Connect Consulting Group

Use concrete with intention

by Liz Guthridge on May 24, 2016 · 2 comments

concrete stepsThe 72-72 rule.  

It’s succinct, specific and gets stamped into your memory—once you learn what it is.  

The 72-72 rule says that the City of Charleston should be “as good a place for tourists who visit for 72 hours as it is for residents who live here for 72 years.”

When he took office, Charleston City Council member Mike Seekings invented this rule as his governing principle.

Precise phrases like the 72-72 rule are better for the brain than glittery generalities. That’s because it’s easier for us to picture concrete things in our mind. We also have a simpler time of explaining them to others and building a shared understanding.

By contrast, glittery generalities and abstract ideas are subject to our individual interpretations.  For example, consider the phrase “enjoyable experience.” One person’s pleasure could be another person’s pain.

Concrete words and phrases express what we know through our six senses, explains Cheryl Stephens, the plain language writer, editor, and trainer at Plain Language Wizardry, in her insightful LinkedIn post, A Slab of Concrete Words.  Anything concrete exists in a material or physical form.

Time tends to verge between concrete and abstract. Time isn’t physical matter yet if you’re a Westerner you have a strong understanding of time periods, such as 72 hours and 72 years.

And there’s the rub to quote Shakespeare’s character Hamlet.

Concrete phrases also can serve as a type of concrete barrier, dividing people and things into categories, with possibly unintended consequences.  

For example, when one of my neighbors and I heard Councilman Seekings explain his 72-72 rule at a community meeting, we both determined that he wasn’t speaking to us. Nor for that matter was he probably governing with our interests in mind. And as a result, we felt like outsiders, marginalized compared with the tourists and the long-time residents.

We reached the same conclusion, but for slightly different reasons. My neighbor splits her time throughout the year between Charleston and Cincinnati. I moved to Charleston as a middle-aged adult so it’s unrealistic I’ll live here 72 years unless scientists make major strides in increasing life expectancy.

What’s the point of this rant?

Concrete words and phrases are better than glittering generalities with this exception: Unless your intent is to be exclusionary, don’t be so specific that you end up accidentally eliminating people who could be vital stakeholders for you and your initiatives.

Now how do you prevent people from feeling like they’re on the outside looking in?

Use these three questions as stepping stones the next time you’re crafting concrete language:

  1. How large and inclusive do you want or need your tent to be? For example, President Lyndon Johnson probably considered this question or a version of it before he famously said about FBI Director Herbert Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”
  1. What’s your downside risk of excluding individuals or groups? For example, if you’re explicitly excluding individuals or a category or department of people, such as IT or HR business partners, think about whether you will want to leverage their skills, expertise or relationships in the future.  If they feel like they’ve been assigned to your out group, they may resist helping you when you seek them out.
  1. How would you feel if the tables and chairs were turned and you lost your seat at the table? Keep in mind that social pain is as real as physical pain, and can last longer, as discovered by Dr. Matthew Lieberman, Dr. Naomi Eisenberger and other researchers.  (See What’s your tolerance for pain at work for more about this.)

You need to step carefully when you’re trying to communicate clearly and concretely as well as be open and inclusive.  

That’s why it’s important to be intentional. Think first, act carefully and when in doubt, test to determine how others may perceive your ideas.

Are these steps concrete enough for you?  If not, comment and let me know.

Delay, don’t procrastinate

by Liz Guthridge on May 17, 2016 · 1 comment

bridge delayLast January, when I read Adam Grant’s New York Times op-ed piece Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate, I winced.

Adam Grant was describing the power of waiting, not the act of procrastinating. Even though I’m hardly an authority on procrastination, I know enough through my applied neuroscience education along with my psychology coursework to recognize and understand the difference.

Until now, I hadn’t planned to make a fuss or even blog about this. After all, Adam Grant is a creative researching psychologist, popular Wharton professor and best-selling author whom I greatly admire. So if he wants to be flip and misleading, well…..

However, a number of people in my circles are talking about how they want to be like Adam Grant. If they procrastinate, they too can increase and improve their creativity. So they’ll stop rushing to meet their deadlines and start to “procrastinate.”

