Inglorious Bystanders

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Why Chief Innovation Officers (NOT JUST Chief HR/Diversity Officers) should be treating the “BIAS VIRUS” in your company…

SUMMARY: The very same (explicit and implicit) counterproductive cognitive biases that fuel decades of micro and macro aggressions toward women/minorities in the workplace are also fully embedded in the anchors of corporate cognitive bias and mental models that are undermining your innovation strategy, collaboration, knowledge sharing, engagement, complex problem-solving, any/all change initiatives (e.g., fixed vs. growth mindsets, knower vs. learner mindsets, victim vs. creator mindsets). Unconscious bias (UB) is a virus that’s killing your strategy and disadvantaging your best people at the same time.

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SAME BRAINS. SAME BIASES.

For example, a long-held belief/bias that men are better leaders than women is as counterproductive today as a long-held belief/bias that a business strategy focused on hardware and software is better than shifting to that new “cloud” thing. The old success formula is great until it isn’t. Then holding onto it is just stupid. But your brain doesn’t care, and it’s in charge — not you. The same mental models and corporate social norms that lock those ancient systemwide biases (e.g., men over women, powerful men and women over all others) in place also keep your individual and institutional biases (e.g., reactivity over creativity, reliability over eventuality, evaluative over generative, patriarchy over mutual learning) commanding and controlling your future right into the past. Chances are your innovation strategy is so corrupted by these biases that you’re unknowingly designing your company into the 1970s. Until your executive team recognizes and addresses UB and the realities of associated gender/race inequality paradigms in your organization like the mission-critical, customer-facing, fully integrated, strategic business priority that it is (rather than treat it like a board/CEO pet project, “pseudo priority”), your company won’t make much progress toward the future. If your company is stuck in the past, chances are you are one of the powerful executives contributing to the spread of the bias virus and bystander culture.

MALPRACTICE AT WORST. INGLORIOUS “BYSTANDERING” AT BEST.

IF unconscious bias were a medical condition (and leaders/teams were the patients), THEN…most chief human resource officers, chief diversity officers, chief learning officers, learning and development directors, gender diversity and inclusion directors, the Ph.Ds. who fill those departments, and all of the CEOs and boards that sponsor/approve most of today’s UB prescriptions/UB treatment plans would be jailed/sued for malpractice…or at least fired for their silence and Paterno-like inglorious bystandering.

Unconscious bias IS the No. 1 business challenge from which all other business challenges arise. UB is silently killing your winning business strategy from the inside out. UB is stifling your business results and eating both your culture and your strategy for breakfast. UB doesn’t care. UB is sucking the energy, passion, engagement, trust and commitment out of even your most talented populations while turning away the global talent and customers alike that you are trying desperately to attract. UB doesn’t care. UB doesn’t recognize what your company values, its purpose or business goals are. UB doesn’t care what kind of leader you think you are. UB doesn’t care what kind of leader (you think) your children think you are. UB is ruining your leadership impact. UB is making you (and your team of leaders) look outdated and oblivious. UB is killing you and the people you’re supposed to be leading. How tragic that you (should) know this already. How tragic and yet still so very little will be done about it during your tenure.

To change this trajectory, the funding and focus of disparate UB training programs, corporate universities, leadership development and innovation/transformation leadership programs all need to be elevated, consolidated and then integrated into new corporate lifestyle habits that have the power to overcome all the maladaptive biases we carry with us.

Even though our executives and boards are supposed to be made up of our highest value decision-makers, complex problem solvers and action takers (that’s the primary output of professionals in the 21st century), they aren’t adapting quickly enough today. In the context of readying the corporation for the future, these most valuable executives are supposed to be leading current and future teams of leaders through a transformative shift in their thinking patterns (investing in elevating the mental complexity and emotional intelligence of the organization) to take action against the counterproductive thinking patterns of the industrial age and the outdated behaviors that undermine the company’s current and future business strategy, ROI and competitive market positioning. They may think they are doing just that, but they are likely themselves even more trapped by the visible and invisible biases than the rest of us. Even the well-intended (enlightened) hierarchies holding the most powerful senior roles are unconsciously more imprisoned (zombified) and entrenched in perpetuating these unconscious biases largely because: a) once they reach a position of power, they are less empathetic/less aware of the disadvantaged plight of those with less power; b) they are personally benefiting from the biases and power structures remaining in place. The more intelligent, accomplished and successful you are, the less likely you are to believe that your thinking + behavior could possibly be suffering from these unconscious blind spots. That makes you a more dangerous decision-maker (a “walker”).

Even when corporate boards and CEOs finally declare that mitigating gender/race/age bias is a priority, most of their employees don’t believe it — and they’re right not to. That’s because when this “pet project” of the board gets handed off to someone in HR or L&D to design and implement, it is still treated like an optional, bolted-on sidecar to the business strategy. It is underfunded. It is underestimated. The leadership mandate to make it reasonable, practical and scalable (efficient and cheap) creates a superficial treatment and doesn’t provide much cure. It’s odd that executives aren’t more sensitive to what’s effective vs. what’s reasonable and convenient. The “bias virus” (as I like to call it) doesn’t care what else is on your calendar…you’re going down, and there’s no flu shot or pill you can take to wish it away.

