Business Success: Social Intelligence

If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view—as well as your own. 

—Henry Ford

The human brain offers fascinating insights into how leaders can leverage the new science. Based on the latest research in social neuroscience, a person who feels empathy for someone else is able to become attuned to the other’s mood. The result is resonance. The two brains become attuned as if they are part of the same system. This idea has powerful implications for leaders, as it follows that truly “great leaders are those whose behavior powerfully leverages the system of brain interconnectedness.”

Social influence on leaders

Natural leaders are those who easily connect with others. Individuals can improve their leadership abilities by finding “authentic contexts in which to learn the kinds of social behavior that reinforces the brain’s social circuitry. Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations—or even mastering social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.”

Tuning In

The process of tuning in occurs through the activation of mirror neurons, which are widely distributed throughout the brain. They operate as a “neural Wi-Fi” that facilitates our navigation of the social world by picking up the emotions of others and sharing their experience.
This point has powerful implications for leadership style. It suggests that leaders can succeed while being very demanding, as long as they foster a positive mood. In fact, certain mirror neurons are designed to detect smiles and laughter and often prompt smiles and laughter in return. Leaders who elicit smiles and laughter stimulate bonding among their team members. Research shows that “top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did mid-performing leaders.”

Intuition

Great leaders often say they make decisions from the gut. While some discount this concept, neuroscience steps in again to suggest that intuition is, in fact, in the brain. Intuition is produced by neurons called spindle cells. These cells are characterized by their large size (four times that of other brain cells). Their spindly shape, with an extra-long branch that allows them to attach to many cells at the same time, enables spindle cells to transmit thoughts and feeling to other cells more quickly. “This ultrarapid connection of emotions, beliefs, and judgments creates what behavioral scientists call our social guidance system.” This ability to take a thin slice of information and make a split-second decision has proven to be very accurate as shown in follow-up metrics. The ability to intuit while tuned in to others’ moods offers very accurate radar.

Other neurons that play a role in our social intelligence are called oscillators. The oscillator neurons coordinate movements between people who are attuned to each others’ feelings. It explains the phenomena experienced in dancing or a drumming circle. And it plays heavily in nonverbal communication, as this connection enables one to guided to look in a certain direction or adjust position by the actions of another.

Dan Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, and Richard Boyaztis, author of Becoming a Resonant Leader, share their behavioral assessment tool, the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory. “It is a 360-degree evaluation instrument by which bosses, peers, direct reports, clients, and sometimes even family members assess a leader according to seven social intelligence qualities.”

Empathy
• Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds?
• Are you sensitive to others’ needs?
Attunement
• Do you listen attentively and think about how others feel?
• Are you attuned to others’ moods?
Organizational Awareness
• Do you appreciate the culture and values of the group or organization?
• Do you understand social networks and know their unspoken norms?
Influence
• Do you persuade others by engaging them in discussion and appealing to their self-interests?
• Do you get support from key people?
Developing Others
• Do you coach and mentor others with compassion and personally invest time and energy in mentoring?
• Do you provide feedback that people find helpful for their professional development?
Inspiration
• Do you articulate a compelling vision, build group price, and foster a positive emotional tone?
• Are you lead by bringing out the best in people?
Teamwork
• Do you solicit input from everyone on the team?
• Are you support all team members and encourage cooperation?

What characteristics do you think are most important in a leader?

Leadership Development, Predictive Analytics, Business Intelligence and Change Management blog

 

Business Success: Social Intelligence

If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view—as well as your own. 

—Henry Ford

The human brain offers fascinating insights into how leaders can leverage the new science. Based on the latest research in social neuroscience, a person who feels empathy for someone else is able to become attuned to the other’s mood. The result is resonance. The two brains become attuned as if they are part of the same system. This idea has powerful implications for leaders, as it follows that truly “great leaders are those whose behavior powerfully leverages the system of brain interconnectedness.”

Social influence on leadersNatural leaders are those who easily connect with others. Individuals can improve their leadership abilities by finding “authentic contexts in which to learn the kinds of social behavior that reinforces the brain’s social circuitry. Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations—or even mastering social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.”

