Some groups are more than the sum of their parts. They go beyond ‘performing’, beyond achieving financial targets, beyond balancing stakeholder needs.

Despite our best efforts to create perfect teams, a large number remain best on paper, an elite collection of IQs, track records, qualifications, agreeableness and inspiration, mostly as individuals. Others amalgamate to deliver profound impact. They appear to craft and refine a special type of relational capital, interacting with closeness, conflict and purpose. Reaching a ‘performing’ state is a not a desired end goal. There is always more. They coalesce to drive a larger agenda, running as thread between them, and only fully realised through their collective.

Relational capital, also known as social capital, is not built over-night. But it is increasingly badged as the secret sauce of transformative groups. So what is it? And are we already building it in our organisations?

Social capital refers to the functioning of social groups through interpersonal relationships. It is the shared sense of identity, understanding, norms, values, trust, cooperation and reciprocity within a group. It may seem that we already invest in building this kind of interaction with teams. Yet if we unpack what makes some groups exceptional at problem-solving and innovation, drawing on the work of Daniel Coyle, we note that highly successful groups are underwritten by efforts in three critical areas:

·      Building psychological safety

·      Being vulnerable (so that they can move to being invulnerable)

·      Having a purpose.

Are we explicitly tacking these kinds of issues in our work with teams? I would argue that in many ways, we are only touching the tip of the relational capital iceberg. It is certainly more fashionable to question, although we are still accepting and building the skills to do so, and the skills to speak up. Think of the continuum emerging from the radical candor of Kim Scott, moving right along to Ray Dalio’s radical truth and transparency. These are far from ‘the way things get done around here’ in most organizations, especially large legacy ones.

Margaret Heffernan insists that for good ideas and true innovation, human interaction is necessary, but it is not a measured, ‘objective’ roundtable debate of consensus seeking. Conflict and argument are essential, she notes, between motivated people who share bonds of loyalty and trust. Suddenly the ‘as is’ state starts digress significantly from the ‘want to be’. Very few leaders intentionally create conflict and argument at work. In the face of conflict, most shy away or manage down. We do not trust much at work either. The gap seems big.

But investing in building relational or social capital as a ‘want to be’ state is likely to pay high dividends. At the most human level, as pressure intensifies, leaders and their teams are already fraying under the toxic pressure to deliver and to go beyond. Performing teams will need to go beyond, without burning out. Relational capital is the currency to shore up when chasing broader, transformative or game changing ambitions.

Thanks to the work of people such as Margaret Heffernan and Daniel Colye, we have a much richer understanding of the principles at play. The skills of highly successful groups are not predestined, they can be built, and many of them are ready to apply in our work with groups.

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‘Balance is becoming increasingly rare and perceivably impossible to achieve in today’s world. Despite technology making our lives easier, we appear to have far less time.’ – Richard Sutton

The highly energetic biological state of stress is an adaptation that has served us well. It has provided humans with possibilities to flourish through shifting and disruptive times. The intricate stress system with its delicate balance of hormones has protected us for the buffer up lessons in thriving from the Stress codelongest time. Short bouts of stress serve to strengthen and enhance our abilities, and provide us with remarkable openings to develop, invent and transform. Ironically, this same system of resilience and growth now poses a threat to our fullest functioning. How is this the case?

The stress axis works best when sporadically activated. Increasingly we are getting ‘stuck’ in the stress state, with potentially disastrous implications. Constant activation causes systemic exhaustion, promoting both disease and pain, and accelerating ageing. Prolonged stress has been shown to negatively impact our memory, focus, attention, cognitive potential and levels of motivation. It also destabilises our DNA, compromising our genetic integrity. This damage could impact future generations. Continued stress puts a final spoke in a constellation of already undesirable outcomes, and it is this: a compromised ability to deal with change. If you are stuck in your own cocktail of stress hormones, take heed: you’re choosing an injurious path for your physical, mental and future self.

