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Fifty Shades of GRRR

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtLet's be clear: I've never read the book, Fifty Shades of Grey. I don't plan on seeing the movie by the same name. But the title does make excellent pun-fodder for me to post a list (in no particular order) of some of my top project management pet peeves:

  1. Indecisive decision-makers
  2. Passive-aggressive business analysts
  3. Developers who don’t follow requirements and specifications
  4. Project stakeholders who throw people under the bus
  5. The buses that keep hitting project stakeholders, thus requiring risks be written if this event happens.
  6. Status reports that read like stereo instructions
  7. Methodologies (outside of common sense and experience)
  8. Methodologists who act like Cubicle Pharisees
  9. People who drive slow in the passing lane (I’m sure there’s a project tie-in somewhere)
  10. Quality assurance analysts who refuse to log defects
  11. “Well, it’s technically done…”
  12. Micromanaging executives
  13. People who accuse without adequate fact-checking
  14. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I leave you off that distribution list on that message affecting your project?”
  15. Blatant incompetence
  16. Posers who are more interested in climbing than doing
  17. No clear scope statement… and no desire to research it either
  18. No compelling rationale for the project
  19. Passionless projects
  20. Forgetting a stakeholder
  21. Making assumptions with no valid basis
  22. Not documenting the assumptions made
  23. Those who wish to make estimating an exact science
  24. Executives who hold teams exactly to their estimates
  25. No time to plan properly
  26. Not providing the correct resources to develop the plan
  27. Not providing the correct resources to execute the plan
  28. Turning a lessons learned session into a witch hunt
  29. Inability to prioritize (especially where the triple constraint is involved)
  30. Holding a meeting only because it’s Tuesday at 9:00 AM
  31. Scheduling a meeting for Friday at 4:00 PM
  32. Leaders who can’t facilitate a meeting
  33. Blatant, unchecked dysfunctionality
  34. People who talk too much in meetings
  35. Forgetting to say “thank you”
  36. Lacking a sense of humor
  37. Fill-in-the-blank templates… where half the blanks are required but irrelevant
  38. Executive temper tantrums
  39. The genetic cross of the Peter Principle and Weebles: they’ve hit their point of incompetence but keep bouncing back
  40. “Not my job”
  41. “We can’t do that”
  42. “We’ve always done it that way”
  43. Those who equate project management with filling in blanks on a project plan
  44. Those who don’t consider project initiation and planning to be “real work”
  45. “That person” in meetings
  46. Conference callers who don’t know the difference between “on hold” and “mute”
  47. Those who have more stupid answers than intelligent questions
  48. Overabundance of ego
  49. Dog haters… I don’t mind if you love cats, but if you hate dogs, take your Gantt chart and move along
  50. Those who don’t understand project management skills are universal; you can put a seasoned project manager into any well-adjusted team in any industry/environment/organization and they will thrive

What forms of torture would you add to the list?

Who Writes This Stuff Anyway? (And Who Reads It?)

Notebook_image_368131A year.

Over a full year since my last blog post.

No excuses, but an explanation.

The past year has really been about a self-imposed experiment of sorts. I was curious if I would even miss blogging. What would happen if I just focused on the other areas of my life (and there have been many)?

A lot has happened in the past year. Our family moved to a new house. My older daughter started high school. I began a new contract project. In the world at large, we saw a Republican sweep of Congress, a massive Ebola scare, a couple of major plane crashes, visible police/racial issues as close as a state away, as well as other conflicts in multiple corners of the globe. All of these were blog-worthy, and yet my keyboard sat quietly.

Why?

  1. Well, as I mentioned before, I had a lot going on in my personal life. As I approach the 50 milestone in a couple of years, I'm finding that the mind and body do have a limited bandwidth. It's difficult to express oneself creatively (and do it justice) when the day-to-day life activities are bearing down. Obviously the house move was the big one. Now that it's over and life is getting back to "normal" (insert laugh track here), I hope to have more time and energy to devote to this craft.
  2. I forgot my audience. I remember reading an article about Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes) talking about the importance of creating for yourself as well as others. I forgot myself. Blogging had become a chore because I kept trying to figure out what would please all of you. The last two years of blogging prior to my hiatus were somewhat joy-less because of that. I apologize to you who read those blog posts. To me, the lack of energy was palpable.
  3. But you all take some blame as well. In the past few years, I've found those who read and respond to others' content have become far less civil. Blame it on Facebook or Twitter or on forums which allow anonymous commentary. The verbal vitriole I've observed on the topics of politics, police, celebrity, well - you name it... it's become energy-sucking. That's why I began moderating my blog comments years ago: to avoid the trolls. I love dialogue and exchange of different ideas; I loathe conflict when civility and respect are missing.
  4. Content congestion was my final reason. I love LinkedIn, and I've had much professional interaction there. Over the past couple of years, they've allowed people to start posting articles and content there. I've read some great articles, but now it seems to be a tsunami of words... a one-up-man-ship of "I know more than you" or "I'm more influential than you." Pffffft. Who needs that? I have my forum here. If what I'm writing is good enough, people will find me.

So here we are. I'm back (whatever "back" means). I will start blogging again, but it may or may not be what you want to read. And I've decided I'm fine with that. It will be what I want to write. Time to fall in love with my blog again.

Farm Land For Sale... Sort of

Farmland 2Well, we're coming to the end of settling my mom's estate. Almost all of the assets have been distributed. My sister is buying my childhood home (a fact which thrills me greatly, as I can't imagine a stranger living in that house).

One of the last things to address is the sale of some farmland my mom owned a couple of counties away. It goes up for auction on Thursday. It may not seem like much, but I guess this sale has been bothering me more than anything. I've never really wanted to sell the land, but all my reasons for hanging onto it are completely emotional and none are very rational.

Farmland 3The reasons to sell the land are pretty sound. I don't have time to be a land owner. It's an hour away and who has time to travel there periodically? There's that constantly nagging voice reminding me I have two kids to put through college some day. My funds are better used on more practical things than buying out my siblings' shares. The list goes on. And on. And on.

Farmland 4But then there's the romantic, adventurous, sentimental side of me. This land was tenant farmed by my grandfather before he purchased it. My mother inherited it from her parents when they passed. We hung out there quite a bit as children. I walked quite a few of those 80 acres, across fields and through timber. I seem to recall a failed overnight camping excursion when I was about 10 or 11.