Tuning In

The process of tuning in occurs through the activation of mirror neurons, which are widely distributed throughout the brain. They operate as a “neural Wi-Fi” that facilitates our navigation of the social world by picking up the emotions of others and sharing their experience.
This point has powerful implications for leadership style. It suggests that leaders can succeed while being very demanding, as long as they foster a positive mood. In fact, certain mirror neurons are designed to detect smiles and laughter and often prompt smiles and laughter in return. Leaders who elicit smiles and laughter stimulate bonding among their team members. Research shows that “top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did mid-performing leaders.”

Intuition

Great leaders often say they make decisions from the gut. While some discount this concept, neuroscience steps in again to suggest that intuition is, in fact, in the brain. Intuition is produced by neurons called spindle cells. These cells are characterized by their large size (four times that of other brain cells). Their spindly shape, with an extra-long branch that allows them to attach to many cells at the same time, enables spindle cells to transmit thoughts and feeling to other cells more quickly. “This ultrarapid connection of emotions, beliefs, and judgments creates what behavioral scientists call our social guidance system.” This ability to take a thin slice of information and make a split-second decision has proven to be very accurate as shown in follow-up metrics. The ability to intuit while tuned in to others’ moods offers very accurate radar.

Other neurons that play a role in our social intelligence are called oscillators. The oscillator neurons coordinate movements between people who are attuned to each others’ feelings. It explains the phenomena experienced in dancing or a drumming circle. And it plays heavily in nonverbal communication, as this connection enables one to guided to look in a certain direction or adjust position by the actions of another.

Dan Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, and Richard Boyaztis, author of Becoming a Resonant Leader, share their behavioral assessment tool, the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory. “It is a 360-degree evaluation instrument by which bosses, peers, direct reports, clients, and sometimes even family members assess a leader according to seven social intelligence qualities.”

Empathy
• Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds?
• Are you sensitive to others’ needs?
Attunement
• Do you listen attentively and think about how others feel?
• Are you attuned to others’ moods?
Organizational Awareness
• Do you appreciate the culture and values of the group or organization?
• Do you understand social networks and know their unspoken norms?
Influence
• Do you persuade others by engaging them in discussion and appealing to their self-interests?
• Do you get support from key people?
Developing Others
• Do you coach and mentor others with compassion and personally invest time and energy in mentoring?
• Do you provide feedback that people find helpful for their professional development?
Inspiration
• Do you articulate a compelling vision, build group price, and foster a positive emotional tone?
• Are you lead by bringing out the best in people?
Teamwork
• Do you solicit input from everyone on the team?
• Are you support all team members and encourage cooperation?

What characteristics do you think are most important in a leader?

Business Success: The Conscious Leader

To become a leader, you must first become a human being.

—Confucius

leadership speaker
A conscious leader is best described by defining what it is not. According to leadership consultant Lance Secretan, consciousness is the opposite of rationalism.
The rational mind believes that:

• Success is always measured in material terms.
• Self-worth is measured in comparison to others.
• Feelings are private and should not be expressed in the workplace.
• The singe bottom line is the main arbiter of success.
• Anything that cannot be scientifically proven is not real or valuable.
• We are each separate and must compete.
• The world is dangerous and we must always protect ourselves.
• Violence and aggression are necessary for survival and safety.
• Notions like love, eco-interdependence, spirit or soul, absolute truth, and the divine are the province of philosophers, idealists, and the naïve—not business people.

The rational mind is firmly entrenched in the Newtonian model of science, which is insufficient when it comes to thriving in a volatile economy.

As Secretan puts it:

The rational mind describes compassion and caring for people as touchy-feely soft stuff. The conscious mind sees compassion and caring for people as the juice—even the purpose and necessity of life. The rational mind reasons that an imbalance between work and life is the means that is justified by the ends.

One the other hand, the conscious mind understands that everything in the universe, including work and life, must be balanced, that there is a season for everything. The conscious mind therefore balances thinking and feeling, profit and people, wisdom and learning, ego and spirit, now and the future, rich and poor, the sacred and the secular. The fully conscious leader is an evolved being.

Organizations that strive to be highly adaptable in the turbulent times ahead will be those with conscious leaders at every level.

Business Success: The Learning Organization Part II

Mon, Jun 10, 2013 @ 10:52 AM

In the last post, we discussed the first two of the five disciplines.  If you missed it you can find it here.

Mental Models

Senge defines mental models “as deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” A majority of these models are unconscious and have existed since childhood. Yet they pervade every thought, word, and action.