Today, many of the people responsible for treating corporate cognitive biases treat them as if they were only a minor, social, HR issue — a case of the sniffles or a sore throat that’ll go away with words of encouragement, patience, sensitivity and a box of tissues. They treat cognitive bias like a minor illness instead of treating it like the most Pervasive, Advanced, Chronic, Malignant, Acute, Neurodegenerative (PACMAN) and treatable leadership condition that drives individual and team behaviors while negatively affecting business activities impacted by those behaviors such as innovation, strategy, execution, customer centricity, retention, recruiting, collaboration, agility, engagement, risk-taking, knowledge sharing and culture change.bouillon

Treating deeply ingrained mental models, mindsets and biases (the “bias virus”) with the equivalent of little more than edutainment, awareness programs and two-hour webinars is like treating the Ebola virus with a bouillon cube shortcut because the equally ineffective chicken soup remedy takes too long for busy executives. That’s negligent and blameworthy to address individual, organizational and systemic corporate biases and the need to shift mindsets with programs that minimize or skip the deep, personal adult development work necessary for senior leaders to shift. It’s the only proactive development work that has the power to influence the system in a meaningful way. These bystanders, on the other hand, recommending anything less or suggesting that somewhere in the organization they are indeed working on a “much more strategic/comprehensive effort” (REALLY? LET’S SEE IT!) are complicit with their cowardly silence and sensitivity to corporate norms rather than being more sensitive to what actually works. Instead of effectively supporting the expansion of leadership capabilities, helping them ready the company for the network age that’s already passing them by, most learning and development executives (and their programs) are trapped in the same culture shackles of learned helplessness that they are supposed to be helping liberate.

2016 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: “The problem is, organizations are trying to reduce bias with the same kinds of programs they’ve been using since the 1960s. And the usual tools—diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, grievance systems—tend to make things worse, not better.” That’s what malpractice sounds like to me.

THE MALPRACTICE IS DOCUMENTED. LEADERSHIP ACCOUNTABILITY, METRICS AND STANDARDS ARE PRETTY LOW (EVEN WHEN CLAIMING TO BE HIGH).

Even the more progressive silicon valley tech companies and venture capital companies mostly treat the UB problem by ignoring it altogether or treat it like it is a political/social/HR issue with regard to sensitivity training or some corporate social responsibility program…loosely connected to business. Again, it’s a business leadership issue; it’s a strategy execution issue. Most programs are largely limited by budget, power or sponsorship, evidenced by how the programs are implemented and how little progress has been made and exposed in this “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” article.

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There are endless amounts of research and data in every industry, including life and death ones, like in the article Bias in the ER — about how doctors suffer from the same cognitive distortions as the rest of us. Endless amounts of research on adult development approaches to bias by Kahneman, Tversky, Kegan, etc., all say similar things about our explicit and implicit bias/limitation of the brain that gets in the way of decision-making — some that were published back in the 1770s let alone the more recent stuff in the 1970s. In 2017, senior executive professionals in the field of learning and development are aware of the research, data, lawsuits and impact that UB has on decision-making and outcomes. In 2015, 20 percent of most large companies had unconscious bias (UB) and gender, diversity and inclusion programs (GD&I). By 2020, it is predicted that 50 percent of companies will have UB and GD&I programs. But what kind of programs will they be? The “bouillon cube” kind?

WHAT WORKS? VERTICAL LEARNING PROGRAMS SHIFT MINDSETS, CHANGE BEHAVIORS, AFFECT BUSINESS-RELATED ACTIVITIES AND CHANGE OUTCOMES.

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Experts know that mitigating the negative effects of bias requires a special kind of transformation program — vertical (adaptive) learning programs — that unlock “next-level” mental complexity and emotional intelligence for leaders who want to pursue that. It’s an operating system upgrade. But most time-constrained and mind-constrained corporations deliver bite-sized, horizontal learning. Horizontal learning is adding skills at the current level of the current operating system. Horizontal learning is fine for many developmental needs but useless with regard to more complex adult development needs. To address bias with horizontal learning programs (or not knowing the difference) is useless, negligent and blameworthy bystandering.

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Complex adaptive challenges (like culture change, mindset shifts and mitigating unconscious bias) require complex adaptive leadership training to overcome bias/beliefs (long rewarded and held consciously and unconsciously), creating blinds spots at the current level that block them from seeing the possibility of additional/viable perspectives, leaving leaders trapped by their prior success and by what they know, incapable of expanding their own perspective let alone facilitating a high-performance environment that can. Vertical learning programs include: a) stretch experiences; b) more direct applicable focus on the business challenges/goals, giving everyone a stronger reason to practice; c) new paradigms, frameworks for thinking, responding, practicing; and d) are designed to create long-term, formal and informal, peer-based (social learning) communities of practice that deliver depth over speed while being speedy. That’s how adult development is accelerated. That’s how adults increase their mental complexity and emotional intelligence. Complex adaptive leadership muscles are muscles that all leaders have. But for most, they have not yet developed them sufficiently to lead in the 21st century/Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 INCONGRUENCE — NOT WALKING THE TALK

I cringe when leaders say, “Our senior executives are all very aware of this priority, but we’re still figuring out how to solve it. They are all just so busy that it is not reasonable to expect them to spend more than a couple hours on this — though that’s all they need; they are very smart.” ARE YOU SERIOUS? That’s a real quote (from a distinguished Ph.D.) heard in similar forms from more than one diversity leader and more than one innovation strategy leader at double-digit, multibillion-dollar organizations. That’s what fear and confirmation biases sound like — unknowingly contributing to protecting the preference for the status quo = homeostasis at work.

Here are some additional examples of where the (“it’s a priority”) incongruence and appropriately labeled “bystander” behavior shows up:

  1. Most senior executives don’t go through the training themselves. They don’t go through the stretch experiences and conversations that they want others to go through — and it shows.
  2. Most executive sponsors demonstrate how they perpetuate organizational contradictions and how little they have prioritized the treatment of bias with their “cringeworthy” sponsorship speeches and oblivious comments like: “I don’t even think about gender bias; I don’t do that on my team” — only to embarrass themselves and undermine the integrity of the program and leadership overall.
  3. Most programs only touch a tiny population of “high-potential” employees — with a tiny portion of content. In a company of tens of thousands of employees, they might only expose a couple hundred employees (at best) to the program over a year’s time and then send them back into the inertia of the organization where it’s quickly understood what is valued and what isn’t.
  4. Most company leaders are afraid to publish your numbers for gender and diversity pay parity, promotion rate, etc., because they haven’t changed sufficiently. They don’t publish the metrics, don’t have target goals, and blame the attorneys for that bad business practice (plenty of companies, with more attorneys than you, do publish), and the transparency tsunami is going to expose your numbers soon enough. Some are updated regularly in public Google documents (e.g., women in software engineering).
  5. Most company leaders are visibly suffering from the leadership complexity gap, unable to respond better to change, lack of agility, curiosity, collaboration, engagement, etc., any better than they could decades ago.
  6. Most company leaders still proudly protect their own status by showing a tendency to focus on short-term efficiency over effectiveness; cost vs. transformation outcomes; speed over depth; etc., contributing to a lack of progress closing the leadership complexity gap.

