Monday, May 30, 2011

i-TFTD #324: On Thought Expansion

#324-1. Capacity is a state of mind.
-David J. Schwartz ("The Magic of Thinking Big")

#324-2. To nurture rich insights and intuitions, a knowledge-creating company needs diversity in the pool of talents available within the company. This diversity enhances requisite variety, which is one of the enabling conditions for the organization.
-Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi ("The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation")

#324-3. Why are we so much better at answering questions than at answering the right question! s? Is it because we are trained at school and university to answer questions that others have asked? If so, should we be trained to ask questions?
-Trevor Kletz (British Chemical Engineer and Safety expert, author of many books including "Learning from Accidents" and "An Engineer's View of Human Error")

The first is a profound statement. Anyone who has achieved anything spectacular began by believing, dreaming. Yet we limit ourselves everyday with our statements.

Diversity is a good antidote to unthinking conformity. Leaders must encourage voicing of different views.

Have you wondered why one of the favorite themes in i-TFTD is raising que! stions? I have come to believe that seeking answers is more important than the answers themselves. And it is different from knowing the so-called answer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

i-TFTD #323: Ever Tried Feedforward? (Long)

Ambrish Jhaveri sent this article to me in Aug-2005. I forwarded it as something interesting to read to our HR Manager, who, in turn, tailored it into a corporate initiative and offered managers at all levels a structured and facilitated format to seek feedforward from their teams. Thanks, Ambrish. Your thoughtful sharing gesture set off a positive change whose benefits are still accruing across a large organization.

Read the article below to understand that 'feedforward' is not merely a word play from Marshall Goldsmith. He is one of the world's top executive coaches and author of over 20 books on leadership, including What Got You Here Won't Get You There and The Organization of the Future. His practical and insightful writings are increasingly featured in management journa! ls. His web site contains tons of useful material.

Ever Tried Feedforward?
The fundamental problem with feedback is that it focuses on the past. Instead, people should be looking ahead.
Marshall Goldsmith / New York August 23, 2005

Providing feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill for leaders. As they strive to achieve the goals of the organization, employees need to know how they are doing.

They need to know if their performance is in line with what their leaders expect. They need to learn what they have done well and what they need to change. Traditionally, this information has been communicated in the form of "downward feed! back" from leaders to their employees.

Just as employees need feedback from leaders, leaders can benefit from feedback from their employees. Employees can provide useful input on the effectiveness of procedures and processes and as well as input to managers on their leadership effectiveness. This "upward feedback" has become increasingly common with the advent of 360° multi-rater assessments.

But there is a fundamental problem with all types of feedback: it focuses on a past, on what has already occurred—not on the infinite variety of opportunities that can happen in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic.

Over the past several years, I have observed more than 10,000 leaders as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise. In the exercise, participants are each asked to play two roles. In one role, they are asked provide "feedforward"—that is, to give someone else suggestions! for the future and help as much as they can. In the second role, they are asked to accept feedforward—that is, to listen to the suggestions for the future and learn as much as they can. The exercise typically lasts for 10-15 minutes, and the average participant has six or seven dialogue sessions. In the exercise participants are asked to:

-Pick one behavior that they would like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.
-Describe this behavior to randomly selected fellow participants. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, "I want to be a better listener."
-Ask for feed forward—two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve a positive change in their selected behavior.
-Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgmental statements, such as, "That's a good idea."
-Ask the others what they would like to change.
-Provide feedforward.

When the exercise is finished, I ask participants to provide one word that best describes their reaction to this experience. I ask them to complete the sentence, "This exercise was …". The words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as "great", "energizing", "useful" or "helpful." The most common word mentioned is "fun!"

What is the last word that most of us think about when we receive feedback, coaching and developmental ideas? Fun!

Here's why.

Here are 11 reasons why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool.

       We can change the future. We can't change the past. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past.

       Athletes are often trained using feedforward. Racecar drivers are taught to, "Look at the road ahead, not at the wall." By giving pe! ople ideas on how they can be even more successful, we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.

       It can be more productive to help people be "right," than prove they were "wrong". Negative feedback often tends to produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender.

       Even constructively delivered feedback is often seen as negative as it necessarily involves a discussion of mistakes, shortfalls and problems. Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions—not problems.

       Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals.

       They tend to resist negative judgment. We all tend to accept feedback that is consistent with the way we see ourselves. We also tend to reject or deny feedback that is inconsistent with the way we see ourselves.

