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Archive for the ‘Direct Communication’ Category

One of my fantasies – yes, this is my life, and this is a fantasy – is to really organize the monkeys’ toys. We have a bunch of bins, but I want bins with labels. I want the boxes in the bins to have labels. So that everyone involved in putting stuff away knows exactly where to put stuff. And so that when we want to play with something, we know exactly where to find all of it’s pieces.

Sadly, this remains in the realm of fantasy. But I’ll get it done, hopefully in time for the monkeys to be able to read the labels.

I got a little cautionary tale on what not to do with the system the other day at Whole Foods. Here’s their new system for waste management.

 

There are 6 different bins, each labeled. From left to right the labels read: Landfill Only , Co-Mingle Only, Compost Only, Compost Only, Plastic Bag and Wrap Only, Landfill Only. There are some equally obtuse sub headers under the labels.

The other day while I ate dinner at the little cafe, I watched about four people approach the trash cans, stare blankly, squint, and then throw everything in the “Landfill Only” category. Nice work, Whole Foods. You’ve confused the heck out of your shoppers. And made more landfill in the process.

An effort to create a system where everything has it’s place doesn’t quite work if it’s too complicated to follow. So I’m guessing my ‘creative playthings’ category won’t be as useful as labeling a box ‘finger puppets & musical instruments.’ Good to know.

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Unfortunately, even if you’re sharing a great idea, you can’t just walk into a boardroom and tell people what to do and know that they’ll do it. There’s this little thing called credibility that you need to ensure that people listen to your idea, and that they give it weight.

Some common techniques that people in the corporate world use to get credibility are endorsement and statistics. “Oprah says my product is great, so it must really be something” actually sells a heck of a lot of products. And statistics can work well, too, provided they’re relevant. But statistics are often less compelling than we think they are – as they carry little emotional weight. And endorsements can be hard to get.

The Heaths say that case studies and stories about delivering results from an implementation that you’re suggesting can work wonders. These stories tend to be stickier than statistics, and come in handy when you can’t find Oprah or Tiger Woods to promote your idea for you.

In my world of innovation strategy, case studies do work wonders. And even if we can’t get Oprah on the phone, telling clients that I’ve been successful working with the likes of Target and GE is a powerful way to build credibility.

Of course, my kids don’t care about any of those things. Still, I do borrow the credibility of others to make my point stick. When we’re in a restaurant, and the monkeys are eating their favorite pancakes, I can often get them to be on their best behavior just by telling them that the restaurant staff won’t let us stay and eat unless they’re quiet and calm. Invoking the power of the waiter makes my threat credible.

Another way to win credibility that I think is equally useful, whether you’re trying to get an idea across to your kids, your colleagues or your clients, is to communicate by setting an example with your own behavior, instead of just using your words to shape the behavior of others.

The other day, I made a comment that really pissed Mr. Daddy off. I knew he was angry, and I kind of new why. I also felt a little justified in what I had said. So I waited until after we finished making lunch to go talk to him, and when the monkeys asked where daddy was, I told them he was upstairs because he was mad at me.

They raced upstairs to find him and confirm that he was, in fact, angry. Yup. And then they came back downstairs to me. Mommy, they said, you have to say sorry to daddy. I am, of course, constantly telling them they have to say sorry to anyone who they hurt, either accidentally or on purpose.  So I sucked it up and apologized, even though I didn’t feel like it, because I knew that I had to set an example for them.

And the next time I told a monkey to apologize for hitting his brother, he actually did.

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I’ve written before about the power of emotion, and about the importance of leaders not hiding their emotions but using them to motivate and inspire others. The Heaths say that good ideas and good messages, too require emotion. 9 out of 10 dentist agree that a healthy dose of emotion helps get your message across – and helps people remember it.

In the workplace, one way to get that emotion across is by showing folks the actual people that their businesses impact. We do a lot of social research, and we video tape the research so that we can go back and analyze the data that we collect. We also use video of our research participants in our presentations, because they tell stories so much better than we do when we paraphrase people. Just last week we presented findings that were controversial and surprising to our client. Normally, we put 3-4 clips in an hour long presentation. This time we put 8. The more controversial the ideas, the more important it is to use multiple tools to bring emotional resonance to your words.