The first step in dealing with mental models is to look within oneself. Then the organization must create a safe place for members participate in compassionate scrutiny and influence through the process of “inquiry and advocacy.”

Building Shared Vision

sacred_imagesOne thing that all successful organizations have in common is a shared vision. Made up of shared goals and values, a shared vision has the capacity to bring “people

together around a common identity and sense of destiny,” according to Senge. It unleashes creative energy and fuels innovation by rallying diverse members in a shared vision that galvanizes the organization. It “involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.”

Team Learning

The success of organizations to learn is based on the ability of the teams to learn. The team must connect and share through dialogue while suspending assumptions and learning to trust each other. Blocks such as fear, apathy, and defensiveness can undermine learning. Therefore, safe and open communication is essential.

Team learning has the power to enhance capabilities for innovation and creativity. But to maximize the benefits, the learning must be shared. Many teams of brilliant individuals have produced mediocre results due to lack of interaction and integration.

Practicing team learning is not about copying a model. Many new management innovations emerge as “best practices.” But most organizations adopt and implement the ideas in a piecemeal fashion. Toyota is a great example of a company that uses a systems approach. Many companies copy Toyota’s kanban system. But they fail to see how all the parts work together in a way that is unique for Toyota.

The Fifth Discipline

Senge points out that “It is vital that the five disciplines develop as an ensemble.” This is truly a time when the total is greater than the sum of its parts.

Based on that truth, “systems thinking is the fifth discipline.” Without a systemic approach, the coherence necessary to be adaptable is lost. “For example, vision without systems thinking ends up painting lovely pictures of the future with no deep understanding of the forces that must be mastered to move from here to there.”

Organizations that embrace systems thinking must also practice “the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, team learning, and personal mastery to realize its potential.”

Each of these disciplines plays a role in powering the system. Shared vision builds a group commitment to the future. Mental models provide the openness necessary to unveil the limitations present in the organization. Team learning improves the members’ skills to create and take action on an organizational level. And personal mastery encourages the self-reflection, healing, and personal growth necessary to fully participate in an adaptable organization.

Finally, learning organizations offer amazing potential for creating their future. Based on the new science, a learning organization is creating its future by shifting how individuals perceive themselves and their world.

Business Success: Conflict Resolution: A Living Systems Approach

Apr 29, 2013 @ 08:30 AM

Conflict is a natural by-product of the tensions that arise in dynamic organizations. Although it is often perceived as negative, conflict that is handled effectively has the potential to inject new, creative energy into the system.

communicationConflict can be dealt with in a variety of ways. The use of mediation along with the practice of effective listening skills detailed in Chapter 3 is often successful. Organizations are discovering that by inviting individuals to work through their issues in new positive constructive ways that tap into the energy of the group, these techniques deepen the connections within and across their teams.

Eric Brunner, manager of Human Resources at Temple University and his colleague, Marie Amey-Taylor, director of Temple’s Human Resources Department, use a variety of training techniques that provide content in visual, auditory, and kinesthetic formats. They also design their trainings to be active, using both inductive and deductive activities to transfer learning to the participants.

For over 10 years, Brunner and Amey-Taylor have been practicing a combination of improvisational theater and sociodrama to demonstrate appropriate and inappropriate conflict resolution skills and ways to work through conflict and build trust. Sociodrama is a form of improvisational theater based on the “shared central needs and issues” of the audience or participant group and involves dramatic enactments of real-life situations or conflicts so that participants can observe and develop interpersonal skills.

It is presented using trained actors, occasional volunteer audience members, and a highly trained facilitator. In practice, Brunner and Amey-Taylor found that participants became very engaged in the action, would dialogue with the characters in a scene, and might even jump in to take the place of actors to “correct” inappropriate or ineffective behaviors. This unique combination of improv and sociodrama is a powerful technique and has become a staple in their work with employees at all levels within a wide variety of organizations. In the next section, Brunner shares his experience with the process.

Conflict Resolution with Sociodrama

Recently, we were asked to partner with a professor from Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater who was presenting on the topic of cross-cultural communication at a women’s leadership conference at Bryn Mawr College. In attendance were about 80 women, all high-level administrators, from a wide range of institutions of higher education.

