Recently I stumbled upon the popular reality TV show Duck Dynasty. Now I am not from the south, I have never been hunting, and I am certainly not a “redneck,” but the adventures of the Robertson clan, who became wealthy from their family-operated business Duck Commander, had me hooked fifteen minutes into my first episode. As someone who spends a great amount of time in conversation with families and studying family owned businesses, there is much to glean from the weekly adventures of the Robertson clan. What I found most interesting is how the Robertson’s relational style, which from the outside might seem a bit tumultuous but after closer viewing can best be described as open and supportive, might be the main contributing factor to what is now not just a wildly successful duck call business, but a very lucrative media empire.
In the latest Interdisciplinary Journal of Family Studies, researchers argue that families characterized by high conversation orientation and moderate conformity orientation, or in other words, families like the Robertson’s that like to talk to each other and are willing to break some rules along the way, tend to be supportive business families and are associated with the highest levels of innovativeness in family-controlled firms. The researchers write that family-operated firms that have an open communication style that features unrestrained discussion and is inclusive to all family members will have participative strategic processes, reduced relational conflicts, and enhanced innovativeness. On the other hand, families that have an emphasis on conformity to parental authority and make decisions without input from all family members will be heading up firms where innovation is inhibited.
So do not let the beards and the camouflage fool you. These unlikely entrepreneurs have discovered in the swamps of Louisiana the secret of innovation, and it can be found around the Robertson’s dinner table at the end of each episode.
Sciascia, Salvatore, et al. “Family communication and innovativeness in family firms.” Family Relations 62.3 (2013): 429-442.
I would like to make a suggestion for the next time you have to decide which sales training or leadership development seminar you need to send your sales or management team. Scrap the traditional approaches for a moment and send them all to an improvisation class. Yes, an improvisation class.
Many people view improvisation as the domain of actors or comedians but in reality all of us are improvising some of the time. Improvising requires spontaneity, becoming comfortable with the unexpected, breaking from a script, and not following the rules. Unfortunately in many organizations and businesses, communication and relational practices have become the opposite of the unscripted nature of improvisation, or what human learning and development expert Lois Holzman describes as “old performances.”
Just one look at some of the core principles of improvisation gives one the idea why these relational resources would be good for any organization that may be struggling in the areas of leadership development, sales management, or employee engagement:
1. Make everyone else look good
2. Allow yourself to be changed by what is said and what happens
3. Co-create a shared “agenda”
4. Be fully present and engaged
5. Keep the energy going
6. Seek the good of the whole
7. There are no mistakes
8. Be prepared
9. Yes, and.. (Acknowledge the moment, look to the future)
According to Holzman improvisation is an activity of collaboration, transformation, and discovery that invites people to work with everyone and everything in a continuous creative process. Improvisation creates a learning environment where participants begin to embrace the unexpected, take risks, build with others, and interact in new and creative ways. So the next time you are looking through the stack of training brochures deciding where the next training will happen. Maybe a look at your local theatre company’s website should be included.
Yesterday I was with a client who is a budding entrepreneur and the subject of networking came up. She was about to leave a job where she was in the company of many people, and where opportunities to travel and expand her network were plentiful. She was going to leave all of this to begin her start-up in her apartment and was becoming aware of, and concerned about, the isolation she might face. I also held concern of the effects isolation may have on her. It is my experience that those things that derail entrepreneurial dreams, grow stronger in isolation.
There’s a long sustained myth in western culture of the solo entrepreneur toiling away in his garage alone, marketing product, navigating the perils of competition, and then reaching the heights of success, all as an individual. But if you were to ask any entrepreneur, this is not how it happens. If they were honest with you, they would tell you stories of generous help and support, all along the way. So where does this idea that you have to do it alone, or that asking for help is a sign of weakness come from?
I blame John Wayne. Sorry to bash an iconic Orange County figure but the myth of rugged individualism, born out of western culture and sustained by modern media, has isolated many and has not told the real story how organizations, communities, or entrepreneur’s develop. It is through cooperation, social support, and standing together that people and organizations really thrive. Ask anybody that was on a real wagon train back in the day.
Or check the research. Evidence from more than 30 years of research suggests a profound relationship between social participation and human well-being. It has been shown that people who hold meaningful roles in supportive social contexts live longer, get sick less often, suffer less disability, and recover faster from life-threatening events (Letcher & Perlow, 2009) Yes, stepping out of isolation, or ideas of rugged individualism, have life sustaining effects. Ready to ask for help now? I hope so.
So my client and I began to survey the many social/networking groups, and social media opportunities, that exist in Orange County where she may find fellow entrepreneurs to share her doubts, fears, victories, and walk shoulder to shoulder with, as she begins this wonderful, creative adventure.
Orange County is a center of high achievement, entrepreneurial accomplishment, and all the trappings that come with material success. So it should come as no surprise that a piece of my practice includes working with clients who are struggling with the problem of perfection, and the bad effects it brings into lives. It is my experience that people struggling with perfection are left with two alternatives, all–or nothing. It is also my experience that these two options offered by perfection, either leaves people exhausted, or experiencing stuck-ness and suspended creativity. In other words, perfection has the ability to remove the joy from life, regardless of the amount of success a person achieves.