       Successful people tend to have a very positive self-image. I have observed many successful executives respond to (and even enjoy) feedforward. I am not sure that these same people would have had such a positive reaction to feedback.

       Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual. One common reaction to the previously described exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people that they don't know!

       For instance, if you want to be a better listener, almost any fellow leader can give you ideas on how you can improve! . They don't have to know you. Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.

       People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback. In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to "focus on the performance, not the person". In practice, almost all feedback is taken personally. Successful people's sense of identity is highly connected with their work. It is hard to give a professional feedback that is not taken personally.

       Feedforward cannot involve a personal critique, since it is discussing something that has not yet happened! Positive suggestions tend to be seen as objective advice—personal critiques are often viewed as personal attacks.

Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of ch! ange. It is based on the assumption that the receiver of suggestions can make positive changes in the future.

Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don't like to give it. I have reviewed summary 360° feedback reports for over 50 companies.

The items, "provides developmental feedback in a timely manner" and "encourages and accepts constructive criticism" almost always score near the bottom on co-worker satisfaction with leaders. Leaders are not very good at giving or receiving negative feedback. It is unlikely that this will change in the near future.

Feedforward can cover almost all of the same "material" as feedback. Imagine that you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you "relive" this humiliating experience, your manager might help you prepare for future presentations by giving you suggestions for the future. These suggestion! s can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way.

In this way your manager can "cover the same points" without feeling embarrassed and without making you feel even more humiliated.

Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, "Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn't make sense for you."

With this approach almost no time gets wasted on judging the quality of the ideas or "proving that the ideas are wrong". Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination and will tend to accept ideas that they "buy" while rejecting ideas that feel "forced" upon them.

Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers and team members. Rightly or wrongly, fee! dback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative—or even career-limiting—unintended consequences when applied to managers or peers. Feedforward does not imply superiority of judgment.

It is more focused on being a helpful "fellow traveler" than an "expert". As such it can be easier to hear from a person who is not in a position of power or authority.

An excellent team-building exercise is to have each team member ask, "How can I better help our team in the future?" and listen to feedforward from fellow team members (in one-on-one dialogues.)

People tend to listen more attentively to feedforward than feedback. One participant is the feedforward exercise noted, "I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever do at work!"

When asked why, he responded, "Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart—that I am not fully listening to what! the other person is saying. In feedforward the only reply that I am allowed to make is 'thank you'. Since I don't have to worry about composing a clever reply—I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!"

In summary, the intent of this article is not to imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions.

Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, feedforward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When managers are asked, "How did you feel the last time you received feedback?" their most common responses are very negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving feedforward, they reply that feedforward was not only useful, it was also fun!

Quality communication—between and among people at all levels—is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed, and that those who receive it are receptive to its content.

The result is a much more dynamic, much more open organization—one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

i-TFTD #322: Check Reality

#322-1. The greatest folly of a man is being oblivious to all the changes happening around him.

#322-2. Frustrations come because we impose our illusions on reality.
-Osho Rajneesh (born Chandra Mohan Jain), controversial Indian mystic and spiritual teacher (1931-1990)

(Thanks to Arun Wakhlu for sharing this.)

#322-3. In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.
-Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

When we anticipate change and feel we are able to make sense of trends, we accept changes more readily and adapt faster. When surprised by a change we! go through an initial phase of anger and fear, wishing that there had been prior intimation and time for preparation. I have often discovered that there had been many clear signs of the impending change but I chose to ignore them or did not stay adequately alert. Deeper reflection also forces me to admit that I sometimes refused to think about certain aspects brought to my attention by events or other people.

Persisting with beliefs in the face of facts that seem to contradict those beliefs makes the inevitable adaptation more painful. Adopting a healthy questioning attitude and periodically re-examining our assumptions about our goals, constraints and resources is useful. A recent technique I am trying to apply is to deliberately seek out discussions with people with different opinions and beliefs, without necessarily debating nor agreeing with what they say but just listen with a view to enlarge my own perspectives—at the least it stretches my brain in new directions.

Friday, May 20, 2011

i-TFTD #321: On Interdependence and Courage to Change

#321-1. This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.
-Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President (1858-1919)

#321-2. For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.
-John Kennedy, 35th US President (1917-1963)

(Thanks to K Shailesh for sharing this.)

#321-3. We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
-Barack Obama, 44th US President (1961-)

Three important points, all relevant in a timeless kind of way: interdependence, change and courage. Interes! tingly, Obama has emphasized these three.