Because the group was all women, there was a content piece based on the work of Deborah Tannen, an expert in the different communication styles of men and women. Prior to the presentation of this content area, the theater troupe presented a scene designed to introduce the content and invite participants into the presentation. Because of the actors’ familiarity with the participant group and the program content, they were able to anticipate a scene that would have relevance for the group and introduce content. There were four actors on site for this session, two men and two women.

The scene started with actors playing the four people responsible for planning an event on a college campus. During the enactment, the male actors began acting in ways that were illustrative of how Tannen described men as communicators. And the women in the scene began acting in the ways that she described as typical of women.

As the scene played out, the session participants were able to see the connection between cross-gender communication and the possible conflicts that could be generated. As the group saw themselves and others with whom they work in the characters, they started to react, most with laughter. A few exhibited a heightened desire to rectify the situation depicted by the actors. After watching the enactment for five minutes, the group participants were engaged and eager to explore the topic more fully. The use of theater also allowed the women to release some of the feelings they carried related to the topic and their own experiences. This purely experiential format for generating discussion and learning about conflict has proven to be an effective training technique and a tool for building trust and strong relationships.

Business Success: Leveraging Chaos in Organizations Part II

Evolution at the Edge

It is important to acknowledge that the discomfort created by chaos is necessary for change to occur. It is equally important to safeguard against getting lost or frozen in the midst of the chaos. Leaders need to balance on the edge of chaos, dipping in and being comfortable there in order to move themselves and the organization to higher levels of evolution. This delicate balance includes inviting members of the organization to feel the need for change while not feeling overwhelmed by it. According to Coveney and Highfield in Frontiers of Complexity, “ Complex systems that can evolve will always be near the edge of chaos, poised for that creative step into emergent novelty that is the essence of the evolutionary process.”

edge_of_chaosThe edge of chaos is the best place to observe the patterns of order available, patterns that then may be applied to the current situation. Getting stuck in one particular state of order is not effective because, sooner or later, that state will become obsolete. It is crucial for leaders to remain open to new experiences that the environment contains and show a willingness to adapt and change based on the information received from the environment.

 

Emotional Distance

The ability to move gracefully in and out of change and the resulting chaos requires an ability to observe what is happening. Doing so involves being able to psychologically step back and assess what is occurring on multiple levels with detachment. If participants become emotionally involved, it becomes difficult for them to be objective.

Emotional distance allows participants to observe with an open mind, thereby enhancing the likelihood that they will hear other points of view and see what is occurring in a group. This is the reason why it is often suggested that facilitators not participate in the content of a discussion. They are then more able to see what is going on and make helpful interventions, dipping in when necessary to keep the group on course or help members deal with something they are avoiding.

What to Observe at the Edge

It is helpful to observe specific aspects of the group while maintaining emotional distance by asking:
• Are the goals clear?
• Are people listening to one another and communicating well?
• Are individuals involved and included?
• How are people feeling (what are their nonverbal expressions, what they are doing, how are they interacting)?

All of this information will help to identify clues regarding the health of the group, its relationships, and its interactions in the organization. If ineffective interactions are apparent, an intervention will help move the group to greater effectiveness. For example, if people are not listening, the facilitator can ask others to repeat what was just said. If goals are not clear, the facilitator can ask the group to clarify them. If the group is moving off task, the facilitator can ask if this is what the group should be doing. If someone looks angry or confused, the facilitator can ask him or her how they are doing. Another way of observing group effectiveness is to look for patterns in the organization.

Fractals

Discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot in the 1970s, fractals provide a guide for examining complexity and patterns. They are characterized by patterns that replicate to create the whole. In a fractal, each part is autonomous. However, the pattern of each part is embedded in every part of the whole. Some common examples of fractals are the lungs, circulatory systems, leaves, and feathers. Fractals contain a certain order that allows them to be decoded with a few rules. Complexity is the result of a given structure being repeated many times.

Fractals can be seen within the social life of an organization. Each member is autonomous while it is part of the greater whole. The organization is healthiest when members’ patterns are replicated throughout the whole through effective communication.

Leaders are fractals of others in the organization. Their behavior is often mirrored throughout the organization. If the leader is collaborative, communicates openly, and attempts to learn from past mistakes, this behavior will carry through to the members.