Why is corporate bystandering still so prevalent? We all know it’s happening, right?

Corporations have not invested in training their mindset shifting muscles. They don’t have an expert orientation to their role as culture or change leaders. L&D has taught them to prefer and settle for edutainment bu$$sh#t awareness programs.

Power, it turns out, diminishes empathy and increases the “knower/fixed” mindset. And we all know that dominant power structures are biased and don’t give up their dominance willingly, even when it’s in their best interest and the best interest of the whole. Unless, of course, you are aware of your biases, then you can work on them.

WHO’S BYSTANDERING THE MOST IN THE FACE OF BIAS AT YOUR COMPANY? IT’S DIFFERENT EVERYWHERE. YOU DECIDE.

  • CEO (chief executive officer)? Yes, ultimate accountability, but most hide behind latanetheir executive team and blame them or they blame the culture (everyone else but themselves)
  • CHRO (chief human resource officer)? Yes, they should have command of all things people related but are focused mostly on administrative, policy, procedure, budget and legal matters
  • CTO (chief talent officer)? Should be connecting future capabilities/resources and business needs (It’s rare to find one who has enough business experience and people experience to be consciously competent for this role.)
  • CLO (chief learning officer)? L&D? Should be the experts at prioritizing vertical and horizontal development needs but are trapped by the same learned helplessness as the general population — deferring to business short-term demands and power structures, living in fear from budget to budget, trying to justify their own job through self-preservation vs. effectiveness
  • GD&I (gender, diversity and inclusion) leader? Should be the powerful expert integrated into the business but typically reports to CHRO
  • BU (business unit) leader?

 WHO IS WORKING ON IT LIKE A BUSINESS PRIORITY?

Chuck Robbins, CEO at CISCO, is very clear on the business benefits of addressing biases (conscious and unconscious) in a deliberate and strategic way. It is tangible in how the CISCO innovation team aligns with learning and development and gender, diversity and inclusion priorities as you can read what Robbins wrote in his blog post:

“With the increasing pace and complexity of today’s market, it’s critical that our leadership team understands our customers, delivers results, brings diverse perspectives and experiences, and builds world-class, highly motivated teams. This will differentiate us as a much faster, innovative organization that delivers the best results for our customers.”

 

Bias not built for the networked age is our 21st century “rock in the road”

By Raphael Louis Vitón

If victory today depends on sustained innovation, then our lack of cognitive diversity and our default/counterproductive biases will continue to be the primary obstacle (rock in the road) to designing and implementing a new, winning strategy. Our counterproductive biases are the No. 1 business challenge from which all other business challenges are born. Bias is a 21st century business issue, not a diversity issue. Are we doomed? What if we’re working for zombie leaders who are trapped by their biases? What if we’re the zombie leader? Is there an antidote that we can use to keep from becoming “walkers” ourselves?

THE METAPHOR

Like the “Rock in the Road” episode from Season 7 of the Walking Dead when Rick Grimes tells a story about a rock in the road that nobody removes, it keeps causing all kinds of problems until finally a young girl digs it out.

RICK: “Well, when I was a kid, my mother told me a story. There was a road to a kingdom, and there was a rock in the road. And people would just avoid it, but horses would break their legs on it and die, wagon wheels would come off. People would lose the goods they’d be coming to sell. That’s what happened to a little girl. The cask of beer her family brewed fell right off. It broke. Dirt soaked it all up, and it was gone. That was her family’s last chance. They were hungry. They didn’t have any money. She just… sat there and cried, but… …she wondered why it was still there… for it to hurt someone else. So she dug at that rock in the road with her hands till they bled, used everything she had to pull it out. It took hours. And then… …when she was gonna fill it up, she saw something in it. It was a bag of gold.”

The moral of the story is: Whoever has the perseverance, decency and determination to dig up the rock in the road, gets the gold reward.

It has a nice “better angels of our nature” storyline. But let’s not go there; that’s distracting. Let’s not attach this business antidote to a fictitious storyline or moral, intuitional, spiritual, anecdotal truism. Let’s not bring it up in the context of L&D, HR or gender, diversity and inclusion (none of which historically have had enough corporate authority or decision rights to drive meaningful change). That’ll just give us a reason to minimize the impact. Let’s not even attach the antidote to a legal argument. Let’s stay in the realm of objective reasoning and business logic. Let’s work within our reliability-oriented, overachiever, operational mindsets from the industrial age, where delivering business results is what matters. In business, we’re taught to “put up (the numbers) or shut up.” I’m cool with that. So let’s talk about this in the context of irrefutable evidence, observable math and real-world experiments that prove, without a doubt, exactly what to do for better business outcomes.

In our 21st century reality, we’ve been walking around our “rock in the road” for decades. Whether it is explicit or implicit (conscious or unconscious) biases, Drucker warns us that in times of change, the greatest danger to complex problem solving and effective decision-making is our tendency to act (unconsciously) with yesterday’s logic, beliefs and mental models (aka the leadership complexity gap).
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But we’re all so smart and so successful that we can’t imagine that Drucker was talking about us — that other executive over there for sure…he is a classic example of being a prisoner of thought patterns, but not me…no way. The reality is that no one is immune. Our brains are always applying default biases and rules that are both productive and counterproductive whether we consciously know it or not. We’re biased about the biases that are counterproductive. We have HUGE blind spots and amazing powers of denial.

