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How Important Is Corporate Culture? It’s Everything

DeathtoStock_TheCollaborative-10         We have to talk more openly than we have done in the past about fear and trust at work. Fear and trust are the chemical currents that power every good or bad thing an organization does, but we seldom talk about them and it hurts us not to. We pretend there are no currents. We focus on particles instead of waves. We are obsessed with numbers in cells on spreadsheets and with graphs and algorithms, while the real energy that powers your success (and without which you are going nowhere fast) has nothing to do with particles! It is an energy wave. As leaders we need to turn our attention away from the particles that we love so much to measure, and focus on the waves instead. When we talk about corporate culture, we are really talking about your organization’s ability – or lack of ability – to acknowledge trust and fear. We re talking about your ability to manage the human energy  in your shop as capably as you manage operational, financial and marketing issues. I’ve spent my whole adult life watching organizations and leaders and seeing the electrical connections, positive and negative charges, flow between and among them. If we can’t tell the truth about that energy field, we will chase arbitrary yardsticks forever and accomplish nothing useful. We’ll hit a yardstick and be happy for three weeks until somebody says “Wait, that yardstick was wrong.” When the energy is blocked, you just can’t move forward, personally or as an organization. Work is harder, less fun and less productive. Resignation sets in. Cynicism follows quickly behind. Why should people care about their work or your company, if you don’t care about them? If we can tell the truth about fear and trust at work, we have an enormous power supply at our disposal. It’s the power of your team’s intention, combined with their talents and their desire to work on something fun and satisfying. It’s a simple formula. This power source is free! To tap it, you only need to do one thing. You need to shift your view of your workplace from a mechanical, people-are-cogs model to a human model that says your employees are the key to your success and your highest priority as a leader. Any of the smart people under you can make investment, new-product development or operations decisions or make those decisions in concert with you. Your job is to lead the team, period. Your job is to link two powerful things: the highest vision and mission for your organization, and the brain-and-heart power of the people in your shop. How hard is that? It’s easy to create a positive and powerful energy field in your workplace. To do it, you need to back off the governmental-sounding policies and rules that too many organizations shove in their employees’ faces on a regular basis. When you hire smart people and let them connect to their own power source at work, they will amaze you. You won’t need ten million rules and policies then. The standard and predictable response of an employee in a healthy workplace is to hit and surmount his or her goals and every team goal, too. They can do that because their forward energy is unblocked. It’s free to run! The problem in most organizations — the biggest problem in the business world as well as the least-addressed one — is that business ‘engines’ are clogged up with sludge in the form of unclear goals, fearful managers, unnecessary rules and restrictions, and too little room to debate, question, learn and grow. There’s a shortage of truth-telling, and it’s easy to see why. All the incentives to people who keep their mouth shut. That’s bad for the organization, but it’s good for that person individually, at least in the short term, to keep smiling and tell the boss whatever the boss wants to hear. It’s a simple problem to understand and an easy one to spot, providing you do not work in the organization yourself. When you’re inside the fishbowl, you can’t see how filthy the water has become. You’ve learned to swim through it. It’s invisible to you. Anyone outside the organization who could tell you the truth would tell you that there is sludge and gunk all over your engine. Whether a company is growing, shrinking or treading water, fear will emerge and it’s got to be addressed. Only newcomers to your company who come from outside the sludge zone can remind us that in the real world, things move quickly. Mother Nature is always stirring the pot. Nothing stays the same, and neither can your business. Every business of every size has to stay in flux and flexible just to survive. Sludge in your company’s engine is the number one impediment to that flexibility. Your culture is the loudest thing happening in your organization. It is booming in your employees’ ears. Your vendors know a lot about your culture. Your customers may know more about your culture than you do. They have a ringside view! Can you stop and consider the waves of fear and trust swelling and crashing in your organization right now, and to stop and see them and acknowledge them? Your world will expand when you do.

Top 5 Principles for Success

DSCF7346 Today I want to reveal the top 5 principles you need to apply to your life for massive success.