Norms as Fractals

Norms for behaving are patterns that can be observed in the organization. Much like a fractal, an organization is seen as connected if certain norms exist throughout it. Norms are the implicit or explicit rules that guide and determine what behaviors are acceptable within a group. Although often not explicit, these are the rules by which people work on a daily basis. They determine how a group handles conflict and stress, makes decisions, listens, generates ideas, and allows certain language to prevail. In any group, norms may be effective or ineffective.
An example of an organizational norm is the way a group deals with conflict. For example, some organizations suppress tension by pretending it is not there.

Nonverbal cues, such as frowns, crossed arms, and downward glances, are ignored while the group goes on to the next agenda item. This norm keeps the group from examining what is occurring, from sharing thoughts, feelings, and disagreements. These unresolved feelings and disagreements then go underground and sabotage the group later because they have not been resolved. Avoiding conflict cuts off important sources of information that could possibly improve the team, the product, and the way things are done.

Healthy norms are patterns in the organization that can:
• Encourage continuous open feedback, both negative and positive
• Encourage people to share thoughts and feelings
• Encourage individuals and groups to deal with conflict
• Allow learning from mistakes, without blame or judgment
• Create a flow of information throughout the organization
• Encourage participation and involvement in decisions

Each of these norms facilitates the emergence of a truly adaptable organization. All of these norms must be aligned with and support the desired values to ensure that those values permeate the organization. These values are in harmony with the principles that support living systems. As they become institutionalized, healthy norms will come to characterize the organization.

Business Success: Leveraging Chaos in Organizations Part I

This will be a two part blog series about leveraging chaos in organizations.  As mentioned earlier, the key to leveraging chaos within an organization is to allow the vision to drive the change. Chaos manifests within organizations as an inability to find and deal with information in a useful way. If the chaos is contained within specific boundaries, and if the members of the organization can tolerate the tension, order will eventually emerge. Crisis, however, is the failure of coping mechanisms, resulting in a loss of a framework that leads to stagnation or death. In other words, the system is unable to tolerate the tension.

Vision-driven energy can create change that does not result from crisis, although chaos will still occur. Dissatisfaction with the status quo drives a vision, not crisis. Dissatisfaction is the result of examining the status quo with an open mind in relation to the environment and deciding that change is necessary. The vision provides a way of getting members of the organization focused on the future. A vision should inspire and motivate. It should entice members to move out of the current state and move toward the new state while honoring the values of the organization and its members.

Structure within Chaoschaos

For organizations to foster adaptability, it is important to provide a structure or boundaries to guide it through the chaos. However, there is a delicate balance between providing structure and controlling the process. Recall that new patterns emerge only when the system is far from equilibrium. Providing structure in this case means utilizing the system, getting people together and providing them with ways of interacting, and sharing information. This process provides the tension that results in people feeling the need to change. In a healthy system, they would eventually create a plan together. “No one system dictates conditions to another. All participate together in creating the conditions of their interdependence.”

When an organization is in chaos, leaders typically decide they know the answers and take it upon themselves to establish the necessary structures, processes, and rules without any input from the rest of the organization. While this approach is generally easier and faster, it is antithetical to systems thinking and may impede adaptability. It actually prevents the system from rising to a higher level by way of self-organization. Systems thinking requires that the all parts of the system be involved in any major decision-making process.

When chaos is overwhelming the system, it is necessary to provide boundaries or simple rules to contain the chaos. Doing so entails helping people stay focused on the core purpose of the organization and values. By allowing employees to experience the underlying strength of the organization, everyone in it is able to understand and internalize the core purpose. However, it is critical to create dialogue opportunities that encourage tough questions regarding the purpose and its impact. It is common to assume that everyone understands the purpose; thus, often this step is skipped. Understanding the core purpose is crucial in self-organizing systems; this purpose provides the goals around which self-organization occurs. Dialoguing regarding purpose aligns individuals and helps them to claim the purpose as their own.

Values are guiding principles for how to act. They define members’ behavior in reaching their goals. An example of a value is: “We will continue to learn and evolve by examining what we do and how we do it on an individual, group, and system level.” Values act as the strange attractor that pulls the system into order during times of turbulence. They provide guidelines for how to interact with one another, particularly during chaos. Without clear standards for how to work and interact, change can be too risky.