We all have biases. The problem isn’t that we have biases; the problem is that we deny that we have biases.

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Here is what it sounds like when we resist learning how to mitigate our biases:

I don’t do any of that. This doesn’t apply to me. I’m not biased. If I am biased, it’s only a little, and I do not suffer from cognitive biases. I am not drawn to details that confirm my beliefs (confirmation bias and bandwagon effect). I don’t notice flaws in others more easily than I do in myself (bias blind spot).

I don’t fill in characteristics from stereotypes, generalities and prior history (fundamental attribution error, negativity bias). I don’t preference people I’m familiar with or fond of as better than others (in-group and out-group bias).


I don’t simplify probabilities and numbers to make them easier to think about (normalcy bias, gambler’s fallacy, neglecting probability bias). I don’t assume I know what other people are thinking. I don’t infer what others’ intentions are (illusion of transparency, projection bias). I don’t project my mindset and assumptions onto the past and future (self-consistency bias).

I don’t favor the immediate, relatable thing in front of me over the unknown future thing (hyperbolic discounting). I don’t avoid making irreversible decisions or making mistakes because I’m trying to preserve autonomy and group status (status quo bias). I don’t have a tendency to disproportionately advocate for or focus on things I’ve invested time and energy into (sunk cost bias).

You might think, “I get it, and I am humble enough to realize that, yes, I can make mistakes. Got it.” No, NO, NOOO. The point is that I/we do not/cannot appreciate the extent to which I/we have error-prone thinking patterns (biases), as evidenced by the near century of data (and neuroscience) illustrated in this beautiful graphic on the 200+ biases that our limited minds and egos can’t seem to comprehend.

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That’s part of the problem. Most successful, smart senior executives “know” this on an intellectual level. We “know” too much, actually. We’re stuck in the knower mindset versus the learner mindset. Apparently, we don’t “know it” in a way that we’ve been able to consciously choose to do the things it takes to mitigate these biases when it matters most. Our biases from the industrial age have us trapped and make us unwilling to effectively change our corporate lifestyles/habits quickly enough to walk our talk when it comes to “leading differently.” Against Drucker’s warning, we have not prepared ourselves to lead more effectively in the networked age. In most cases, we are far behind where we should be. We need to drop everything and train on deliberate, focused lifestyle practices that help with readying ourselves to pursue a new master plan. Now is not the time to be defensive nor waste valuable time and energy enabling professionals who still choose to deny their own biases.

THE WINNING FORMULA

Let’s get to the antidote — the best way to mitigate the limitations of our own brains. While taking a University of Michigan massive open online course (MOOC) on Model Thinking and Understanding Complexity, I came across Scott E. Page, a famous social scientist, professor of economics, director of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems and author. He is best known for his research on path dependence, culture, collective wisdom, adaptation and computational models on how human beings work together. In his decade-old book, Page reveals the winning formula that every business professional can embrace as fact…the absolute fact…the undeniable mathematical rules…the gold prize under the rock in the road…the Diversity Prediction Theorem.

diversitypredictiontheoremCompanies that love the reliability of math, algorithms and big data, like Google, Netflix etc., have been putting the formula to work to improve predictions about the future, modeling consumer behavior and addressing previously unsolvable business challenges. The formula proves to be true, beyond any doubt. No assumptions have to be made. No conditions have to be considered. It’s just a mathematical fact. The math shows that the Crowd’s Error is the Average Error minus the Diversity. Said differently, our team’s accuracy is driven by individual’s accuracy plus the team’s diversity. Individuals make decisions/predictions based on models (e.g., mental models, math models); therefore, the more models/perspectives that we use, the more accurate our decisions/predictions will be. This is a very important concept, as it shows that optimal outcomes are attained with more diverse perspectives.

Question: How can a group attain more diverse options to choose from and therefore better potential responses to challenges and circumstances?

Answer: By having different perspectives from a diverse group of people. “A perspective is the way in which an individual views the possible solutions to the problem. The way to attain a variance of perspectives is to have a diverse group across multiple variables. These variables can include age, race, gender, education, location, religion, sexual orientation, class and occupation. When people are different across these lines, they have different perspectives on many solutions. The different perspectives create the variance that is important to the Diversity Prediction Theorem.” Put more simply: The greater the number of perspectives, the more options we have. The more options we have, the better our decision-making and strategies will be. (Yes, I’m aware that my confirmation bias has led me to find this Diversity Prediction Theorem…bias strikes again. See how that works?)

THE ABSOLUTE AND INEVITABLE

In the networked age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, VUCA is the norm. Global markets, interconnectedness, digital transformation, complexity and exponential change drive the need for expanded capabilities. Corporations in all industries are transforming themselves in pursuit of greater advantage from specific competencies and cultural attributes (i.e., collaboration, innovation, agility, building high-performance teams, attracting, hiring and retaining the best talent). Where leadership and culture transformation is concerned, the unit of work is dialogue. Problem solving and decision-making are the highest value products of professionals.
“When solving complex problems, cognitive diversity beats talent, and when making a prediction, diversity matters just as much as ability.”

Not “probably” matters — cognitive diversity ALWAYS matters. So when leadership transformation programs, immunity to change programs and/or gender, diversity and inclusion programs that are intended to address bias and shift mindsets are bolted on like an elective course versus integrated into business strategy, you continue to see the disconnect between biased behavior and what is in the best interests of the business. Investors, leaders and boards of directors who ignore this fact are enabling their organizations to continue to walk around the rock in the road. That seems negligent and unprofessional, like the childish ostrich effect (cognitive bias) in behavioral finance, which is the attempt made by investors to avoid risky financial situations by pretending they do not exist. The awakened market won’t let childish leaders/bystanders get away with that kind of “pretending” for long.

