Another selfie

Microphone for interviewingI decided it was time for another interview with myself.

Self-interviews are always tricky because the interviewer is usually reluctant to challenge the interviewee. But the main problem in this case was coordinating the schedules of two very busy people. (We had to conduct this interview by email.)

Q. So what’s the latest on your book? The last we heard, your agent was shopping it to publishers.

A. Well, one major publisher—my first choice—was quite interested but wants me to improve my “platform” first.

Q. Will you do that?

A. Absolutely. Once I figure out what that means. But I’ve got some carpenters coming over tomorrow to help me figure it out.

Q. In your book and in your talks, using rock bands as examples, you discuss the six “differentiators” of great teams. What are they?

A. Great teams and organizations are highly innovative, engaged, mission-driven, brand-focused, independent-thinking, and conflict competent.

Q. But aren’t many of those abilities widely discussed in business already?

A. Many of them. For instance, everybody TALKS about the importance of creativity/innovation and to a lesser extent inspiration/engagement, but that doesn’t mean most teams are walking the talk. How many businesses have you visited where people are so excited about what they’re doing that you can feel the buzz when you walk into the building? Or how many companies do you know that are really fun places to work? Fun is not a trivial pursuit in the Innovation Economy, as I've written about here.

Q. So why aren’t more organizations inspired places to work?

A. Because their leaders (1) don’t see the bottom-line benefits of having a fully engaged, turned on, self-expressed workforce and (2) don’t know how to bring it about. When I work with a business I first make the case that to be highly successful they should be running on all six of these cylinders. Usually a few of them are sputtering. Then I work with the company to get all of them firing.

Q. What does “conflict competent” mean?

A. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s knowing how to deal with conflict and then being able to capitalize on it. Some teams and organizations are conflict averse and don’t deal well with disagreement, so ideas don’t get challenged. Other teams revel in conflict, but can’t contain and manage it, so people feel beat up.

Q. So how is conflict actually useful?

A. Conflict provides the frictional sparks that can ignite inspiration and energy—and ultimately innovation. Jerry Hirshberg of Nissan Design used to talk about the “creative abrasion” of colliding viewpoints that generate new ideas and novel solutions. Hanging out for years with rock bands and watching a lot of famous ones up close—most of whom relished dissent and even discord—taught me the value of that. Many classic rock bands like the Kinks, Byrds, Cream, Who, and Eagles exemplified that.

Q. How do you help teams capitalize on conflict?

A. First, by working with them to encourage oppositional viewpoints. That may require a cultural shift. But sometimes just a smaller fix, like having meetings be facilitated differently so that everyone is encouraged to speak up and challenge what they’re hearing when it's needed. Secondly, I give everyone communication tools so they can express dissent productively and diplomatically, and not put others on the defensive. Finally, I show them a process in which they can create something new from the clash of ideas.

Q. You mean telling a team member, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard in my life” isn’t recommended?

A. No. But that’s the dumbest question I've ever heard in my life.

Q. Do we worry too much about people's feelings being hurt? Shouldn't team members be able to handle it when others are direct and just "talk straight" to them?

A. In some businesses where team members know each other well, share a common background, have mutual respect for each other, etc. they can get away with a lot. Like some families where members routinely yell at each other and nobody seems to mind. But in 2015, in a multi-cultural, multi-generational, mixed-gender environment, with team members often communicating and meeting by remote, I’d be more thoughtful about how we communicate differences. Or else staff up your legal department.

Q. Anything else?

A. Yes. You should read my blog more often. You'd actually learn something.

Q. It’s difficult for me to keep up with your prolific, once-a-week pace.

A. Your sarcasm is duly noted.

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  1. Where could we get some sarcasm that was, perhaps, Dooley noted?

    "Hang up your blog, John Dooley . . . "

    The interviewer was obviously pulling his punches, gilding the respondent a mite.

    But them six things should have huge categories of posts all about them here at the site, right? Like, links I could click on to learn more?

    tump tump tump this thing on? tump tump

    1. Interesting comments, Joel and Ed, which raise the question of what I'm really selling here.

      Blog posts and even my future opus are not an ideal substitute for having this work facilitated, in person, by a seasoned organizational change consultant (which—what a coincidence!—I happen to be).

      The purpose of the blog has been to promote a particular consulting perspective/approach along with my upcoming book that details that perspective. The purpose of the book has been to promote that consulting perspective with the goal of having business leaders invite me into their companies. (Business books function as elaborate business cards in some cases.) But since turning 40 (insert laugh track here) I’m becoming less interested in business travel and living on airplanes, so I'm reevaluating all of it.

      Meanwhile, a lot of business leaders and change agents are looking for economical ways to get their enterprises cooking. Gaining ideas and inspiration from a book is less expensive (often by a factor of a thousand or more) than hiring a consultant, so I recognize that reading and sharing ideas from a book is as far as many business leaders/readers will go. I have many consulting colleagues who are downright contemptuous of the idea that a business book can effect real change, but I think that depends on the book and the audience. A book can at least be a starting point—a provocation—for many businesses that have the internal resources to continue the job. So I’m now tweaking my manuscript to provide more stand-alone business value for those who need it (as well as some entertainment for those who may or may not need it) regardless of whether I wind up working eyeball-to-eyeball with them.

      I hope this blog provides value too, but a 700-word burst here and there has its limitations. But—to your point, Joel—I will see if I can provide some links to better tie these sound bites together. And—to your point, Ed—I don’t think giving away free stuff will hurt sales later. I won’t be giving away the store as long as I keep adding to the inventory (if that metaphor makes any sense).

      1. Some guy named Tom Peters said "If I spend $20 on a book and get one good idea, it's the deal of the century."

        These days, not having a book is like not having a website. Whether it puts dollars on the bottom line or not is irrelevant. Who's going to be taken seriously, the chap with his face on the cover, or the one who thinks change doesn't come from books?

        (As to that comment: somewhere around my 3rd shot of rye, I'll comment on what one could learn from books in a manner you'll not miss the point of.)

  2. Congratulations and thanks to both of YOU for a terrifically insightful and actionable discussion....

    1. Dave, did you know that three out of every two people are believed to have split personalities? I read that in a post of mine.

  3. Dang...wonder if they are are able to "Drink Alone..Yeah with nobody else"? But observations like that are why "udda man" Mr. O'Leary! Hoping your days are enjoyed and your platform is up to code or wherever it needs to be...

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