It is futile to have values that mean nothing and do not define how people actually behave. If people hear one value and see behavior that contradicts it, they will not feel safe. For example, if an organization values self-examination and criticism to aid learning and then uses blame and punishment when something goes wrong, the self-examination will cease. In addition to consistency around behavior, it is important for leaders to model the desired organizational behavior.

Tolerance for Discomfort

Systems change when they are far from equilibrium. For this reason, it is important to resist complacency in times of success. Many organizations fail as a result of complacency. Organizations that continue to look for indicators of new shifts will maintain a competitive edge.
It is helpful to develop a tolerance for the discomfort associated with the change process. Doing so allows natural connections to develop. But when discomfort reaches high levels, some organizations hurry the process by forcing connections, coming to premature solutions, and controlling outcomes. This control impedes the formation of natural connections. Newly formed groups, which are particularly susceptible to this urge, cope with it by jumping to solutions prematurely. During times of change, the urge to bring closure to issues and to know the answers increases. This urge needs to be managed with forethought and care by developing a tolerance for ambiguity and lack of control.

Natural Connections and Flexibility

Order rises naturally from chaos, and connections form naturally to make sense of the inherent and emerging information. Organizational structures and processes should be formed as a result of natural connections, and they should be adapted when necessary to ensure that the vision is achieved in the most productive and efficient manner. Jan Carlzon, chief executive of Scandinavian Airline System, made the organization legendary by (among other things) simplifying its rules. He burned thousands of pages of manuals and handbooks to demonstrate how overrun the organization was with rules. If rules and processes are rigid and inflexible, the organization will not be able to shift at the appropriate time. Six guidelines for staying flexible include:
1. Be patient when allowing connections to form.
2. Avoid becoming rigid with or overrun by structures, rules, and processes.
3. Make sure the rules and processes that are in place are relevant and necessary.
4. Solicit regular feedback.
5. Stay open to new ways of doing things.
6. Make sure suggestions and ideas are fully understood before discarding them.

We welcome comments and feeback and please feel free to share this article.

Business Success: The New Paradigm

In traditional organizations, strategy management is usually static and reductionist. The focus is on short-term gain, optimal allocation of resources, process improvement, and increasing competitive advantage. The approach to change is incremental, with the assumption that a slight change in the existing strategy or variation in the organizational structure will do the job.paradigm_shift_logo

As mentioned earlier, two fundamentally different organizational models are offered. The traditional model, based on Newtonian science, is linear, rational, and reductionist. It is based on the idea that organizations are made up of individual units that can be managed separately. Units such as people, products, tasks, and expenses can each be optimized to support the whole. Change as predictable and controllable with a final end state characterized by stability. According to Laszlo and Laugel in Large-Scale Organizational Change, “This notion is rooted in calculus with which Newton expressed his immutable laws of physics—smooth, continuous, differential equations that lead toward a fixed equilibrium.”

The emergent model is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It sees organizations as emerging from complexity with their parts interconnected and relating as living systems. Behavior emerges and is experienced on an organizational level. It cannot be reduced to incremental units. Rather than implementing change, the emergent or living systems model is always adapting to stay in balance. Change, as defined by the old model, is continuous. The wisdom or intelligence of the organization does not just reside with leadership but is assumed to be distributed across a wide variety of people and systems.

By understanding the rules, principles, and behaviors of each model, organizations can select the best path based on the specific situation. For example, if a company needs to manufacture a product, a clear linear process with a predefined path and time frame is optimal. However, when pressures from outside or deep within an organization require adaptation, it is rarely predictable or controllable. The constant need to innovate, a pressure felt by many in the global economy, is a good example. The intelligence of the organization to meet this goal is far superior to that of the top management team.

To illustrate how our traditional change methodologies and structures limit adaptability, imagine if traditional business rules and processes are applied to the neurons in the brain.
Organize the neuron in your brain, the most complex, infinitely diverse organ that has ever emerged in evolution, as you would a corporation. The first thing you’ve got to do is appoint the Chief Executive neuron, right?

Then you’ve got to decide which are going to be the Board of Directors neurons and the Human Resources neurons, and then you have to write an operating manual for it. Now, if you could organize your brain on that model, what would happen? You would instantly be unable to breathe until somebody told you how and where and when and how fast. You wouldn’t be able to think or see. What if your immune system were organized on this basis? First you’d have to do some market research to determine what virus, if any, was attaching you, right? Then you’d have to have marching orders for all the various aspects of your immune system.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Business Success: Fostering Creativity

Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before. When this information self-organizes, innovations occur, the progeny of information-rich, ambiguous environments.

—Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science
Creativity cannot be forced. It can only be allowed. However, much can be done to increase the flow of creativity.

Actions for Stimulating Creativitycreativity

While most leaders are highly creative, many of the best ideas bubble up through the rank and file. They are the ones closest to the processes or customers where innovation has the biggest impact. Everyone loves to share ideas. So innovation is a resource that is easy to tap. One can take several actions to encourage ideas.

Offer Incentives

Most people love to share their ideas, but some may be fearful of criticism or rejection. So it is best to set rules that no idea will be judged negatively. However, the best ideas, especially those that translate into profits, should be rewarded. An organizational-level program that offers incentives and rewards for good ideas goes a long way toward fostering creativity.

Ask Inspiring Questions

Continually questioning every process is a great way to generate new ideas. Asking “what if” and questions based on curiosity can stimulate thinking. And inspiring individuals to dream or create their own department, process, or even company is a great way to get the juices flowing. Also, challenging a group to solve an impossible problem can lead to amazing breakthroughs.

Create Time and Space to Think

Most people feel so much pressure that just having time to think is a luxury. But this is exactly what is needed to nurture creativity. Some companies are creating relaxing spaces just for daydreaming. Others are allocating time and telling their workers to go for a walk in the woods or visit an art gallery to get out of their thinking rut. A change of scenery is one of the best ways to tap into the right side of the brain.

Design a Creative Workspace

There is so much that can be done to enhance the simplest workspace. Artwork and plants give a cubicle or office a more organic feel. Soft, inspiring music enhances brain function. A view of the outdoors is an ever-changing landscape of color and light.

Enhance Diversity

Creativity can be stimulated by bringing together people of different talents, backgrounds, cultures, and viewpoints. The more varied the experience of the participants, the more each person’s own ideas will be enhanced.

Encourage Mistakes

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. 
—James Joyce

Organizations that encourage individuals to make decisions at their own level will most likely see an increase in errors. This is natural because it is expected that the organization is changing and evolving at a much faster rate. So while there may be a concern about the increase, more mistakes may mean that more new ideas are reaching the experimentation stage. A common theme is “managers must decrease the fear of failure and that the goal should be to experiment constantly, fail early and often, and learn as much as possible in the process.”

Free-form Conferences

In 1985, the organizers of the International Symposium on Organizational Transformation noticed that the best part of the conference was during the coffee break. It turned out that this time of mingling and freestyle interaction also was the part the participants liked the most. So the organizers decided to design the entire conference as a coffee break. In other words, they decided to use open space methodology to design the entire program. “The result is a conference with no agenda, no organizing committee and, surprisingly, almost no stress.”

In the book Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, Harrison Owen offers ideas for running all types of programs with minimal structure. He suggests that gathering in an open space that is outside of the day-to-day experience allows ideas to emerge. “If the aim is creativity and innovation, knocking out the stultifying drudgery is step one. Step two is removing expectations, developing trust and getting back to a sense of play, according to Professor Lizbeth Goodman, director of the SMARTlab Digital Media Institute at the University of East London. She uses theater games and voice work: shouting, singing, and laughing. “People remember some previous version of themselves that hadn’t yet been taught to think in boxes. When you free up someone’s body movement, you free up their mind.”

One company builds a conference by bringing in top experts in their field. The attendees hear each expert in a morning plenary session. Then small teams book time with the experts for a few days. “It’s this combination of structure and absolute freedom to brainstorm, along with up-close access to successful mentors, that feeds the ‘anything is possible’ atmosphere.”

Although the format has been used primarily in the media arts industry, the model works for all types of companies. One event brought together “top-level professionals from across the biopharmaceutical, FMCG [Fast Moving Consumer Goods], petrochemical and chemical industries.” The invitation-only event allowed the participants to design “their own agenda of interactive-workshops, personal meetings, networking sessions and keynote presentations.”

Several companies offer these conferences in different formats, but the overarching concept is simple: Reduce the structure and let the ideas flow.

