Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Learning from Differences

When did we start being afraid? Really. What has contributed to many people hesitating, fearing people who are different, and worrying way too much about what other people think? Many people stay inside their heads analyzing way too many things - halting any action that can move them forward.

Josh Havens is the lead singer of the band, The Afters. He is a member of the church in Plano, Texas where my boys and I attend. Aren't we lucky to have him most Sunday mornings belting it out as we get grounded for the week? He recently posted photos (taken by his oh so talented sister, Esther Havens) on his Facebook page from his trip to Rwanda. Josh took his daughter Adeline with him. Adeline is six years old and she may not know how much impact she had on the community of children she met.

When I looked at this picture, Adeline had an impact on me. She reminded me of the importance of exploring, asking questions, and embracing differences. People in the Smart Zone seek differences. They ask questions. All in the spirit of working to the best of their ability emotionally, behaviorally, and intellectually.

Here are 5 ways to learn from Adeline and Live Smart in the Smart Zone:
  1. Meet new people and expand your circle. Too often we stick by those we know. I've been to holiday parties and watched men and women arrive with a few friends, hang out with the same friends, and walk away with the same friends. They hardly branch out to meet anyone else in the room. People are more likely to do this when they are uncomfortable meeting new people - or if they have anticipatory anxiety which I was interviewed about on Channel CW33 recently. Holiday gatherings, conferences, even PTA meetings are a good time to Live Smart by making it a point to introduce yourself to at least 5 new people. At a conference, sit with people you don't know. At a soccer game, introduce yourself to the other parents in the stands. By branching out and meeting new people, we are exposed to differences which can only make us better.
  2. "Get out of Dodge" and try new places. In the past year, I have made it a point to take my boys to new restaurants, to drive them a different way to events, and to expose them to different kinds of people. I want them to embrace the opportunity for change and the unknown. By staying in a routine of going to the same restaurant, out with the same people, and not exploring surrounding communities, we may be more comfortable but I promise you it won't be as interesting. 
  3. Deliberately learn new things. We don't have to take a class to learn new things. One of my big diversions is to get on the website Pinterest. It is a website where people exchange ideas, get exposed to different ways of doing things, and where you can stoke your own creativity. Many of you have heard about my Director of Patient Relations, Tari Jacobs. Tari is so talented and she comes to my clinical practice to help run the place, even though she could work anywhere else she wanted to. She is a great fit because she puts her family first and because she challenges me to be creative. This year I made subway art as a Christmas gift for many of my friends. I also have started to try new recipes (my favorites come from CrockPotGirls.com), read books not from the psychology or business sections (right now I'm reading the Steve Jobs biography), and stepped out by letting someone else cut my hair (find out who on my facebook page). 
  4. Embrace differences. The next time you are in a discussion with someone at work or in your neighborhood and the other person has an idea that is opposite of yours, deliberately listen to the polar idea and learn where it comes from. Don't dismiss it because it is not the same conclusions you made. I recently disagreed with Tari about the Amanda Knox trial. Tari had been following it way more than I had and I "didn't know what I didn't know" (a famous quote I use to hear a lot when I worked for Dr. Phil). Luckily, Tari was willing to go over the missing pieces with me and I was able to see that the differences in our thinking were due to my limited understanding of the trial. When you engage in discussions when differences occur, you are more likely to Live Smart in the Smart Zone. 
  5. Tolerate Mistakes - those you make and those made by others. Some of our best learning comes from mistakes. When we try and hide our mistakes, we miss the juice. It is the juice of learning that moves us forward. If you are intolerant of mistakes, then you are more likely to try and hide it or create conflict because of it. Why would you do that when it is inevitable that you will make mistakes? We should always be trying something new because mistakes can make us better.
Live Smart in the Smart Zone by learning that differences can be good. New can be good. Feeling out of place can be good. It's all in how open minded you want to be. For most of us we were born fearless and risk tolerant. We should work hard to not lose it along the way.