We don’t use a lot of PowerPoint presentations at home, but emotion does show up in a couple of places. First, I let the monkeys know when they’ve hurt me. I’ll yell ouch, or sometimes even tear up if they’ve really bonked me. I think that showing them that they can hurt other people by showing emotion is a really powerful way to teach them not to hit and to roughhouse with caution.

I think it also has to be OK for them to show emotion – and to let them experience emotions, even if they’re not comfortable ones, to make a point. They cry when I get angry, and so I try not to get angry over little things. But sometimes, I’m angry and I do let it show. In a store, for example, when they’re not listening to me and playing hide and seek. I get angry. That kind of behavior goes beyond just being annoying, it can also be dangerous. I let them experience the emotion that my anger causes, so that they’ll remember the lesson I’m trying to teach.

This works both ways, of course. When they’re behaving well, being nice, getting along, engaged and curious, I make sure to hug them and kiss them and tell them how much I love them and how much I love being with them. Hopefully, the positive emotion will reinforce those behaviors, too.

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This is one of my favorite of the Heath’s suggestions because it is so true. I tend to be an abstract thinker, and often, no one has a clue what I’m talking about. Until I take the time to get specific and concrete. And then, of course, everyone sees how brilliant I really am.

I’ve actually become a lot more concrete since the monkeys were born. My company uses the thinking style assessment based on the work by Anthony Gregorc. It assesses your thinking styles based on two metrics: whether you tend to order or organize information sequentially or randomly and whether you are better at processing or perceiving information that’s abstract or concrete.

I’m off the charts random, which I’m pretty sure is never going to change. And I have always been more abstract than concrete. But soon after the monkeys were born, I retook the test and found that I’d become more concrete than abstract. Which makes sense when you think that very young children don’t yet have the capacity to think abstract thoughts. So if you want to communicate with little kids at all, you have to start being more concrete. Which has served me well, since I’ve also found that the more senior my client, the more likely it is that he or she responds better to information that’s concrete than information that’s abstract.

So how do you get more concrete? Well, for starters, think of all of the times that we talk in abstractions of time to our children whose concept of time is not yet well developed. “Oh, wait just a minute, honey,” I’ll say to a monkey who is trying to get my attention. Or, “No, we don’t have tumbling class today, it’s another few days until tumbling class.” Even if I get to a level that I think is concrete – naming the days of the week, my monkeys will nod, and agree with me, but not really know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes it’s OK for a notion to remain vague and abstract, but other times it’s really important to convey an actual sense of duration and time. When we’ve got hot food on a plate, and the monkeys need to wait before biting into it, for example, I found that “wait 2 minutes” didn’t work so well. No surprise, since 2 minutes is an abstract notion to a two-year-old. Finally, I caught on. Now I tell them how long they need to wait by telling them how many times they need to sing the ABC. “This is really hot, honey, you need two ABC’s before taking a bite.” And they launch into song. We now use ABC’s whenever we need to ask them to wait a minute or two. It helps them mark time and they really know those ABC’s.

And how does this translate into sharing ideas in the workplace? Even I’m not crazy enough to suggest asking your clients or your colleagues to start singing ABC’s. But I do think it’s worthwhile to take the time to ensure that your ideas are concrete. Especially those really fun, ambiguous, big ideas. 

Sometimes, it’s relatively easy to get concrete just by forcing yourself to get specific. But when you’ve got an idea with lots of nuance and complexity, a great way to make it concrete is through a metaphor. Two of my all time favorite metaphors come from the parenting world, but you get the idea.

  • From a parent of twins, on having a singleton: taking care of one baby is like taking care of a goldfish.
  • From a pediatrician in Manhattan: three kids is the new Hummer.

