Fail Forward Like a Baby

I’ve taken a lesson in failure from my fourteen month old baby daughter. She does fail forward with the best of them. I know “fail forward” is a bit of a controversial maxim. With all that I’ve heard and read on both sides, I think it’s primarily a semantic argument. So, whatever your thoughts on the maxim, my daughter’s pretty smart.

THE BABY STORY

She’s walking now.  That’s new.  Just a few short weeks ago, she couldn’t really even stand on her own.  She needed something to pull herself up by, to hold on to. Once she’d gotten good at “cruising,” walking around while holding onto furniture, I could see she wanted to walk unsupported.  She wanted to try out what everyone else was doing.  She’d hold on to a chair or coffee table and step away, going as far as she could while still holding on.  She’d look at me across the room.  She’d stretch and strain to reach me.  Then she’d let go, sit down, and crawl the rest of the way.

There was something she wanted to do but couldn’t.  She didn’t get frustrated.  She just kept trying.  Every day, she stretched a bit further.  Her grip on the furniture got a little lighter.  She stretched far enough one day that only the tips of her fingers grazed the tabletop before she sat down to crawl.  She smiled.

Soon after that, she climbed onto her toy chest.  After sitting there for a few moments, she pushed herself up onto her hands and feet, her rump in the air, and then she straightened.  And there she stood, atop the box, grinning from ear to ear, triumphant.  She balanced there, on this small box, with nowhere she could go.  But she balanced there, for thirty seconds.  Then she looked around like she wanted to take a step.  All around her, though, there were edges.  She sat down, unfazed.

“Our failures can be inspiring. And if that’s true, then certainly our victories, no matter how small can be extra inspiring. But only if we notice them.”

Then, I came home one day and sat on the sofa.  She turned from the nearby chair she was holding onto and fell forward into the hands I held out to her. And she giggled like a fiend.  What was new here was that she’d mustered the guts to go for it.  She giggled with the thrill of it.  As she fell, headlong into my hands, she’d moved her feet – step, step, step – making this a kind of walk-fall.  Her body was almost horizontal by the third step.  It really was more fall than walk.  She said, “more.”  And so I picked her up, and she repeated her fall, stepping as she toppled like a felled tree.  “More.” Lift.  Step. Fall.  “More.”  Lift.  Step. Fall.  “More.” Again and again.  Giggle-fest.

After doing this for a couple of days, she stopped, and spent her time instead crawling. Then, one day, she stood and established her balance.  With spoon held aloft like a cheerleader’s baton and shouting something that sounded like “go,” she took six solid steps forward.

As she’s learned to walk a city block at a time without falling down, she’s been a dogged student of one step after another.  When she falls, she gets back up.  When she falls hard, she cries for a few seconds, then gets back up.  She smiles a lot.  Sometimes she laughs about it all.

A FAIL FORWARD PERSPECTIVE: Everything Is An Offer

There is a principal in improv – Everything is an offer. That means we can take inspiration from anything, because there’s information in every interaction, every event, every failure and every victory. Our failures can be inspiring. And if that’s true, then certainly our victories, no matter how small can be extra inspiring. But only if we notice them. Everything is an offer.

I’ve taken a lesson from my daughter about failure. That’s another example of taking everything as an offer. She’s offered me an approach to my own failures. Humor, celebration, shrug. On my best days, I accept that offer completely.

FAIL FORWARD with a “Yay for failing!”

Another principal we teach our clients in the training we offer is celebration of failure. It only takes a moment. “Yay.” Then, as my business partner says,” we’re moving on with our lives.” Instead of self-recrimination or frustration or shame, I can choose a chuckle in response to a fall. Heck, like my daughter does, I can choose a giggle. And, like my daughter does, I can immediately reboot and try again, enriched by the lessons from my failure.

The difference between my daughter and me – aside from the obvious – is that she’s really good at noticing tiny advances in her skill. She really celebrates her micro-victories.

We set goals for ourselves with the best of intensions, but that all too often don’t work out:

  • I’m going to lose weight.
  • I’m going to exercise more.
  • I’m going to double my numbers at work.
  • I’m going to increase my call rate.
  • I’m going to improve my close rate.
  • I’m going to expand my network of business contacts.
  • I’m going to finish what I start.
  • I’m going to curb my temper.
  • I’m going to read more.
  • I’m going to learn a new skill.
  • I’m going to spend more time with my family.

But these things are easier said than done.  And it’s not just that these are difficult things to accomplish.  They’re difficult things to muster our will to even attempt.

Force-of-will motivation doesn’t work.  Getting yourself pumped is short lived. Guilt-tripping yourself into action is painful and ineffective.

Why doesn’t my daughter give up after days of trying to walk? She doesn’t dwell on the falls. She focuses on the passionate desire to walk. And, she relishes the tiny victories. She celebrates each incremental improvement with gusto.

When I allow myself to do the same, my goals are more ambitious. I learn and improve quickly. My victories are many. And, I make things happen. I’m driven by passion that’s not dampened by fear of failure. I’m undaunted by shame and frustration at the hiccups along the way. And I’m encouraged by every incremental triumph as a promise of greater success to come.

TRY THIS ON

  • Celebrate failure.
  • Dust yourself off.
  • Yay for failing.
  • Notice tiny triumphs.
  • Enjoy the growth and relish the learning.
  • Everything is an offer.
  • Keep going.


Make "Work Haters" an Endangered Species

Altogether too many people hate their jobs. Company cultures have a lot to overcome. My facebook feed is littered with people griping about their bosses, complaining about customers, and using “TGIF” like a clarion call to freedom. But the freedom is short lived. Do a quick google image search for “Monday.”

  • “I hate Mondays.”
  • “If Monday had a face, I’d punch it.”
  • “Look on the bright side… At least Mondays only happen once a week.”
  • “My week: Monday, Monday 2, Monday 3, Monday 4, Friday, Saturday, Pre-Monday.”

Apparently, Monday has a lot of detractors. If you haven’t thought about this before, think about it now. TGIF Monday haters are not giving their employers their best. With those beliefs about workdays, how could they?

But it’s not their fault. I blame culture. I blame schools. I blame, “Yabadabadoo!”