Here’s where we can choose to stay awake or give in to the temptation to go back to being unconscious. Conscious leaders make better innovation leaders — stay calm and be conscious.

Adult development and culture transformation are not mysterious black boxes. The solutions are simple but not necessarily easy. They’re not necessarily “hard” either. It depends on and is relative to your current individual and collective readiness levels. Do the deep work and train together to accelerate the transformation.

The majority of senior leaders want to expand their level of mental complexity and emotional intelligence so they can lead successfully in today’s business environment. They don’t want to be a prisoner of their biases, nor do they want their organizations to be limited by their collective biases. They want their organizations to break down the silos, be more open, collaborative, creative, curious, engaged, courageous and inclusive. Ironically, though, their own biases make them unaware of the impact that their mindsets and behaviors have on stifling the expanded capabilities of the organization they want to create. It’s a vicious circle. Leaders’ biases keep them trapped in the comfort zone of what they know (knower mindset). Leaders’ biases make them still want to be the ones who have all the power. Leaders’ biases make them think they can keep the power by having all the answers and telling everyone else what to do.

 

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Leaders’ biases make them still want to believe that what worked in the past (the old success formula) will work today. Leaders’ biases make them still think they know which sticks and carrots (recognition and rewards) will motivate people to comply with company rules and be motivated to fulfill company goals. Leaders’ biases still make them think they can command and control their way through complexity and culture change.

Decade after decade, despite the irrefutable research on how adults can, in fact, update their mental models, the rock still sits in the middle of the road. It trips us up. We struggle trying to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. We struggle trying to shift from a victim orientation to a creator orientation. We struggle trying to wake up from being socially defined to self-authoring. Our organizations suffer unnecessarily until serious, permanent damage to the organization itself causes the long-awaited transformational awakening. Until then, most leaders will remain trapped by their (industrial age) biases like zombies/“walkers.” If they are trapped, then we all are trapped. If they are “walkers” (walking around the rock in the road), then we are destined for unnecessary suffering.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

We will need to choose the deep work of individual and collective transformation in order to be leaders who see our own unconscious bias and try to understand it and mitigate it. The aware but “consciously incompetent” leader, pointing out everyone else’s biases, does us little good. Rewiring our default, industrial age habits for the age we’re entering into will lead us to our “bag of gold.” Today, a business leader’s job isn’t to just be better at responding to volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity; it is to nurture a more self-led, learning and adaptive environment while facilitating teams of diverse human beings to bring 110 percent of their passion, curiosity, creativity, intelligence, identity and courage to work. Leaders need to be working on elevating mindsets and putting wedges in place that make it impossible to regress to the default (old), counterproductive, less accurate ways of thinking. The ROI is there.

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A powerful “connecting-the-dots” approach to business benefits will prove to be the only sustainable, proactive cure for these “walking dead.” And only a few of the best culture transformation programs — as well as gender, diversity and inclusion programs — have proven to be successful at facilitating the powerful mindset shifts (e.g., from knower to learner, from fixed to growth, from victim to creator) that lead to individual behavior changes, team behavior changes and organizational behavior changes that then lead to better business outcomes.

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WHO’S DIGGING? WHO’S “BYSTANDER-ING”?

Who’s responsible for the road to the future at your company? Who’s responsible for digging out the rocks in the road? CEO, the buck (the rock) stops with you. Walking around the rock undermines your winning business strategy. Why would you tolerate that? Digging out the rocks will amplify your winning strategy and the desired results.

Let’s not keep walking around the rock in the road. Let’s commit to keep on digging.

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This idea also is represented in the recent book “The Obstacle is the Way,” by Ryan Holiday. In the book, he shares a similar story about a “rock in the road” that blocks a common path of travel for the villagers. Each of the villagers who came upon the rock tried and failed to move the obstacle.

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CHANGE (INNOVATION) IS HARD. RELATIVE TO WHAT?

Screenshot 2017-01-17 19.46.18.png“Change is hard.”

Is it?

What if that’s just an opinion disguised as a fact? What if that is just a socialized complaint/expression that we’ve all been brainwashed into believing and repeating?

“Change is hard” can often be heard as an unconscious declaration of an inevitable, early surrender from the leader to the team that they are responsible for leading.

“Change is hard” often sounds like a veiled equivalent to: “Yes, I’m the boss, but I’m not going to be taking responsibility for implementing/supporting the new strategy or the business results….because change is hard.”

Screenshot 2017-01-17 19.47.06.pngThere are, however, many corporate executives and entrepreneurs alike who get excited about the possibility of change; they are masters at it; it’s easy for them. They would never say, “Change is hard.” So the “hardness” of change might not be an absolute truth. I’m not sure it’s true at all. “Hardness” may be a measure of mineral’s scratch resistance (e.g., Mohs’ scale), but “hard” is not necessarily an attribute of change. Is it?
“Hard” or “easy” (success or failure) is usually a relative comparison of two things: 1) the challenge and 2) our ability/inability to respond to the challenge effectively. Whether the challenge is to squat 300 pounds or to engage in expanding corporate competencies, there’s two ways to approach it: I can say, “300 pounds is too heavy,” or I can say, “300 pounds is too heavy for me. My leg muscles aren’t strong enough to squat 300 pounds.”

HARD is only relative to our ability to respond. HARD is not an attribute of change.