Farmland 5Added to my angst is my creative side. A lot of people who will show up for the auction on Thursday are farmers who will use this as farmland or grazing land. They will look at its CSR measurements and decide what it's worth. What nobody at the auction will think about are the gently rolling hills that still make me pause and admire how the beauty of the countryside. The bidders probably won't see how cool it would be to build a log cabin on top of the hill overlooking the lake at Mormon Trail State Park directly to the south. (Oh, did I forget to mention the historic significance of this area when the Mormons trekked from Illinois to Utah?) The auction attendees have no concept of planting anything other than corn or beans - say, a vineyard perhaps? - in this agricultural mecca.

Farmland 1It's probably that last paragraph which has caused my mopey-ness of late. The people buying this land - MY heritage - are only looking at what it IS, no what it COULD BE. I guess my dreams and fantasies and ambitions are just that: mine. Given land prices these days, I'm confident we'll fetch a good price for it, and soon my obligations as executor of my parents' estate will be complete. My kids will have a decent college fund. I'll have a little more for retirement and perhaps a home improvement project or two more. And rationality will win out over romance.

Farmland 6But as one who spends semester after semester teaching my students to following their dreams, to create new realities, and to imagine what could be, I'll admit to feeling like this auction is a bit of a cop-out... like I'm selling out to the "safe and rational" voices in our collective heads, the ones I challenge regularly, the ones I tell my students to challenge, the ones I tell my clients to challenge. I'm probably being too hard on myself. Someone will buy the land. They'll till it. They'll graze cattle on it. And it will stay farmland, which is probably what needs to happen. (But a part of me wishes somebody buys the land who has a true vision of what it could be... wouldn't that be cool?)

If you're that one true visionary, here is the link to the auction next Thursday. I hope you're the high bidder.

Oh, You Better Watch Out

Thomas-nast-santaWhat does Santa Claus look like?

Well, no "good" boys or girls really know for certain since they're in bed asleep when jolly ol' St. Nick leaves toys under the tree. Worldwide, there are numerous images of Kris Kringle, but here in the USA, we have adopted the image of the rubenesque elf in red. And for this, we have Thomas Nast to thank.

Huh?

Who is Thomas Nast?

Those not familiar with American History may not recognize the name, but he was a 19th Century editorial cartoonist famous for exposing some of the worst political corruption of the late 1800's. He is also the one responsible for our image of the GOP as an elephant and the democrats as a donkey.

But we're talking about Santa Claus here. Mr. Nast drew upon his European roots to create his version of Santa. And it stuck. So the image that we now have is thanks to his keen imagery.

How often do we let others' define our perceptions of reality? Be it political beliefs, religious beliefs, organizational culture beliefs, relational beliefs, or accomplishment beliefs, are YOU in control of what you believe to be true, or have you blindly accepted what OTHERS have told you is reality?

We've let Thomas Nast define our reality of Santa for 150 years. My guess is there are many who think Santa has ALWAYS looked that way since his inception. And we've done the same for our other perceptions of reality as well. Unless you turn off Fox News/MSNBC, open your own Bible, review company your policies, read and review current literature, read opposing viewpoints, etc., you will ALWAYS see things the way you've always seen them.

I was talking with someone recently who did not want to work with another person because they "had heard" they were difficult. I happened to know the other person rather well and knew how the perception had been perpetuated. Hence, I began peppering my conversation-mate with questions about HOW they arrived at this perception. They had heard it from one other person... one, mind you... but had never worked or even met the "offending party" themselves. No research. Pretty sad that they were willing to discount someone based on one other's commentary.

So the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas season is the gift of an open mind. Learn to challenge your own perceptions of reality and define your own Santa.

Now That's Just Cold

Frozen_dead_guy_days I know, I know... I'm on vacation in the Rockies... I shouldn't be blogging... but this one was just too good to pass up.

My best bud and host for the weekend, Maury, took me on a field trip to Nederland, Colorado this morning after I arrived. Evidently, many years ago, a man named Bredo Morstoel thought it would be ... um... cool to try cryogenics. The problem is that he didn't know all the nifty liquid nitrogen tricks that Walt Disney did to "enhance immortality" ... so he relied on ice... lots of it... constantly replenished.

So every year around the beginning of March, the town of Nederland holds a festival to celebrate this lunacy: Frozen Dead Guy Days.

Um... yeah...

Who'd be so silly, right?

How about your boss? Your VP? Human Resources? Your company? Your church? Your political party? They celebrate frozen dead guys every day. They call them policies, procedures, processes, sacred cows, if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it, paradigms, platforms, doctrines, ideologies and numerous other silly euphamisms. Things that the company or organization or "movement" has long since outgrown and decided are no longer relevant or add value.

And yet we celebrate them. They've become frozen in our minds as a reality. We can't imagine life without them. So we don't.

I'm torn on this one... I absolutely LOVE the irreverence of this celebration. The annual posters are collectors' items.

Would I personally celebrate a frozen dead guy? As my clients and students find out daily, I personally prefer to melt the ice and plant them in the ground.

Just some Friday silliness to share with you all.

Prescribed for Basic Discomfort

Nail_bed With the exception of Phineas and Ferb, I've grown tired of the crap that passes for television on the Disney Channel.  As a parent, I want my kids growing up with an appreciation for great writing and acting, where the adults don't look stupid, where a great plot and amusing characters can carry themselves. That's why I'm grateful for Hulu. My girls are now being introduced to The Addams' Family (the mid-1960's version starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones).

For those who grew up under a rock and unfamiliar with the Addams' family, go watch a few episodes and then come back and read the rest of this post. For the rest of you, wasn't that show a riot? The Addams clan was amusingly macabre while being extremely gracious to their visitors. They had no idea their norms made other people extremely uncomfortable.

Last weekend, I started teaching a class in Creativity at Drake. I gave my students the standard line: "I won't knock you out of your comfort zone; I'll drop-kick you." Discomfort is key for creativity. When you're uncomfortable, your mind starts racing. I see it in the face of students coming up with an excuse. I see it in project resources who failed to meet a deadline. It's evident in the faces of the guests of the Addams family as they try to extricate themselves from the spooky mansion.

My good friend, Kevin Eikenberry, had a great post about discomfort a couple of weeks ago. Among his five reasons was this gem:

Discomfort promotes creativity. Creativity is borne of necessity. People create new things, ideas, concepts and products when they have a problem – or in some way are outside their comfort zone. Often creativity is tapped to help regain comfort, which is great. The point is that when you feel or notice some discomfort or lack of satisfaction with your situation, you will likely be driven to innovate and be creative to find a remedy. If you want to be more creative, look for your discomfort.