So here’s my deferred reaction to this deceptive advice:

Delay, don’t procrastinate, if you want to improve your effectiveness including performing higher quality work and being more creative.  

Furthermore, delay in a deliberate manner by using time to your advantage.

In other words, don’t waste time as procrastinators do.

Instead, think through how you will use all the time available to you before your deadline, either real or self-imposed.

You can easily boost your brainpower if you intentionally take one, two or all three of these actions.

  1. Access your “milky way brain,” also known as your unconsciousness or System 1 thinking. As the Nobel Prize winner and best-selling author Daniel Kahneman refers to it in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, your System 1 is always working. It never stops, unlike our executive function (the pre-frontal cortex), which has limited capacity and tires quickly. When you give yourself time to stop thinking about your problem at hand and either let your mind wander or go do something else, your unconsciousness jumps into action in the background. It taps into your stored memories and experiences and connects neurons in new ways for you. That explains the “Eureka!” moments you enjoy, often when you’re doing anything but thinking about your problem or challenge.  For more about this check out the blog post, How to make your office as productive as your shower.
  1. Sleep on it whenever possible. This is more than an old wives’ tale. When we sleep, our unconsciousness continues to work in the background, not only making connections but also sifting through our memories, storing important items and forgetting the irrelevant. After sleep we’re also fresher and can see things we didn’t notice the day before. (For example, I recently referred to the late singer Whitney Houston instead of the author Whitney Johnson in a document, and didn’t notice my “wordo” until I reread the document the next morning ─ thank goodness!) For more about the value of sleep in particular and the importance of spacing in general to improve learning, refer to The Science of Making Learning Stick: An Update to the AGES Model.)
  1. Involve more brains. Working with others often takes more time than when you work alone. However, you can get more divergent thinking, which can add to the quality and creativity of your work. For this to work well, though, you need to respect others and their time, and give them adequate notice and an interval to help you.

In the procrastination examples described in his essay and new book, Adam Grant uses all three of these techniques. But he’s not procrastinating when he’s doing so—regardless of what he describes.

If you’re curious about the difference between procrastinating and delaying, check out this Psychology Today post Procrastination as a Virtue for Creativity, Why It’s False.  As the article’s author explains “All procrastination is delay, but not all delay is procrastination.”

And if you want to delve even deeper into the value of delay, read Frank Partnoy’s 2012 book Wait: The Art and Science of Delay.

As our world spins faster and faster, you can reap many benefits when you slow down and delay and give your brain optimal working conditions.

Are you willing to delay, but not procrastinate?

Why you need to inspire and interpret more

by Liz Guthridge on May 8, 2016 · 0 comments

2016-05-07 17.57.32Take it from these accomplished keynoter speakers who addressed the  2016 DIG SOUTH interactive conference in Charleston at the end of April.

You need to work on your inspiration and communication skills.

Here are some nuggets and insights I gained over the three days. First, some illuminating quotes:

  • “Traction is the new IP….And transparency is everywhere. You need to focus on getting and keeping traction, and learning to communication better and inspire more.” ─ Paul Singh, Venture Partner and Master of the Hustle @ 500 Startups.
  • “Stop focusing on getting ‘likes’; start being more likeable.” ─Peter Shankman, President of Shankminds, author of Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans and founder of HARO (Help a Reporter Out).
  • “Convenience trumps everything.” ─ Gary Vanderchuk, an entrepreneur who “day trades attention and builds businesses” and serves as CEO of VaynerMedia.
  • “Stop sharing so much information. We’re drowning in information. Focus on sustainable inspiration instead.” Robert Swan, Founder, 2041 and Polar Explorer.

These successful entrepreneurs and many other presenters kept emphasizing that you need to “own” what you’re doing, work to stay relevant and connect the dots for yourself and others.

Shankman and Vanderchuk especially are extremely entertaining and provocative speakers who kept challenging their audiences.

For example, Vanderchuk encouraged people to work hard, hustle and persevere and stay out of the “vanilla zone.” He also maintained that ‘’the world is moving fast. You’re either moving with it, or you’re going to be rolled over.”

Shankman explained that he believes that experiences, not money or products, are driving the economy now and will continue to do so.

