Archive for December, 2011

Friday Humor: So Much to do, so Little Time

Posted: December 30, 2011 by Alison in Just For Fun

By Mike Myatt

Believe it or not, there is a downside to anything labeled best practices. Even though I will from time-to-time slip and refer to something as best practices, I am attempting to extricate that phrase from my vocabulary. I have actually come to cringe every time I hear someone use the phrase in an authoritarian manner as a justification for the position they happen to be evangelizing. One of the most common reasons for pursuing best practices in a given area is to avoid having to “reinvent the wheel.” Think about it like this – if nobody ever reinvented the wheel, we’d still be riding around on wooden rims. One of the most difficult areas for executives to wrap their mind around is how to unlearn legacy based thinking. Maintenance doesn’t lead you forward – creation does. In today’s column I’ll ask you to consider my arguments for disregarding the myth of best practices.

Let me begin with a bold statement that I’m sure will unleash the wrath of many: “There is no such thing as best practices.” The reality is best practices are nothing more than disparate groups of methodologies, processes, rules, concepts and theories that have had success in certain areas, and because of those successes, have been deemed as universal truths able to be applied anywhere and everywhere. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true. Moreover, just because “Company A” had success with a certain initiative doesn’t mean that “Company B” can plug-and-play the same process and expect the same outcome. There is always room for new thinking and innovation, or at least there should be.


by Manage Better Now

I think this is just my week to sit through bad presentations. Earlier in the week I sat in on a presentation where the presenter committed what I would consider a presentation atrocity. We were in a large rectangular room, and the presenter was at one end, and the audience ran the length of the room. In total the room had about 30 people in it. Not an auditorium, but certainly a large boardroom. I was fairly close to the presenter and I cringed when I saw his second slide. On his second slide, he had to have had about a dozen bullet points in size 12 font. Maybe I am getting old, but I am not sure that I could have read that slide if I were standing a directly in front of the screen. When I saw the slide I was certainly concerned about the presenter’s ability to keep my interest, but his words absolutely horrified me:

“I’m sorry, I know you can’t read but I will tell you what it says.”

I am truly not sure what he said after that as I started pondering why someone would have a slide that they know the audience would not be able to see or gather any information from. What was the value of that slide? Why would you do that to your audience?

Please do not write complete sentences on your slides. Please do not bullet point your complete sentences. Please do not use size 12 font in a presentation ever. Size 24 is about as small as you can go, and that has to be in a small room. Bigger the room, the bigger the font generally as a rule. I am slowly evolving away from bullet points all together. I still use them occasionally, but not very frequently. I find that images have a much bigger impact and keep the audience engaged. If you use compelling images, and perhaps even a little bit of humor then the audience is literally on the edge of their seat waiting for the next slide.

To recap, here are the presentation lessons I have had reinforced upon me this week:

Try not to use bullet points and use images instead. On your next presentation replace one slide of bulleted information with an image that conveys your message. Trust me it works.

Limit each slide to one major point. Don’t try to cram 12 points on one slide.

Never go below size 24 font. If you can’t fit your message on the page then you have too much text. Cut it down.

Don’t read the text from your slide to your audience, ever. It gives the appearance that you don’t know the material.

Put yourself in the place of your audience. What is the major point that you want them to get from your presentation? Respect them, respect their time, and grab their attention.

via Go Big or Go Home (5 Presenting Rules You Should Never Break) « Manage Better Now.

By Nando Pelusi, Ph.D.

When dealing with difficult people, our immediate urge is to jump to our own defense. Today, there are smarter moves to make when dealing with a tyrant.

Some people go to extraordinary lengths to be difficult. Think of the diva actress whose on-set needs can never be met or the boss who keeps moving the goal posts. The difficult person elevates the deliberate provocation to an art form. The underlying message is often, “Unless you agree with me and go along, you’ll regret it.”

One clue that a person is attempting to intimidate or manipulate you is the use of unpredictable, or protean, behavior—acts that are random and seemingly out of the blue. A dictator keeps his minions guessing—and scared. Some forms of despotism are much subtler: Duke Ellington was known for provoking heated rivalries and feuds among his bandmates in the belief that such strife would make the music hotter.

Erratic behavior is a powerful weapon because it defies accurate prediction. Often, the behavior comes as a surprise even to the person generating it.