Well said, Kevin. Now, my question is why we don't actively seek discomfort more? I'm amused by people who have a status quo fetish. They are petrified of discomfort. How can we EFFECTIVELY make others uncomfortable? Gomez and Morticia have some of the answers:

  • Assume discomfort is the norm: The Addams crew sees nothing wrong with housing a lion and an octopus, let alone a man-eating plant and an uncle who powers light bulbs with his mouth. When you go against the flow of normal on a daily basis, it takes a lot more to make you uncomfortable.
  • Be gracious in the midst of discomfort: Watching Gomez and Morticia, they make all their guests welcome and go out of their way with generosity. If you're going to make others uncomfortable, do it with a smile and an open hand.
  • Be balanced: the Addamses pursue multiple interests; they don't rely on just one technique to make others uncomfortable. Wreck a toy train or two. Learn the harpsichord. Try fencing. Just doing the same thing over and over won't make anyone uncomfortable; it will probably just make them mad.
  • It's temporary: each episode lasts 22 minutes. Yeah, television is not an accurate reflection of reality. However, discomfort doesn't have to last long either. If we embrace it, discomfort can be short-lived as well.

Just remember: discomfort doesn't have to be a bad thing. It is absolutely essential to those who really want to seize the accomplishment, as you won't carpe factum without it. So when discomfort knocks on your door, just open it and in your best Lurch voice, ask, "You rang?"

Taking My Toy (Story) and Going Home

Toy_story_3_andy It's been interesting to read/hear the reactions from my friends about the ending of Toy Story 3.  (Spoiler Alert)  I mean, it's one thing for little kids to get upset at the end when Andy gives all his toys to Bonnie and then drives off into the sunset to go to college, but I've been surprised how many adults (including myself) have gotten a little choked up over the scene.

Having taught a few semesters of an MBA class in creativity, I have a theory about why the end of this flick is affecting adults... I think it forces us to relive our own lost childhood.  We have to come to terms with the fact that we no longer allow ourselves to be kids, to play with toys, to explore our own imaginations (as opposed to video games which give us the story), to know what joy feels like with reckless abandon.  We see Andy going off to college and leaving his toys behind, and we look at our mortgages and car payments and performance appraisals and bad bosses and every-day-spouse-and-kids... we begin to mourn a simpler time in our lives.

My creativity students are pushed into situations where they have to unlearn how to unlearn creativity... yes, you read that right.  We're all born with creativity and in the course of time, we unlearn it.  My job as a professor isn't to teach creativity; to believe I could do so would be both futile and arrogant.  My job is simply to help them whack through all the perceptual filters which have prevented them from being creative... to help them find their box of toys again.

What do you think?  Once we've gone past "infinity and beyond" is it possible to return?

Avast, Ye Scurvy Dogs!

2010_Creativity_Class
Yes, it's that time of year again.  The Drake University College of Business and Public Administration's graduate level elective in Creativity for Business is alive and well.  And, as in past years, I made the students come in costume this weekend.  And, as in past years, they didn't disappoint me with their creativity.

First place this year was an amazing impersonation of Elvis, complete with original song score.  We had Barbie, chefs, Joan of Arc, referees, and a host of others.  For a first in this class, we had Daphne and a LIVE Scooby Doo (who was generally better behaved than many of the students).

I love the reaction I get from outsiders when I tell them I'm able to get 35 graduate students to show up to class in costume.  Why?  How?  Well, yes, they are graded on this assignment.  But the real kicker is this allows them to internalize creativity.  Since we spend the bulk of the class centered on Roger von Oech's four roles of creativity (explorer, artist, judge, warrior), this assignment encourages each student to focus on the role which speaks most to him or her.  And because they have to present to their rationale to the rest of the class, they'd better be prepared to articulate (and they always are).  Dare I say that they have fun?  It gives them a chance to laugh at themselves while they solidify their creative identity.

Me?  I took a page fromChris Brogan's playbook this year and opted for a pirate (as did two of my students).  Although I learned a creative lesson myself through this choice:  make sure your eye patch is sized for the adult head, lest you cut off the circulation.

Now I'm already looking forward to 2011.

Dangling the Carrot of the Status Quo

Rainbow_of_CarrotsBUT WE'VE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY!!!

Infamous line, isn't it?  Yet often, it is accepted as gospel and nobody bothers to figure out how long "always" is, or who "we" are, or exactly what the rationale of "that way" is.

Let's take our friend the carrot.  We just assume that it's always been orange.  These new-fangled colored carrots like purple and white are just a fad.  Not so, my vegetative chum.  Orange carrots were only popularized when William from the House of Orange assumed the British throne in 1689.  Before then, carrots were white and purple and ... well, you get the idea.

The bottom line:  we have NOT always done it that way.  People have just assumed as much over a long period of time.  The next time somebody throws out that line in a meeting, start asking them questions about when "that way" was started, who started it, why it was started, why it's been perpetuated, and who is accountable for maintaining the status quo and standing in the way of change.  If that doesn't work, feed them a carrot (preferably not orange).

Wow - I Just Can't Wait!!!

Idea_faucet It's almost here!  I can feel it coming... closer... closer.

This weekend, my Drake University Creativity for Business students will be presenting their final projects.  As you may remember, I don't believe in doing some boring ol' research project; my students are teamed up with actual small businesses and special organizations to apply what they've learned with those who don't have the budgets for big-dollar consultants.  It's a real win-win.

This spring, it's been fun to have Impromptu Studio, Iowa Arts Council, Down Under Bar & Grill, and Sweet Binney's (home of THE BEST croissant ever... period).  Lots of cool ideas this weekend...

And still...

I'm a little nostalgic to see this batch of students go.  The past two years, there have been some AMAZING students going through Drake's graduate programs.  While I'm sure there are other great students on the horizon, I've seen some outstanding young minds who will be changing the world for the better.  I've just felt fortunate to get to know this collection of incredible professionals.

But...

As I've learned with my students, it's never really good-bye.  Either way, it's going to be a great weekend.

What? Mischief? Me?

Mental_playthings There was a great article in the paper this morning about an ISU professor who teaches a seminar on creativity and mischief.  He talks about how trouble-makers and mischief-mongers are generally the ones who pave the way for the next big wave of solutions and break-throughs.  I couldn't agree more.

In office politics, we talk a lot about people who play mind games... and usually it's under a negative context.  I have to admit, I sort of view the world as my own little mental plaything, and I do like to yank a few chains from time to time... not really out of malice, but more out of mischief.  I especially like to tackle people who are either really mean-spirited, too serious, or overly dogmatic.  Then it's just fun to bat around my prey before I devour it.

Anyway, back to the article.  The professor in question, Mitchell Squire, teaches architecture at Iowa State.  The article quotes him as saying,

"People want the safety of a certain way...  But given the swift changes of our world, you can't desire that stability.  The minute you find a solution, a new one will be required...  The individual who's always playing games and is never serious may also be the person who can ultimately get us out of the big fix."

