Author Archives: Mike Williams

If You Never Make Mistakes Don’t Read This!

Cat warns Inflatable Furniture- dreamstime_l_27741152-SmallerNow that the perfect people have left the room, let me share a story that I think you will like.

It is told that Tom Watson, Sr., CEO of IBM from 1914 to 1956, once had a junior executive lose over $10 million on a risky venture. When the young man was called in for a meeting with Watson, he offered his resignation. Watson replied, “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you.”

As I write this, General Motors is facing a crisis because they knew about a mistake in the ignition system of millions of vehicles but did not admit it and tried to cover it up.

If you want a different slant on the idea of mistakes, read on!

  • All of us make mistakes and we usually try to cover them up or blame outside forces.

In the creation of the world as found in the Bible, Adam blamed Eve for his mistake and Eve blamed the serpent for hers. It seems to be part of our nature to deflect mistakes from ourselves.

  • Failures are important because they are unavoidable in innovation and experimentation.

Companies that highly value innovation often have a company culture that does not ridicule or punish people who make mistakes. The really great ones encourage and rejoice over mistakes.

  • People actually think more highly of you if you admit mistakes.

Research has shown that admitting a mistake, especially ones that are controllable, make you appear more in control, more powerful, and create a positive impression.

  • Many people do not seek help, even when help is available, because they feel it will make them appear weak.

Research has shown, however, that this is not true most of the time. Guys, that means ask for directions if you are lost! (Interesting side note: Asian men are much more likely to ask for help or admit mistakes than Western men, while Asian and Western women ask for help and admit mistakes at about the same rate.)

  • These things are true for individuals and for companies.

In one research project, people were given identical company reports except that one report blamed outside forces and one company blamed inside factors. The company that blamed internal factors was rated higher than the company that placed blame outside the company. The same was found in the “real world.” Researchers followed companies who admitted mistakes in their annual reports and did not blame outside factors and found that these companies had a higher stock price after one year than companies that blamed outside forces for their problems in their annual reports.

Here are some take-aways.

  • If you value innovation, don’t be afraid of mistakes.
  • When you do make a mistake, admit it early and loudly.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help if it is available and you need it.
  • If you are in a position of leadership, admit your own mistakes and cultivate a culture of innovation where it is okay to make and admit mistakes without embarrassment.

 

I Have a Great Gift For Your Mom. Not!

Wall Street Journal for Mother's DayLast Sunday was the holiday of Mother’s Day in the United States. Many people took time to send their mothers flowers, call them, take them out to eat, and even send them a tweet on this special occasion. In fact, traditionally it is the #1 day of the year for restaurant business in the USA since people want to treat their mothers to a meal and they don’t want to cook it themselves.

I received the advertisement above from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) last year just before Mother’s Day. My favorite sentence is, “It’s a Mother’s Day gift that will delight any Mom.” Really? I think my mom would hate it, actually. My guess is that most of the moms who would want to get it are already receiving it.

Of course, I think the WSJ understands that, but they wanted to use the opportunity to sell more magazines. Understandable.

It does bring three important points to my mind, though. These are things that if we really want to be successful, not only in business, but in life, we would do well to keep in mind.

  • Don’t use things (or especially people!) for our own advancement and to get what we want. That is the feeling I get from this article. It appears to me that the WSJ is using a holiday that is very beautiful and meaningful simply to advance their own agenda.

Solution: Make others around us winners and we will also come out the winner. Pushing down someone else to get ahead may work in the short-run, but it is a very bad long-term strategy.

  • Don’t just see the world through our own eyes. Just because I like the WSJ (personally, one of my favorite magazines) doesn’t mean that my mom or other friends of mine who are not interested in business would like it.

Solution: See the world through others’ eyes and hearts and you will have real friends and genuine partners in life and in work.

  • Don’t believe that everyone thinks the same way we do. Many times we are so set in our own opinions and agenda, it is hard to imagine that anyone else could see it any other way.

Solution: Understand that people from different cultures and different personality types will see the world in a completely different manner than we see it. Don’t be shocked when people don’t think like you do. Embrace the differences. Think outside your own “box.”

If your mom wants the WSJ, get her a subscription for Mother’s Day. But, please make sure she really does want it before you do!