I know, these are both kind of obnoxious sentiments. But they’re sticky. I love that each metaphor is immediately evocative, conveys a ton of information, and is memorable. Finding equally specific metaphors to capture your big ideas will help them stick.

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It might surprise you that the second principle of stickiness is unexpectedness.

According to the Heaths, the element of surprise is a way to keep people engaged with an idea long after the first telling. Unexpectedness can drive repetition, turning an idea from something you heard once to a legend that continues to be told over and over again.

The Heath’s give the example of Nordstrom, communicating their message of exceptional customer service within the company through telling stories of exceptional and unexpected acts. These serve as models for how its done that people can remember, retell, and get excited about.

My husband (Mr. Daddy) has used unexpectedness to get the monkeys excited and motivated. In fact, he does it almost every day. When he first started picking them up from school, they didn’t want to leave. It made pick-up drag on, and was demoralizing to boot. What kind of dad was he if his own kids weren’t excited to come home with him after a long day of school?

It turns out, he is the good kind. After a few days of the monkeys reluctantly going home with him, Mr. Daddy started bringing them a new ‘surprise’ every day. He’d bring a snack that he knew they would enjoy to pick-up and leave it in the stroller. At school, all he’d tell them was that he had a surprise for them. Knowing that there was something fun, unexpected and delicious waiting for them, the monkeys began happily leaving school every day.

Sure, you can call it a bribe. You can also call it adding in an element of fun and surprise into every day, luring them with the promise of something unexpected.

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I’ve been reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. The book is about how to make your ideas sticky, so that people immediately get them, remember them, and act on them. The Heaths describe 6 ways make your ideas more sticky: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotion, and stories.

I was reading about their principles as I was preparing for a couple of presentations, thinking about how I can frame things so that a business audience immediately relates to and embraces my ideas. But of course, I’m also constantly conveying new ideas to the monkeys, and it’s equally important that those ideas are sticky.

In fact, the ideas that I’m sharing with the monkeys are even more critical than then ones I share with businesses – they are ideas about how to be in the world: how to be good people, how to get along with others, how to avoid getting hurt, and how to accomplish new tasks. Stickiness is critical if I’m going to get a couple of 2.5 year olds to learn new ideas.

So I’ve been asking myself – what are some things that I do that make ideas sticky for my kids? And how can I do more of it? Over the next few days, I’ll be diving into each of the six ways to make ideas stick, providing examples of how I do it at home, and drawing lessons for work as well.

Lesson 1: SIMPLICITY: Distill your message down into the most basic principles, and reinforce that message over and over and over.

This is one of the hardest principles to follow at work, because the more information that you have, the more you feel that you need to share. We have a hard time letting go of data and information, even if it obscures an argument instead of making it clearer. Moreover, simplicity at work is hard to achieve because it can’t just be about making something rock dumb. It has to be about clarifying the idea, conveying richness and nuance, and still making something easy to understand. No small task.

Simplicity is actually one of the easiest principles to employ with your kids, though. Little people don’t really understand complicated concepts. And they won’t sit still to listen to a 40 page PowerPoint presentation. Kids force you to get mind-numbingly simple if you want to get your point across.

Recently, for example, we had a little incident with scissors. One monkey cut the other monkey’s finger, deeply, with a pair of scissors, resulting in an emergency dash first to the doctor’s office and then to the children’s hospital to see if he needed stitches. Luckily, he didn’t, and he’s just fine now. But the monkeys still beg to use the scissors on a regular basis. And since sitting at the table cutting paper and catalogs can keep them busy for almost half an hour, I really want them to be able to use the scissors.

In order to safely resume cutting with scissors, I had to get a message across. The idea: Scissors can be dangerous if used for the wrong purpose. Cutting people can cause some real damage.  If we’re going to be able to play with scissors, we have to use them safely. It’s not super complicated, but it is a bit nuanced. Instead of having a long conversation, I’ve created this mantra that the monkeys and I repeat on a regular basis: What are scissors for? Paper. What are scissors not for? People. Simple. They get it, and no one’s been cut since we started using it.