To those who might criticize my overly playful nature, I offer an ornery tongue-sticking-out and a solid, "So There!"

The article goes on to make a great point about one of the finer points of mischief-making:

"Squire is quick to point out that he doesn't encourage his students to cheat or lie, but he emphasizes the lessons from those who do - a tough concept for students conditioned to follow the rules."

Amen!

Underachievement We have a lot of rule followers out there.  And in our economy, the frightened little cubicle-dwellers are just becoming more fearful of standing out in any way, lest the axe of downsizing fall on the one getting the attention.  I've learned over the years some of the nuances of when to ask permission and when to elevate an issue, versus when to just grab the ball, run the length of the field, and hope for the touchdown before there's a flag on the play.  It's a judgment call, and sometimes I get my hand slapped (ask my wife how often we have to have the "why didn't you just tell me about it beforehand?" speech) and other times I'm lauded for my creative leadership.

Mitchell Squire is the kind of educator and thought leader we need in these trying times.  I may have found a new hero to add to my list.

Is It Halloween Yet?

200902 Class Costume Picture It's that time of year again.  One of the favorite parts of my Drake Creativity class is the costume assignment.  Those who have read this blog for a while remember some of the bizarre combinations of my students and the odd costumes I've chosen.  This year, I opted to be a cat burglar (don't tell my law enforcement friends).  The choice was obvious for me:  I get to ransack my students' psyches, pilfer their paradigms, and steal their sacred cows.  However, my costume choice couldn't hold a candle to my students.  From Jane Jetson to Carol Burnett, from Phoebe of Friends (who could lead an entire class in her rendition of the song "Smelly Cat") to Hulk Hogan, from Transformers to Where's Waldo (I miss the 80's), it was highly amusing all around.  I had to laugh that my two resident I.T. guys both came dressed as Trekkies.

Some people ask me why I do this to my students year after year (other than for my own nefarious entertainment).  It's pretty simple.  Think back to when you were a kid right before Halloween.  You were excited that you could be ANYTHING; the possibilities were endless.  We lose that sense of wonder and curiosity as adults, so in a class on creativity, I try to restore that feeling.  Some day, Roger von Oech is going to take exception with the fact that I make my students relate their costumes to his four creative roles of explorer, artist, judge, or warrior.  Their creative juices go into overdrive with this assignment.  (Actually, I'm sure he wishes he could come to class and participate... maybe some day.)

So is it Halloween yet?

I'm Still Thinking...

Spring_awakening My wife and I went to see Spring Awakening at the Civic Center last week.  Pretty much all week, I was complaining about going.  After all, small-town German 19th Century teenage sexual coming-of-age angst isn't exactly my cup of tea... but when you have season tickets, you at least open your mind to trying new things (insert flashbacks of my mom saying, "Just try one bite of spinach, Tim...").

So I went.  I was impressed with the set design.  Very austere, yet functionally versatile.  The lighting wowed me.  I tend to geek out on the technical aspects of performances and notice those little details.  I liked that the band was on stage with the actors rather than relegated to the orchestra pit.  The plot was as expected.  A bunch of teenagers trying to figure out their own bodies (as well as each others')... with a less-than-happy ending.  And then there was the music... completely edgy alternative rock which flew in the face of the actors and the plot.  One of the song titles was "Totaly F&*#-ed" - certainly nothing this fan of jazz would normally listen to.  I went away from the show thinking, "It was OK, but I doubt I'd ever see it again."

So nine days later, I'm still thinking about it.  I've downloaded a few of the songs to my iPod already.  I thought about how all of the adult roles were played by only two actors, which all of the youth were played by distinct actors (great symbolism).  I spent time listening to the lyrics and how powerfully they portray the sentiment of the stage plot.  I'm not sure but I may actually LIKE "Spring Awakening."  But it took me time to process it... on my own... with nobody pressuring me.

That happens a lot in business and in life.  We come face-to-face with something outside our comfort zone, and our perceptual filters put up a road block with flashing lights that say, "Do not enter."  So new ideas and proposals automatically get shut down.  Imagine if there were a two-week waiting period concept perculation.  How many ideas that we initially reject would eventually be embraced?

In project management, we like answers and responses and approvals right away.  I understand this need for speed on decision-making.  But after my own "spring awakening," I'm starting to wonder how many really good ideas get shot down because somebody doesn't have a chance to think about then.  Before your next "no" maybe you should ask how quickly they need an answer... you might be surprised how much you think about it afterward. 

Aardvarks and Jump Drives and Creativity... Oh My!

Aardvark My friend, Mark Yontz (freelance writer and editor extraordinaire) sent me this picture of a baby aardvark the other day with the comment, "You do such a good job of tying pics with words and telling a story, so I thought I'd challenge you to see if you could do something with an image of a baby aardvark."

Hmmm... the blogospheric equivalent of a Bobby Flay Throwdown.

I looked at the homely little critter carefully and decided that elephants and kangaroos should never be allowed to mate.  Elephants... big ears... big trunk... long memory.  Kangaroos... pouches... Australia... jumping.  Memory... jumping... and my brain started thinking about jump drives (which have been in my thoughts a lot with transferring from my old laptop to my new laptop).  That is quite a mental leap to get from an ugly little critter to a piece of technology; however, that's how creativity works... really nothing more difficult than firing up the synapses to connect ideas.

JumpDrive I'm about to start teaching my Creativity for Business MBA course at Drake this coming weekend.  I'm inheriting 31 people who may or may not believe in the power of creativity... of using their own imagination to come up with new ideas based on whatever they're dealt.  Many people are being dealt rotten hands right now because of the economy.  A lot are wallowing in their present circumstances.  The creative ones are wondering how they can use their own "ugly aardvark picture" to think about and obtain something useful.

As we start a new week full of historic events and lots of promise, how can you use your ugly aardvark to create something fantastic?

(Thanks, Mark, for the creative challenge.  I hope I lived up to your expectations.)

But Seriously, Folks...

Zombies game I read with interest the story in yesteday's Des Moines Register about world class schools.  Deputy Editorial Page Editor Linda Lantor Fandel has been running a fascinating series, comparing Iowa schools to those abroad (more recently Finland and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada).  One of the things that struck me with the Canadian schools was how much the teachers made learning fun.

In an un-related story yesterday, there was an AP story about a "humans vs. zombies" game at Gaucher College in Maryland.  (Hmmmm... sounds like one college is truly preparing their students for the workforce.)  While I read through all the hub-bub about letting students use Nerf guns on campus, what really caught my eye were the last four paragraphs:

And on a campus where students refer to each other as "kids," Humans vs. Zombies is a chance to bring back a childhood that some never even got to experience. Growing up with structured activities, safe playgrounds and schools that ban dodgeball, they didn’t get the primal appeal of the chase out of their system.