Customers want to do likeable things. That’s why Shankman advised to stop begging for “likes” and start delivering amazing experiences and service to your customers.

His five tips for being more likable and helping customers — which can include internal as well as external customers ─ are:

  1. Be transparent.
  2. Be relevant.
  3. Practice brevity.
  4. Embrace concepts, not just a brand.
  5. Work to be top of mind.

Customers (as well as employees) also want to be heard, Shankman emphasized too.

All of these suggestions work well for cutting through the clutter to get and keep peoples’ attention, and move them to action—which isn’t easy since the brain is wired for inattention and inertia. (See Focus on inattention and inertia to spur action for more about this.)

That’s why you should try as much as possible to provide people ─including employees ─ with experiences outside the vanilla zone that are simple, social and fun.  

These types of experiences are much more tempting, enjoyable and memorable, especially when individuals can do them fairly easily with others they like. 

And when you can act as a guide at their side instead of as a sage on the stage listening carefully, providing color commentary, and offering support, you’ll go far to engage people and keep them interested and involved.

Are you prepared to stop shoveling stuff out, and instead start to suggest better, more inspirational experiences with improved service and communication?

2016-05-02 12.45.28How influential is your mother?  

Your mother—like most wise individuals—may instruct you to eat more vegetables, get more sleep and exercise, reduce your stress level, and do countless other things, but…

How often do you immediately follow her advice upon hearing it? And to what extent do you keep complying once she takes a break from telling you what to do?

Now contrast your mother’s guidance with the devices that you either wear or carry with you. How well do they grab your attention and compel you to act?

If you’re like many of us, you’ve decided your devices know best. Loaded with apps, these devices have earned your trust for their important and useful capabilities.

So when they beep, vibrate, illuminate and even woof at you, you interrupt what you’re doing, pay attention and obey them.

With the Mother’s Day holiday fast approaching on Sunday, May 8, the goal here is not to offend mothers and their contributions to their children and society.

Instead, the intention is to show how technology has become a major influencer in people’s lives, wielding power for mostly positive effects.

(And if you think influencers are growing in importance, it’s not your imagination. According to Ben Zimmer the American linguist, lexicographer, and language commentator for The Wall Street Journal, influencers have been around since Chaucer’s time. However, now with the rise and spread of social media, influencers are multiplying faster than ragweed plants producing pollen.)

Just consider these three technology examples:

  • A procurement app. One of my clients has just introduced a new technology platform to speed up the buying process. Several of the executives are now so hooked with the platform’s mobile app which allows them to approve requisitions with a click that the leaders respond almost immediately after getting notified. The procurement group is already recording faster cycle times and improved efficiencies. (However, there may be an unintended consequence of executives splitting their attention between tasks.)  
  • Exercise trackers. Two of my coaching clients have started walking every day now that they’ve invested in wearable technology. Both of these individuals are raving about the encouragement their new devices give them. The immediacy of the reminders and updates serves as both helpful and rewarding information to keep my clients moving. Their reactions mirror many others’ experience, including my own.    
  • The Puddle & Pile app. This specialty app is for humans looking for help to housetrain a puppy. (Yes, I fit this profile and the $1.99 purchase price has been well worth it.) The app helps you track when the puppy is likely to make a puddle or pile based on the dog’s age, weight, and eating and drinking schedule. When I hear the app’s “Woof!” I stop what I’m doing and take Marcel outside. As a result, ever since I discovered the app, he and I have enjoyed much greater training success. By contrast, when I was attempting to track his schedule on my own, I was lax about the time, forgetting that waiting an extra five minutes often wasn’t possible for a puppy, which led to a number of indoor accidents.

In the 2007 book, Mobile Persuasion: 20 Perspectives on the Future of Behavior Change, the main editor and contributor Dr. BJ Fogg predicted that mobile phones would soon become the most important platform for changing human behavior.

Back then, BJ forecasted that mobile phones would be the best tool to influence human behavior for these three reasons:

  1. Our love affair with the phone, especially the mobile version
  2. Our desire to carry our mobile phone with us all the time
  3. The mobile phone’s many potential capabilities.

