Network Leap 4

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The impact of the next leap remains non-obvious for too many people, and too far off in many individuals’ minds. But then, there is the alarming presence of all the obvious “whens” all around us.

When the AI gets so good that human beings can’t tell the difference between the computer program and the human being.

When the machine learning gets so good that human beings can’t navigate managing and strategizing about the flood of data coming at us faster than the machine can.

When the amount of collected data is so overwhelming that human beings are paralyzed by analysis rather than having the courage to act in spite of the implications of the data.

In a world of those “whens”—which are arriving to the present as fast as they possibly can, no longer “whens” but “nows”—the only areas remaining to categorize, atomize, and to deliver on spec at low cost to an eager consumer, will be the emotional content of individual, human-to-human interactions.

The next leap is not around AI, machine learning, the Internet, or social media applications.

The next leap is not around robotics, data analysis, electric cars, augmented reality applications or virtual reality.

The next leap won’t even be around the industrialization of outcomes to spec on price, cost, labor, and work.

The next leap will be people—individuals, corporations, businesses, churches, schools—preserving and paying for the texture that individuality brings to human interaction.

The companies that are playing the long game of digitizing everything—every human interaction, every job, every product, every process, every service, and every crumb of knowledge—understand this las concept innately.

Google’s next great leap from dominance in the digital world will be from industrialization of outcomes to spec in a digital environment, to dominance in the material world of emotional, human-to-human interactions where spec means something different from individual to individual.

Are you playing Google’s long game, or are you playing humanity’s long game?

Thinking You Know the Answer

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Thinking you know the answer to the question before its even asked, is a sign of a mind that is at the bottom, impatient, arrogant, and prideful.

When you think you know the answer before the question is asked, you have to wonder if curiosity and empathy, or impatience and self-interest are the  motives that are driving you.

Thinking you know the punchline, before the joke is even finished, demonstrates that your ability to be open to the new—is really closed.

Now, there are some answers to some rudimentary questions that are obvious.

But there are so many places to add value to the human experience—through effective conflict engagement, the application of radical self-awareness, and the use of connective storytelling—that we need more people to be impatient for the joke to continue.

And for the punchline to remain non-obvious.

However, if individuals continue jumping to conclusions about the answers to hard problems with non-obvious solutions, in a race to the bottom to “just be done” already, well…

…we all have seen how that has worked out in the past to solve the hardest human problems.

Haven’t we?

Necessary or Urgent

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Urgent is what is needed right now.

Necessary is what is needed to make the “right now” accelerate faster toward resolving the tension inherent between the urgent and the not-so-urgent.

We confuse the necessary with the urgent, sometimes in the pursuit of speed (just get it done) or in the pursuit of fear (just stop the demand for urgency from being so—well—urgent).

Urgent emotional labor is all around us. Here are some examples:

  • Caring when it’s not “our turn” to care.
  • Listening to someone else’s perspective when we disagree.
  • Searching for hard answers to seemingly easy questions.
  • Truly understanding context and subtext in an interaction.
  • Delaying gratification in the moment.
  • Teaching without losing hope.
  • Learning without losing interest.
  • Sacrificing ourselves for ideas, projects, and people that will outlast our existence.

Necessary emotional labor is all around us. Here are some examples:

  • Feeding the hungry.
  • Clothing the naked.
  • Honoring the memory of the dead.
  • Telling the truth in love.
  • Facing the consequences of our mistakes.
  • Letting other people face the consequences of their own mistakes.
  • Preserving face at the expense of immediate gratification.
  • Not losing focus when the emotional going gets hard.
  • Pressing into the uncomfortable and doing more of the hard things.

Don’t confuse the necessary with the urgent.

Writing with Your Non-Dominant Hand

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One easy way to think about strengths and weaknesses is to try writing with your non-dominant hand. This means if you’re left-handed, switching to your right; and from your right to your left.

This also means that the results of your writing with your non-dominant hand will be critiqued mercilessly by people who have had it drilled into them that the results of your non-dominant handwriting matter more than anything else.

To make matters worse, you might not be promoted, chosen, or even given a passing grade (or granted something beyond a passing grade) if you don’t show that you’re putting in effort to get that non-dominant hand in line over the course of a lifetime.