The Whitehall studies, which evaluated over 28000 people over 40 years, showed a primary driver of stress to be the feeling of having no authority over decisions. A lack of control can increase risk of dying prematurely by a staggering 40%. Responsibility and high demands don’t seem to be the cause of stress, but injustice, lack of social support, isolation and effort-reward imbalance certainly do cause it.

Should stress be avoided at all costs? Certainly not, says stress resilience expert Richard Sutton. Stress is an essential part of activating our rich human potential for growth. But we should think more carefully about the choices we make, and how we increase the tools and skills at our disposal to buffer the adverse effects of stress. Armed with more knowledge, leaders and people-enablers in the workplace can start to unpick the impact they have on others.

How can we manage our own stress footprints, and create better conditions for others at work?

  • Aim to give more control to those around us. This starts out hard at first, but rewards in multiple ways over the longer term as skills, experience and confidence build.
  • Support skills development (partly through experimenting with bullet point number one!)
  • Reward positive behaviours, this is more effective than reducing demands.
  • Allow for more participation in decision-making, practically. Think about the small ways in which you can start to signal and to do this.
  • Be fair, champion justice, call out antisocial behaviour. Facilitate mutual engagement.
  • Provide support where it is needed.

Showing compassion and support in and of itself is a worthwhile exercise in stress management. Caring for others and acts of charity elevate levels of oxytocin, which lowers fear responses, promotes calm, connectedness and optimism (as well as lowers blood pressure, protects our nervous and circulatory systems, and is a trigger for growth and repair in the body). Pro-social behaviour dramatically negates the negative impact of stress on health.

Creating buffers against stress is less complicated than trying to shift whole systems. We cannot control everything in our midst. But some relatively small changes can have a positive impact.

For more ideas, read The Stress Code, by Richard Sutton. It provides a deeper dive into the scientific research, as well as a repository of insights and tools that promote human thriving.

Follow Gaylin on Twitter: @gaylinjee

Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray. – James Clear, Atomic Habits.

Habits

A significant chunk of our waking time is spent on autopilot, up to 45% according to Duke University research. In this state we are barely aware of the many, minute behaviours that make up each day.

There is good reason for this habitual repetition. Our brain, the ultra-efficient processor, is adept at saving energy. It would be impossible for the brain to plan, guide and monitor every action of every day. Rather, it focuses selectively (remember the selective attention test where you had to count the number of times players pass a ball? Watch a version of it here), defaulting to preferred and established pathways where possible, saving power for other needs. Default responses are activated by cues in the environment, initiated without intention and run to completion with minimal conscious control. We call them habits. They take around 90 days to establish and are notoriously difficult to shift.

Habits built on past experience may have been useful at some point, but not all of them are necessarily desirable. The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change by Charles Duhigg spent 120 weeks on various New York Times bestseller lists, suggesting that there is fair appetite for changing our less wanted habits.

Changing our habits

Habits work in a 3-step loop: cue, routine, reward. We can change our habits by changing the ‘routine’ part of the loop. Experimenting with identifying the cues, changing the routine and ascertaining whether we are still experiencing the same reward is the method proposed by Duhigg for changing a habit.

To give an example, Duhigg explains how he was in the habit of eating a chocolate biscuit each afternoon at around 3 o clock. He tried going for a walk instead of heading to the restaurant for the biscuit – changing the routine – but his craving for the sweet treat persisted. A little more experimentation with alternative routines led him to discover that a 5-10 minute chat with colleagues seemed to produce the same reward, that is, he had forgotten all about the chocolate biscuit. The ‘social interaction’ routine is replacing the ‘biscuit-eating’ routine. Over time this change of habit will stem a steady weight gain and leave a few more pennies in the pocket.

Getting started 

If you are struggling to get started, the trick according to habits expert James Clear is to start small, aim to improve one thing by one percent, do it in less than two minutes and do it again tomorrow.

The most critical habit to build, perhaps we can see it as a super-habit, is the habit of willpower. Willpower spills over into all aspects of life. It is strengthened by making conscious efforts: factor one activity into each day that requires a lot of discipline, delay gratification in small amounts.