Flying into a rage or staring you down and dismissing you summarily are common strategies to keep you off-kilter. Unpredictable actions serve the purpose of confusing potential usurpers and avoiding responsibility. Your boss freaks out, throws things and yells. Some might call him irrational. But the irrationality gives him a leg up.

Erratic behavior served adaptive ends in our past, and it still does. Just as a minnow might cut a zigzagging path to avoid being snapped up by a larger fish, the boss alternately screams and stonewalls to avoid having her motives laid bare.

Protean behavior evolved to prevent people from being psyched out. That’s not to say that fickle acts are always openly hostile and aggressive. The difficult person can just as easily be solicitous or seductive: Think of femme fatales from biblical Judith to Mata Hari. Unpredictable behavior is at heart about deception, and it’s just as likely to be unconscious as conscious.

If such behavior comes from a boss or a spouse, you’ve got some tricky choices to make. There are several problems confronting you at once, since you’re juggling competing goals. Your ego tells you to stick up for yourself, but you want to avoid an unnecessary argument.

Usually we can’t resist getting riled up in our own defense. The ease with which we fall into dueling dyads is a remnant of a “culture of honor” that most of our ancestors needed to adopt. Our neural circuitry equips us to immediately jump to our own defense. The Neanderthink urge to rectify an injustice kicks in automatically, lest we accept abject defeat. The immediacy of the “me versus you” and “us versus them” reaction hinders a more intelligent and considered response.

We usually regret having charged into battle—or at least we wonder what we were thinking. And that’s just it: We weren’t thinking. An emotional reaction bypasses thoughtful deliberation. No rational person today would engage in an argument with a random person on the street. But if someone bumps into us, blocks our way or otherwise wants to hassle us, our immediate inclination is to freeze, fight or flee. Similarly, our immediate response to the verbal slights or manipulative barbs of a difficult person is often to fight back. Your immediate reaction is, “I can’t stand this crazy, insulting behavior.”

We too quickly jump to our own defense when we feel insulted. We do so because we have evolved a hypervigilant concern for our standing among peers. This focus on status makes sense as a play for dominance and power, qualities that translate into real mating options. The need to retain status is an example of Neanderthink. This knee-jerk demand for status can push us to get outraged and to lose focus on larger goals, such as keeping your job or your mate. We want to prove that we are correct—but doing it angrily and intolerantly can hinder your major objectives. Dominance at every turn is good, but not a necessity.

Still, we’re so captivated by displays of dominance that we pay boxers millions of dollars to watch them square off and even pay to see professional wrestlers play-act a power struggle.

This is not to say that everyone has the immediate urge to lash out in self-defense. Some people freeze when confronted with criticism, telling themselves, “I must not be criticized” or “I must be above criticism.” Temporary paralysis in response to a physical threat may once have kept you alive; but freezing in the face of a verbal onslaught won’t help you make your case.

To cope with a difficult person, you need to learn to question your automatic defensive philosophies, such as “I will not be treated that way; I won’t let you get away with this” and “My reputation is on the line if I fail.”

Resisting the trap set by difficult people is easier if you’re aware of your vulnerability to getting hurt and then feeling angry. That tendency is a vestige of Neanderthink, because there was a time when your status was more closely linked to life or death than it is today.

Better to check your fight, flight or freeze reactions and refuse to be a part of a duel in which you’re an inadvertent participant. Sure, you need to stand up for yourself, but do so without demanding that you be above criticism at all costs. Remind yourself of your long-range goals: saving time, energy, hassle and maybe even your own hide.

Staying Rational When Confronting the Difficult Person
  1. If you’re required to respond to an irrational attack, ask the antagonist what exactly he is upset about, in order to show that you are interested in communicating rather than in arguing. The burden of responsibility is now back on the antagonist.
  2. After the unreasonable salvo, go ahead and agree with a kernel of truth in the complaint. You’ll overcome your own Neanderthink impulse to jump into the fray by looking for that one small fact about which the critic is correct—and then agreeing with that single point. Your boss calls you a screw-up. Ask, “In what way did I screw up?” If she says, “You just are a screw up,” agree with one discreet example (if it is accurate), but correct her overgeneralization.
  3. You can more easily and tactfully defend yourself once the emotional heat has abated. Say your boss says, “Again, you’re totally screwing up.” You can defend without a defensive tone: “It is true that I made a mistake, and I appreciate constructive feedback to minimize errors in the future.” Stand up for yourself by reiterating the specific error, but refuse to be incorrectly labeled a screw-up.
  4. Offer to the difficult person your best guess as to what he or she is feeling, and ask for feedback. “It sounds like you’re angry right now, and I’m sorry about that.” This demonstrates a willingness to understand the difficult person’s frustration without blame or defensiveness.
  5. Resist the urge to fight to win the argument. Listening and asking questions leads others to their own better conclusions. This process is known as the Socratic method. Although it didn’t ultimately help Socrates, today’s laws are a bit more enlightened—so it might help you.