According to Stephen Madigan Ph.D., perfection masks itself in the world of attitudes of excellence and high achievement. Madigan believes that although perfection is unattainable, we are bombarded with messages regularly via various culturally institutions that tell us we are not measuring up, and that we should continue to pursue perfection with even more energy, leaving the people who struggle with perfection with a life experience of “not good enough.”
As an entrepreneur myself who has experienced high achievement and material prosperity I appreciate people giving their best, the experience of success, directed passion, and lessons that come with these endeavors. But when perfection shows up and begins to diminish our accomplishments and tells us we need to do more, it is time to take action to get free from perfection’s influence. Madigan offers several considerations, in the form of questions that might help someone struggling with perfection to begin to see its effects, how it works, and then get a bit of distance from its influence.
In what ways does perfection work to blind you to your achievements as a person, parent, employee, and partner?
In what ways has perfection given you a less-than-worthy idea of yourself?
In what ways have you been trained and pressured into ideas of perfection even thought perfection is not possible?
Are the pressures of perfection any different between men and women?
Excelling in business, sports, or working passionately in our respective communities and circles of influence are wonderful things. But if the joy of participating in these activities is being drained away by the influence of perfection, it might be time to take a closer look at how perfection is manufactured in our lives, and then how it might begin to be dissolved.
Reference: Madigan, S. (2011). Narrative Therapy. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
I am currently watching CNBC and the DOW is down another 300 points. The riots in London continue unabated, and all this after the debt ceiling fiasco in Washington that lowered government approval ratings to all time lows. Will the bad news ever end?
Its times like these that we might find ourselves in need of a little hope.
According to Kaethe Weingarten Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, hope is not an individualistic endeavor, a tool you have to muster up on your own, but rather something that can be done with others. I like this approach to hope because it is my experience that hopelessness has a tendency to isolate those it afflicts. Weingarten also offers ways to do hope that I think are helpful and would like to share with you in these difficult times:
The number one task is to resist isolation. Withdrawing from others only feeds hopelessness.
Refuse Indifference. Hope is the responsibility of the community. Small actions matter and ripple out in ways we can never predict.
Do hope together. Encouraging and supporting others to resist the powerful pull of fear and hate goes a long way toward building hope in ourselves and others.
Avoid John Wayne syndrome. Individuals are notoriously prone to despair. Asking for help does not equal failure.
Doing hope together is an approach, attitude and collaborative enterprise. Weingarten believes hope is a resource; we hoard it at our peril. Many readers of this blog may find themselves better positioned to imagine hope for those whose resources have been depleted. In these scary times where it may seem like fear and anger dominate the scene. Hope is the crucial antidote.
This week I wanted to share this inspiring clip that reminds us again that in these uncertain economic times, no matter what might happen, there are always possibilities.
Are you living your dream?
Recently I found myself in an airport bookstore looking for something to read as I was about to board a plane for a five hour trip to the east coast. Typically I avoid the rotating volumes of business advice that are part and parcel of all airport bookstores, but this day my attention was captured by a row of a recently released publication professing the “hidden power of story.”As someone with a counseling and consulting practice centered on narrative and narrative inquiry, I bought the book.
Peter Gruber’s new book Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story argues that purposeful stories can lead to purposeful action. Gruber spends a good portion of the book giving examples of how story has played out in his quite successful business career, and he gives plenty of examples of how many other well known entrepreneurs, CEO’s, and politicians have used meaningful story to reach high levels of success. Gruber believes that story with meaning is the missing link in business and these kinds of stories are the building blocks of personal connections which can lead to the emotional reactions that will drive word of mouth or help close the deal.
I was also happy to see that that Gruber, unlike many authors, spent some time in his book taking on hidden backstories and their potential to be ticking time bombs. Although Gruber comes at it from the perspective of what a negative story can do to the audiences impression of you or your product or business, he does show how the psychological narrative has effects that need to be recognized so that you may avoid sabotage and instead use this backstory as a powerful ally leading to professional advantage.
In my work a guiding belief is that if people can change the stories they tell about their lives, change in their actual lives can happen. This idea of backstory was interesting to me because I am always curious about what is not said by the people that consult with me. Most business books frustrate me because they seem to be more interested in cheerleading, and supplanting negative stories, rather than recognizing that often coexisting with a success story is a problem story that has derailed many careers, and caused business failures because it has not been attended to appropriately.
I am excited to see that storytelling and the power of narrative are now beginning to gain wider attention in the business and professional development community. Gruber’s book directs our attention to the art and function of storytelling in an entertaining fashion and I believe it to be worth the time. But I am still waiting for that business or professional development book that takes on the problem story and how it’s produced in so many of the people I meet.