Willpower is also positively impacted through preserving a degree of autonomy, where you have latitude to decide on and complete your own tasks. A lack of autonomy can be a profound stressor, as noted by Richard Sutton in his work “The Stress Code” (the likely topic of a future blog).

The sum of our autopilots

We hope for complex organizational challenges to be solved through a revised strategy, a new leadership mandate, a restructuring or the digital transformation. And yet it is the sum of all the little habits, the organisational autopilot, that makes the organisation what it is and directs what it achieves.

In a world where trust is reported as low – a condition negatively impacting relationships, engagement, voluntary effort, innovation, organisational alignment, stakeholder confidence and overall business results – raising our awareness of the autopilot, all those minute actions that build trust or deplete it, is a useful undertaking.

As leaders, we can go way beyond just ‘doing what we say we will do’. We can build the habits that build trust, and aim to change the ones that diminish it.

I have selected two (of a total of nine) habits that build trust, outlined by John Blakely:

  1. Go beyond the profit motive to deliver random acts of kindness to your stakeholders.
  2. Help others to deliver on their promises, through coaching and mentoring.

 

What do you repeatedly do, that makes you the leader you are? What can you do right now to establish habits that build trust?

 

Follow Gaylin on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GaylinJee

#creativity#innovation#purpose

  • We can be prosumers or makers – we do not have to be just consumers of what others make. In this way we can shape our own worlds.
  • Creativity starts with the individual, and growth mindsets are key enablers for the future. We must provoke, unwrap and explore the way we understand the world, and discover the individual contribution we make.

“We do not see the world the way it is, we see the world according to our instruments.” – Immanuel Kant.

  • Traditional employee engagement measures will not secure the game changing outputs needed for a Fourth Industrial Revolution future. Creativity will become a business essential. We need people in Flow at work, creating amazing things to make the shift from ‘compete’ to create, from Red to Blue Ocean.
  • Innovation is a team effort. The hero innovator is a myth. There are many diverse contributions to game changing outputs. Once we recognize, appreciate and truly enable these different inputs, we move closer to an innovation-as-usual. We also build resilience through positive, appreciative and strengths-based approaches in our workplaces.
  • Innovation can and should have purpose. Purpose brings focus and directs attention and action. It engages humans. It keeps them motivated and flexibly persistent. Making money on its own is not a purpose. That is a result. Each person should reflect on and poke awareness of their impact and purpose, within the larger scheme of what’s being done at work.

“The world has an infinite supply of interesting and profitable problems, it also has in infinite supply of significant problems. I would love for us to focus on the latter.” – Andrew Ng

  • Purpose can be massively transformative. Some organisations outstrip the performance of more traditional, slow-moving peers. These organisations go beyond competing to creating. Whilst leveragingexponential technologies can be key to success, exponential organisations have one thing in common, they acknowledge their “Massive Transformative Purpose”.
  • As leaders, our great responsibility and challenge is to champion, enable and example creative, purposeful work. Creative cultures are aligned through a golden thread of purpose, and led by inspirational role models.
  • Creativity and innovation can no longer be the preserve of the elite or of genius talent. But you need strong muscles to effect meaningful change. Flex your muscles and build them. Invest in them. Disrupt yourself and keep learning. The system around you will almost always seek the path of less change. Creativity is by its very nature disturbing. Creativity is risky. Take novel opportunities to champion originality within your system, improve how you recognize and speak up about new ideas, and get them to stick.

“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

 

Tried of the same old workplace tools and methods for discovering more about yourself and the future direction of your business? We use tools such as Lego Serious Play and The Game Changer index to open the horizons on any business or personal challenge.

Contact us.

Unleashing the big c

I recently took part in a Connectle on Innovation Mindsets. The panel of speakers was impressive and inspiring. Take Ira Munn from Ierospace. Ira is changing the world, one Drop at a time. Later this year he will launch The Drop, a 3D-printed, energy-efficient, electric vehicle kit made from up-cycled local plastic, like the plastic clogging up our oceans. Making the body of each Drop with recycled PET plastic and a hardener additive reduces the amount of energy consumption and the amount of carbon burn in the manufacturing process. The Drop can be charged at charging stations and standard household outlets. Due to the weight of the vehicle and new technology, it has incredible range. We have the ability to go from vision to vehicle in months not years thanks to 3D printing, says Ira. This is big C – breakthrough creativity.