I was always deeply disappointed that while the world’s largest and multi-ethnic democracy (India) has had prime ministers and presidents who were women or belonging to minority groups such as dalits, Sikhs and Muslims, the world’s oldest and multi-ethnic democracy (America) did not seem to practise the diversity and inclusiveness that it preached. The swearing-in of the first ever black president of the USA was a heartening event. I was reminded of novels I read long ago, by Irving Wallace (The Man, about the first black president) and Jeffrey Archer (The Prodigal Daughter, about the first woman president). Yes, we can hope for better things.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

i-TFTD #320: Change. Innovate. Refine.

#320-1. The culture at Google and its link to the overall learning strategy has 4 main components: Innovation, Revenue, Culture and Employee Engagement continue to keep Googlers, "Googly".
-Erica Fox, Head of Global Learning Programs of GoogleEdu

#320-2. Leaders create modes of stability and change. The former instills safety to refine; the latter reduces complacency.
-John Maeda, Japanese-American graphic designer, computer scientist, university professor and author (1966-)

#320-3. All the great people I know have been in the trenches for much of their lives, and their inventory of bruises outnumber the commendations they have received. The occasional commendations stay on the wall. It is the bruises that these people carry with pride.
-Subroto! Bagchi, co-founder of Mindtree (1957-)

Innovation, the practical application of ideas by people (as opposed to invention and creativity), has moved from buzzword to a core competency for organizations and employees at all levels. Even if I perceive myself to not be an ‘ideas person’ (whatever that means), I can play one of many valuable roles in innovation. Ideas need developed, evaluated against relevant criteria, marketed internally/externally and implemented with the associated project planning.

Out of the box thinking is necessary in times of rapid change. Effective leaders create change situations to tap into the creative talent of teams.

Change and innovation implicitly carry the risk of setbacks. The inevitable roadblocks and uncertainties are splendid opportunities to learn and gain—and to innovate.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

i-TFTD #319: Laughter and Tears

#319-1. I always knew looking back on my tears would bring me laughter, but I never knew looking back on my laughter would make me  cry.
-Cat Stevens, stage name of Yusuf Islam (born Steven Demetre Georgiou), English musician and philanthropist (1948-)

#319-2. The man who can make others laugh secures more votes for a measure than the man who forces them to  think.
-Malcolm De Chazal, writer and painter (1902-1981)

#319-3. Laughter and tears are meant to turn the wheels of the same machinery of sensibility; one is wind-power, and the other water-power.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., poet, novelist, essayist and physician (1809-1894)

Children laugh and cry easily. Is it! a coincidence that they are also more creative, make friends easily and enjoy life more?

For too long the prevalent belief has been that a sense of humor is an optional personality trait that some people seem to have. Martin Seligman, eminent psychologist, realized at the age of 50 that he had been a grumpy person and that there are ways in which this can be unlearned. He went on to create positive psychology as a new branch of study.

Tears are associated with crying and pain but they are equally common in happy situations such as relief, gratitude and deep aesthetic appreciation.

Friday, May 6, 2011

i-TFTD #318: On Leaders as Teachers

#318-1. True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.
-Nikos Kazantzakis, poet and novelist (1883-1957)

#318-2. Difficult people are the greatest teachers.
-Pema Chodron, formerly known as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, Tibetan Buddhist Bhikkuni and prolific author (1936-)

#318-3. When one teaches, two learn.
-Robert Half, recruiter (?)

Could be applied to true leaders, who should sincerely aspire to coach and groom their subordinates to levels beyond their own.

A difficult boss—a common complaint—can be seen as a teacher sent in your life in disguise! Difficult people in your team offer you opportunities to become a better leader.

It is surprising to find so many who are not conscious of the fact that teaching, training, coaching and grooming are an essential part of their roles as leaders.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

i-TFTD #317: Examine and Reflect

#317-1. Inquiry is fatal to certainty.
-Will Durant, historian (1885-1981)

#317-2. To repeat what others have said requires education, to challenge it, it requires brains.
-Mary Pettibone Poole, in her 1938 book 'A Glass Eye at a Keyhole'

#317-3. Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's mind.
-William Somerset Maugham, writer (1874-1965)

Limited awareness makes us feel rigid and certain about what we know (and assume). Questioning brings uncertainty but that is the way to enlarge our understanding. It involves thinking work! The outcome of the increased knowledge should result in changing our stand when the answers to our questions are different to! our earlier beliefs. Senior executives underestimate the value of acknowledging an error in their judgment.