1. No shortage of success.

There is so much money on this planet it’s crazy. The stock market could lose a trillion dollars and there would still be an abundance of wealth on this planet. Success is not a lottery, bingo, a horse race, or a card game that allows for only one winner. There will never be a dearth of success because it is created by those who have no limits in terms of ideas, creativity, ingenuity, talent, intelligence, originality, persistence, and determination. Notice that I refer to success as something that’s created—not acquired. Unlike copper, silver, gold, or diamonds—items that already exist and that you must find in order to bring to market—success is something people make.

2. Assume responsibility for all results.

Taking responsibility for everything in your life is the only way to take control of your life. Crybabies, whiners, and victims just don’t do well at attracting or creating success. It’s not even that they aren’t capable; it’s just that people who typically succeed are required to take big actions– and it is impossible to take big actions if you don’t take responsibility. It is equally impossible to do something positive when you are spending your time making excuses. success is not something that happens to you; it’s something that happens because of you and because of the actions you take.

3. Take only massive actions.

When you start operating with massive actions, your mind-set will shift and so will your results. You will end up instigating opportunities that you will have to address earlier, later and in a different way than you would on a “normal” day, so a routine day will become a thing of the past. Taking massive actions will cause people to ask you: “Why are you still out this late?” “What are you doing calling on a Saturday?” “You never quit, do you?” “ I wish my people worked like this.” And even “What are you on?” If you don’t create new problems, then you’re not taking enough action.

4. Fear is an indicator to take action.

Getting a handle on fear is not easy, but it is critical to success. Maybe fear held you back you from calling on a client, investing money in your company, or maybe moving to a new city for a great opportunity or taking a great relationship to a more serious level. Everyone experiences fear, but it is how you respond to it that ultimately makes the difference in your life. Fear is the great indicator that wealthy and successful people see as the signal to push through and get to the other side to expansion.

5. Criticism is a sign of success.

Although getting criticized is certainly not the best feeling in the world, I have great news: Receiving criticism is a surefire sign that you are well on your way. Criticism is not something that you want to avoid; rather, it’s what you must expect to come your way once you start hitting it big. It’s natural to want to avoid criticism because it’s usually attached to something negative. However, the more criticism you get, the more attention you are receiving, because people can’t criticize something without knowing about it first. Don’t focus on what they’re saying. Focus on the fact that you’ve created such a success that people can’t stop talking about it.  

Learn How to Think Different(ly)