The Magic of ‘Just Do It’

trainersMany advertising experts consider Nike’s “Just do it” campaign to be one of the best ever conceived. An advertising magazine, AdWeekly, said this in a tribute to the 25th anniversary to the campaign.

Nike’s “Just do it” slogan, unveiled 25 years ago this month by Wieden + Kennedy, might be the last great tagline in advertising history.

Yes, other notables have come since—among them, Apple’s “Think different” and Volkswagen’s “Drivers wanted”—but none have come close to duplicating the cultural impact and mass appeal of “Just do it.” I frankly doubt that any ever will.*

The phrase has become almost ubiquitous and has been used by everyone from parents, to bosses, to coaches, to used car salesman. I even use it on myself sometimes— and should more!

What is so powerful about this simple phrase? It is magic.

Let me explain.

Most of us think the reason things don’t get done is because of a lack of knowledge. If we knew more, we could do more. The truth is that knowledge alone isn’t all that helpful. There is still one missing factor.

What is the important missing element?

The key to getting things accomplished is motivation—the desire or willingness to do something. Motivation is the key link between knowing something and actually doing it. No matter how much we know, if we don’t have the motivation, we will never translate knowledge into action.

There are two kinds of motivation.
Extrinsic motivation

This is the desire to do something because of outside influences.

  • Cleaning your room because of fear that your parents will punish you.
  • Wearing a certain type of clothes because of fear your friends will criticize you if you don’t.
  • Working hard in your job because you want a higher salary or a promotion.
  • Studying hard because you want to get good grades.

Intrinsic motivation

This is the desire to do something because of influences inside yourself.

  • Cleaning your room because you like it to be neat and tidy.
  • Wearing a certain type of clothes because they feel comfortable.
  • Working hard in your job because you love the work.
  • Studying hard because you love the subject and want to learn more.

The actions are the same, but the motivation is different. Intrinsic motivation is always more fun and more interesting. There is an internal, self-satisfying reward above the outside forces making us do something we might not necessarily like to do. There will always be extrinsic factors motivating us, but we get more pleasure and satisfaction from intrinsically motivated action.

And that is the magic of the Nike slogan. When you can look at something you must do (extrinsic) and say to yourself, Just do it!, it becomes, to some degree, intrinsic. A great way to feel better and to enjoy your life and your work more is to find a way to be intrinsically motivated to do things that are required. As the famous motivational speaker, Mary Poppins, says,

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game
And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake
A lark, a spree, it’s very clear to see

That a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down, the medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

(For a video of the song go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrnoR9cBP3o)
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*http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/happy-25th-birthday-nikes-just-do-it-last-great-advertising-slogan-150947

When Feeling Good Hurts

Chocolate Cake- dreamstime_l_1684878-Sized for InternetWe often give in to something that we know is bad because we want to feel good:

  • we buy something we know we can’t afford;
  • we eat the chocolate cake when we know we need to lose weight;
  • we put off washing our dishes because we don’t feel like doing them.

We “give in” so that we can feel good. (Scientists call this subject “self-regulation.”)

But the story doesn’t end there.

This temporary “feel good” comes at very high cost in the long-term.

I remember when I was in music school I had a 25-page paper about a classical composer due on a certain day. I put off writing the paper until the night before. Cindy, my wife now, my fiancé then, spent the whole night typing as I dictated the paper to her. What a miserable night and what a high price she paid for my procrastination. ( I deserved it—she didn’t.)

Of course, I do have an excuse. The part of the brain that regulates these things doesn’t fully develop until about age 25 and I was only 19 at the time. (If you buy that excuse, I have some land I’d like to sell you! I was just showing my immaturity.)

Save Your Desert For Last

I have always considered being able to delay gratification as a sure sign of maturity. It is one of the main differences between childish behavior and adult behavior.

Sure, that piece of cake really looks good, but do I really want to spend an extra 15 minutes at the gym because I gave in to my emotions? The mature, self-regulating person says, “I’d rather not have those extra calories. I can achieve the long-term good.”

Maturity is allowing the long-term good to outweigh the emotional attraction of the current, short-term desire.

What Is It You Want To Do?