Adaptation that is creative, rather than reactive, leads us to a better place in the future. Mostly, in our organsiations, we are doing the little c – the incremental builds and innovations, the adjacencies. So how do we get to big C?

People who change the ways things get done start somewhere. They build their skills like a muscle. And we have tools at our disposal to do this. I use one such tool, Lego Serious Play, to open minds and unleash creativity with groups. We get participants to play with Lego, and to model their ideas. First we chat through creativity, and what makes a creative organization. And that often prompts a comment about how hard it can be to push breakthrough ideas through large, legacy organisations and systems. So this post shares thoughts on unleashing the big C.

Anyone can learn to be an original

Creativity is an expression of our uniqueness. To be creative is to be vulnerable. Creativity is also, by its very nature, disturbing. So first, acknowledging these feelings in yourself, and in those around you, is a good start. Added to that, stop thinking that the most successful entrepreneurs (inside and outside of organisations) are creative geniuses who stumbled across that ‘one big idea’. Adam Grant presents the research on this – most of these successful people are relatively ordinary people with original ideas, and perhaps surprisingly, they are taking very calculated risks. He calls them Originals, and whether at home or at work, he believes that all of us can learn to be Originals. Anyone can learn to recognise a good idea, to speak up without getting silenced, and to get new ideas to stick. Think about building a muscle. Managerial bias (evaluating the outliers OUT), confirmation bias (looking for evidence to prove you are right), and too much deep knowledge in one area can do you a disservice. Some breadth and some depth of knowledge is most helpful, says Grant. Think too about kissing a lot of frogs – and by that we mean coming up with sheer numbers of ideas, because one will stick at the right time in the right place. Take feedback from creative peers, not necessarily your evaluative management team as a first point of call. You could also do well to look out for those people who have passion for ideas as well as the execution of them.

Do new things – the seven dimensions of creativity

Doing new things, like playing an instrument or traveling to a new place, is good for your creativity. Spend time with people who are different to you. This stretches awareness, of self and of the world. It also induces a certain humility into your worldview, because over time you become aware of what you do not know. Or put another way, you become aware of just how much there is to know. Awareness is one of the seven dimensions of creativity according to Nick Heap. The others are listed here:

  • Play, which produces new insight and action, and demands the ability to suspend judgement and allow new ideas and experiences to connect and form. It is one of the reasons I love to work with Lego.
  • Flexible Persistence, because anything new challenges what is established, and you need to be flexible and persistent to ensure your ideas do not fail prematurely. You need to take others with you, influencing them and understanding ‘what’s in it for them’, so that you can harness organizational energy in pursuit of success.
  • Purpose. People show up for things that are bigger than just themselves. What’s the purpose behind what you are doing? Is it communicated and understood?
  • Attention. New ideas need positive attention, attention nourishes creativity. Yet new ideas in their essence may not fit, they disturb, and so often we do not give them attention. Think about how you might reward for innovative ‘tries’ in your context.
  • Inspiration. What is inspirational in your context? How do you inspire as a leader?
  • Power – a strange dimension, one might think. Heap defines this as the ability to make good things happen. It is about taking charge of our own destiny and creating new realities, rather than playing what John Sanei calls the victim, waiting on what other people decide.

“No organisation can be creative unless it has lots of powerful people who can be models for others. You can learn to be more powerful.” – Nick Heap

Co-consulting to feed creativity, and other final tips

Encourage employees to support each other, using a co-consulting approach. This gives attention to each other and to new ideas, which feeds the creative process. Co-consulting is where one person talks about and explores an issue while the other listens, encourages, asks questions and challenges assumptions. Relax the rules so that people can play a little, just make the outcomes clear. Commit to building your influencing skills, so you are the change maker not the victim of a system that paralyses you. Try to think broadly and openly, and embellish your ability to do this by doing new things with new people. Lastly, search for the truth, in the context of your true north.

