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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Experiential Listening

Communication is an imprecise process – no matter how much effort and innovation we may put into choice of words, method of delivery, and focus on key points. Try as we will, the full transfer of knowledge from our mind to the listener happens only in the Vulcan Mind Meld. Typically a just a portion of what is said is actually received by the listener and a fraction of that is retained.

An analogy of how the mind processes new information that I like is of a mail sorting station full of pigeonholes for similarly addressed letters. When new information is received, the mind looks for bins of similar items to authenticate and store it. No bin of similar information but holds some interest – the mind retains it for a period of time as a data point; no interest: no processing. As additional data points are received, the mind may assign a bin for the topic. If not, the data points will be pushed aside for other active thoughts and ideas.

To illustrate - think back to the 1990's and the Y2K issue – when the issue was first mentioned there was little reaction or interest. Over time, with repeated mention and additional interpretation of the impact, it became a significant element of the coming of the millennium. To the mind it went from a data point to an issue.

As we listen, we are processing the information based on what we have been exposed to earlier – through reading, conversation, events, observation, and doing. When we actually do a task or project, we learn on several levels, including how skill and experience can influence an outcome. When I wanted to play tennis, I read a number of books about basics, strategy, and tips from the pros – but truly learned about the game once I stepped on the court to play.

When we listen through the amplification of our own experience, we deepen our understanding of the topic and benefit from the experience of the speaker as conveyed by their story.

Building a website, writing an article, making a table, or trimming a shrub provides valuable 'doer' experience to add to the current body of knowledge. Doing will broaden your perspective on a topic and will make you a more effective listener and learner.

While you may speak from experience, the listener who hears through their experience gets a richer benefit from the information.

Doesn't it make sense to seek projects and activities that expose us to new experiences – to keep current and to learn new things? Learning by doing is a requirement for the New Normal.

How has experiential listening helped you master a topic?

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lessons from the Field II

Well they say there is nothing like experience, but in my mind there is nothing like repeating the same type of mistake that I have railed about in the past to create humility and focus. First, be realistic and don’t sell yourself a bill of goods. Remember that in the end you need to have something that can be sold and that you can make money selling. If there isn’t enough money then stop wishing.

We took on a product that was not the hotcake selling commodity that we thought it would be and took it on at a lower compensation than we should have, because we thought the volume would make up for it and let us pay our salespeople. That left us trying to renegotiate our arrangement in order to have our people compensated at a level that would keep them motivated and involved. Luckily for us that during the negotiations we came across another opportunity that was a much better match and had a payout that worked for us and our salespeople.

The previous negotiations and flawed structure offered valuable experience toward future success. Additionally, the success at recruiting and hiring across the country through various sites has given us a core of people and the knowledge of how to add to that core.
Humility is often a good thing, though I hope not to receive a steady helping of it. I fell for the excitement my partner had for the opportunity and the excitement of the people offering the product. Tempering my enthusiasm in evaluating an opportunity and then fanning the flames of that enthusiasm once it is determined to be a worthwhile endeavor is quite the accomplishment and completely necessary. This latest helping of humility has put me on a better more focused path to success, which already has me feeling less humble. Oh well…

What lessons do you get from this? 

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Listens With His Mouth

After the last BlogLab, I was invited to meet with a group of policy consultants to discuss where they might find this new economy.

One of the senior consultants got very exercised, detailing the failings of bloggers and blogging. He put a lot of effort into hijacking the meeting.

I’ve had association people tell me blogging is evil, lawyers tell me blogging is illegal, and financial people tell me it is against their rules...all before they began to blog.

I’m waiting for an eye doctor to tell my I’ll go blind if I don’t stop doing that stuff. 

After a loud unruly meeting, the owner said not to worry. He was letting that senior consultant go.

I asked why and he said, “It’s a pattern of things, but it comes down to I can’t have someone who listens with his mouth representing my firm.”

Are you taking full advantage of your blog? Come to BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Monday, November 21, 2011

Surface Thinking

Not enough time is spent to develop critical thinking today. We are faced with a tsunami of data each day from 500 channel 24x7 cable and the virtual infinity of the internet. How to sift through or filter all this input remains a constant challenge – trying to make sense from it all.

When there is a speech on television, first you get word-by-word coverage, then a commentator says what the speaker just said. People often will simply recite the commentator's points, rather than thoughts of their own. This is Surface Thinking – Listen (the speech); Hear (commentator’s remarks); Repeat (tell others); Adopt (what they have been repeating).