However we got here, we must take back the world of work. Work can be good. For more and more of us, work is good. And we’re learning about how business thrives when workers view work as good. And an increasing number of companies are taking the need for work that’s good for workers seriously. Tech companies are early adopters of great company culture as a value. Infusionsoft, for instance, has gone so far as to hire a “Dream Manager,” whose job is to see to it that employees are attaining their dreams. Go, Dan Ralphs!

Some tech companies exist to serve the employees of other companies. Limeade, for example, sells whole-person wellness tech to companies nationwide to help them keep culture buoyant and employees happy and healthy. I recently recorded an interview with Dr. Laura Hamill, the Chief People Officer at Limeade. It was a great conversation about what makes for a great place to work, about how to get the most from your greatest resource — your people — and about company culture. (You’re going to want to listen to that podcast episode when we release it.)

Dr. Hamill says, “Culture is an employment benefit.” Culture is an increasingly important component of recruitment, engagement, and retention efforts in the best companies in the world. Workers are coming to demand great culture. And as Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The Yes Works is also in the business of engineering and supporting great company culture. Our clients know people matter. Habits of interaction matter. Relationships matter.

Culture lives in relationship habit.

What are great business relationship habits? To us at The Yes Works, a great business relationship is marked by health and synergy: the ability for those within the relationship to produce more, better work within the relationship than they would have been able to produce without it, and the ability and the likelihood to continue doing so into the future. Applying principles of theater improv can strengthen and enliven business relationships — within a company, with clients, with vendors, and with your network at large.

Improv is rich relationship soil with many components. Just ask Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo. He recommends that you, “Manage your company like an improv group.“The following four principles constitute a powerful first glance into improv for business. Take a deep breath before you proceed. This is simple stuff… Each principle is simple. Even taken together as the beginning of a system, it’s simple. But simple don’t make it easy. As you engage with these ideas, consider what you recognize — for better and for worse — in yourself and your work relationships. This is personal. Let it be.

 

Yay for Failing: It’s temporary, inevitable, and full of useful information.

Nobody likes to go down in a flaming blaze of nope. Essentially, there are two ways that people respond to a TRY and MISS: Some people tuck their tails between their legs and have trouble afterward looking themselves in the eye. Others shrug, dust off, and try again. Thomas Edison, for instance, is reputed to have said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Imagine having a boss who thought that way about your work.

“Yay for Failing” is a perspective, not a celebration of accomplishing nothing. With a “Yay for failing” mentality, you can fall down hard and get back to work without a long mourning period and without shame. Shame is a serious enemy of productivity, contribution, and collaboration. Without fear of failure, people work with great intensity and a keen eye to purpose.

With a “Yay for failing” culture, created and lived by a “Yay for failing” leadership, nothing gets swept under the rug. Missed deadlines are not hidden, so timely adjustments can be made. Failures are acknowledged and reviewed for their lessons. Team members work transparently so others can learn from them, and so they can be effectively coached themselves.

It’s not often any individual failure that costs business time, money, and opportunity on a large scale. It’s failure to recognize failure early, and to respond to it healthfully, and to embrace each failure as a step on the path. And failure punished or ridiculed costs even more in abysmal morale, and diminished risk taking, and declining eagerness to contribute.

 

Got Your Back: We’re stronger, more resilient, and more capable together.

Working on a team or working alone, not one of us can do it on our own. We need support, insight, help, and encouragement from others no matter what our work is.

“Got Your Back” is a principle that gets deeper and more profound the more you use it. On the face of it, “Got Your Back” means I’ll help you out when you need it. Call on me, and I’ll be there. As a principle of improv, it means that I’m committed to making you, my team member, look good. It means I’ll back your play when the chips are down. It means I’ll anticipate your needs, by knowing you well. It means I’m always a servant to our shared purpose.

It means I’m looking for the gold in your contributions. If you’ve put forward an idea that could never work, would never work, you’ve put that idea forward with good intentions, and with wisdom. I’m on the lookout for the value within your intentions. We call that, “making sense of the non-sense.” As a result of my treasure hunting your idea, you feel good. You know you’re valued. You experience that your contributions matter. And the team’s purpose is advanced even by unworkable ideas. No intellectual capital goes to waste.

Too often, co-workers throw one another under the bus — in order to shift blame away from themselves, in order to look better by comparison, in order to play for self-advancement.

“Got Your Back” is an incomparable tool for an effective company culture of collaboration.

 

Everything Is an Offer: Our minds are designed to make associations that creatively address the problems we face without our even trying — if we give ourselves the freedom.  We are all natively creative problem solvers.

In improv, a living creation is built on a single idea — the first offer. We define an offer as anything at all that your mind can take inspiration from, associate with, and respond to. In other words, everything is an offer. Your brain responds to everything that you give attention to. Everything.

A speck of dust can become a marketing idea. If I say, “speck” out loud, that could lead you to think of the bacon-like Swiss cured meat, speck. If you give voice to that association, it may occur to me that we could find a way to take advantage of the popularity and viral nature of the bacon fad to sell our vacuum cleaners. (Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that using bacon to sell vacuums is a good idea.)

Too many of us live our lives believing, “I am not creative.” Non-sense. Each of us has creativity. Each of us makes different associations given the same stimulus. Permit yourself to value that association (and from “Got Your Back” above, also to the stimulus), and you’ll find your brain supplies you with boundless ideas. And each idea you express is stimulus — an offer — for someone else.

This kind of association won’t always lead you and your team in a straight line, but this is the stuff that breeds innovation. Defining your culture as one in which everything is an offer creates a fertile ground for association. Innovation is association plus execution.

 

Yes, And: Notice the power of acceptance — of your ideas, of others’ ideas — and the unstoppable creativity of every human mind.

Clearly, these principles have overlapping implications. The practice of “Yes, And” would have you accept that every offer has merit. Sometimes the merit is buried a bit.

In the workplace,  practicing “Yes, And” means that no ideas are dismissed. In communication, you would deliberately discipline yourself to make sense of the non-sense. To accept that the idea before you has merit, and to contribute your associations to the discussion. This is a concrete method of having your team mate’s back.

Here’s how that might play out. Gary comes to you with an idea for a new product line. “We should keep making vacuum cleaners, but make them single-use vacuum cleaners.” On the face of it, this sounds nuts. Who’s going to buy a single-use vacuum cleaner? If you tell Gary that his idea is stupid or that he sounds crazy, he’s going to stop contributing. He may even take his ideas to your competitor.