"My mom didn’t let (toy) guns in the house, and I didn’t get TV till I was 18," Modine said. "This is just me catching up."

Said Asa Eisenhardt, a creative writing major: "It’s our last chance that we get to play pretend and really immerse ourselves, and maybe it’s due to ... the quirkiness of Goucher, but you somehow don’t feel like an idiot when you’re strapped to the gills in Nerf gear and you’re running around yelling squad commands.

"Conversely, can I laugh at myself? Absolutely."

I've asked the question before in this blog, but it begs repeating:  Have we forgotten the fine art of "play time"?  Do we spend enough time just being goofy?  Do we know how to let our hair down (OK, for some of us, that's much more figurative rhetoric) and have fun?  Regardless of what I am teaching at Drake, I make sure my students come away with one guiding principle to help them through office politics, project management, or executive leadership:

If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right.

It doesn't matter what "it" is.  Every mundane chore has the opportunity to infuse fun.. it's just up to us to let it happen.  We're faced with a train-wrecked economy, a world of cowardly terrorists who can strike at a moment's notice, tight budgets, downsizings, corporate corruption, celebrity meltdowns... and the list goes on.  We can either sit and fret about it, or we can do what comedians around the world do every day:  laugh about it.  Make light of it.  Poke fun at it.  Not to mention the health benefits of good strong laughter, it will also improve your outlook and help you think more clearly.

So on this Monday, make it YOUR accomplishment to stir up some good clean fun ... for your coworkers and for yourself.

Tinker Toys For the Adult Brain

Village_peopleA few years ago, I was sharing small talk with two female colleagues.  Actually, they were just letting me be present and listen in on their conversation, as the topic bored me (the males in their dating past), and I really couldn't get a word in edgewise even if I'd wanted to.  As they progressed through the talk, I got a glimpse at the boyfriend history of one of them.  She was currently dating an avid Harley biker at the moment (a mild-mannered suit by day).  I found out that he had been preceded by a police officer, military personnel, and a construction worker.

"Wow, all you need is a cowboy and a Native American, and your Village People collection is complete," was my interjection into the conversation.  She blanched, while the other one laughed hysterically at the reference.

After taking the Strengths Finder test, I found out that making connections is one of my major strengths.  I'm able to see patterns and find relationships among seemingly disparate things.  This is probably another reason why I am the way I am.  I tend to see these connections quickly.  This is a critical skill for professionals seeking to "seize the accomplishment."  Patterns are all around us.

Consider the following:

  • A project resource makes excuses for every deliverable that comes due.  There always seems to be a sick child or broken car or dead aunt getting in the way of every project milestone.  You have a critical milestone coming up with this person's name on it.  What is your first thought?
  • At the end of every month, the sales figures for a specific region spike, while they have been static for the other three weeks of the month.  You wonder if people are really buying your product at the end of the month or if the sales force is waiting until the end to report their sales.  Which is it?

One thing about patterns is they need to be observable.  Our brains pick up on things and store them and then retrieve them when they think they are relevant.  Some people connect the dots a lot easier than others.  But patterns remain all around us:  manufacturing activity, sales data, human behavior.  Mike DeWitt has an amazing video on his blog about brain patterns.  It's probably the best 25 minutes of your time you can spend if you want to figure out what's really going on inside somebody's head.

Try this:  look at a row of cubicles in your office.  Other than being gray or beige, what other patterns do you see?  Are they in order from most important to least important?  Are they all inhabited by females?  Does everybody have a plant?  What do these patterns tell you about the people who are in them and their relationship with each other?

Of course, there's always the possibility that there is no pattern whatsoever.  John Hunter points this out succinctly yet powerfully in his post from several months ago.  Finding connections and seeing patterns may just be an illusion.  Ask any publicity expert for a candidate... in the coming months, we'll be seeing numerous ads trying to make us believe there are patterns of behavior (and they'll come from both parties).  Still, if you're not looking for the patterns, it's hard to tell the good ones from the fake ones.

So... what can you do to start observing the patterns in your life?

  1. Slow down.  I know that's hard in our fast paced world, but you won't see what you can't see.
  2. Document.  Sometimes patterns reveal themselves over time.  Keeping track of them helps.
  3. Ask Others.  Patterns sometimes require a team effort to see the big picture.

When you see the patterns start to emerge, pay attention to them.  Ask yourself what they might be telling you.  Are your compensation systems rewarding a certain behavior?  Is a product faulty?  Is a process flawed?  Is there a weak link employee who needs to be coached or removed?

By the way, not all patterns are meant to be communicated publicly.  Case in point, women do NOT like having their dating patterns analyzed.  Just thought I'd share that bit of wisdom.

The Philosophy of Play-Doh and Sock-Rat-Tease

Sock_rat_tease_play_doh_2A while back, my whole family found itself at home for the day.  Instead of wondering what to do, where to go, what to see, whom to invite, we decided to stay home for the afternoon and make sock puppets.  And we had a blast doing it.  It was fun just to share some creative time with the kids.  I made a sock rat puppet and chased the kids around with it, making us all giggle hysterically.  Now that summer is here, we've had them playing with Play-Doh as well as other creative endeavors, like reading and drawing and playing outdoors.

Today is Fathers' Day, and one of the best gifts my dad left me was encouragement to use my imagination.  It's also the gift I want to leave with my children.  The next video game will be obsolete in months.  TV (even educational TV) is pretty much all reruns.  Dads, our kids really just want TIME with us.  They want to watch us having fun WITH them.  Many of the other fathers I know are great at the day-to-day hands on stuff, and their relationship with their children shows it.

To all the other dads out there, have a great day.  As a friend of mine once said, a one-night stand can make any guy a father; it's the relationship that makes him a daddy.  Enjoy your kids, and let them enjoy you.

The Good, The Bad, The Creative

Creative_devil_pope Some of you remember the pink bunny post of last year about this time (others of you, it seems, won't let me forget it).  Well, it's time again for my Drake creativity class to express themselves through costume.  Following Roger von Oech's framework, my students had to dress up and tell how their costume related to the creative roles of the explorer, artist, judge, or warrior (or any combination thereof).

It's always a fun social experiment.  After all, how many graduate profs could get their students to subject themselves willingly to such abject humilitation?  How many people do you know that could get the Pope to hug Satan?  (Funny story about the guy who wore the Pope costume.  It had been raining cats and dogs, coming down in torrents.  The moment he walked in the room in that costume, the sun broke through the clouds.  Whoa.  Spooky.  Also, the papal imposter promised a trip to confession this week.)

