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Ryan’s Journal: A Culture Of Compassion

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/leighblackall/18728658808/This month is Go Grey month.

It’s a month designed to bring awareness to brain cancer and the horrible effects it wreaks on both patients and their families.

I thought it important to bring up, because I have a friend who’s daughter is terminal. Yet, while fighting brain cancer she is a light to those around her.

You may ask yourself, how is that related to culture? Under normal circumstances I would agree I don’t see the connection either, but I believe there is one in this case.

My friend has instilled a culture of compassion into her life and that of her little girl.

She posts constant updates on non-profits that support cancer research, updates on other child warriors fighting the good fight, and also shares messages of hope.

This may be deeper than culture, it’s character and it has the power to transform institutions and people.

I watch her and feel both a deep sadness but also respect for what she is going through and accomplishing.

I am a parent myself and I feel blessed daily that my girls are healthy and safe. I am not sure I would have the strength that this friend has shown under the same circumstances.

How can character change an institution?

There are numerous examples of one person transforming a company. Steve Jobs, when he returned to Apple, always comes to mind.

And there are cases where the leadership transformed something for the worse — Yahoo?

Character has the ability to almost be self sustaining. It burns bright and true regardless of circumstances.

How do we harness that in a culture? The first step would be, do you have a good character. In the age where there is no right or wrong it can be tough to determine, but, as a rule, I believe if you are taking the time to honor your fellow man and putting them first, you’re on the right path.

So this month I ask that you take time to examine your character, look to serve others, and learn.

Just like my friend who gives her all, we have a choice every day to make it a great day or not.

Image credit: Leigh Blackall

Golden Oldies: Flavors of Fools

Monday, February 20th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I’ve written several posts over the years about fools (links below). I thought sharing previous thoughts was apropos, since tomorrow’s post is about the importance/value of fools to every organization.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmak/2575149616/

In the past we’ve looked at fools and money, fools and management and Shakespeare’s idea that one should never underestimate someonewise enough to play the fool.”

One fool thing I haven’t addressed is the idea of suffering them gladly, as in ‘he doesn’t suffer fools gladly’.

An op-ed piece defines the saying this way,

It suggests that a person is so smart he has trouble tolerating people who are far below his own high standards. It is used to describe a person who is so passionately committed to a vital cause that he doesn’t have time for social niceties toward those idiots who stand in its way. It is used to suggest a level of social courage; a person who has the guts to tell idiots what he really thinks.

(If you buy the validity of the idea behind this definition I have a great deal on an orange bridge you can buy for your backyard.)

It isn’t courage this person has, but rather a lack of empathy, an abundance of arrogance and absolutely no manners.

And make no mistake, even these days manners are important; in fact, more so than ever. As Edmund Burke said,

“Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”

So before you part a fool and his money, give a fool a tool, or refuse to suffer a fool I suggest you look in the mirror, because one person’s genius is another person’s fool.

Flickr image credit: Chris Makarsky

Miki’s rules to Live By: Mastering Your Spoken Word

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottchene/7330424504/Words are incredibly powerful.

If you’ve ever doubted that the recent election is absolute proof.

Words reflect who you are.

Words can bring people together or drive them apart.

Words can wound or empathize; they can build or destroy.

You are the only person responsible for your words, there is no way to pass the blame for things you say — or don’t say.

Knowing that, I kept these Anon quotes foremost in my mind, until they became unconscious habit.

The first

Be quicker of mind than of tongue.

leads directly to the second

I am the master of my unspoken words and a slave to those that should have remained unspoken.

There is a third, that is far less eloquent, but sums things up nicely.

Be sure to start brain before putting mouth in gear.

Image credit: TRF_Mr_Hyde

If the Shoe Fits: the Empathy of Jack Dorsey

Friday, October 14th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mA few weeks ago I wrote about three ways to close a company — the right way, the wrong way and the (allegedly) crooked way — and years ago referenced Guy Kawasaki’s guide to laying people off.

The common thread that runs through them, both the to-do and not-to-do, is the need for honesty with employees and the speed with which rumors will spread and kill moral.

A year ago Twitter laid off over 300 people — most by by email, but some by more of a lockout.

We’re hearing that at least a handful of employees who weren’t remote also woke up to seeing that they were laid off via the fact that their emails and Hipchat, a messaging product, had been turned off overnight.