How could you employ “Yes, And”? The easiest way might be, “Ok (your yes). I don’t see it yet. Tell me more (your and).” As you advance with the skill of “Yes, And,” your response might be, “I like the way you’re thinking. That falls right in line with the conventional wisdom that to make lots of money you should sell something that people need, and that they’ll need to replace.” Gary will then likely get excited and tell you more about his idea. You may find that from his elaboration, you are able to glean some gold. As your skill becomes still more advanced, you might say, “There’s something to that! While I can’t see making all the vacuum components disposable in a way that’s environmentally sound or cost effective, I know that people do hate getting their hands dirty. With the vacuum industry going more and more bagless, touching the dust becomes a greater and greater problem for our customers. Let’s put our heads together to see if we can improve our user experience in that arena.”

 

So, simple, right? Simple, but challenging! Big-time challenging. But rewarding. Fulfilling, joy producing, and lucrative, to boot! And challenging.

That’s why when we work with teams, we promise, “No ineffective, powerpoint lecturing yak-yak.” Because, it’s one thing to understand this stuff, and it’s another thing altogether to put it into practice. In the exercises and activities we facilitate with the teams we support, participants PRACTICE. And PRACTICE again. We give each participant  many, many reps of practice in each hour we spend together. Because, reps build skills. Skills repeated build habits. Healthy habits make up healthy culture. And healthy culture is self-perpetuating.

Try using these principles yourself. Define these principles as a part of your company’s culture and ask your team to put them into play. If you find you cannot overcome the force of habit (bad habit) that prevents people from this kind of generous behavior (or if you see the potential and want your team to be great at employing it) call on The Yes Works to learn how we can help you create an improv culture in your company.


Surpass Your Goals Without Breaking a Sweat

Great Goals Are Bigger Than You

I’ve been looking back at my 2015, and in a life I’m proud of, this may be my best year yet for setting and reaching goals. I’ve watched and nurtured my baby daughter grow into a gregarious, curious, and precocious toddler. I’ve watched and nurtured our baby company grow, get noticed, and deliver on promised results for 100% of our clients — those that hired us for a 1 hour improv “taste”, and those that hired us for in-depth, multi-day training. I’ve met awesome people and established meaningful connections around the world and in sectors ranging from community service to industrial manufacturing giants to elite military trainers and beyond. I met and exceeded most of my goals and accomplished things I hadn’t even thought to dream of yet — and it was easy (in a way).

And it’s not because I’m great.

It’s because I’m finally starting to realize two truths on a deeper level than I ever have before. My daughter taught me. She’s twenty months old.

  • I can’t do it on my own.  And…
  • Humans like to help.

All the greatest strides I’ve made this year for myself and my company have come through the help of others. People all around me are bending over backwards to help. They always have been, though I haven’t always noticed, and haven’t always believed them. But get this. It’s true. They mean it. Just like I mean it when I offer to help. I take great satisfaction in being of service to others.

For instance… This week, I’ll cook a meal — big enough to provide tons of left-overs — for a friend. He’s launching a business and could use a no-fuss home-cooked meal so he can concentrate on the sprint he’s running. This year, I connected four job seekers with their dream employers because I could, and I wanted to see them succeed. I introduced podcast hosts whose work I enjoy to guests I know they’d value having on their shows. I did it because I like to help. And I’m not at all unusual. You probably get off on helping others too, even with no promise or likelihood of payback. It just feels good.

So, because I can’t do it on my own, I started accepting the help others were offering me more than I ever have before. Some of that help I paid for, as it came in the form of professional services rendered. In exchange for some of the help, however, I simply said, “thank you.”

This second lesson about how profoundly true it is that humans like to help, I learned only by fully embracing the first lesson: I can’t do it on my own. Like so many of us do, I played my goals close to my vest. I didn’t share the small ones. And I didn’t share the big ones. I didn’t share with many people where I was, and where I was hoping to get. So how could people possibly help me achieve my goals? Few people knew, so few even offered.

In 2015, I made a change. I started telling everyone (everyone) about my goals: large and small, personal and professional. I didn’t tell every person every goal. I wasn’t dramatic about it. I told everyone about at least one goal. And I told them in a matter of fact manner without any expectation.

It goes like this, “I’m looking for some dinner.” And like this, “I want my company to bring the communication, collaboration, and decision-making awesome of improv to law enforcement.”

As soon as I started to share my goals with people that way, they started offering to help in ways large and small.  Not everyone, but lots of people.

I also became more generous with myself. I’m offering my help more, and I enjoy it. Helping nourishes me, teaches me, and leaves me fulfilled. Where I once feared that helping others would diminish the time I could devote to my own goals, I’m finding that what goes around comes around in the most unexpected of ways. And with that experience of fulfillment and value in my own heart and mind, when others say they want to help me, I believe them.

How can you surpass your goals without breaking a sweat?

Here’s my challenge to you, and my delivery of the no-sweat promise of this article’s title.

 

THE GOAL-SMASHING, HOPE-SURPASSING CHALLENGE

A. You can’t do it on your own:

  1. Start telling your goals — large and small, personal and professional — to everyone (everyone). This may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but it’ll get easier. And you’ll find that people are truly grateful to you for opening a meaningful conversation. This has two incredibly powerful benefits. First, once you tell people, you are accountable to those goals. Second, people will offer to help.
  2. When people offer to help, take them up on it. Believe that they actually want to help. The great majority of them do. They are not just being polite. It’s easy enough to be polite without offering to help, so the offer is genuine. It is, in fact, not polite to disbelieve what people tell you about their own desires.
  3. Remind them of their offer to help. Do this politely, gently, infrequently… But do it. Remind them. I know this is challenging. It’s part of believing them when they told you they wanted to help. Offer to help them help you. For example, if someone says, “I should introduce you to Bob.” A week later, if you haven’t heard from them, drop them an email. “Thanks for your kind offer to introduce me to Bob. Here are some times I’m available for coffee with you both.”