Creativity_classAll in all, my students enjoy the experience.  It really allows them to let their hair down (with the exception of the one student who cut his hair off in order to impersonate yours truly).  For many of them, it makes creativity real.  And me?  Well, the bunny costume got a rest this year.  While you can't tell it from the picture, I'm in full SWAT gear in honor of my upcoming book.

So what about you?  If you could dress in any costume that would be express your creative spirit, what would it be?

Looking For Innovation? Try The Yellow Pages

Yellow_pagesLooking for Innovation?  It's most likely located between "Hospitals" and "Juice Bars."

I've been using this creativity exercise for so long, I can't even remember where/when I learned it, but I do know it's not original to me.  One of the most powerful concepts of creativity is the power of connectedness (or combination)... pulling together two dissimilar concepts or ideas into one.  Last night, I gave my Drake "Creativity for Business" students small sections of the Yellow Pages I had torn out of the local phone directory.  Each group had at least two sections.  I challenged them to come up with as many new product/service ideas as they could by combining one entry or heading from one of the phone book sections with a completely different one from another.  With their creativity in overdrive, here are some of the results:

  • Combining "Fraternal Organizations" and "Assisted Living" yielded the "Frats & Old Bats" alliance
  • "Airlines" and "Escorts" merged into the "Mile High Club"
  • "Funeral Homes" and "Appliances" collided into a sort of do-it-yourself cremation service called "The Oven"
  • Don't even ask what happened when "Annuities" and "Fleas" were meshed
  • "Pizza Delivery" and "Bars & Nightclubs" created a new chauffeur service that picked you up from the bar and delivered you and your pizza safely home at 2 AM
  • "Heating Pumps" and "Bras & Lingerie" came up with a heated bra (I'm sure a big seller on a cold Iowa Winter day like today)
  • "Wigs" and "Mini-Blinds" formed a new hairpiece where the length could be adjusted by a twist of a rod.
  • My students wouldn't tell me what yielded the "Red Neck Dating Service:  Getting Outside the Family Tree" but I think I heard somebody muttering something about "ATVs" and "Genealogy"

You get the idea.  The ideas don't have to be good.  They get people laughing, relaxed, and talking, providing an excellent environment for your team to tackle their own innovative problem solving.  All it takes is one phone book and a lot of imagination to get the creative juices flowing.

brain fART

Helprpa040001There was a great article in this morning's Des Moines Register about a Vice President at Principal Financial Group, Jerry Patterson, who turns the corporate antics around him into art.  Having been employed by and contracted at PFG, I'm sure there is no lack of corporate fodder to inspire him.  His artwork has a bit of an edge to it, playing off the years of material he's observed while working at the Des Moines employment giant.  You can view some of his artwork at his website, including the image to the right.  Congratulations, Jerry, on the well-deserved publicity.

I've been thinking about creative outlets quite a bit recently.  Scott Adams turned his days of dysfunctionality at one of the Baby Bells into Dilbert.  Personally, I have journals bursting at the seams with notes about specific people and their behaviors over the years.  Earlier in my career, I figured out that I could either let the difficult personalities get to me, or I could just make a few notes about them during the exchange and preserve the moment for later.  The results of that behavioral record-keeping have been Race Through The Forest and GUST.  The best compliments I receive on either book are when people ask if I've been spying on them in their companies.  Regardless of which "big box employer" or "small mom and pop shop" you work for, there will always be bad behavior.

The question is:  do you let it get to you or have you created an effective and healthy way of coping with it?

Your Muse Is Holding On Line One

TimwritersblockI'm just thinking about stuff....

I've been struggling over my third book for months.  I've done all of the writers-block-breaking exercises and activities I can think of.  I've put the book away for a while, hoping to come back to it refreshed.  I've given myself creative space to work on it.  I've immersed myself in the fun aspects of the topic I'm researching.  Nothing.  Well, nothing except a lot of false starts.

Now that I have a mountain of grading to do for the semester, the creative juices are flowing... gushing, actually.  But I don't have time!  My students are patiently waiting for their grades... they've worked hard on their assignments and papers, and they want my feedback.  Some of them are waiting on tuition reimbursement from their employers.  I have a duty and obligation to be timely...

Still...

The siren call of creativity is now waiting... beckoning... tempting... seducing.  If I ignore it, who knows when it may come back?

What's a guy to do?

How Classical Is Classical?

Wolfgang"History merely repeats itself.  It has all been done before.  Nothing under the sun is truly new."  Ecclesiastes 1:9

One of my favorite birthday presents this year came from my daughters.  (OK, my wife bought it, but the tag was from them, so they're getting the credit.)  They got me a CD I'd been wanting called Wolfgang's Big Night Out by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.  Imagine some of the best classical music ever written - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss - put to a swing rhythm with strong influences of blue grass and some guitar riffs that would have the head-banging-est heavy metal afficianado drooling with delight.  Suffice it to say, it is one kickin' set of tunes.  Wait a second... did I just refer to classical greats as a "kickin' set of tunes"????  Hmmm, I guess I did.

In organizations, we spend a lot of time arguing about what is or should be obsolete.  We discuss shelf time and useful life.  We talk about planned obsolescence.  We tackle version control.  We slay sacred cows.  Roger von Oech, truly one of my favorite creative theorists, tackled this in his blog a while back:

Remember: every right idea is eventually the wrong idea.

Innovation means not only generating new ideas, but escaping from obsolete ones as well.

As you think about a current problem or issue, you might ask yourself these questions: "What assumptions should I update? What is no longer true and should be discarded? What's now possible?"

But....

How often do we do the opposite?  When do we look at things that were once useful and then tossed aside to see if we can re-create them in a new light?  I enjoy classical music and appreciate it in the right context... but listening to Brian Setzer's version adds all new zest and zeal for these classics.  What about in work?  Instead of scanning the list of new books on the Best Seller List, go back and read some Deming or Drucker.  They were pretty timeless at telling us what it would take to make an organization work really well.  What "classics" can you take down off the shelf, blow the dust off, and give them a new look and feel?

May I Have 37 Foam Clown Noses, Please?

Class_clownMy students and I had an interesting discussion in our Leadership class at Drake this week.  We talked about fun.  Actually, the discussion was more focused on corporate culture and the leader's role in shaping it, but we were covering some case studies about actual organizations who infused fun into their corporate cultures.

One student had an interesting question, and I'd like to pass it along and pose it to you, my readers.  Is it possible to make any and every job fun?  Conversely, are there jobs or industries in which fun is just not a possibility?

This seemed to generate some lively discussion among my students.  By the way, don't they look adorable?  (The folks at the costume shop thought I was a little off my rocker... but that's not far from the truth.)