Anybody that has been to business school, or was forced to attend a strategy seminar or workshop, is familiar with the SWOT tool for strategic planning. The SWOT process is known for uncovering negative issues and focusing on the problems which need to receive the most attention. As you can see below, the SWOT analysis can create a mind-set that is problem focused:
Strengths: Internal attributes of the organization that are helpful to achieving the objective.
Weaknesses: Internal attributes of the organization that are harmful to achieving the objective.
Opportunities: External conditions that are helpful to achieving the objective.
Threats: External conditions which could do damage to the business’ performance.
Going from SWOT to SOAR is moving from a problem focus to a strengths based inquiry. The SOAR process is based on appreciative inquiry and shifts to a more positive focus. Where SWOT focuses on fixing what’s wrong, SOAR focuses on increasing what’s right as well as finding and capitalizing on strengths that will create preferred outcomes:
Strengths: What are we really good at?
Opportunities: How can we magnify and take advantage of our collective strengths?
Aspirations: If we could wave our magic wand…
Results: What can we make tangibly possible?
Those with knowledge of positive psychology might be in familiar territory with the SOAR approach. SOAR is built on the idea that positive imaging drives positive actions. SOAR is a positive and realistic strategy development concept, a bottom-line tool that can increase profit, production, and attract and retain talent. The SOAR process is built on the idea that:
What we ask determines what we find.
What we find determines how we talk.
How we talk determines how we imagine together.
How we imagine determines what we achieve together.
SOAR is a participatory process that involves the whole organization. SOAR is collaborative, strengths-based, honorable, and inclusive, and offers a much greater opportunity to move your organization to a successful future.
In my next post I will cover the Appreciative Inquiry “5-I” process to help get you started.
In my counseling practice I am currently working with two budding entrepreneurs. Both of these new business builders are starting companies in similar fields, and both of these talented individuals have often found themselves struggling with the F-word.
When working with clients who are struggling with the problem of fear I am always interested in helping people get space from the overwhelming effects of fear which can include diminished initiative and blocked vision. It is my hope that we may collaborate in an examination of how to take a stand against fear, and begin to move toward preferred goals. Stephen Madigan who has been writing about narrative practice for years says that fear has the ability to create a dialogue that is ongoing, insidious, and irrational. He also believes that fear can create a “horror film” out of our worst nightmares, paralyzing all our best ideas and thwarting any attempts at fulfilling our hopes and dreams. According to Madigan it is fear’s goal to get you to see all the ways you will mess up your life, meet with failure, and how you should just quit before you start.
In my counseling role I use narrative practice to help to get distance from fear by the following process;
Begin to ask how fear has been influenced, manufactured, and maintained over time;
Question what aspects of the social environment might be assisting in strengthening fear’s influence;
Ask questions that bring forward moments and stories where fear was resisted and successfully taken on;
Strengthen the preferred self apart from the influence of fear;
Begin to recruit others who would stand with those that are in the process of taking on fear.
Through deconstructing questioning of how fear operates, it has been my experience that people begin to tell a different story about fear. Rather than the old story where fear has made goals unattainable or told my budding entrepreneurs that they are just dreamers and they should not really try. The new stories include tales of personal agency, and the hard won experience of “walking through” fear, which creates an alternative story free of the overpowering influence of fear, leading to preferred goals.
Asking the right questions in your organization, non-profit, or team can change everything. The traditional questions that tend to be asked in organizations are diagnostic questions. These types of questions are deficit based and lead to a problem based, problem focused culture. The alternative to this type of focus is questions that are strength based and lead to engagement and positive energy.
The trick to driving innovation in any type of organization is to craft questions that S.O.A.R (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, results).
S.O.A.R questions lead to revolutionary partnerships and revolutionary partnerships do things radically different together. These partnerships are not only different, but quicker and share common focus while leveraging each other’s diverse strengths. These types of positive partnerships also establish new ways of doing business that are based on trust, mutual respect and shared vision.
A couple of sample questions that could begin to uncover the hidden strengths and positive innovation in your organization could include:
A. Tell me about a time when you experienced positive energy that was infectious. What was the situation? What created the positive energy? How did it feel to be a part of it? What did you learn?
B. If positive energy were the flame of the organization, how would you spark it? How would you fuel it to keep it burning bright?
When crafting questions that lead to innovation and positive engagement, its best to keep close to your team’s experience. This can be done by making sure your questions consist of three parts.
•Positive Preface—a topic intro
•A question to evoke a story from the person/team’s/org’s history
•A question to evoke/help give voice to their best images of future
According to David Cooperrider the creator of Appreciative Inquiry, organizations work best when they are vibrant, alive and fun. People can feel when the “joint is jumping!” You can sense that the spirit of the organization is vital and healthy and that people feel pride in their work. In engaged organizations everyone builds on each other’s successes, a positive can do attitude is infectious and the glow of success is shared. What’s more, this positive energy is appreciated and celebrated so it deepens and lasts. S.O.A.R questions lead to this type of positive, innovative culture. Give it a try.