 

B. Humans like to help:

  1. Ask other people what their goals are — large and small, personal and professional. Ask people you know. Ask people you don’t know. You don’t need to get a laundry list. One or two goals per person is plenty.
  2. Help in any way you can. If your profession lines up with their goals, offer to help in a professional capacity, and trade your help for their money. If not, find a way to help anyway. Keep an open mind about what would be helpful. (Introductions, referrals, book recommendations, a friendly ear, a quarter.) Your help might be very indirectly related to their goals. (My friend is working his tail off to launch a business. That launch is his goal. But, in passing, he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to eat this week.” I offered to cook.) Maybe your help will be minor, maybe major. Either way, it could tip the scale. You needn’t put yourself out a great deal to make a great difference.
  3. If you can’t see a way to help, ask. Heck, even if you can see a way to help, it could still pay to ask. The question is simple, “How can I help?”

 

C. Start helping the people you know by sharing this challenge today:

  1. Share this article. Use email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever social media you’ve got. If you see value here, so will others. Or, just share its ideas in conversation. Let’s shatter not just our own goals, but the goals of everyone we come in contact with.
  2. Share your goals (as described above).
  3. Ask about their goals.
  4. Help.

 

Priming the Pump

I’ll start the ball rolling.  Here are a few of my goals (some larger than others) going into the new year:

  • Inspire 100 people to tell me their goals in just the first week of 2016, and help each one of them in some way.
  • Double the number of clients in our subscription-model company-culture upkeep program.
  • Bring the communication, collaboration, and decision making awesome of improv to law enforcement agencies in at least three communities.
  • Create a world in which my daughter is destined to have a workplace she loves, a work product she’s proud of, and a vocation she can look at and say, “That’s worth the life I’ve given it.”

Tell me a few of your goals. Whether I know you or not, I truly will help if I can. This is your chance to start the New Year off powerfully. Don’t let this opportunity go by.

Help me reach my first goal:


An Effective Apology in 7 Parts

It’s often said in business, but rarely written in so many words: “Shit happens.” Sometimes, the shit that happens is our responsibility, and it lands on others.  Sometimes, hell, it hits the fan, and lands on a great many people. At these times, there’s damage to repair. So, humans have invented the apology. Properly deployed, the apology is an incredibly powerful tool of reconciliation and relationship repair.

Sadly however, apologies are rarely properly deployed.  When botched, they’re weak tools of repair at best. At worst, they’re powerful tools for relationship destruction and prohibiting reconciliation.

Bad Apology

Take for example the not-so-funny comedy-of-errors created by Chip Wilson, CEO of yoga apparel manufacturer LuluLemon Athletica. People loved them. Their yoga pants sold and sold and sold. Then, they changed their fabric source, and people complained that their pants were too sheer, revealing more than they wished to reveal when they bent over — which people often do in yoga class.

When CEO Chip Wilson could have said, “Sorry. My bad. We shouldn’t have gone with the cheaper fabric. Free, better replacements on me.” Instead, he essentially blamed customers whose thighs were too big. And he did it on national television, saying, “It’s, you know, really about the rubbing through the thighs… how much pressure is there.” Bad form, Chip, blaming the people who made you rich for the decline in quality and opacity.

Well, all is not lost. That’s why we invented apologies, for people like Chip (and the rest of us — to err is human). “I can fix this, he said. “I’ll post a video online,” he said. Good idea. He can reach thousands, millions of people to make amends for the offense he gave.

You get second chances

So he did make a video and post it online.  He said, ““I’m sad for the people at LuluLemon who I care so much about, that have really had to face the brunt of my actions.” Good. He’s aware that his actions affect his employees. That’s good. He continued, “I take responsibility for all that has occurred.” Good.  He owns it. Going on, “and the impact it has had on you. I’m sorry to have put you all through this.” Ok.  And now, surely, he’ll apologize to his customers, to women everywhere, and to anyone else he may have offended for blaming the sheerness of his clothing on too big thighs instead of cost-cutting.

But, no. He stops there. Not even a single word to customers. Why’d you post that online, Chip?  Oh, I see. You posted that online in order to add insult to injury.

Stock prices plummeted. Chip resigned. LuluLemon’s rep still hasn’t recovered.

So, that’s one way to really screw it up — fail to ever actually apologize to those who are waiting for your apology — but, how do you do it right?

It’s not a magic trick, and there’s no sleight of hand. If you determine that you’re responsible for something that’s caused someone else displeasure…

(Side note: I’ve said it twice now.  Responsible. Notice I didn’t say, “culpable.” You don’t have to be at fault. If you promise to give a presentation in Anchorage on Tuesday, that’s your responsibility.  If all flights in and out of Anchorage have been cancelled due to a storm for a week, that’s an act of god, and not your fault. Guess what… An apology is still warranted.)

An Adept Apology

If you’re responsible for something that’s caused someone else displeasure… Here are 7 ingredients you can mix together to make an effective apology soup.  You don’t need every one, every time, but when in doubt, don’t skimp.