So... what are your thoughts about fun in the workplace?  We spend so much of our waking hours there... shouldn't we make it a goal to make it somewhat tolerable?

Derisionaries

Headlights"[Creativity] is like driving a car at night.  You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."  -E.L. Doctorow

I love people who tell me something won't work... or that I'm wrong... or (my personal favorite) tell me I'm crazy for bringing it up.  It makes trying all that more enjoyable and proving them wrong all the sweeter.  Of course, I'm not a do-the-I'm-right-you're-wrong-in-your-face-dance kind of guy.  I prefer more of a quiet waltz past the finish line.

But I digress.

As you may have guessed by some of my posts, I generally don't categorize myself as just a professor or a consultant any longer.  I'm the "Carpe Factum" dude.  I like to help people chart out the accomplishments for their future.  What can they become if they put their minds to it?  The hard part is never getting them there; it's getting them to envision what "there" looks like.  Ask any project manager who knows his or her stuff.  They'll tell you that a successful project will expend far more energy during initiation and planning.  Just defining a direction is tough.

Based on the Doctorow quote above, what have been your greatest successes in helping others (or yourself) define the next course of action?  How do you deal with the derisionaries - those naysayers who say it can't be done?

Back To School... Carpe Factum Style

Alberteinstein"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."  -Albert Einstein

Today I begin new employee orientation at Drake.  (Yeah, the irony of having been there for over seven years already is not lost on me.)  I'm excited about this year, though.  Much of my course load will be the same with the exception of one new course on Leadership and Human Capital Development; still, there's a sense of newness about the whole experience.  I really almost feel like I am a first year teacher, and that's exciting to regain that spirit again.

A lot of educational institutions are getting back into the swing of things over the next couple of weeks.  But let's not think of them as "educational institutions" any more.  I'd rather think of them as idea incubators... or discovery centers... or life labs.  I'd like to challenge my fellow educators no longer to think of themselves as "just teachers" ... we're safari leaders ... we're artists ... we're conductors (music or railroad... you pick your metaphor).

There are a lot of young minds out there depending on our perceptions... of them... of ourselves... of our profession.

Now Carpe Factum!

The Every Day and Seemingly Mundane

The other night, Mitch Matthews and I were playing his game, Q-Friends, and discussing on which movie set we would have enjoyed being present.  For both of us, the default was Star Wars.  We discussed all of the little details about this movie and wondered where and how the creators, primarily George Lucas, came up with the inspiration that made this film icon.

Well, I doubt that this is how it really happened but I ran across this short clip on YouTube:

While it is a parody, it does bring up some great points.  Great inspiration and creativity are all around us.  From the annoying cubicle-dweller down the aisle who makes unpleasant noises to the weird thing your dog does when he's begging to go outside... it's all there... just waiting to be captured.

May the (carpe factum) force be with you!

Show Me the Monet

Phone the authorities!  Call the ASPCA!  I believe that someone in my neighborhood is torturing a cat.  It sounds like they've strung him between a car's engine and exhuast and turned on the ignition.  The sound is frightening.

Actually, before we pull the police and the animal control into this, I think the reality of the source of the sound is far scarier and much more heinous.  What has really happened is that some nearby 10-year-old has acquired her first flute and her parents have banished her to practice outside.

Hey... it's an honest mistake.

Lepeintreclaudemonet29306Learning creativity is messy.  Implementing creativity is also messy.  Very messy.  Many times, the start of creative impulses can make those around us cringe.  It's been that way since the beginning of history.  Think about how many people lost their lives because they dared to challenge the traditional wisdom of the day.  I had lunch with Mike Wagner and Delaney Kirk the other day, and Mike was sharing a story he'd read about the beginnings of French Impressionism, and how people like Manet and Monet were ridiculed, harrassed and vandalized for daring to challenge L'Acadamie.

Have we improved all that much in the past several decades (or centuries)?  Companies and managers still throw out lines like:

  • I want you to think outside the box, but check with me before you do anything
  • Take risks, but just don't screw up
  • If it were that great of an idea, wouldn't our R&D department already thought of it?

Each year, 2-3 dozen MBA students show up in my classroom to learn creativity.  (The reality is that they don't learn it at all; they rediscover what's already inside.)  At first, many of them are petrified of the thought.  By the end of the semester, many are feeling a heck of a lot more empowered.  I'm always curious to hear how well they're doing at implementing their creative impulses after they've left my classroom.  Sure, there's the occasional email or phone call, but I really want to know what each one is doing to change the world... at least his or her corner of it.

Are they creating their own brand of impressionism in a world that's not ready for it yet?

Are you?

Simon Says "Moo"

Cow_800Today I watched an interesting phenomenon:  my daughters played the game Simon Says.  My two-year-old was allowed to be Simon.  She started out:

"Simon Says 'Spin around.'"

"Simon Says 'Clap your hands.'"

"Jump."

And then...

Well, if you've ever been around a toddler long enough, they lose interest very quickly.  Abby found something else to grab her attention, leaving my seven-year-old spinning and clapping.  Lauren is a rather focused and very competitive young lady.  Hence, she was not about to lose the game under any circumstances.  She was so busy spinning and clapping that she didn't notice that Abby had left the room until she was about to collapse from dizziness.  (Yeah, I could have stopped her earlier, but then what fun would I have had?)

As a consultant, I deal with a lot of sacred cows.  Simon made a company start mooing 5, 10, 20 years ago and nobody came along and told them to stop.  I guess companies just have to get dizzy enough before they realize that Simon has left the room.  We hope they realize it before they lose consciousness.  Before you bring in a consultant to solve your problems, maybe you should simply try saying, "Simon says, 'Stop Mooing.'"  The dizzy cows will thank you.

The Things We Do To Promote Education

Classpic OK, we can file this under the category of "lost all professional credibility."  Last night's assignment for my Creativity for Business students was to come dressed in costume.  As I mentioned earlier, I've structured the class around Roger von Oech's four roles of creativity:  The Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior.  The students had to pick a costume and present to the class how it fit with one of the four roles.  Besides a fun way to jar them out of their comfort zone, each student resonates well with one role better than the others, and this exercise forces them to internalize that role.  My students were pretty darn creative and (I might add) really good sports.  And, since I'm an instructor who would never put my students through something I wouldn't do myself, I also came in costume.  If you want to know the significance of the pink bunny costume, ask Drew McLellan.  Bunny out, dude.