Steve Jobs In the Economist review of our book, The Innovator’s DNA, the reviewer wondered whether genius-level innovators such as Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs challenge the idea that working adults can really learn how to think differently and become innovators. We don’t think so. Remember, it was Steve Jobs who jump-started the now-famous “Think Different” advertising campaignas a way to inspire consumers and recharge Apple’s innovation efforts. It worked. Reflecting back on the campaign, Jobs said “The whole purpose of the ‘Think Different’ campaign was that people had forgotten what Apple stood for, including the employees.” And the best way to tell people what Apple stood for was to tell them who the company’s heroes were. The campaign reminded everyone — consumers and employees alike — that the “crazy ones…see things differently.” Reams of relevant research (including our own) proves Jobs right. Innovators excel at connecting the unconnected. They engage in associational thinking. At Apple (or at any innovative company), they take a little bit of this, sprinkle in a little bit of that and that and that to churn out market-busting ideas such as iTunes, and the iPod, iPhone, and iPad (along with a few market disasters like the G4 Cube computer). But neither Steve Jobs nor Apple nor any other high-profile innovator or company has a corner on the think-different market. In fact, our study of over 5,000 entrepreneurs and executives shows the opposite: almost anyone who consistently makes the effort to think different can think different. Take Gavin Symanowitz, whom we recently met in South Africa. His original business,, lets great managers showcase their skills to attract talent and boost their own careers by conducting a 360 review of the manager by his or her staff, and if the results are favorable, he links the results to job ads that the boss is trying to fill, making these job ads far more appealing. By connecting the unconnected — 360 leadership assessments and help wanted ads — Symanowitz forged an online business that sprouted in Africa and now grows globally. Innovators (of new businesses, products, and processes) spend almost 50% more time trying to think different compared to non-innovators. In other words, non-innovators do occasionally think different (answering “at least a little bit” to questions like “I creatively solve challenging problems by drawing on diverse ideas or knowledge” to hit the 48th percentile in our global database). Yet compared to innovators, they just don’t do it as often. Generating new business ideas that make a positive financial impact takes time. Innovators who spend more time thinking different (scoring in the 70-80th percentile) consistently engage in associational thinking by “agreeing”or “strongly agreeing” with questions like the one above and they deliver innovative results more frequently than those who don’t. It’s that simple. If thinking different can make such a positive difference, why don’t more people spend more time doing it? Researchers at Harvard Medical School opened our eyes to one compelling answer. Sixty to eighty percent of adults find the task of thinking different is uncomfortable and some even find it exhausting. When adults must connect the unconnected through associational thinking, it wears them out. Why? Because most adults have lost the skills they once had (just watch almost every four-year old who relishes the chance to think different. And all of us were once four-year olds). We don’t lose this skill because genetic coding automatically shuts it down on our twenty-first birthday. Instead, most of us grew up in a world where thinking different was punished instead of praised (at home or school). So while roughly one-third of anyone’s innovation capacity comes from their genetic endowment, two-thirds of it is still driven by the environment. So here are a few simple suggestions to ratchet up your associating skills, the essence of thinking different. Just do It. Nike’s slogan is not a bad starting place when it comes to creative thinking. Do it by frequently forcing associations or connections across different ideas when they don’t naturally emerge. John Hunt, Global Creative Director at TBWA Worldwide, told us how his company uses role-playing to help their clients think different. Clients assume the persona of an innovator from another company such as Apple or Virgin, a form of role-playing that encourages clients to look at a challenge from a different point-of-view. Shake it up. When associations don’t come naturally, try forcing them to surface unnaturally — by shaking things up randomly. For example, try the Idea Generator app, which randomly combines three words together when you shake your smart phone. Shake it again and three more random words show up. You can get even more creative combinations by adding your own words to the mix (including foreign ones) and seeing what you get. For example, we just shook up the app while writing this blog and got three words — perforated, bite-sized, and humane — which might help generate a new idea. Perhaps putting bite-sized perforations into a new product could make a difference. That’s exactly what David Mullany did in 1953 by transforming a solid plastic ball into the Wiffle ball, a completely new product with bite-sized perforations in it. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that if adults practice associational thinking long enough, the task no longer exhausts but energizes them. Like most skill-based activities, if we slog away at it and practice over and over again, the task becomes not life taking but life giving. And that’s when the most creative ideas pop out. As a leader, how often do you think different? How often do you brainstorm? How often do you hunt for solutions in new environments? Thinking different is easier said than done. We don’t claim that folks can jump from the low end of the bell curve of creativity performance to the high end just with practice. But when it’s done frequently enough by just about anyone, it can transform good ideas (and not so good ones) into great ones that might even disrupt the world. We have found that most people can actually do this reasonably well if they choose to put in the time and effort that’s required to think different. That’s what disruptive innovators do, day after day. Do you? Can you? Will you?