Business Success: Creativity

Nov 06, 2012 @ 09:37 AM

A flash of inspiration can burst out anywhere. For Archimedes, it came in the bathtub and for Isaac Newton beneath an apple tree. But for Alastair Pilkington, it came one misty October evening while he was washing the dinner dishes. Staring at the soap and grease floating in the dishwater, he suddenly conceived of float glass—a way of making glass more cheaply by floating it in an oven on a bath of molten tin.
—1964 Newsweek magazine article Op cit., Herrmann, 139

 

brain

Many people in knowledge-based organizations, especially those working in analytical or technical positions, believe that right-brain, creative processes are irrelevant to their line of work. They tend to favor more left-brain, linear, hierarchical thinking processes. However, evidence shows that the best way to solve complex analytical problems is to access the whole brain.

The Human Brain

The structure and processing of the human brain play an important role in creative thinking and problem solving. Basically, the brain is a highly adaptable complex system with no chief executive. It thrives on billions of connections, feedback loops, and interactions. When presented with stimulation, the only region of the brain that activates is the one needed. Meanwhile, other areas sit idle. Research suggests that people relate differently to situations based on the way their brains are wired.

Left-Brain/Right-Brain Theory of Organization

To understand the mechanics of the creative process, it is useful to have a deeper understanding of the structure of the brain. Most people are familiar with the fact that the brain has a left and a right hemisphere. Within the two hemispheres are the neocortex and limbic system. Also important are the connectors that connect these four areas and send signals to one another. Within these four areas, there are two patterns of brain functioning, situational functioning and iterative functioning. These are the components of the left-brain/right-brain theory of organization.

Neocortex

Roughly 80 percent of the brain is in the neocortex. It is anatomically divided into two halves, called cerebral hemispheres. The neocortex manages “processes concerning vision, hearing, body, sensations, intentional motor control, reasoning, cerebra thinking and decision making, purposeful behavior, language and non-verbal ideation.”

Limbic System

The two halves of the limbic system are nestled into each of the two cerebral hemispheres and make up most of the rest of the thinking cortex. The limbic system has one of the richest blood supplies in the body; it “regulates eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, body temperature, chemical balances such as blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, punishment, hunger, thirst, aggression, and rage.”
The limbic system is responsible for producing emotions. It is connected to both the brain stem and the cerebral hemispheres through vast and highly developed connections. Therefore, it is in a position to mediate brain activity between the brain stem and the cerebral hemispheres. In other words, it has the power to overwhelm logical thinking with emotional energy.

Connections within the Brain

The connections within the brain fall into two categories, those within each hemisphere and those between the hemispheres and the two halves of the limbic system. The most famous of these, the corpus callosum, connects the two cerebral hemispheres. It is believed to have between 200 and 300 million fibers. Research suggests that, on average, female brains have an advantage over male brains in size, speed, and maturity rate – the rate at which the brain matures. This may explain some of the differences in male and female aptitudes and behaviors.

Situational versus Iterative Functioning

To improve efficiency, the brain determines which part to activate based on the particular situation. For example, if people are listening, their language center will activate while their calculation center sits idle.

Iterative functioning, in contrast, “is a back-and-forth movement of signals among the brain’s specialized centers that take place to advance work on a task.” Depending on the complexity of the task, it can be a single iteration or multiple iterations between or within hemispheres.

Amygdalae

Another area of the brain plays a big role in the ability to survive amid complexity as it relates to fear. The amygdalae sit at the base of the brain and serve as processors for emotions, especially fear. One of the oldest parts of the brain, their characteristics can be the most deep-seated and hard to explain. When dealing with transformation and moving in new directions, people’s level of fear plays a prominent role in their ability and willingness to move forward.

Cerebellum

The latest research on the cerebellum suggests that it is a powerful mechanism with more nerve cells than the rest of the brain combined. It quickly processes information from all other parts of the brain, such as motor areas, cognitive areas, language areas, and areas involving emotional functions. Its computer-like circuitry allows it to send information back out to various parts of the brain. Its connections to the cerebral cortex resemble segregated bundles, which allow it to communicate complex information. Current theories under investigation suggest that the cerebellum is involved not only in skilled motor performance but in skilled mental performance as well as “various sensory functions including sensory acquisition, discrimination, tracking and prediction.” Experimental evidence shows that it may also be responsible for automating repetitive processes, thereby freeing the brain for other mental activities.