For work, it doesn’t make sense to try and think, how would I make this simple enough for a 2 year old to understand. That’s going to far. But it does make sense to think about making an idea so simple that someone outside of the field or outside of the industry can understand it. Although my mom is very bright, she’s a museum educator, not a business person or an innovation strategist. So for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to work on making my ideas so simple and clear that my mom can understand what I’m talking about, the first time I explain it. Simple.

 

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I like to think of myself as open minded. But sometimes I realize that, well, my mind isn’t as open as I’d like.
Over the course of several weeks, I read several mentions of the same book, Momma Zen. I’ve been writing about parenting and yoga and how one informs the other in my life, and the book seemed perfect. So I bought it, and loaded it in my suitcase to take with me to California. It was to be my treat, my pleasure-escape reading during a business trip.
After a long week planning the meeting, a long flight sitting in the middle seat, some long conversations, a quick dinner, and a long drive, I arrived at a gorgeous hotel in wine country. It was 3 AM my time, but I was determined to take advantage of my location and end the day with a relaxing book and bath. I cranked on the hot water, poured in the bath salts, and cracked the spine.
Within minutes, I was seething. Another book about how hard it is to be pregnant. Another book about how hard it is to have a newborn. Another book about how hard it is to transition from a person to a parent.

“Ugh,” I thought, “this writer has no bleeping clue what hard feels like.” I was thinking, of course, of how hard it was for me to be pregnant. How hard it was to carry two babies, not knowing if they would both survive. How hard it was to wonder if the in-utero death of one would cause birth defects in the other. That was hard.

Even as I continued to read the book, I was having a mental conversation with Karen Maexen Miller, the author, in my head. You know what’s harder than having one premature baby, Karen? Having two premature babies. And you know what else is hard, not being able to …

The mental comparisons went on and on, even as I continued to read the book. I’m not even sure why I continued to read it, but I did. And as Karen’s descriptions evolved from the early stages of parenting towards the toddler years, that little voice inside my head finally quieted. I began to enjoy the book, to see myself in it, and to learn from it.

I am, of course, very open minded. Except for when I’m not. And I now know that I have a very particular mental block: I can’t relate to folks writing about how hard it is to have either a healthy pregnancy or a single healthy baby. Now I know that it’s not really fair. I know that even one healthy baby can be challenging. But my situation with the monkeys was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, and often, those stories look to me more like best case scenarios than like a reasonable cause for angst. The little voice is pissed about people complaining about these situations, and angry that I never got to experience a ‘normal’ pregnancy. It feels unlike me, but it is, in fact, me.

If I had listened to the little voice in my head, and left the book in the hotel room, like it really wanted me to do, I would have missed the chance to hear a voice filled with reason, warmth, and enlightening thoughts on raising kids. 

I would have missed a reminder to take care of the present without worrying so much about what’s already happened or what’s to come. I would have missed the challenge to step into what’s most frightening and most exciting to me. And I would have missed the realization that there are times when my mind is not open.

We all have our mental blocks, these inabilities to listen to a particular topic. They come from areas of feeling that we know we must protect, even if we’re not sure why. And it’s OK to protect those feelings, and allow them to exist, for a time. But it’s important to recognize them, to know where they are, so that when you’re ready, you can engage with information that challenges them, pokes them, and loosens them.

I’ve obviously got to work through some feelings of anger and frustration that I have about my pregnancy and the monkeys’ infancy. But until I do, I can at least know that it’s there, so that the little voice doesn’t prevent me from hearing some really important stuff.

It’s funny, to be on this side of the fence. Often, what I do for a living is to poke at and challenge an organization’s mental blocks, or a team’s. I help them see something that they were blocking out with their own little voices, unable to process, because it touches on something that’s sensitive to them or questions something that’s core to who they think they are.

Since I do it to others all the time, it’s only fair to do it to myself, and to open myself up to similar challenges, similar opportunities to grow and create something entirely new. But it’s not easy. The little voice is insistent. And loud. I’m glad, Karen, that your voice was louder. And sorry about the cursing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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