“We have the ability to come together, where creators can become consumers. We can do things differently, one drop at a time.” – Ira Munn

 

 

These are my top picks for 2017. They all point to a recognition, an awareness that is bubbling and rising. As individuals and organisations, we’re coming to know that we have influence, but that the influence we have can be shaped, developed and directed in more profound ways. The works I have highlighted below ask questions we need to answer, as people and groups with power: Why am I on this career path, in this particular job, or in this organisation? Do I like ‘the way things get done around here’? What impact are we having on tomorrow, and who benefits from what we do, and how? Who doesn’t benefit, and am I ok with that? What can I/we change?

   Of the four works, three are books, and two of them are South African publications. The last work is a podcast by Naval Ravikant. Naval is the CEO and co-founder of AngelList. He’s invested in more than 100 companies including Twitter, Yammer, and many others. But this podcast is not about early stage investing. Naval is an incredibly deep thinker who challenges the status quo. As far as podcasts go, it’s a long one (2 hours). Trade a movie or two episodes of your favourite series. Naval might just change the way you think about, and live, your life. 

1. ORIGINALS, How non-conformists move the world, by Adam Grant @AdamMGrant

In his book Originals, Adam Grant explores how innovators see the world differently. But what sets this book apart is the way he champions us all to be originals – and improve the world in so doing – by recognising good ideas, speaking up without getting silenced and getting new ideas to stick.

Grant also debunks some commonly held myths. The greatest creators don’t necessarily have the deepest expertise, but rather the broadest perspective. Success is not usually attained by acting ahead of everyone, (first mover advantage) but often by waiting for the perfect time to act. Procrastination can be good. And the best entrepreneurs are not risk maximisers, they actually take the risk out of risk taking.

This book is definitely worth a read if you want to champion new ideas. It is packed with research and case studies.

2. The WELLBEING ECONOMY, Success in a World Without Growth’ by Lorenzo Fioramonti @lofioramonti

Place humans and nature at the forefront of economic objectives, says Prof Lorenzo. “We need an economy that empowers people; we need ‘pro-sumers’ rather than consumers – people that produce and consume in different ways.”

This manifesto for change in South Africa comes from a strong belief that the pursuit of growth results in more lossess than gains, and often in damage, conflict and inequality. Breaking free from the growth mantra allows us to build a better society that puts wellbeing at its centre, boosts small business and empowers citizens as collective leaders of tomorrow. Reading this book makes us more aware, prompts us to connect the dots, and also to make changes within our own spheres of work and life.

Walk the wellbeing economy talk and get your copy at local bookstore LoveBooks http://www.lovebooks.co.za/.

3. ‘WHAT’s YOUR MOONSHOT: Future-proof yourself and your business in the age of exponential disruption’ by John Sanei @IamJohnSanei

Cape Town-based trend and innovation strategist, John Sanei, explains what it takes to thrive – rather than merely survive – in our exponentially changing times. He decodes the mega-trends reshaping human behaviour and the way we do business, and explains how to innovate your business so as to make a positive impact on millions, if not billions, of people.

Much of the first part of the book focuses on the mindset to thrive, and moving from being a victim to being an architect of the future. Studies prove that we can change our mindsets from fixed to growth, and when we do, it leads to increased motivation and achievement.

‘Brilliant read for any entrepreneur. Very relevant. Easy reading. Loved it.’ – Shantelle Booysen – Business woman of the year.

4. Naval Ravikant on Reading, Happiness, Systems for Decision Making, Habits, Honesty, via Farnham Street Blog @naval

This wide-ranging interview is about habits, decision-making, mental models and life. I did warn you up front, it is almost two hours! Grab a pen and paper, and listen in chunks. I found it to be full of simple, relevant wisdoms.

https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2017/02/naval-ravikant-reading-decision-making/.