If our muscles aren’t ready for the challenge, then the challenge/change is harder for us. That same challenge may NOT be hard for others. Change (innovation) is not hard for leaders and teams whose muscles are developed/trained and ready to respond effectively.Screenshot 2017-01-23 15.41.25.png

Chief innovation officers (CINOs), transformation experts and executives who have learned from experience will agree that change (innovation) is harder when:

  1. We wait too long to get started or lollygag through the process of starting.
  2. We don’t prioritize it; we don’t have a plan or resources dedicated to it; we haven’t separated the essential from the important.
  3. We treat it like an event versus a lifestyle; we don’t walk the talk.
  4. We don’t use expert tools and processes; we wing it or “amateur-hour” it.
  5. We don’t create the space (culture) for creativity, collaboration, etc.; we try to command and control culture change.
  6. We’re not aware of our default, reactive language and habits; we hang on to old success formulas for too long.

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7. We don’t ask for help; we pretend we know what to do when we don’t.

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Screenshot 2017-01-23 16.24.56.pngExperienced CINOs, transformation experts and executives will also agree that change (innovation) is easier when:

  • You see more: You’re more conscious (less likely to be driven by default, reactive habits), more awake, more open to learn and more curious to explore multiple perspectives beyond your own (conscious leaders make better innovation leaders).
  • You collaborate better: You’re more skilled at engaging and empowering people to use innovation tools/processes effectively; you’re more skilled at healthy debate, committed action and accountability; your leadership and culture of the organization help diverse groups of people feel powerfully valued and powerfully challenged.
  • You feel stronger: Your energy is sourced from a higher-order purpose — values and guiding principles are unconditional; you are grounded in sources of certainty that help you make decisions and take action in the face of increasing uncertainty.

Screenshot 2017-01-23 16.00.40.pngWe might expect to hear “change is hard” from stereotypical leaders/politicians when they shirk accountability and make a career out of saving face and preserving their innocence versus keeping their promises. But it never makes sense when accomplished, successful leaders responsible for change inside of powerful and abundantly resourced organizations say, “Change is hard.” However, we hear it all the time in reference to corporate initiatives that involve: a) doing something new versus doing the usual/status quo and b) letting go of old default habits in favor of more effective habits. You’ll hear it in every innovation/transformation and change management meeting. You’ll hear it in every systems implementation, digital integration and customer experience session when the experience involves a people-centric service or delivery system. When a leader responds to these kinds of challenges regarding learning, complexity and ambiguity (aka innovation/change/growth) with the “change is hard” hedge, the change does in fact get 1,000 times harder. It gives the organization permission (from the top) to lower their standards. It gives everyone permission to resist learning/training — permission not to grow — permission not to be a part of changing because, after all, “change is hard.” The boss even said so! In these contexts, it serves as an early and convenient scapegoat to hide the leaders’ inference that their teams’ muscles might not be ready to follow through and deliver. When the team isn’t ready, that’s the leader’s fault. Don’t blame the team and don’t blame the culture. Your team can do it. They need an innovation leader to lead them. That’s you.

In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, unskillfully declaring, “change is hard” is nothing more than an expression of the victim — a choice of powerlessness and incompetence hiding behind an external circumstance, portrayed as something out of our control. A creator/player would never say that. It is true that I won’t be able to change/innovate effectively if my muscles (and the organization’s muscles) are not ready. But the hardness is relative to my muscular readiness. If I were more ready (if my organization was more ready), I could do it more effectively. Instead, my mind will go immediately to blaming the change itself for being too hard.

If you’re the leader of your business, department, community or family, stop saying, “change is hard.” Try this instead: “I don’t think I’m ready” or “my team and I aren’t ready for change. We need to be more ready.” Ask, “How can my team and I get more ready?” That’s what a player/creator would do. Then we will see if that helps us focus and find an even more effective response to dealing with change. We might as well choose to change (and stop blaming it for our poor results) since change is going to keep coming, whether we are ready or not.

Being a creator/player does not mean that I/we will magically be able to change everything and anything. Being a creator/player means I need to train because the speed of change/VUCA and the challenges I have in front of me have exceeded my ability to handle them. It is essential for me and my team to develop an expanded capacity for change — or as Argentine Ricardo Gil, Axialent chief culture officer…aka RichiWanKenobi, would say,

“Learn to live at peace with the difficulty and suffering you’ve chosen by not developing (the appropriate growth muscles).”

Don’t be a victim. Victims can’t innovate, and they don’t usually change without creating permanent damage and unnecessary suffering. That can be avoided. Change is easier when you train for it. It’s harder when you don’t. Drop everything and train #d3&t. “Don’t just be a better leader, be an innovation leader.” Train to be a Jedi. See more, collaborate better and feel stronger (build those muscles and you’ll be more Jedi). The world needs more Jedi.

Focus on separating the essential from the important. It is critically important that we get the DOING innovation management stuff right (e.g., process, strategy, metrics). But don’t minimize the innovation essentials (e.g., people, leadership, culture) just because we think the people/change part is “hard.” Prioritize the essential and it becomes easier.

 The important goes on the to-do list.

The essentials go on a to-die-for list.

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“d3&t – Drop Everything & Train” – The New Leadership Mantra for the 4th Industrial Revolution

(“d3&t” is borrowed from barbellshrugged.com, a podcast team that focuses on “talking training with crossfit games athletes, strength coaches and more.”)

Some of the biggest companies in the world are consolidating learning and development (L&D) efforts to focus on key changes that will transform how their companies work every day. They are focusing on embedding specialized lifestyle transformation leadership training, transformational DNA, communities of practice, and prioritizing deliberate daily training rituals to help shift mindsets and biases and elevate conscious awareness into the daily/weekly calendar of senior leadership.

You can see some of the real world cases of this being put into action in the following examples (and an even longer list of examples, case studies and references can be found at the end of this article):

As corporate dinosaurs watch these progressive-thinking giants working on their own individual and collective de/re-programming, they’re panicking noticing the gap widening faster and faster.

These companies are training vigorously to strengthen their innovation and transformation muscles in order to continually upgrade their operating systems.

WHY ARE THEY EMBEDDING THIS KIND OF TRAINING EXPERTISE?