There are all sorts of examples of this kind of deficiency based thinking in our culture (and in cultures around the world), but it manifests itself most notably in the following ways:

Waiting to be chosen by the boss, the teacher, or the person who’s got more status than you.

Raising your hand before answering a question, not because you don’t know the answer, but because the risk of being wrong is too great to bear.

Sitting through a performance evaluation waiting to be given a “passing grade” (i.e. a promotion) or waiting to be given a “failing grade” (i.e. a firing).

And there are more that could be listed.

These are all forms of (metaphorically) writing with your non-dominant hand.

The fact is, when you’re constantly being rewarded for producing mediocre work with your non-dominant hand (metaphorically speaking) the idea of choosing, developing, supervising, managing, and leading people through a strategic application of their strengths, sounds like a foreign concept.

But the thing is when the boss isn’t looking; when the teacher doesn’t choose us; when we don’t get the promotion or the advancement at work; some of us begin to go back, slowly but surely, to using our dominant hand.

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we just started people out that way from the beginning?

Old Ideas

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There are old ideas—and “old” just means “ideas we don’t think will ‘work’ in whatever cultural, economic or political ordering of the world humanity is advocating for now”—that sometimes need new traction.

Ideas fall out of favor for a variety of reasons that reflect cultural evolution. When this evolution reaches a standstill (or when going forward seems scarier than standing still) old ideas from the past tend to return to the minds of the present.

Unfortunately, the speed of the Internet has convinced humanity (at least in some places on the globe) that the speed of cultural evolution should match the immediacy with which an individual can order a latte from their phone.

Here’s a list of some old ideas that are still relevant regardless of how fast you are culturally evolving:

  • Love your enemies.
  • Do good too (and for) those who would seek to do wrong to you.
  • Actively practice humility and grace.
  • Live your life according to a set of values, ethics, and morals that you can explain when the rubber meets the road.
  • Help others who are not as fortunate as you in acquiring stuff.
  • Be interested, open and caring about another person’s story so that you can grow as they grow.
  • Listen more than you talk—either with your hands or your mouth.

When an old idea returns to prominence (or when an idea that never had traction in the first place takes its turn in the milieu of cultural evolution), we often say that it is “an idea whose time has come.

Of course, for ideas as old as the ones above (and many others I’m sure that you could think of) their time never really left.

There is Risk Everywhere

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There is risk everywhere and fear of risk leads to avoidance, delay, or surrender in the face of conflict and change.

The thing about risk profiles is that they differ based on the stories that we tell ourselves about how we can either succeed or fail in the face of conflict or change.

The stories of failures (“People like us tried something like this before. And it didn’t work.”) and the stories of successes (“People like us tried something like this before. And it worked.”) both share at their core, a story about risk looming large.

If you want to succeed in managing a conflict effectively, or if you want to manage change for other people, or if you want to “win” at a negotiation, here are three points to consider about risk.

By the way, these are not exhaustive points, they are merely starting points:

Everyone has a risk profile. Many people believe strongly that they have something to lose.

For some, its respect, face, honor, the ability to do work tomorrow, or even deeper emotional hurts.

For others, its position, title, money, or the ability to get to show up tomorrow in a place that feels safe.

Most risk profiles, based on fear, is not about physical harm (most of us in the West have eliminated those factors from our daily lives) but is instead about psychological harm.

And psychological safety.

Everyone’s risk profiles mismatch to everyone else’s. This should be obvious, but the fact of the matter is, empathy is in short supply—and always has been.

It becomes even less of a factor when we are so focused on convincing the other party that their risk profile is wrong or misguided, we miss the fact that what matters is empathy to the presence of the mismatch, rather than trying to resolve it.

Everyone wants risk reduced at the least, or eliminated entirely at the most. Reduction and elimination of risk are acts that move parties toward a sense of safety in situations where risk is high, profiles are mismatched, and empathy is in short supply.

The party who succeeds in diplomacy, change management, or conflict reduction is the party who is in tune with what stories will reduce (or eliminate) feelings of risk in the other party.

By the way, the things that people focus on as being “risky” or that they believe they have to lose the most, sometimes are drivers for their most impactful, deeply held stories.