These days, continuing rumors of more layoffs to come, combined with chaotic reports that the company may be sold, has sent morale spiraling downward at an alarming rate.

Rank-and-file staff members are frustrated about being in the dark on the company’s future, and a handful of employees have stopped showing up for work entirely, several insiders said.

Dorsey’s response to the turmoil is garbage.

“I empathize with the feelings that come from the constant critique, the constant negativity, and the constant doubt.”

There is no way a guy worth more than a billion dollars can put himself in the shoes of someone who depends on their paycheck to feed their kids and pay the mortgage/rent.

And that lack of empathy shines clearly through the rest of his comment.

“But hey, that’s life in the arena. All we control is how we choose to react to it.”

I sincerely hope that his global workforce is choosing to update their resumes and react with their feet.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Pinterest’s Creative Harmony

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/katdaned/3543936498/

Scott Goodson has worked at Apple, Instagram and Facebook; all hot companies known for their creativity, innovation and cultures.

Goodson recently joined Pinterest and found an enormous difference.

“I found Pinterest to be a very different sort of culture than I’m used to. One of the most unique things is that the company really values interdisciplinary work across the different functional areas of the team. The notion of empathy is deeply understood here. At other companies there’s a bit more of a competitive or even ruthless perspective, so it was really refreshing to see the level of cooperation here.”

He goes on to say,

“There’s definitely a stereotype of a successful startup that it’s often this aggressive, type A place and that’s just not necessarily true. You can have geniuses that are nice or geniuses that are really egotistical. But they’re both geniuses. So, we really want to work with the geniuses that are nice to each other and have a common level of respect.”

What neither Goodson nor the article mention is that Pinterest has a strong team of female designers and engineers.

While the founders are male, the culture they developed is one where women thrive.

It was a revelation to join the team at Pinterest and feel like I was treated like an engineer first, not as a female engineer. In most other places, I felt like people always treated me as a “female engineer,” like I was a novelty. People even called me a unicorn to my face. It was really nice to come here and not have that gender modifier in front of who I am.” –Tracy Chou, Pinterest engineer

Pinterest’s culture fosters creative collaboration and mutual respect because it is the absolute opposite of the typical frat-boy startup culture so common in the Valley.

Flickr image credit: katdaned

The Empathy Muscle

Monday, January 6th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/aryaziai/8740433362/

There was a time, and still is to millions, when “design” meant looking pretty—or not.

Design certainly didn’t refer to finding solutions to life’s real problems.

Of course, first you have to identify the problems, which isn’t done 140 characters at a time.

You won’t find them with Google and there’s no app for that.

Identifying real-world problems requires actually talking (gasp) to people—and real world experience doesn’t hurt.

This may be why senior entrepreneurs are on the rise, since it means communicating with empathy and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Empathy seems to be in short supply the younger you go, but it can be taught and where else but at D.school—the top design school.

At the heart of the school’s courses is developing what David Kelley, one of the school’s founders, calls an empathy muscle. … the students are taught to forgo computer screens and spreadsheets and focus on people.

So far, that process has worked. In the eight years since the design school opened, students have churned out dozens of innovative products and start-ups. They have developed original ways to tackle infant mortality, unreliable electricity and malnutrition in the third world, as well as clubfoot, a common congenital deformity that twists a baby’s feet inward and down. (…)

Mr. Kothari also said his plans took a new path. Before he took his first D.school course in 2008, he said, he spent most of his spare time in front of a computer, brainstorming ideas for websites and mobile apps that never materialized. Design was always an afterthought. But he says that first ramen assignment became the prelude to a revolutionary new way of solving problems by spending time with people to understand how they live their lives.

Empathy muscle.

I like that.

Too bad the teaching is limited to design and only at one school.

It’s definitely a muscle that is lacking in many of the under-25 crowd and badly atrophied in much of the rest of the population.

Flickr image credit: Arya Ziai

Flavors of Fools

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmak/2575149616/

In the past we’ve looked at fools and money, fools and management and Shakespeare’s idea that one should never underestimate someonewise enough to play the fool.”

One fool thing I haven’t addressed is the idea of suffering them gladly, as in ‘he doesn’t suffer fools gladly’.