In three years’ time four out of 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies.” According to KPMG’s 2016 CEO study, “65% of U.S. CEOs acknowledge that the next three years will be more critical for their industries than the past 50.”

The essential need in business today is to reimagine and reinvent business. This starts as a business strategy, design and implementation conversation, and it continues into a culture, people and mindset transformation conversation. That’s why one needs to focus on not just being a better leader (that won’t be enough), but being a transformational leader.

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If you are among the business leaders responsible for implementing a new winning strategy, building new competencies and nurturing new cultural attributes, you are probably struggling to get the results you want and are open to learning about what works.

How you arrange your day to prioritize deliberate practice will distinguish the “best from the rest” when it comes to learning new things and delivering elite performance. Drop everything that stands between you and your transformation dojo. Stop all other L&D programs, so that you can focus your energy and budget on training your innovation and transformation muscles more effectively, for the sake of better business outcomes. If you are not sure which L&D programs to continue and which to leave behind, you should work with an objective specialist who can direct you and help challenge your current thinking.

MOST CORPORATE L&D PROGRAMS ARE UNDERMINED BY THE SYSTEM ITSELF

The “system” is represented by those with the power. Sometimes even the individuals who are demanding the transformation are unaware that they are not appropriately integrating L&D into the strategy, which, in the end, compromises the transformation results.

Most large corporate leadership developmental efforts are highly limited because:

  • They mistakenly treat development like an event, not a daily lifestyle practice commensurate with the chosen lifestyle change.
  • They do not tackle the dynamics of the dominant power system, which is responsible for locking leadership’s default patterns and habits into place.
    • Their L&D departments and programs often suffer from the same “learned helplessness” taught by the system. They become overly sensitive to what’s reasonable, practical and convenient for leaders to “work-in” instead of being more sensitive to what’s impactful/effective:

DON’T JUST EXERCISE — TRAIN!

The repeated cycle of failed transformation efforts isn’t for a lack of intelligence or lack of effort. It is more often a lack of understanding around how we orient ourselves to the transformation opportunity itself. We might be putting in a lot of effort, but not necessarily our best effort.

“d3&t” — Drop Everything and Train is a mantra from a podcast that focuses on talking about fitness training with crossfit games athletes, strength coaches and more.  The phrase places an emotional, physical and spiritual emphasis on refocusing and recommitting to your goals and purpose every day. There are no secrets or shortcuts for making extraordinary gains, whether we are talking about physical gains inside the gym or business transformation gains in the world of commerce.

Specifically, the metaphor of “physical fitness” is too generic to suggest an appropriate training regimen for an athlete or a company. What kind of “fit” do you want to be? World-class athlete kind of fit? Olympic medal worthy? Gold medal worthy, or will you settle for any medal? Or are you happy just to qualify for the games?  What is the specific goal? Clarity around your goal, and honesty about how far away you are from the goal, will help expose the fitness (or capabilities) gap. From there you will be able to consciously plan an effective training regimen.

More likely than not, your company’s L&D programs and culture efforts are executed like a poorly planned exercise regimen – the efforts don’t actually match the planned shift, because in most cases the transformation goals require training for a lifestyle change. Most companies brave the transformation strategy because something is not working the way they want at the current level. They feel stuck and they want to shift to the next level. Most companies in this position are lucky to get any transformation at all, much less the world-class transformation they are hoping for.

Continuing with the analogy of physical fitness, if you just want to lose some weight or just get in better shape, then exercise is enough. Engage in some physical activity that gets you moving and burns calories – simple as that. But powerlifter and author Mark Rippetoe makes the distinction that random physical exercise cannot produce a physical transformation beyond a certain point. Once the initial inspiration to get in shape wears off, our interest in transforming wanes and we stop making meaningful progress.

The only way to achieve the desired physical transformation (or transformation gains) is to carefully plan and monitor the full integration of intensely focused training for said goal. This vertical learning trajectory is required to get to the next level. Just working on horizontal learning at the current level won’t be enough. It requires an elevated awareness and focus. One must stay committed to the prescribed ongoing deliberate practice with increasing levels of stress/tension, renewal and growth across all the relevant diverse dimensions of performance training for very specific domains/specialties (e.g., strength, endurance, speed, agility, flexibility, mobility, mental toughness). One must also be willing to persist regardless of circumstances, accepting uncertainty and fear of failure achieving that specific goal. One must be committed to staying in the tension of the transition between the current level and next level.

If yours is like most companies on a transformative path, you are working on shifting from one unhealthy word cloud of culture descriptors to an ideal word cloud of culture descriptors:

  • From unhealthy (e.g., stalled sales, declining margins, commoditization, distribution pressure, self-centered, highly reactive, driven by habit, very siloed, political, risk-avoidant, fearful, punitive, command and control, traditional, discouraging, overconfident, distracted, “armored-up”)
  • To becoming a “world-class” competitor at the highest level of competition in your chosen domain (e.g., growing, partnering, reconfiguring value chains, client-centric, open, collaborative, creative, resourceful learning, integrated, inclusive, courageous, empowering, energizing)

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DON’T JUST TWEAK THE SYSTEM – TRAIN!

“Tweaking the system” is a related metaphor and a similar trap to be aware of. Some believe that making slight modifications and additions will miraculously provide most of the transformation all on its own. See if you recognize these patterns:

  1. Physical fitness: Buying a standup desk and visiting the gym three times a week to exercise doesn’t transform my lifestyle. It doesn’t give me six-pack abs or sufficiently elevate my performance to a next level domain. It doesn’t even guarantee I’ll be healthy.
  2. Corporate fitness: Attending a few workshops every year, doing the homework exercises in my head (instead of in writing), reading a few books now and then, and sharing articles and podcasts doesn’t make me ready and fit to lead my organization on a transformation journey. It doesn’t mean I’ll be more adaptive or skilled at facilitating teams or be any more effective at complex problem solving. It doesn’t even guarantee that I’ll be better at stopping myself and recovering more quickly when my reactive stress triggers make me want to rescue, persecute, yell, gossip and bully people with my old command and control default habits.