Understand the risk profiles (and the safety and trust needs) of the other party at the table, before trying to convince them of your “I’m right.”

That way, you’ll be sure they listen.

Louis C.K. and the Cortez Problem

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There is a story (probably apocryphal) that the comedian Louis C.K., burns his jokes, his stand-up material, and his writing after successfully delivering it at the end of each year.

This story reads like a corollary to the idea (popularized through the constant repeating of the alleged actions of the explorer Hernando Cortez upon arriving in the New World) of burning the boats on the beach.

This idea of creative (or not-so-creative) destruction, as a motivator to either exploring further (because there is nowhere else to go) or rebuilding (because everything you built before is destroyed), can be scary for some.

Even for those who believe that they’ve already burned the boats…and the jokes.

What’s never talked about is developing the will and the courage to look at what you have accomplished in the past (i.e. a successful negotiation, a big project, a positive relationship) and ask the two following questions:

What about this could be better than it is now?

Who here will have the courage to change in order to make this thing better?

Having the will to destroy what’s already been created in the pursuit of a better future is the first step toward realizing that better future.

Three Places to Thrash

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When faced with a project there are three places to thrash:

Early—before the project begins.

Middle—as the project is proceeding.

Late—as the project ends.

When you (or your team) thrashes early, brainstorming becomes a way to develop new ideas. Speed and immediacy become the primary goals of early thrashing: Speed to actionable ideas and immediacy to the implementation of action, moving toward accomplishing end-of-project goals.

When you (or your team) thrashes in the middle of a project, brainstorming becomes a place to hide. Hiding emotionally, “getting to know your team,” or struggling to decide about the efficacy or practicality of an idea, become the unstated, primary goals. Speed becomes less important than looking good to peers, and groupthink really kicks in at this point, bogging down the implementation process.

When you (or your team) thrashes at the end of a project, brainstorming becomes a place of panic, anxiety, and on some teams (or with you) a place of abject fear. The combination of pressure to ship something out the door encourages a mindset and attitude focused around speed (but for negative reasons) and impatience with people and processes. The implementation process recedes in the face of the attitude of “just get it done.”

Thrashing—that is brainstorming a direction, deciding on an approach, planning a process, managing opinions and conflicts, and implementing a plan for action—should be done early, rather than late if you’re really interested (or your team is really interested) in shipping a product, idea, or service out the door and direct to the market.

Seeking Validation

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When someone asks you for validation about their approach to managing a conflict, what they are really asking for is reassurance that they are doing the right thing.

But since validation can only come from gatekeepers, and since gatekeepers have significantly less power in the world now than they ever have before, seeking validation is really an empty pursuit.

And since there is never enough reassurance that the right path has been taken, asking for validation—but really seeking reassurance—is a recipe for hiding from making the decisions that will move a conflict forward toward management and maybe resolution.

Instead of offering validation (or reassurance) offer opportunities and challenges to those who are hiding to have the courage to come out into the light, to make a decision, and to ship a solution that will be good enough for the conflict they are in.

Scale Problems

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Teutonic organizations believe that size makes up for persuasion.

Small organizations believe that persuasion makes up for size.

The problem in both organizations is scale, not properly understood.

Because your organization, your team, your personality, or your project is large, that doesn’t mean that persuasion is something to be abandoned. Persuasion at scale to get me to follow the rules, be compliant, or go along with the program, must not be abandoned in favor of the use of power and authority.

Because your organization, your team, your personality, or your project is small, that doesn’t mean that persuasion is the only thing to consider. Appealing to power or authority to get me to follow the rules, be compliant, or go along with the program, is sometimes a tool that works to ensure future engagement.

Be sure of three things to determine the balance in your organization:

  • Be sure of how your size (small or large) is perceived by others in the market.
  • Be sure of how your persuasion tactics have been effective (or haven’t been effective) in the past.
  • Be sure of how you have used (or misused or failed to use) power and authority in the past, and in the present, to move the market.

Otherwise, when your organization follows a rule or regulation to the letter, creates a method of persuasion that falls on deaf ears, or makes a move that benefits the organization but not your customers or fans, don’t be surprised when the push back is unexpected.