  • Simply name the offending action or event.  “We at LuluLemon compromised the quality of our clothing by going with a less expensive fabric supplier.” Or, if you don’t catch it that early, “I blamed my customers on national television for the sheerness that was actually caused by an inferior material.” Or, if you were meant to be the keynote speaker in Anchorage, “I didn’t show up for your event.”
  • Express empathy. Demonstrate that you know that your actions had an impact, and that you have enough insight into others that you can imagine what that impact may have been. “You, our customers, came to rely on the quality of our apparel, and have been disappointed, and by showing a bit more tush than you intended, perhaps embarrassed.” Or, if you didn’t catch it that early, “You may have been shocked and disappointed, perhaps offended by my misplaced blame and fat-shaming.” Or, if you didn’t make it to AK, “You were left to twiddle your thumbs without your keynote speaker. I imagine that was disappointing and likely boring.”
  • Express regret or apology. You don’t have to grovel. Just note that different would have been better. “I’m sorry.” Or, “I wish we hadn’t changed suppliers.” Or, “We’d all be better off if we had stuck with a fabric that was working.” Or, “I never should have said those things.” Or, if you were due in the frozen north, “I wish I could have been there.”
  • Explain (without defense – sans defensiveness – no defending) why it happened. Use “I” language. This is not to be an excuse. Demonstrate that you have the insight that would make this apology meaningful.  This begins to give them assurance that you know enough to be able to prevent its happening again. By the way, keep it brief. This is meant to be a proof of concept, not a treatise. “I was really feeling the pressure, and I didn’t want to damage our (or my) image by admitting we’d compromised quality.” Or, “We put profits ahead of quality.” Or, if you flub the first one, “I really have a problem with prejudice against people who are overweight.” Or, “I lash out like a rabid dog when I feel cornered.”  Notice the “I” language. You didn’t see, “Your thighs are too big.” There was no, “The devil made me do it.” If all the flights were canceled for a week, “I couldn’t get a flight. All the flights were cancelled for a week.”
  • Offer a remedy. Very often, most of the time, you can’t completely heal the rift. But you can make a gesture that demonstrates that you are sincere. You may or may not be able to make the other party whole, but you can put your money (literal or figurative) where your mouth is. “If you bought pants that showed ass-pects you intended to keep hidden, while I can’t restore your dignity, your next pair of yoga pants — original opaque formula — is on me.” (Maybe you leave out the part about dignity, or maybe you keep it as a part of your naming the impact. Probably, you’d leave out the ass pun.) Or, if you’ve already put your foot in your mouth, “I’m going to sensitivity training next week.” Or, “I’m going to put myself in stockades in Time Square at noon on Tuesday. Please don’t throw hard vegetables.” Or, if you were kept from the cold, “Is there an opportunity for us to reschedule?”
  • Make a credible commitment for the future, and live up to it. “Credible” is important here. We’ve got to be able to believe you. Don’t promise the moon. “I promise never to utter another offensive word so long as I live,” is not credible. Try, “I’m going to call our old distributor and get the high-quality fabric back.” Or, if you’ve already offended half of America, “I’m going to strive to think before I speak, and care for our customers — body, mind, and soul. Namaste.” And, “I’m going to start doing yoga so I’m not so volatile under stress.” Or, if you couldn’t fly north, “I’m going to prohibit snow-storms for a week surrounding and future engagements.” Hopefully, you were paying attention, and caught that one. That’s not credible. And in a case where it’s not your actions that caused the breach, this ingredient isn’t needed.
  • Listen. Really listen. You may have given a credible and beautifully crafted apology, but don’t think that ends it. An apology cannot completely close the rift. Trust must be regained. The greater the rift, the greater the need for rebuilding. Emotional pressure has built up under the strain. Your apology opens the door to release the pressure. Now listen as the pressure escapes. You may get an earful. If you are still, non-reactive, peaceful, and receptive during the entirety of the eruption, you may find that when the other party is through venting, they will stop. Then there is peace. Then there is nothing more to say. All you need do is honor your commitments to repair the relationship.

Why Apology Matters

Not every rift requires all of these ingredients. Often, you can get by with only a few. But the more complete the recipe, the more powerful the apology.  Don’t bring a knife to a gun apology.

Apologies can:

  • Build trust
  • Repair relationships
  • Accelerate the pace of business
  • Demonstrate strength of character

An apology is not:

  • A sign of weakness
  • A miracle cure
  • A time to make demands

So, I’ll leave you with this. An apology is an offering. It’s an offering of reconciliation to another, and of strength and integrity to yourself. It is not a time or opportunity to make demands. Even, “Please forgive me,” is a demand. “I hope you can forgive me,” is better.

Try one today. Make a call. Write a letter. Tell me how it goes.

(ABC covered Chip Wilson’s failed apology – watch here)

 

_______________

High-Performance Accountability Culture: Imagine your team operating with high-level EQ. Trouble is, reading an article doesn’t often change behavior. That’s why we created Adeptability Training for your team for a communication and collaboration culture as a matter of habit and mindset. Want an Adeptable team?

Book a call today.


One Tool. A Competitive Advantage.

By Aaron Schmookler, Adam Utley, and Rachel Lionheart (in collaboration)

 

Most leaders, when asked, say that their team has the skills it needs to perform better than average. When asked specifically about communication, however, they say it needs to get better.  When asked about teamwork, they say it needs to get better.  When asked about innovation, they say it needs to get better.  When asked about the ability to cope with the unexpected and with change, they say it needs to get better.

This article will arm you with a powerful tool for making work on your team better indeed.

Would you like communication, teamwork, innovation and coping with the unexpected to improve on your team?  Do assumptions gum up the works of effective communication? Does fear prevent people from communicating when they first realize they’re likely to miss a deadline?  Are your people satisfied with the status quo when you know growth is essential for outpacing the competition?

Incremental improvements at work often take too much work for too little return.  But our clients easily make substantial improvements to communication, so they reap unprecedented cohesion on their teams, enjoy lucrative innovation, and take change in stride. You can make strides too, with a single tool from Theater Improvisation.

Why improvisation? Life isn’t scripted. The unexpected happens. Change happens. And Darwin can tell you, if you don’t adapt to change, if you can’t respond relevantly to the unexpected, you won’t survive.  Most companies do ok with the unexpected. Most companies respond ok to change.  But ok is not going to bring your dreams for the future to fruition.

The tool I’ve promised, and one of the principles we teach in our workshops, is BE OBVIOUS. Webster says obvious means, “easy for the mind to understand or recognize, clear, self-evident, or apparent.” Once you and your team try it, you’ll agree… BE OBVIOUS is a superpower.

“Originality is born in the associations individuals make. Innovation is association. Collaboration, in a culture of contribution and obvious communication, accelerates the process.”

We coach our clients to BE OBVIOUS in a few distinct business arenas–the three C’s:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Conflict management.

Collaboration is communication. And it works best with a constant flow of ideas to build from — a flow of ideas generated by each all team-members. No idea can be formed in a vacuum. No ideas are born from nothing. Every idea in the history of ideas has been inspired something else. You can’t stop ideas from coming.  Blockages of ideas don’t exist–only blockages of expression, of communication.  Fear stops the communication and proliferation of ideas.  Fear of failure.  Fear of ridicule.  Fear that one’s idea is not original enough…

Keith Johnstone, improviser extraordinaire, says, “The more obvious you are, the more original you appear.”  So many simple but profound business opportunities are lost in striving to come up with “clever or disruptive ideas.”  One idea leads to another. Give attention and voice to your idea, no matter how simple, and it will lead to another idea, either in your own mind, or in the mind of a collaborator. Speak the obvious associations your mind is making, and they will lead to others. If your collaborators do the same, you follow one idea after another, down the rabbit-hole, and into Wonderland.