Surface Thinking is not just about current events – academics can slip into it as well. Years ago I taught a course about employee training and development at the University of Maryland. The textbook gave statistics about companies investing in training and the authors stated that larger organizations invest more in training than smaller ones. Sounds logical – except the stats showed companies with: 100 – 500 employees averaged $467 per employee; 500 – 1,000 employees averaged $317; and 10,000+ employees averaged $446.

When I asked my classes if they agreed with the authors, only a few disagreed – unfortunately most just accepted what the authors said, regardless of what the data showed.

There's a huge difference between surface and critical thinking – here's an illustration (from pre-word processor days): A lawyer types 120 wpm and the Administrative Assistant types 60 wpm – who should type the brief?

Surface Thinkers look at the 60wpm vs. 120wpm and choose the lawyer since speed is twice as fast and therefore more efficient; Critical Thinkers choose the Assistant because only the lawyer can write the brief.

From a leader's perspective, what is the effect of Surface Thinking?

Surface Thinking is fleeting – new idea, new mantra. Communication about the mission, vision, and goals must be frequent and from many sources in the organization;

Listen more carefully to the Critical Thinkers for input and ideas – tap into new thoughts and insight for contributions to the results;

Broaden the development of Critical Thinking skills – use stories, internal case studies, and recognition as developmental tools.

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Stories Is A Culture

Because that is all people need to get and hold an idea.

Some need more, and that’s to elevate themselves.

After reaching enough, most replace one story when they acquire another.

Culture is a way to filter data, to make everyday chaos meaningful.

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Your Business Personality – How to Convey It Easily, Simply, and Free

Early November Google released a new tool in their arsenal: – Plus pages just for business.

Why do we care? Because it's a place, a means, and a mechanism to develop and share our business personality – an electronic business persona that's a media substitute for a face-to-face pre-sales conversation establishing your credibility and why the prospect should listen to you.

What you put on your page is up to you, but what you can do with it is pretty sophisticated.

  • It is searchable (full text and the evolving Google + preference) from anywhere on the web
  • Flexible formatting, including embedded links, graphics, pictures, client testimonials and recommendations
  • Pictures and Video collections – like product highlights, and page access directly to YouTube
  • Link to additional pages, website, blog, catalog...the world
  • Blogs and articles from you, other thought leaders, and your community highlighted (list automatically updated)
  • Small group video conference ability
  • Simple, easy set-up and updating – can do it yourself
  • Cost – free to the individual.
Anything more? Yes - Your Business Personality page can track who's viewing your pages and give you statistics using Google Analytics, so you can tinker and make the pages better. You can even see a graphic of where your posts are being resent – videos and topics go viral on the internet all the time – now you can see how your material is being distributed by others in Ripples.

With a company website, personal blog, my profile, and other on-line material, will I benefit from Google + Business pages - take a look and decide... Click here to see the Muppets Google + Business page

What's it take to set up a Business Personality page? If you have a personal Google Plus site, it is minutes to stand up a Business Personality page – I had one up in under 10 minutes and a robust page after about 90 minutes.

Face-to-face meetings are the most effective in growing a relationship, but can be impossible in an virtual world – Google + Business pages offer you a virtual alternative. Ready to go? Start at:

How can this help you get more business?

SalesLabs next Rainmaker, (Number 9!) is Your Business Personality – How to Convey It Easily, Simply, and Free! - the first 300 seconds of the Capital Technology Management Hub, at 6 pm, Tuesday, December 13th.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Blind Men and their Elephant 2.0

I’ve been meeting Business 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Government 2.0, and in each case partisans explain that their particular function is driving the transformation.

Business 2.0 is Finance! Enterprise 2.0 is Architecture! And Government 2.0 is Information Technology! came from a moneychanger, a sheetrocker, and some guy from a hobby shop.

This 2.0 thing is about getting customers better results, which then follows it is about allowing the person working with the customer to do better work, which upstreams to better measuring what and how to do.

Sometimes it could be about funding, or shelter, or toys, but if they are, it’s peripheral.

The next time you get some new, loud and demanding 2.0, check to see how the customer benefits. If it’s not immediately obvious, it’s probably not the real deal.

Are you taking full advantage of your blog? Come to BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Friday, November 11, 2011

And The Winner Is...You!