How Meditation Benefits CEOs

DeathtoStock_Simplify10 Mindfulness is quickly following yoga in becoming a billion-dollar industry. It’s no surprise, then, that the popularity of meditation – one way to practice mindfulness – is also growingamong CEOs and senior executives. Why are business leaders embracing meditation rather than, say, massage or ping-pong? Because there’s something to meditation that appears to benefit CEOs more than recreation or relaxation do alone. As CEO of the TLEX Institute, Johann Berlin specializes in bringing mindfulness training to CEOs and corporate teams. He says he’s seeing a growing interest among leaders in meditation as a way to build leadership skills – and achieve business goals. “Most of our new clients … are not sold by mindfulness as a novelty. They want to see how these approaches … are truly beneficial to existing priorities like retention, talent advancement, innovation.” For example, one of Berlin’s clients, a Fortune 25 company, has integrated mindfulness techniques into its high potentials program with the goal of creating agile and flexible mindsets as a foundation for leadership. The research on mindfulness suggests that meditation sharpens skills like attention, memory, and emotional intelligence. I spoke with a number of executives about their experiences with meditation, and saw again and again how their observations about meditation in the workplace connected back to the findings of academic research. Meditation builds resilience. Multiple research studies have shown that meditation has the potential to decrease anxiety, thereby potentially boosting resilience and performance under stress. That’s certainly been true for Alak Vasa, founder of Elements Truffles, who started meditating as a trader at Goldman Sachs and ITG. She claims meditation helped her keep fear and panic at bay, even under duress. “There was this one instance where the market tanked and there was panic on the desk. The trading desk was an organized riot. Thanks to my meditation practice, I was able to keep my composure and propose solutions to reduce the impact of the market crash.” How to bring calm and focus to your work routine. Jonathan Tang, founder and CEO of VASTRM fashion, first introduced meditation to his staff after 9/11. “In the aftermath of 9/11, the employees at my company were noticeably shaky and distracted.  I decided to bring in a meditation facilitator to offer people the ability to sit silent for 20 minutes.  The room filled up quickly as people really needed an outlet for peace.   When the session was over, people who had never meditated before were filled with a sense of calm.  It helped them be more present at work and even carried forth to being more present with their families at home.” Meditation boosts emotional intelligence. Brain-imaging research suggests that meditation can help strengthen your ability to regulate your emotions. Archana Patchirajan, successful serial entrepreneur and CEO and Founder of Sattva, shared that in her early years as a leader, she wanted things to happen in her way and on her timeline. “I didn’t tend to understand what my team was going through. I would just get angry if they did not perform according to my expectations. ” Given research that shows anger’s impact on cardiovascular health, it is critical that leaders be able to manage their anger, and put themselves in others’ shoes. “Thanks to meditation I have developed patience.” Archana says. ”I have a better relationship with my team. Best of all, I maintain my peace of mind.” Dr. James Doty, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, also values meditation for its ability to cultivate emotional intelligence. A colleague had developed a cutting-edge medical device, but the company he had started to develop and sell the device was on the rocks. Doty, an early investor, became the CEO. At a meeting with vital – but disgruntled – stakeholders, he faced an angry, unreasonable investor. He credits his mindfulness practice with helping him respond with empathy: “I paused and slowly took a few breaths… This led me to actually listen and understand not only his situation, but what he wanted and expected. By not responding in an emotional manner, it resulted in his not only becoming supportive but also becoming an ally in making the company a success. The company ultimately went public at a valuation of $1.3B. ” Meditation enhances creativity. Research on creativity suggests that we come up with our greatest insights and biggest breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind. That is when we have “eureka” moments. This is likely because meditation encourages divergent thinking (i.e. coming up with the greatest number of possible solutions to a problem), a key component of creativity. Charly Kleissner credits meditation with helping him come up with new ideas and ventures that would otherwise not have occurred to him. “I co-founded the 100% IMPACT Network because of my meditation practice.” Meditation improves your relationships. While stress narrows your perspective and that of your team, and reduces empathy, negatively impacting performance, meditation can help boost your mood and increase your sense of connectionto others, even make you a kinder and more compassionate person. Chirag Patel, CEO of Amneal Pharmaceuticals and Ernst & Young 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year, credits meditation with helping him feel more connected to his clients. “In a business you start connecting to your customer as your family rather than merely a business transaction.” The same goes for his relationships with his colleagues and staff. Meditation helps you focus. Research has shown that our minds have a tendency to wander about 50% of the time. Add in work interruptions, text messages, IMs, phone calls, and emails, and it’s no surprise that employees have a hard time staying focused. But studies show that meditation training can help curb our tendency for distraction, strengthening our ability to stay focused and even boosting memory. Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Investors, attributes his ability to invest wisely to his meditation practice. “Being an investor requires the distillation of large volumes of information into a few relevant insights. Meditation has helped me discard interesting but unnecessary information and focus on the few things that make a difference to long run investment performance.” *** Importantly, meditation is not just “one more thing to do.” If you’re thinking that you have enough on your plate and don’t need yet another thing, consider this advice that Arianna Huffington shared with me. “Although I’ve known its benefits since my teens, finding time for meditation was always a challenge because I was under the impression that I had to ‘do’ meditation. And I didn’t have time for another burdensome thing to ‘do.’ Fortunately, a friend pointed out one day that we don’t ‘do’ meditation; meditation ‘does’ us. That opened the door for me. The only thing to ‘do’ in meditation is nothing.” But as both research and experience show, doing nothing can have real results.