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In both physical and corporate metaphors, to break away from status quo leadership behaviors and dominant culture, leaders need to be transformational. They need to be:

  • Training to sustain a mastery pattern of learning (vertical learning)
  • Training to sustain adaptive levels of growth and performance
  • Training to sustain relational connection, support, coaching and identity

Exercising and tweaking the system are not the same as training.We don’t get the desired result of getting to “consciously competent” with new capabilities and new default habits that help amplify the business strategy with mere exercise. Without proper lifestyle training (reprogramming), we are still consciously INCOMPETENT and therefore undermining the business strategy with our consciously incompetent gaps.

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Corporate training L&D programs designed specifically to support transformation include a very focused training regimen. Effective programs clearly articulate the business context, shape the environment, and design the strategic scaffolding of support, discipline and liberating structures. Effective programs make it safe enough and challenging enough to help individuals and teams reach their full transformational potential. The most effective training focuses on integrating the deep work of the intellectual, physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, procedural, structural areas of people’s lives. Transformation happens in community. So, we have to train together in a way that recognizes them/us/me as a whole human being, irreversibly changing the DNA of the person, the team and the culture. That’s how to accelerate the desired lifestyle transformation.

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We’re all at our own current level – pursuing our own next level. We are all working through that transition on the path to transformation.  Winning and losing the transition follows basic patterns that one can unconsciously fall into or consciously train to more effectively climb out of. See for yourself – sample from the never-ending buffet line of training benefits.

Don’t just be a better leader, be a transformation leader.

Or consciously choose not to transform.

Prioritize what needs to transform and why it matters to you. Prioritize which muscles need to be developed and in what integrated sequence – then get your reps in. Embed a deliberate practice into every day and embrace the lifestyle changes that need to be made. Be kind to yourself as you prototype your own sustainable rituals and rhythms that you can fall in love with.

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Don’t just exercise and tweak the system – train. Train like your business strategy and results depend on it. Or consciously choose not to transform.

Train like you’re truly committed to developing these new muscle groups by making irreversible lifestyle choices. Just “exercising” undermines your winning strategy. Real, integrated “training” for a transformed lifestyle, over time, amplifies your winning strategy.

Don’t just train alone – train together. Practice not quitting — together.
Or consciously choose not to transform.

Life is the dojo. Life is the curriculum. There’s nothing to figure out, nothing else to go find. Drop everything that stands between you and your “dojo.”  Drop everything and train.

“Chop Wood & Carry Water” – because there are no transformation shortcuts

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It can be hard for very successful leaders to retool their leadership abilities.

But we all can.

It’s actually very simple, but it’s not always easy.

Easy or not, many of us are upgrading our leadership constitutions. We’re leading in times of extraordinary change; many believe it’s now or never. Many of us are self-authoring the greatest chapters of our leadership story.

Many C-suite execs have been working on their own personal retooling for many years, transforming themselves. As a result, they are amplifying the impact they have on their team, their families and their organization. They are leading differently at work and at home – it shows and it’s working.

They are building momentum towards a culture where curiosity, openness, understanding, wise risk-taking, agility, creativity, commitment and accountability become embedded in “the way we do things around here.”

These transformational leaders have chosen to engage in an ongoing mutual process of learning to raise one another up and shifting to a culture (a new system) with higher standards and higher levels of purpose, relationship and performance in order to more quickly and effectively get to the complex problem solving together.

But they were probably born for this, right? They probably have more time to work on that kind of stuff than we do. Their situation is probably different; they are different; they are special and gifted in the magical secrets that we don’t have access to.

Probably not. They are not unicorns and there are no shortcuts.

They have simply adopted new lifestyle habits that strengthen their transformation leadership muscles. We all have these muscle groups, but they haven’t all been developed yet. We all have the gift. We all have the same amount of time. With deliberate, purposeful, intensely focused practice (embedded in the way we work and schedule our days), these new muscles have helped them see more + work better + feel stronger in the face of transformation challenges. That’s how adult development works. If we want the elevated performance benefits of vertical learning we have to train in the same way that high-performance athletes develop their muscles to respond differently. Transformation leaders have been training their muscles to be transformation-fit, like Navy SEALs train to be SEALFIT . It’s a form of integrated training with specific, sustainable, lifestyle performance goals in mind.

Transformation (innovation) leaders have learned to get better at letting go of their biases and default/reactive habits in favor of greater awareness leading to resourceful, more effective habits. They have learned to respond more creatively, more collaboratively, more adaptively and more curiously. They don’t respond perfectly every time, but they recover more quickly now and they respond better more often (than yesterday) and, more importantly, when it matters most. They’ve learned to manage polarities and leverage the simple rules that drive complexity better. They have learned to use power differently and play the long game better. They’ve learned to let go of their addiction to old success formulas, dominant power structures and outdated leadership paradigms that have limited the visibility of all their options/choices/possibilities holding their teams back and holding their organizations and strategy hostage for far too long.

They have chosen to be more ready to lead change than others. They have chosen to be more ready to “mobilize for the fourth industrial revolution – It’s now or never,” proclaims the cover of KPMG’s CEO Outlook 2016. The summary headlines in this CEO report are echoed everywhere – in every forward-looking body of research: “The next three years are business critical. Industries are transforming faster than ever before. Innovation is a matter of time. Customer focus and investment will increase.”

It’s never going to be this slow again. Transformation is no longer just a business practice. It has become a way of life – a lifestyle choice for leaders in the new normal.

Are we ready to embrace transformation leadership and innovation as life? The more of us who are ready, the further we all get.

In our lifetime and our children’s lifetime , it will always be time to “chop wood and carry water.”

It’s time to fall in love with the process.

It’s time to train.

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