We participated this week with seven other entrepreneurs in the 2011 Capital Management Technology Hub and George Mason's School of Management Technology Startup Challenge to introduce our cloud-based community and supporting tools: MyLeadershipPractice. What a top notch event and great learning experience! Plenty of innovative solutions to specific needs were presented.

2011 Capital Startup Challenge

The competition was an experiential lab for evaluating a new service or product. Here's what came from competing:
  • Makes us think about how to use the service in much greater detail
  • Preparing the presentation begins a dialog about the service:
    • defining features and benefits
    • sharpening descriptions of key elements and what's unique or superior
    • translating thoughts, ideas, concepts, and concepts into words
    • choosing statements which are the most precise and compelling in delivering the message
  • Questions from the judges show:
    • areas they feel are most important:
    • ones that need additional clarification
    • specifics comments about elements that may need further development (new thoughts or just a different priority?)
  • Feedback from the audience indicates the reception of the presentation or topic:
    • non-verbal – are they listening or tuning out
    • verbal – if interactive, did they respond; did they raise questions during or after the presentation
  • You can observe other entrepreneurs:
    • what they identified as a need and how they developed a solution
    • how they communicate about their service or product, deliver presentations, and persuade the judges
  • Pre- and post-competition publicity gives your new service visibility
  • You now have a significant group of people who know about your new service and by competing, they know you are legitimate, not just a dreamer.

In addition to gleaning this priceless information, you have now practiced selling the service in front of 100 people. How easy will it be to present 1-on-1 or to a smaller group now?

With this rich input to work with, you can quickly refine the service, better highlight the benefits of the service, and refine the message you present to the customer – as needed.

I found that presenting at this entrepreneur competition got the juices flowing and raised the level of passion for creating a successful service, valued by the customer.

Why wouldn't someone just jump at an opportunity to compete in an event like this? Only upside gain.

Have you been in a service or product competition? How did it helps your project?

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bring It!

Jimmy Valentine, the famous safecracker, would sandpaper his fingertips before commencing to winkle open a safe.

Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.

Yesterday I committed my first successful Hangout, Google Plus videoconference. Just like AT&T predicted in the fifties, only in color...with a bigger screen!

Zack, our technical architect, was on the call and got passionate about the mission and the value of our next company, and I thought, “Wow! How can I get that on paper?”

Now I know “Why video?” You can bring the passion. You can use the passion.

So I thought I was ready for last night’s DC Week Keynotes. I like Peter Corbett. He is Peter Pan bringing technology to the lost boys of Washington. When he advertises Keynote“s”, he’s not kidding.

Mayor Vince Gray introduced the members of five DC school robotics clubs.

Genevieve Bell, Intel’s anthropologist taught me about the third place, and made me desperately want to see more when I look.

Scott Kelly from Ford had the video of the blind former Mustang owner of 25 years ago hitting 140 on the salt flats in the new Mustang. Did I care? I don’t know. I was crying too hard.

Game over. Or so I thought.

Coming in to the Warner Theatre. We were given copies of Brian Solis’ The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution.

I had just seen Brian for the first time, interviewing John Battelle earlier in the week, so I was pleased. Okay. He’s good.

Wrong. Brian comes out and upends my business paradigm in the first three minutes. Sure you can build an app, but why bother if you’re not going to make the world a much better place? You’ve got the power! Figure out how to use it!

That wasn’t a harangue. It was examples that made me laugh, made me cry, made me mad. We’re now in an Egosystem – all those apps that revolve around you.

Brian’s right. But what if it’s hard?

You want hard? Check out Frank Warren. Frank Warren is on a daily campaign to stare down death and win. He has a website and books as PostSecret, a where people can post their secrets, share them so they become less terrible. Money from that goes to train suicide prevention volunteers at IMAlive.

I would come to a full stop any time for a Frank Warren. But Murphy’s Law “If anything can go wrong it will,” has kicked in with a vengeance. AV support, which has been much more art than science to this point, grinds to a full stop.

How does this affect Frank Warren?

He sees it, he acknowledges it, but not for a second does his focus waver from converting the audience. I guess if your main occupation is staring down death and winning, a little computer nonsupport is a grin.

Finally after adlibbing, starting the balloon toss above the audience, leaving us to entertain ourselves while he goes backstage to assist, and finally getting meaningful help from a geek computer scientist in the audience, Oz appears.

That whole segue was the definition of Master of the Universe.

Keynote“s” Yup.

And the message given to me that day?

Find the passion. Bring it.