Mindfulness Can Improve Strategy, Too

Talking Together   Over the course of a couple of decades, meditation has migrated from Himalayan hilltops and Japanese Zendos to corporate boardrooms and corridors of power, including GoogleAppleAetnathe Pentagon, and the U.S. House of Representatives. On a personal level, leaders are taking note of empirical research documenting meditation’s potential for reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and improving emotional regulation. Mindfulness meditation — the practice of cultivating deliberate focused attention on the present moment – has caught on as a way to bring focus, authenticity, and intention to the practice of leadership.  Harvard Business Review contributors Daniel Goleman and Bill George have described mindfulness as a means to listen more deeply and guide actions through clear intention rather than emotional whims or reactive patterns. In an age in which corporations and public organizations are increasingly under attack for short-term thinking, a dearth of vision, and perfunctory reactions to quick stimuli, it’s worth posing the question: Can mindfulness help organizations — not just individual leaders — behave more intentionally? Practically speaking, can organizational leaders integrate mindfulness practices into strategic planning processes? Seventy years ago, Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who had just emerged from years as a prisoner at Auschwitz, shed some light on the question with a now-classic teaching. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space,” he wrote in 1946. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Mindfulness — the practice of watching one’s breath and noticing thoughts and sensations — is, at its core, a practice of cultivating this kind of space. It’s about becoming aware of how the diverse internal and external stimuli we face can provoke automatic, immediate, unthinking responses in our thoughts, emotions, and actions.  As the University of Virginia’s Timothy Wilson has argued, our brains are not equipped to handle the 11-plus million bits of information arriving at any given moment. For the sake of efficiency, we tend to make new decisions based upon old frames, memories, or associations. Through mindfulness practice, a person is able to notice how the mind reacts to thoughts, sensations, and information, seeing past the old storylines and habitual patterns that unconsciously guide behavior.  This creates space to deliberately choose how to speak and act. Organizations, like individuals, need this kind of space. As UCLA’s Richard Rumelt, a leading expert on strategic planning, writes in his book Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, one of the quintessential components of good strategy is the ability to take a step out of the internal storyline and shift viewpoints. “An insightful reframing of a competitive situation” he writes, “can create whole new patterns of advantage and weakness. The most powerful strategies arise from such game-changing insights.” To craft strategy on the basis of what Harvard’s Richard Chait and other scholars have called generative thinking, it’s not only necessary to identify a coherent set of policies or actions in response to a problem or opportunity, it’s also necessary to elucidate the full range of values, assumptions, and external factors at play in a decision-making situation.  It’s essential to step back and ask not only whether the team has identified the right plans or solutions but whether they have identified the right questions and problems in the first place.  All this requires space between stimulus and response. So how can organizations bring more space to strategic planning?  Is the answer to simply recruit leaders and board members who engage in contemplative practices? It can’t hurt. Steve Jobs, a regular meditator, made use of mindfulness practice to challenge operating assumptions at Apple and to enhance creative insight in planning. Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Capital has likewise used mindfulness not only as a tool for increasing productivity but also enhancing situational awareness as a strategist. But it’s also possible to build mindfulness directly into planning exercises. One of us recently had the opportunity to test the concept of mindful strategy with a group of middle managers and senior executives from the legal, advertising, finance, and non-profit sectors in the Bay Area.  The experience gave us a clearer practical understanding of what works when it comes to integrating mindfulness practice into strategy retreats.
  1. Take mindful moments: One simple approach is to integrate straightforward mindfulness activities into meetings and retreats. By punctuating planning exercises with deliberate time for those present to simply connect with their breath and recognize unnecessary distractions, organizers can create the conditions for intuition to arise.  As Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter wrote in HBR in March, it’s possible to integrate simple practices of focus and awareness throughout a workday.  Google’s Chade-Meng Tan, has developed dozens of such workplace meditation modules that could fit neatly into planning retreats.
  2. Explore alternative scenarios: It’s also possible to inject an element of mindfulness without meditating at all.  Scenario planning exercises, for example, open decision-makers to numerous, plausible alternative “stories of the future” that inherently challenge assumptions and mindsets. Corporations including Shell and governments including Singapore have used such practices — first and foremost for their heuristic value — with considerable success for decades.  Much like meditation, the practice of nonjudgmentally assessing different plausible futures is a practical way of shining light on old unexamined thought patterns and making room for new ideas.
  3. Visualize positive outcomes: As Daniel Goleman argues, positivity is part and parcel of focused attention. “Pessimism narrows our focus,” he writes, “whereas positive emotions widen our attention and our receptiveness to the new and unexpected.” Organizational leaders can benefit from imagining organizational “end-states” during strategy sessions.   This can be as simple as posing a variant of the question Goleman suggests— “if everything works out perfectly for our organization, what would we be doing in ten years?”—and taking time to contemplate.
Mindfulness practices like these can help leaders — and their organizations — identify which ideas and aspirations are important and which assumptions limit their growth. They’re useful not only for attaining enlightenment but also for making sense of a changing world.