An op-ed piece defines the saying this way,

It suggests that a person is so smart he has trouble tolerating people who are far below his own high standards. It is used to describe a person who is so passionately committed to a vital cause that he doesn’t have time for social niceties toward those idiots who stand in its way. It is used to suggest a level of social courage; a person who has the guts to tell idiots what he really thinks.

(If you buy the validity of the idea behind this definition I have a great deal on an orange bridge you can buy for your backyard.)

It isn’t courage this person has, but rather a lack of empathy, an abundance of arrogance and absolutely no manners.

And make no mistake, even these days manners are important; in fact, more so than ever. As Edmund Burke said,

“Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”

So before you part a fool and his money, give a fool a tool, or refuse to suffer a fool I suggest you look in the mirror, because one person’s genius is another person’s fool.

Flickr image credit: Chris Makarsky

Ducks in a Row: Empathy

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8043812614/Last week I told you about the second best manager I’ve known; second best because he had everything except empathy.

I realized after that I wrote abut him previously when discussing how to create Good Culture in a Toxic Environment.

“Ray” was amazing. He had all the skills and insights that Craig had, but added a dimension that was grounded in empathy.

Like Craig, he worked hard to help all his people succeed, but his vibe was warm and caring.

He was always willing to listen, whether the problem was work-relate or not. He knew when people needed help finding a solution and when they just needed to vent.

His concern extended beyond their time in his organization, so that he remained a trusted advisor or occasional source of advice throughout their careers.

In fact, he turned down an opportunity in a startup that required relocation and would have made him a multi-millionaire, because of concerns of what would happen to his people when he wasn’t there to shield them from the brunt of the company’s toxic culture.

When he did change jobs locally he was followed by an unending stream of resumes from people who wanted to work for him again.

The difference between Ray and Craig may be summed up in the word empathy.

Empathy is defined as “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

Whereas Craig couldn’t identify with or experience anything beyond his own actual world, Ray could do both, with a feel even for those with backgrounds so different they had no connection to anything he knew.

Ray’s empathy was grounded in the fact that they were both human and that was all he required to connect and care.

Flickr image credit: Quinn Dombrowski

Ducks in a Row: Arrogance and Empathy

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/marionenkevin/3455573553/Years ago I worked with “Craig,” who, as vice president of engineering, managed a large organization that was responsible for research and development of a complex hardware/software product; a product that required a varied mix of skills, including hardware, software, quality, systems, etc.

Craig was the second best manager I ever worked with.

His people trusted him, knew he was completely fair and wouldn’t tolerate politics.

He understood culture, building teams and was expert at hiring people who would thrive in the environment he provided.

His boss, peers, subordinates and everyone with whom he interfaced including vendors considered him extremely competent—which he was.

And therein lay the problem.

For those who didn’t know him well the competence came over as arrogance, because Craig was missing one very important capability.

Craig was missing empathy.

He handled this by adopting a professorial style where emotion wasn’t required, which worked well in long-term situations, but not short-term ones.

Short-term acquaintances found him arrogant—except for those who really were arrogant. They noticed nothing different from themselves, but Craig saw them as arrogant.

We talked about it once and Craig explained that he had always been cerebral, never emotional, even in his personal life.

I asked him if he was Vulcan.

As to the absolute best executive, he had everything Craig had plus empathy. (More about him next Tuesday.)

Flickr image credit: Kevin

Expand Your Mind: Power, Empathy and Engagement

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Do you have a power-happy boss who never heard of engagement? The kind who believes a big title is all that’s needed to run an organization? If so, you might give him a copy of this article; it spells out why that approach dooms him to failure—sooner or later.

On the other side of the fence is David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, who explains why, although largely unsung or ignored, empathy is a necessary trait to drawing the best out of people.

Everyone is talking about employee engagement, but what is it really? Is engagement a function of what managers do or is it outside of their control? Matt Grawitch, professor of Organizational Studies at Saint Louis University School for Professional Studies, offers a different view on engagement from most that I’ve seen.

I thought it would be nice to end today on a lighter note.

Have you ever given thought to CEO names? Or the difference between the names used by the guys vs. the gals in the corner office? I didn’t think so, but LinkedIn did. Check out the most popular CEO names and what they mean.

Image credit: MykReeve on flickr

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