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Project Management by Henry Ford

Imagine the situation as Henry Ford was planning production of the Model T : over 5,000 parts; multiple manufacturing vendors; skilled to semi-skilled production processes; and growing demand.

He addressed part of the production process by determining an optimal assembly sequence and moving the vehicle along to workstations which have the required parts, tools, and trained workers to do the next step in the process.

Contrast Ford's approach to the projects today: many parts or inputs; multiple vendors or suppliers; wide range of skills needed to deliver results – all still apply; and - a twist that Ford did not have to consider – multiple collaborating organizations, locations, time zones, and perhaps languages. The assembly line won't work here. As technology, communications, software, and economic conditions changed, managing projects has evolved in complexity and offered tools.

What has remained virtually unchanged is the need for rapid updates about significant elements of the project – about progress on the schedule, needed or excess resources, identified conflicts or barriers, and project against budget analysis. The changing reality is there are less resources available to process this information and less time available for operations resources to report it.

In this New Normal tools are being developed and refined to respond to the changes: meetings are being replaced by asynchronous communications; reports are changing to email, text message updates and video documentation; needed information is being targeted only to those who need it or want it instead of blanketing everyone (did you hear the one about a new president of the board who decreed all emails will be sent to all board members; killed all communication).

Are we getting better than Henry Ford?

What do you see?

Are you taking full advantage of your blog? Come to BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fighting Entropy

Al Malinchak gave the latest episode in the further adventures of Sister Maria Tyrannica today at the Human Resources Leadership Forum, titled On Wednesdays We Wear Pink, from the influential leadership blog of the same name.

Al has two strong skills. One, he and Jimmy Buffet are the reigning chroniclers of post-Altar Boy development, and two, Al has a knack for bringing simple physical exercises that create profound understanding.

If you want to learn the exercise, buy tickets. 

The learning for me was again, how quickly an attitude change can trigger a significant performance improvement, and second, how people under pressure choose to abandon unfamiliar behaviors, almost never initiating better behaviors.

We wanted to build an excellent company in the worst possible way, and looking back, I guess that was exactly what we did. Common refrain

When I am leading a cadre, my proteges usually adopt (in chronological order)
  • suit, then
  • tie, then
  • shoe shine, then
  • name tag, then
  • handout.

Pressure encourages entropy, so under duress working the handout is abandoned first, then the name tag is left somewhere, the shoe shine forgotten, the tie askew, then abandoned, the suit creatively augmented, then finally we stop showing up for work.

How do you stop the slide?

Al made me realize that when times get tough, the antidote is to add structure to do the job better. Instead, people want to abandon the new and unfamiliar. Finding and implementing a skill or practice that improves performance is an important behavior of an effective leader. It's especially important with the influence of Web 2.0. 

Or as General/Secretary/Citizen Colin Powell writes on page 264 of My American Journey, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than management says is possible.”

Your comment?

Are you taking full advantage of your blog? Come to BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Thursday, November 3, 2011

There's Talk, and There's Communication

Peter Drucker said '60% of all management problems are the result of poor communication.'

Why is this true?

Communications break down when losing focus on three areas:
  • clarity of what's expected
  • accuracy of what's completed, and
  • timeliness of what's needed.

Clarity of What's Expected – Projects which do not have clear goals, vision, and mission set out in specific and measurable terms cause confusion and fall short of desired results. Keeping the goals in front of team members helps to focus on outcomes.

Accuracy of What's Completed – Detailed, appropriate input from team members about what is completed and the status of in-progress activities is necessary to manage project completion – appropriate data verses extensive data is the key here.

Timeliness of What's Needed – Timely reporting of appropriate data permits effective allocation of resources and contingency planning, when necessary, to make use of idle resources or target resources to correct delays..

How would you approach improving these three related areas?

Weekly status meetings for the team was popular when everyone was in the same facility. As the team expanded beyond the immediate area video, audio, and computer-aided technology added, but did not appreciably change the result. A weekly one-hour meeting of eight people 'invests' one person day (8 hours) per week during which 88% of the time is waiting to present your information. Getting the data without the meeting seems may be an alternative.

Weekly reports don't require simultaneous attendance, but do need preparation and production time to compile the information in the prescribed format and distribute it to the project leader. Week old information, no matter how quickly distributed is still old information when received.

As project teams evolved to teams from several organizations, locations around the world, and perhaps different languages, communications have become more complex and critical to successfully completing a project. Project software is intended to communicate data to the project leaders and staff in an organization. Does this solve the needs?