Philip Glass, the contemporary composer, works on his new compositions only between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. That’s the time, he says, when his creative ideas come to him. When filmmaker George Lucas needs to write or edit a script, he sequesters himself in a small cottage behind his house where he gets no calls or visitors.

A lesson in managing creativity can be found in the work discipline of such inventive geniuses: A protected bubble in time and space fosters the imaginative spirit.

That notion challenges some prevailing wisdom–particularly the assumption that upping the pressure on workers will squeeze more innovative thinking out of them. Many managers assume that just calling people into a high-demand brainstorming session will get everyone’s best ideas out on the table.

That is dead wrong, according to new research on the creative process. In a knowledge economy, where competitive advantage comes from leveraging the most innovative ideas and executing them well, leaders at every level would do well to reflect on these findings.

In a study led by Teresa Amabile, a director of research at the Harvard Business School, researchers asked more than 1,000 knowledge workers–members of research-and-development, marketing and information-technology teams–to keep daily diaries. This data trove revealed a disconnect between how managers think they can best support creative efforts, and how those who are actually making the efforts assess what helps them most.

Small Wins Count

When the researchers asked managers to name the most effective ways they could encourage creativity, the most frequent response was praising people for good work. When they asked the workers themselves, the No. 1 carrot turned out to be providing ongoing managerial support of their daily progress. Only 5 percent of managers got this right. Daily progress toward a large goal, even small wins, primes positive moods and catalyzes creativity, the Harvard study found.

Members of creative project teams also described the most common ways managers unwittingly undermine creative work. These ranged from dismissing an idea out of hand to ignoring suggestions to torpedoing an employee’s creative project, for instance through an abrupt reassignment or a cavalier change of mind. The researchers advised managers to set clear goals and then let people accomplish them in their own ways.

Aha Moment

The Harvard researchers also recommended that supervisors protect workers’ time and resources so they can have periods of sustained focus on their projects. This advice–to manage staff time well–is supported by new brain research that reveals what happens at the moment of Aha! Joy Bhattacharya at the University of London has found that in the moments just before a creative insight, the mind is typically relaxed and open to new ideas, as indicated by an alpha brain wave.

As the Aha! approaches, there’s an abrupt shift marked by high gamma-wave activity. This indicates that far-flung neural circuits are connecting in a new network. A third of a second after the peak of this activity, a novel idea floats into the mind.

This finding indicates that creative insights can’t be concocted on demand; they need to ripen. The first step in the creative process typically involves immersion in the problem and current thinking, and then gathering any information that might be relevant. But in the next stage, intense effort should give way to letting what is known as the “cognitive unconscious” work on the problem by making novel connections.

Constant distractions interrupt the mental space where creative insights simmer. That’s why so many Aha! moments come in the relaxed space of downtime — when we’re doing something other than tensing to be creative.

Lessons From Google

Anyone whose work involves strategic thinking can learn something from the findings. The usual method for devising a competitive strategy is to come up with an idea and then analyze its value. The trouble is, no one tells you how to come up with that idea in the first place.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who created the innovative search formula that became the basis of Google Inc. (GOOG), know something about that process. They have instituted Google’s famous once-a-week day for employees to work exclusively on their pet creative projects. Long before Google existed, 3M set aside 15 percent of employee time for the same thing.

Another trendsetter was Xerox PARC, the legendary Silicon Valley research center known for insulating its creative staff from competitive pressures and giving them time to reflect, explore and collaborate. Xerox PARC is the birthplace of a plethora of computer-age basics including laser printing and the graphical user interface that gave us windows and icons.

In a day when the use of innovative ideas provides a competitive edge, it’s good to understand how squeezing time and people can unwittingly squelch creativity, hurting an organization’s future. The best advice for someone who manages innovative thinkers is to nurture the conditions where creative ideas can flow most freely.