Each one of these picks has significantly shaped our thinking and our work at 33 Emeralds. I hope they also inspire you to action. Share this post and your thoughts on twitter: @gaylinjee

An earlier version of this article was written for Talent Talks Africa.

top-picks (1)

By Gaylin Jee

think-differently-do-differentlyI have taken to including a short Think Differently session in my workshops with clients. It consists of riddles and brainteasers designed to engage, amuse and challenge. There are small prizes for those who can solve the riddles and teasers, and more prizes for those who are creative with their answers. Some come away bristling with satisfaction, others are annoyed. They are all entertained and stretched. And that’s the point of the session – to leave for a moment our groomed intention to find and offer a right answer, and instead to follow our own curiosity and find a different answer, our own answer. I want to inject an appetite for that, because it’s going to become more essential that we can think, and do, differently.

Think differently, see things differently, get to a place where you can actually do things differently, and you’re more likely to end up in the Blue Ocean.

“Creating blue oceans builds brands. So powerful is blue ocean strategy, in fact, that a blue ocean strategic move can create brand equity that lasts for decades.” – W. Chan Kim, Professor of Strategy and Management at INSEAD and Co-director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.

Here is a summary of Blue Ocean Strategy if you are not familiar with the thinking, Blue Ocean Strategy: Creating your own market, and an early Harvard Business Review write-up about it: Blue Ocean Strategy.

But here is the challenge. We’re not set up to think differently, and it is risky to do so. People who think and do differently can get hurt in organisations. In one large FS organisation it was simply understood that no items got a ‘red’ on the traffic light reporting system for a large project. That meant failing. And then everyone else could see you/your team/your unit were failing. The reporting didn’t reflect real progress, and surface real risks that could be mitigated for, it was about ensuring that you were not seen to be failing. How would sticking your neck out in this environment work, when time and budgets are the prize winners?

Take a look at the Millennial Disruption Index, a US study, but insights worth heeding globally: banks – your future customers would rather visit the dentist than listen to what you have to say. 73% would be more excited about a new offering in financial services from Google, Amazon, Apple, PayPal or Square than from their own nationwide bank. Nearly half the respondents in this study are counting on tech start-ups to overhaul the way banks work. They believe innovation will come from outside the industry. Given some of my own banking experiences, from the inside and as customer, I have to agree.

Establishing satellite innovation labs, or hubs, or hobnobbing with fintech start-ups seems like a very small piece of the puzzle you need to think differently about. I’d be inclined to shine the lens a little more on the motherships, the large institutions lumbering on with unwritten but carefully obeyed rules about status reports. I’d have a very frank conversation about “the way things get done around here”. That statement is another way of describing the real organisation values. On the end of that statement you could put “To Succeed”, or even “To Survive”.

The right-answer approach, and right-first-time, has been the bedrock of the ideally operationally efficient and nimble organisations we have been ruling over for years. This one-right-answer, time-and-budgets approach, often seeded in what worked in the past, seems to be a chain tightening around the necks of corporates who continue to mildly heed the imperative of establishing environments at work where it is safe to look for and experiment with different answers that might work. Or might not.

Our organisations are set up for traditional high potentials who are typically good at strategy and implementation, and understanding of incremental innovation or what we call polishing. We lay out ladders for these traditional leaders to climb, if they prove they have the right answers and the top-down, sealed-up script to implement them.

But how the world is changing – it is networked, participatory, choice-laden and unpredictable. Here today, disrupted tomorrow. How refreshing. Think Uber, AirBnB and all the other over-used examples. We need a wider range of roles, and appetites, to refresh our future.

Peter Druckers’ words seemed so outlandish at first, but feel perhaps less so now:

“Every organisation must prepare for the abandonment of everything it does”.  

Playing in a nimble and efficient space may be risker, it seems, than actually sticking your neck out. Because over time you will be out-disrupted. But what courage it takes to think and do differently in the environments we create and reinforce at work.

Grow and support appetites for thinking and doing differently. Get your head around new roles, like Game Changers, Play Makers and Polishers. If not for your organisation, then at least for your longer-term self.