Consider the Post-it note.  On the face of it, this was a failed attempt at 3M to create a strong adhesive. But upon encountering this “failed” adhesive, someone spoke what was obvious to them, and this lucrative use for a weak adhesive is now found in nearly every home and office in the country–indeed around the world.

Take one of the most successful toys in history — the slinky.  It too was a failure, intended to stabilize ships’ instruments.  The inventor, dejected, put it on a shelf. His wife later knocked it off, and saw it’s remarkable stepping ability. And a toy was born.

Take the case of a truck which got stuck under too low an overpass.  Engineers, police, and towing professionals scratched their heads, trying to devise a strategy for removing the truck that would not destroy the bridge, or further damage the truck. Evidently, it took the obvious observation of a ten year old boy who said, obviously, “Why don’t you let the air out of the tires?

Originality is born in the associations individuals make. Innovation is association. Collaboration, in a culture of contribution and obvious communication, accelerates the process.

Conflict is communication.  Conflict on a team often results from one team member judging the ideas and contributions of another.

“Let’s open an office in Siberia.”

“What…..That’s just stupid.”

The Siberia office idea generator is likely to feel defensive and either shut down or fight.  Witnesses to the interaction are likely to perceive an unfriendly environment for their own ideas and clam up themselves. And it needn’t be so blatant as this to degrade the ‘culture of contribution.’  Something as seemingly bland as, “Really?  Siberia?” is enough to shame people into silence, or gird them for battle.

BE OBVIOUS has the power to completely transform the interaction from one that degrades relationships and productivity to one that builds them.

“Let’s open an office in Siberia.”

The knee-jerk judgment that that is stupid results from an earlier thought.  Maybe, “Siberia’s really cold.  Siberia’s really far away.”  So, instead of, “That’s just stupid,” the OBVIOUS response to “Let’s open an office in Siberia,” is, “Siberia’s really cold and really far away.”

Now, there’s information in the room that can help everyone, the original speaker included, to assess the idea’s merits in their own minds.  The relationship has not been degraded.  The fight or flight response has not been triggered. The environment still welcomes new ideas. The idea generator may respond, “I thought of Siberia because real estate there is very cheap.”

Then someone else may respond, “Well, the real estate in North Dakota is pretty cheap too.  And it’s not as cold, and it’s not as far away.”

And then building on that, someone else might add what’s obvious to them. “My family is in North Dakota, and I’ve been wanting to move there.”

And in one fell swoop, you’ve got a location for the satellite office and the person to spearhead its opening.  A bad idea is refined to a good one, and other ancillary problems are organically solved along the way.  And relationships are strengthened in a process that breeds group pride in its accomplishments.

Many of you may know the story of Kitty Genovese: She was stabbed to death in 1964 outside her apartment in New York City while bystanders stood by–didn’t even call the police.  This failure to respond has been widely cited as evidence of the heartlessness of New York’s citizens and the general degradation of society.  Social science has since shown us another explanation.  Bystanders likely did not call for help, not because they didn’t care, but because each person presumed someone else would surely call.  Someone else surely had already called, was on the phone even now.  With this diffusion of responsibility, each individual can shrug off personal responsibility.

Who among us has not had a work-project fall to the same fate as Kitty Genovese.  Some detail critical to the success of the project has been overlooked.  Bob knows he’s never heard anyone discussing the obvious problem that the building design the whole team has been working on has no front door.  No one will be able to enter the building.  But doors aren’t his department.  Cathy’s seen the door problem too.  But she’s windows.  Bob and Cathy both assume, “Surely someone is on it. Someone knows, and even though I haven’t heard about it, obviously, someone is fixing this.  Then the design goes to the client.  If the firm is lucky, the client notices and says, “There’s no door.” And the firm suffers embarrassment and delay. If the firm isn’t lucky, the building is erected from the drawings… without a door. And the firm suffers humiliation and is never hired again. All because each person in the chain presumed that it was so obvious that there must be a hidden solution.  Often, the obvious goes unspoken because people are afraid of the ridicule that may come from saying what’s clearly obvious to everyone, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.”  Or they’re afraid of being embarrassed by demonstrating their own incompetence or ignorance of the obvious by saying something that shows they’ve missed what’s as plain as the nose on their face.  “Duh!  The door’s. Right. Here.”  This is an extreme example, but we’ve all wasted work because no one spoke what was obvious to them.

How do you get people to speak what’s obvious?  Get full commitment from everyone to BE OBVIOUS, and to WELCOME the obvious from others.  Will there be redundant communication?  Sure.  But in places that matter, we all install redundant systems.  We drive carefully AND wear seatbelts.  We lock the car AND set the alarm.  We save our files on the local server AND to the cloud.

With a BE OBVIOUS culture, Kitty would still be alive.  And with a BE OBVIOUS culture in your company, projects are delivered on time and under budget.  BE OBVIOUS gets your back.

When everyone has committed to BE OBVIOUS, each person has the responsibility to respond to every obvious need. Not to personally address it, but to at least mention it to the relevant person.  Every manager, every team leader, every executive I’ve asked would rather hear too many times about a growing crisis in the company than not to hear about it at all.

BE OBVIOUS starts with a willingness to say what is plainly and immediately on your mind, beyond the trap of judgement, and build off of the information that surrounds you, in the environment, from your coworkers, from clients.  It takes open-mindedness, commitment to transparency and practice to create a functioning habit in your burgeoning culture of contribution.


The Audacity to Thrive.

Problem is, most business training is ineffective, boring, powerpoint lecturing yak-yak that accomplishes nothing.  It espouses systems or techniques designed to help ensure success.  And the systems work.  There’s nothing wrong with the systems they teach.  But there’s nothing wrong with the systems that are already in place either.  Informational training about systems and best practices is painting a house on fire if the mindset and habits aren’t addressed.  It does nothing to close the gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do, because the knowing-doing gap isn’t an information problem.  It’s a person problem.  

There are serious problems that many people in business simply ignore.  It’s not that they don’t notice or don’t care about the problems.  Rather, they think these problems can’t be solved.