Now, the capabilities have proliferated, not just on phones, but also on wristwatches and other wearable devices.

Even better, as time goes by, the device designers and users are becoming more knowledgeable and comfortable about the human side of technology.

The more skilled designers understand not just behavior design but also applied neuroscience. They realize the value of creating easy-to-use apps, especially those that nudge you at the most opportune moments, when you’re inclined to act. (For more on this topic, check out Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.)

As for users, they’ve clocked in more hours of experience with devices and apps. Plus, savvy users experiment with the settings to adjust them to fit their needs. That helps ensure crystal clear signals that prompt action in a timely manner, which helps change behavior and build new habits.

So whether it’s to take the dog out, dial into a conference call, approve expenditures, or anything else, you can take care of business or other needs or desires with relatively little fuss.

And even though you may not love technology, especially not to the degree that you love your mother and other family members, technology does influence you. It’s like having Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder chirping at you to do the right thing, as my colleague Georgia Patrick of The Communicators describes.

What do you think?  

Don’t follow orders; pause and ask

by Liz Guthridge on April 26, 2016 · 0 comments

wait signFast. Easy to work with. Get things done.

Yes, the seal of approval for efficient knowledge workers.

But wait.

Knowledge workers are supposed to think too. Plus be agile and flexible.   

The implications? Take time to pause for the cause.

When we’re crazy busy trying to meet or beat a deadline, it often seems appealing to give and follow orders.  It’s easier to lean it and just “do it” rather than step back and question.

Please resist the temptation to follow blindly even—or maybe especially—if you’re supporting a trusted project manager, boss, co-worker or your best friend at work.

Instead take a moment to consider the circumstances and then decide what to do. 

Initially during a pause, you may feel like you’re stopping the clock and being defiant. Or a trouble maker. Or a high-maintenance colleague.

However, if you’re working on a fast-paced project or situation, the chances are high that the orders are based on outdated information. Or, the individual giving the orders is no longer aware of the full scope of the situation.

Over a two-day period earlier this month, the pauses I took were well worth the risk. In all three cases, the orders dealt with communication issues, either with the project team or internal customers, which always have the potential for misinterpretation or poor handoffs.

Here’s what almost happened:

  • Enabling check-the-box completion. Wouldn’t it be nice to release the message we just completed and got approved? Yes, however everyone in Europe would now receive it Friday night around midnight. Better to wait and send Monday morning.
  • Contributing to the “it’s so easy to be green and recycle movement.” Wouldn’t it be helpful to reinforce some key features about a new technology platform by resending the document we reviewed in person with the change agents last week? Yes, however, the document is now inaccurate because several program features were updated over the past couple of days. The recycled document would cause more confusion than clarity.
  • Burying the lead. Wouldn’t it be useful to tack on at the end of the message about the new mobile app that users need to approve requests within 72 hours, including weekends, or otherwise the request gets escalated to their boss? Yes, however, considering that users don’t yet know about the 72-hour requirement, it’s not fair to them to bury it in the message. Instead, it needs to share the spotlight with the new app in the message.

By hitting the pause button though, we were able to reset our actions without doing any damage or annoying anyone.

In situations like these, it’s easier for me in my role as a consultant and coach to pause the action.  First, there’s “clarity of distance” created by my physical distance from the work team, which gives me a different perspective and greater clarity. (For more on this, see 3 ways to be clear in a distance.) Plus, clients expect me to help them do the right things and avoid making mistakes, so I have a duty to think before acting.

So how can you best pause for a good cause, especially if you don’t have much clarity of distance?

Start by asking these three questions after you get a new order:

1. What will the impact be on the recipient of the message or the action? Make sure you’re not inconveniencing the recipient.

2. Has anything on the project or the environment changed that might make this new action inappropriate? Double check to ensure action is still viable.

3. Is there something we should be asking or thinking about that we’re not? Even if you ask this question of yourself, it makes you reflect and consider things in a new way.

Short-order cooks, wait staff and other fast food workers are still expected to follow orders, but the rest of us should think twice before doing so.

After all, as author, speaker and consultant Matthew E. May says, “Mindful thinking is the new competitive edge.”

How well are you pausing and thinking?