") in a whole new way, warning us to Beware of Combover Creativity. But how to generate more ideas and encourage experimentation? If you've hit a wall (or just want to strengthen your creativity skill set) check out these resources:

Got your interest? Consider picking up a copy of Creative Leadership: Skills That Drive Change. For a sneak peek, click here.