  • Teams that add up to less than the sum of their parts
  • Poor communication
  • Tactlessness
  • Conflict
  • Resistance to change
  • Incremental and slow growth
  • Inattention
  • Sloppiness
  • Good enough to get by
  • Lack of accountability
  • Disengagement
  • Sales people who don’t perform

These problems stifle profits and are rooted in fear:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of loss
  • Fear of ridicule
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of embarrassment

And there’s nothing we can do about that, right? You’ve either got audacity or you don’t.  You’ve either got leadership or you don’t.  You’ve either got creativity or you don’t.  You’ve either got self-awareness, accountability, and responsibility, or you don’t. Conventional thinking is, these problems cannot be solved. That’s just the way it is with people. Soft skills can’t be trained.

Well, what if I told you that these skills are trainable.  What If I told you that you can change the dynamics on your team?  What if I told you that you can elevate the plane on which your people work together? What if I told you that your team has genius in it just waiting for permission to act?  Imagine the transformations in performance, innovation, and productivity with fear out of the way.  The results would astound you.

Improv can change your mind.  Without losing your team’s identity, without asking your people to lose theirs, you can create habits of audacity.

The Yes Works helps businesses solve problems they think are unsolvable.  We bring the tools and techniques of Adeptability to bear on overlooked business problems, getting business results you can take to the bank. Using tools and techniques drawn from improvisation, modern neuroscience and learning theory, and current leadership data, we train people to recognize fear and set it aside. We’re boosting people power in organizations large and small.

Improv fosters habits that bring forward the best of each of us in every situation.  How? Neuroscience says practice makes permanent because it builds lasting structures in the brain.  Improv is practice.

Practice constructive, innovative association.  Practice confidence and collaboration.  Practice trust.

Improv is the competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.  It’s a person solution.  Improv skills, imparted through skillful facilitation, installs in companies the audacity to thrive.


TGIF Destroys Lives

I remember once walking through the halls of my workplace on a Friday morning.  I was in a good mood.  I was happy to be there.  I was looking forward to working with my teammates.  I was looking forward to serving my customers.  It was going to be a good day.

Then, as I was passing a coworker in the hall, I greeted him with, “Hey, how’s it going?”

And he said, “Oh, you know, glad it’s Friday.”  Now, nothing special happens in our workplace on Friday.  He wasn’t talking about finishing a project or about anything at all related to work.  He was sharing with me the common workplace sentiment, TGIF.  Thank God it’s Friday.

It seems such an innocent statement.  It’s a celebration even.  It’s a short prayer of gratitude.

And it took the wind right out of my sails.

TGIF and sentiments like it really have no place in a professional’s vernacular.  The problem with TGIF is not in thanking God.  The problem is not in expressing gratitude.  The problem is not in loving Fridays.  It’s not even in looking forward to the weekend.  The problem is in the subtext.

Let me illustrate.

Recently, as I was making a purchase in a local store I frequent, the clerk engaged me in a brief but lively conversation.  When she asked me what I do, I told her that I help folks Make Work Good. After asking me to elaborate, she asked for my phone number saying, “I’d like to talk with you about how to convince my supervisor that I’m ready to take on a full time job here.”

I gave her my card, told her I’d be happy to talk, and said, “Let me leave you with this…” And I recalled to her the very beginning of our conversation when I’d asked, “How are you?” Her response was, “I’ll be better in about half an hour.”  This is a common knee-jerk response we’ve all heard countless times.  It’s the verbalization of a culturally accepted expectation that work-life is inferior to life outside work.  And it presumes that all of us feel that way.

When this sentiment is spoken to a colleague, as it often is, it corrodes the well-being of the team.  It affirms the normalcy and inevitability of the desire not to be working.  For anyone already feeling that way, it reinforces and deepens the feeling.  For those who are glad to be at work, it can lead them to feel disdain for their coworkers if they are confident.  And if they are not confident, the frequent sharing of this anti-work sentiment can lead people to second guess their own happiness in working.  Either way, it diminishes everyone’s pleasure and performance at work.

When that sentiment is spoken to a client, as it often is, the subtext is, “I’ll be better when I’m no longer here serving you.”

Very often, this anti-work message is not intended (as with the clerk who served me).  It’s about creating or strengthening relationships.  It’s intended to create an affinity between the two because, “Haven’t we all been there.”  But it’s an unhealthy affinity.  And it most certainly doesn’t serve the company writing the paychecks.

Because she’d enlisted my support in earning a promotion, I told the clerk, “You’ve been so warm and friendly.  You’ve given me great service.  You seem to genuinely enjoy serving me.  But when you said, ‘I’ll be better in half an hour,’ you basically told me you’d be happier not having to serve me.”

“I love my job,” she said. “That’s just something I said.”

“I get it,” I told her.  “It’s a thing people say.”  I told her that what people don’t understand, though, is that we’re listening to ourselves when we talk.  We’re affected by the things we say.  We start to believe the things we say.  And our mindset shifts to reflect our beliefs.  And others—customers, coworkers and supervisors—pick up on our mindset.  Our mindset speaks unconsciously but loudly through tone, body language, and subtle nuances of speech and word-choice.

“Call me anytime,” I told the clerk.  “Meanwhile, you can convince your supervisor that you’re ready to be full-time by wanting to be here.  People who add value to their organizations get promoted.  Tell yourself you want to be here.  I can see that you enjoy your customers.  Allow yourself to dive into that experience. Take on more responsibility because you enjoy the challenge.  You’ll have a full-time job in no time.”

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”23″ align=”left”]Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to the weekend. It’s natural and healthy to look forward with anticipation to exciting plans for play, or to a well-earned rest after working hard all week.[/mk_blockquote]

TGIF is a contagion.  It’s a disease run rampant in our society.  It spreads from person to person.  “TGIF.  Thank God we don’t have to be here tomorrow.  I wish I didn’t have to be here now.”  So, I encourage managers and executives to try to gently but firmly remove TGIF and its kin—another day, another dollar, watching the clock, etc—from their corporate culture.  Don’t wait to hear it.  Hold a meeting with those you supervise, and simply tell them how you feel about it.  Tell them you want them to love their work.  Tell them you want everyone to feel free to express their love for work.  Tell them that you want that sentiment to become contagious in your organization.  And when you hear TGIF expressed, calmly explain the cost to the person expressing it.  “When you say, ‘TGIF,’ it sends the message to everyone who hears you, and more importantly to yourself, that this is a place you don’t like.  I love my work. When others hear you say that, it’s harder for them to love theirs.”beach photo - footprints

The title of this piece is, “TGIF Destroys Lives.”  That’s a bold statement, I know.  The thing is, most of us spend five days a week on the job.  If you’re working for the weekend, that means that you value only two days out of seven.  TGIF folks live the life they want only 29% of the time.  More than two-thirds of their week is a grind—“the daily grind.”  That’s no way to live.