A Mall And The Night Visitors

NophotoA little over a week ago, I sent my creativity students out on a sort of scavenger hunt.  We had been studying Michael Michalko's approach to creativity called the SCAMMPERR method (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, etc.).  Divided into teams and armed with digital cameras, I sent them to the mall of their choice to find one example of each of the nine elements we discussed.  Less than a half hour after I sent them out, one of my students called, informing me that mall security at one of the local malls would not let them take pictures inside the mall.  I thought it was odd, never having had this problem in the past, so I told her team to do what they could with what they had (a teachable moment for creativity).

The next morning, I received a voice mail from the general manager of Merle Hay Mall (the place of trouble from the prior evening), explaining that there had been an issue with my students.  I returned her call promptly, and I proactively and sincerely apologized for any issues and inconvenience there may have been, taking the time to briefly explain the context in which they had been sent to the mall in the first place.  With most people in the retail service industry, that would have been enough, and I would have received a "Thank you for returning my call, and thank you for understanding."  Nope.  She had a SPEECH prepared for me.  She informed me that HER mall was PRIVATE PROPERTY, and that my students were BELLIGERENT.  I stopped her and asked if she could provide examples of the belligerent behavior, in case there were specific classroom management issues to deal with.  She could not, other than to let me know that her security guards were inconvenienced.  Then she proceeded to let me know that her FIRST PRIORITY was to her NATIONAL FRANCHISES.  I again simply apologized, and assured her I would research the issue further and she would not be troubled by my students any more.  This seemed to please her, and the call ended.

Dsc01556My students were incensed by her accusations.  For starters, groups at other malls did not have run-ins with mall security.  If questioned, they explained the assignment and the guards did not hinder them.  Second, belligerence (like beauty) appears to be in the eyes of the beholder, because they felt harassed by the guards from the second they came into the mall.  Third, the individual store owners from whom they asked permission were thrilled to have their store featured in an assignment about creativity.  And finally, I went back to the mall and photographed their posted code of conduct myself.  There's no mention of a photography ban listed anywhere.

My question is this:  Why do organizations let myopic rule following get in the way of context?  My follow-up questions flow closely behind:

  • How many of us follow "made up" rules that really aren't rules at all?  They're sacred cows that are mooing and stinking up the pastures of our accomplishment.
  • How many people are incapable of separating the rule from the people involved?  My students were not the teenage gangs I usually see loitering at the mall; they're accomplished professionals in their 20's through 50's with disposable income (don't stores generally want that type of person to come in?).
  • Why is it that people in authority let it go to their heads?  While I'm not going to fault a minimum-wage mall security guard from doing what he's been told, it seems odd that a mall general manager would get her jollies by scolding a person who has access to sharing this story with a whole lot of people.
  • How can we get these people in authority to get their priorities straight?  Yes, I understand the whole landlord-tenant thing, and I get the legality of private property.  However, I always thought the goal of a mall was to get people into the door so they would spend money.  Telling me that I, as a potential customer, was not only not her priority, but also that my students and I weren't welcome in HER mall (yes, the personal pronoun was used), that threw me as a paradigm shift.

I guess I'd be curious how Old Navy, Pac Sun, American Eagle, or Wilson's Leather feel about their landlord's approach.  Do Target and Kohl's and Sunglass Hut and Victoria's Secret really want to be protected from all of that evil paparazzi?  Are Finish Line and Footlocker and Sprint and U.S. Cellular happy that young professionals with disposable income will not be shopping at their stores now?  Are Brodkey's, Kay Jewelers, Franklin-Covey, and Lenscrafters appreciative of the job that security is doing supposedly to make their mall a better place?

Don't worry, Merle Hay Mall, I take accountability for my students' actions.  I've been spending this semester encouraging them to challenge the rules that don't make sense so they can tap into their creativity.  They were just showing me that they were listening.  I promise to do everything I can in the future to keep their alleged belligerence, their digital cameras, and their displosable incomes away from YOUR PRIVATE PROPERTY.  It would be interesting to hear how Mike and Mike and Phil and Adam and Ann and Liz would have handled this situation if they were in my shoes.

July's Collective Genius

Badgradesimage90480 Curt Rosengren of Collective Genius has a really fun site.  Each month he develops a topic and invites bloggers to weigh in on that topic.  This is my second month of contributing.  July's Topic?  Overcoming the Fear of Failure and Fear of Looking Like a Fool.  My answer?  We need more Court Jesters.  Read it here.  There are also a number of other essays on this topic from tremendously, powerfully expressive bloggers, so read and enjoy.

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Cause Without a Rebel?

Dean202 It's been a while since I visited Scott Berkun's blog, so I thought I'd meander over and catch up on some posts (yeah, yeah, I know, Mike Sansone will be blasting me later for not using a feed reader to do this).

I really didn't like what I saw, though, on the last post.  He starts out well enough by referencing Anil Dash's post:  A Malcolm and a Martin.  The Cliff's Notes version for those who don't want to link over there is that you need both a radical and a rational to truly effect change.  Somebody to stir the pot and bring attention to the issue, and a calming force to bring logic and grace to the situation.  Sort of a good cop-bad cop mentality.  (Dash also mentions ego as a hindering force for change, something I've also commented on here.)  And Berkun disagrees, taking the "kindler, gentler" approach to getting attention for change.  Now, I'm all for civility, but I really think that's where US business has gotten itself into trouble.  We have too many people who only want to be "nice" at the expense of being "radical."  Dash is right... it's not either-or... both roles play a part in balance with each other.

In projects and in life, you need those people who will challenge the status quo with reckless abandon.  And you need those people who will calmly assess the status quo against the proposed changes, analyzing and logically weighing the alternatives to provide solutions.  It's about balance, but it's also about tension.  Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. did a lot for the Civil Rights Movement.  And one has to admit that there was synergy - intended or not - between their approaches.  Was there tension between the two camps and philosophies?  Sure.  Did that tension undermine their effectiveness?  Hardly.  The projects I've observed that have been the most controversial yet successful are those who have the PHE (Passionate Hippie Evangelist) factor, the person who stands on the desk and yells "O Captain, my Captain!"  Granted, you can be a radical without being rude or violent (which may have been Berkun's point), but you need to have the passion and the fire in your belly or you can kiss the change good-by (if it was ever a change WORTH fighting for in the first place).

Berkun is in the process of writing a book about innovation.  I hope he clarifies this issue before he publishes.  History's great innovators were revolutionary radicals, people who put their professional reputations on the line to stand up for what they believed....  noted scientists, authors, and entrepreneurs.  (Note to Scott:  If you're reading this, I'm not trying to "pick a fight."  Maybe we agree and are just using the same terms in different contexts.  I invite you to help me better understand your position.  After all, that's what blogging is about, right?)

Lastly, there's a term for those who work on projects without radicals, who have a cause without a rebel:  Zombie.

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