5 Components of Emotional Intelligence

It used to be that the leadership traits and skills we valued most were left-brain functions: intelligence, analysis, vision, focus. For mose of the twentieth century, IQ was placed on a high pedestal and was considered to be one of the most important factors of success. This perspective was uprooted in 1995 when Daniel Goleman published his landmark book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. He wrote, “At best, IQ contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80 percent to other forces.” Primary among these “other forces” is emotional intelligence: “abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulses and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swimming the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.” In a January 2004 Harvard Business Review article entitled, “What Makes a Leader,” Goleman reveled that most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence. IQ and technical skills matter, he says, but only as basic requirements for executive positions. But without emotional intelligence, as the research shows, “a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” After performing exhaustive research with top executives, Goleman found that intellect was important for executive performance, including cognitive skills like big picture thinking and vision. But calculations proved emotional intelligence to be twice as important as other skills for jobs at all levels. Furthermore, the higher the company position, the more important emotional intelligence is to performers. “When I compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership positions,” Goleman wrote, “nearly 90 percent of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.” According to Goleman, emotional intelligence includes five components:
  1. Self-awareness: having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives.
  2. Self-regulation: Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing inner conversation, is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of our feelings. People engaged in such a conversation feel bad moods and emotional impulses just as everyone else does, but they find ways to control them and even to channel them in useful ways.
  3. Motivation: Plenty of people are motivated by external factors, such as a big salary or the status that comes from having an impressive title or being part of a prestigious company. By contrast, those with leadership potential are motivated b y a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement.
  4. Empathy: For a leader, empathy means thoughtfully considering employees’ feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making intelligent decisions.
  5. Social skills: Social skill is friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the direction you desire, whether that’s agreement on a new marketing strategy or enthusiasm about a new product.
The more emotional intelligence we develop, the greater our ability to reverse our senses – in this case, use our intellect to make wiser, more objective decisions.