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to the weekend. It’s natural and healthy to look forward with anticipation to exciting plans for play, or to a well-earned rest after working hard all week.  The best performers in the workplace, however, are the ones who, on the weekends,  look forward to Monday even as they are enjoying a little R & R.  They look forward to getting back to work.  They like work.  They like to be there.  They like their teammates.  They like what they do.

And they deliberately cultivate that enjoyment.  When someone asks them, “How are you doing?”  They don’t say, “TGIF,” implying that they’re working for the weekend.  They don’t say, “Another day, another dollar,” implying that they’re working for a paycheck.  They say, “Never better.”  And it’s true.  They’ve been getting steadily better at their jobs since day one.  They’re passionate about work.  They’re passionate about their growth.  They’re working for love: love of their team, love of their work, love of their company, and love of those whom they serve.  They’re working for love of life.

Join them.

 


If Even Death is an Offer

Everything is an offer.

That’s a principle that we at The Yes Works teach.  An “offer,” in an improv context, is some bit of information provided to you for your creative use.  We can take creative inspiration from absolutely anything in our environment—from something someone says, from the tone with which they say it, or from a gesture someone makes, or the smallest subconscious movement, or a speck on the wall, or… even a disastrous event in the life of your company.

If everything is an offer—with the potential to spark a creative response—then the potential for innovation is everywhere.  A failed adhesive becomes a Post-it Note.  A failed ship’s instrument stabilization device becomes one of the most successful toys of all time (the Slinky). Last year, a drought at Stonehenge, in combination with a hose that wouldn’t reach, caused the grass, long kept green, to turn brown. While the groundskeeper may have been distraught, archaeologists answered one of the mysteries of Stonehenge. The first grass to turn brown formed spots that completed the circle of stones, indicating where fallen stones had once stood.  Was Stonehenge once a complete circle?  Yes, as revealed by the brown spots caused by this happy accident, it was.

In our lives and in our businesses, we can become paralyzed by failure or by crisis, or worse yet, we can struggle to oppose the inevitable, putting our finger in the dike when there’s not one leak, but twenty. When faced with insurmountable forces, we often ignore them.  Or we stand up to them like Oedipus defying the Oracle. Or we run away in hopes that we are faster than fate.

A dear friend of my family, Waylon Black, a vibrant, creative, caring doctor, beloved by family and coworkers (by everyone, really) learned not so long ago that he had cancer.  He fought it with fortitude and grace, and when he learned that it would surely take his life, Waylon took his impending death as an offer and an inspiration.  “I decided I was really going to live,” he told his voice teacher, my wife Jessica.

He surely had some private grief.  No doubt Waylon mourned with his family.  But he was not defeated by this turn of fate, not diminished by facing the inevitable. If advancing death was a crisis in his life, it was not a crisis first or foremost.  It was an opportunity to celebrate.  And he did celebrate.

He took voice lessons, singing in his church choir and singing American Standards he’d expanded with countermelodies he wrote.  He danced.  He threw holiday parties.  He enjoyed his grandchildren.  “Really live,” he did.

He celebrated not only in the small moments and the holidays of his remaining time, but even in his coming demise. And it was a source of inspiration to him.

Viewing crisis as a gift—as an offer, as a source of inspiration—is a skill, and one that is cultivated and enhanced by a regular practice of improv. That’s a different approach to crisis management.

A creative and inspired fellow in every avenue of his life, Waylon set about creating the mausoleum that would be his final resting place (and when she’s ready, that of his wife, Marlene).  This was no macabre endeavor for Waylon.  He did not darkly face the task, reluctantly choosing from a catalogue.  Instead, he excitedly designed the look of the giant stone monolith he would rest in, making drawings, choosing materials, drafting and editing.  The granite walls and pillars will one day hold not only Waylon and Marlene, but also a bronze statue of the two of them doing one of the things they most loved to do together, dance.  He showed friends and family his designs and plans, smiling and joking and proud of his work.  He strode into his voice lesson one day and said to my wife, grinning, “look at this picture of my mausoleum!”

And, surely, inevitably, he came to inhabit the mausoleum he’d worked so hard to create.  I don’t know if it brings him joy now, as he rests there, but I do know that it brought him joy when he was making it, in his final days.  He planned for the mausoleum to be a gift.  “I hope that others who visit the cemetery will enjoy it too.”  To insure that they would, he even added a bench a few yards away.

I’m reminded of my friend, Steve Roberts.  He says that everything is a gift.  “Everything.”  And he claims that his poster of Noah joyfully waterskiing behind the Ark (drawn by Jeff Moores) is more valuable than the Mona Lisa. This illustration, Steve says, “Encourages us to ask ourselves, ‘What will it take for me to thrive in the face of adversity?’”

Viewing crisis as a gift—as an offer, as a source of inspiration—is a skill, and one that is cultivated and enhanced by a regular practice of improv. Deliberate exercise of improv, of- its mindset and principles, creates neural pathways that make a healthy response to crisis easier.  That’s one way that Waylon’s intention that his mausoleum be a gift to others is a success—its very existence reminds me to enjoy my many blessings, and that everything is an offer of inspiration for me to respond to with creativity and joy.  That’s why we, at The Yes Works, offer support in crisis surfing, rather than crisis management.  A crisis is not simply something to manage or to mitigate.  It’s something to enjoy and take gifts from.

If even death is an offer, an opportunity for creativity and innovation, then imagine the possibilities for your business in the next crisis you’ll face.  May you face a whopper soon, and may you face it as Waylon faced cancer—with grace, aplomb, creativity, collaboration, and joy.


We're on the Radio!

Hear our ten minute interview on KLAY radio’s program, “Equal Time Radio.”

 

Thanks, Traci Kelly and Frank Blair, for having us on!