If you are interested in booking me to speak at your meeting or conference please email  Zan Jones.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Review: Great by Choice, Reviewed by Zan Jones

Jim Collins' new book Great by Choice (which he co-authors with Morten Hansen) made for a fun Thanksgiving break read. Susan had family in town last week and so I asked if I could review the book for her. If you enjoyed the book Good to Great then you will like this follow up. I enjoyed it more than his most recent book How the Mighty Fall...And Why Some Companies Never Give In, which we reviewed a few years ago.

The most poignant quote is in the Epilogue and the entire book disproves this idea:

"We sense a dangerous disease infecting our modern culture and eroding hope: an increasingly prevalent view that greatness owes more to circumstance, even luck, than to action and discipline - that what happens to us matters more than what we do." 
One thing I've noticed about Collins' books is that his examples of great companies sound so simple. Duh, you should be disciplined. Duh, you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket. Duh, you should hire the right people. But every example is backed up by extensive years of research and analysis. It makes me wonder - could it be that simple to be great?
Companies called "10Xers" (pronounced "ten-EX-ers") are identified. These are companies who outperformed their industry index by at least 10 times during the specified 20 year period. Here are surprises about 10Xers:

They're not more creative.
They're not more visionary.
They're not more charismatic.
They're not more ambitious.
They're not more blessed with luck.
They're not more risk seeking.
They're not more heroic.
They're not more prone to making big, bold moves.

But all 10Xers share these 3 core behaviors:

1. Fanatic Discipline
Weaving in a great example of Fanatic Discipline is the story of 2 teams of adventurers who, in 1911, set out to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole. One explorer used the "20 Mile March" where he over prepared, trained in multiple ways for years, carried additional supplies even though they weighed more and paced his team by stopping at a certain time even on good weather days so the team could rest. One explorer wasn't as successful because he used new and untested equipment, carried just enough supplies and pushed his team to exhaustion on good weather days.

The premise of the 20 Mile March is to create 2 kinds of discomfort:
1. The discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions.
2. The discomfort of holding back in good conditions. Good intentions do not count.

Companies such as Southwest Airlines, Stryker, Intel and Progressive Insurance are examples of how the 20 Mile March creates consistency within companies even in turbulent times.

2. Empirical Creativity
On the flip side of discipline is creativity. The 10X companies validate their creative ideas with empirical evidence. Collins and Hansen say to, "Fire bullets, then cannonballs." A bullet is a low cost, low risk test of the market. Once a bullet has hit the target then you fire calibrated cannonballs to take the market by storm.

A good example is Apple's iTunes and iPod for non-Mac computers. Neither were new market categories. Apple developed the iPod first as a better MP3 device than already existed. The next bullet was iTunes for the Mac. The next bullet was Apple's online music store. With cumulative proven success they were able to fire the calibrated cannonball: iTunes and iPod for non-Mac computers.

A bad example is Southwest Airline's comparison company, PSA. In 1968 PSA launched the cannonball called "Fly-Drive-Sleep." It seemed to make sense. People who use airlines will also need rental cars and hotel rooms. PSA moved into both the hotel and rental car market by signing 25-year leases on California hotels and buying a rental car company and expanding it to 20 locations with 2,000 cars. Instead of firing bullets and buying just one hotel or partnering with a rental car company to test out markets, PSA went big. "Fly-Drive-Sleep" lost money every year and was the beginning of many uncalibrated cannonballs that led to PSA's eventual demise.

3. Productive Paranoia
"As soon as there is life there is danger," is what Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote. 10X companies know they cannot predict the future and so they prepare ahead of time, obsessively. Planning for the worst case scenario, contingency plans, determining what is out of their control and how to minimize exposure to such forces gave the 10Xers their advantage. Unexpectedly, 10X companies took fewer risks than their comparison companies yet produced superior results.

My favorite chapter:
The final chapter in the book was the most interesting. It takes an in depth look at luck and "Return on Luck (ROL)."  Both the 10X companies and their comparison companies experienced good and bad luck. A single stroke of good luck cannot make a great company. But a single stroke of bad luck can create a catastrophic outcome. 10X companies had just as much bad luck as their comparison companies. But the fact that they had fanatic discipline, fired bullets and then cannonballs and planned for worst case scenarios helped them emerge from unlucky situations even stronger.

In the end, Collins and Hansen concur that it may not be simple to become great - but we are all free to become great by choice.