An example - for a membership project, I received a report from a software system which was a ½ inch thick sheaf of paper with tasks, priorities, and benchmarks – and a person with a full time role of keeping it up to date and complete. Although detailed, it did little for clarity, accuracy, and timeliness needed to improve project success.

How do we get the needed information, to the right people, in real time, wherever they are located, in a simple, straightforward fashion, and also have a means of sharing with others what the team members have learned working toward the results?

What's needed in your organization to simplifying prompt, accurate complete communications to make projects get more successful results?

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

GMU StartUp Challenge

Tuesday November 8, George Mason University is hosting their annual StartUp Challenge.

Seven Startups are scheduled to strut their stuff, so attendees will get an insight into the next crop of new technologies.

I have been following Peter Corbett, going to Disruptathon and several DCTech meetings, and today’s startups are different from five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago.

Twenty five years ago, I was on the left coast. We would get an idea, put together a budget, earmark funding, recruit a management team, get some space and commence to develop something. There was no internet, very small computing, and a highly developed social network in the Bay area.

These companies were mini-Fairchilds and HPs, led by the same type of engineers. We were making products and new categories, like desktop slidemakers. That was when slides were 35 mm and came on a carousel.

Every five years we get faster, learned what we didn’t have to build to make a successful venture. In John Battelle’s The Search, Google had spent $50 million before they figured out they were an advertising platform. I don’t think that could happen again.

If you have an interest in how the new economy is shaping, come to the GMU StartUp Challenge. And please root for MyLeadershipPractice!

Comments lubricateth the blog!

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learn By Doing

When talking about leadership, Dick Davies said “leadership can not be taught – it can only be learned.” It caught me by surprise at the time, but has stayed with me as a fundamental in developing leaders. Learn by doing.

In my youth, I wanted to learn to play tennis and read several books about the basics, strategy, and techniques offered by the luminaries of the sport. When I got to the court I found that my tennis education was just beginning – you can not learn tennis from a must 'DO' tennis on the court to learn to play.

This applies to leadership as well – books and stories help us understand aspects of leadership in a non-dynamic way. This is useful data – but is not usable information if we are not in a situation to apply it...let's call that the real world.

Leadership is learned by doing. The first step is to start with your own personal skills. Presidents Washington and Lincoln did not have a Dummies Guide to learn to be leaders – they taught themselves by developing their personal activities to
support accomplishment and results.

First lesson is – make commitments and keep them. This means you must remember what you have committed to and plan for the delivery as promised. “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”

Good beginning. How to you approach this task? Write on 3x5 cards each day what is UP – Pending – In Process. Or use your computer, smartphone, or sticky notes to record this information. Are you consistent in writing things down and have a system to assure delivering as promised?

Hopefully it's obvious that you would use your system for your professional commitments – but do you also include your social, family, community, and other commitments on the daily 3x5 system? Keeping commitments for a leader is not just for the day-time job.

When I learn something I like to tell someone what I've learned. Why? By articulating what I've discovered and the resulting benefits, I find it deepen the lesson – something about putting it into words and declaring it to another that makes it real and memorable. In addition, hearing it as a story is useful to the other person – they are exposed to the new-found information as well as the process used to obtain it. Sharing this experience is a gift.

Story goes, there were two woodsmen in the forest chopping down trees – a big strapping new woodsman and an older, seasoned woodsman. They started cutting first light and the young guy was chopping away with great vigor hour after hour, while the older guy would stop every half hour for a few minutes. As the day wore on the older woodsman's pile was getting higher than the young woodsman's – which drove the younger guy to chop faster and swing harder.

At the end of the day, the older woodsman had a huge pile of wood - the younger guy had a significantly smaller pile and was exhausted. Out of breath he said to the older guy – I've been working constantly all day, while you were always taking breaks, but in the end you chopped more wood than I did – HOW? The older woodsman said I sharpen my ax every so often – it cuts better that way.

Learn by doing. Communicate what you've learned to others on the team to help them know more and improve.

Sound like leading?

Do you have a story to share to help us learn more?

More about learning and leading and a tool for doing, communicating, learning:
The Capital Technology Management Hub StartupChallenge is Tuesday, November 8, 6pm at GMU. At this event, audience rules! We need audience, startups, interested parties. Come investigate Sales Lab’s new business! See the future up close and personal.