Do you want to lose a few pounds and get back in shape?
Do you want to stop watching so much television and read good books instead?
Do you want to finish that big project that you keep putting off?
Do you want to save money ahead of time for a vacation instead of going into debt?

Be mature and let the long-term goal outweigh the emotions that seem so strong at the moment.

BTW, staying up all night writing that paper worked out well after all. It was such a bad experience that I made a vow to never do that again and I have pretty-much kept that promise. For the rest of my college career I turned in my papers before they were due and (almost) never “crammed” for an exam. My grades dramatically improved as a result.

Be mature.

Self-regulate.

See the long-term good.

Feel REALLY good later instead of feeling slightly good now!

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Past blog postings about similar subjects:

How To Make Better Decisions- Part 1
Oh-Tot-Mut-Fuss’n

A Great Way to Improve Team Performance

Count on me-dreamstime_7405973-smallerIf you’ve ever played a team sport on a competitive level, you probably know the difference between a bad coach, a good coach, and a great coach. For me, the difference is often the coach’s approach to improving performance in the team members. A bad coach will tell you that you did something wrong. A good coach will tell you that you did something wrong and tell you how to do it right. But the best coaches, I think, are the ones who make you evaluate your own performance and find ways to improve.

That kind of thinking is highlighted in some recent research on business teams from The University of Alabama in Huntsville*. In the study, teams that used “structured reflection” improved performance by a statistically significant amount when working together to play a team video game.

In applying this research to “real” teams in the “real” world, team leaders need to provide a time for teams to communicate together to reflect on their own performance and how to improve the team effort.

Here are some keys to implementing structured reflection.

  • Team communication is imperative. Time spent in training team members to communicate better is time and money well spent. They need these communication skills to be able to do well in a structured reflection situation.

 

  • The time together needs to be guided. The team leader needs to have a plan for the meeting and where it should be headed. The team leader should even have specific guiding questions that will direct the discussion.

 

  • The meeting needs to be reflective. Each team member should be able to look at their own performance, evaluate it, and develop a plan for future improvement.

 

  • Each team member needs to know the skills of the other team members. In communicating, each team member learns what the other team members are good at and can pass off items that are better handled by someone else. That leaves team members available to commit to tasks that they, in turn, can perform better.

 

  • In theses guided discussions, the team discusses the tasks, the goals, and the plans to achieve those goals. This is done in a team setting and is guided by the team leader.

Structured reflection may be able to help your team create better team performance. It might be one tool that will help you win the big game!

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*University of Alabama Huntsville (2013, April 8). Structured reflection improves team performance.
ScienceDaily.

How Deep Is Culture?

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image4877637

I was thinking about this post from a few months back and wanted to share it again. I think it is extremely important. Enjoy!

When I’m speaking or conducting workshops about culture I usually ask, “What is your definition of culture?” Usually, there are many good answers that come forward like “things we learn from our parents,” “music,” “clothing,” and “language.”

A couple of definitions that have become popular these days are “software of the mind” (Hofstede)
or “the right way of doing things” (unattributed).  All of these point us in the right direction, but I think culture is much “deeper” than that.

As I am exposed to more and more cultures and think deeply about my own culture I’ve come to the conclusion that culture is much deeper than we often realize. One prominent culture scholar (Trompenaars) puts it this way, “Our own culture is like water to a fish. It sustains us. We live and breathe through it.”

My favorite definition of culture is: “The human-made part of the environment.” That idea includes everything that we do and think. A tree growing outside in your yard is not culture, God made it. But as soon as we trim the tree, use it as the support for a swing, or make something from the wood of the tree, culture is involved because your culture will decide what the swing, chair, or table will look like.

Everything you have done or will do today from the time you wake until you go to sleep is affected by your culture. But like a fish that doesn’t notice the water he is swimming, breathing, and moving in, you have probably given little, if any, thought as to how culture is influencing you today.

So as an experiment, for the rest of today give some conscious thought as to how culture has formed the way you are acting and thinking.

Why Does My Nose Run and My Foot Smell?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-mother-baby-feet-image28809486I have taught English as a Second (or 3rd or 4th) Language for more than 20 years and I have to say that I love teaching English and never get tired of it.

But it is not easy because the English language is not easy. Native speakers forget that sometimes, but non-native speakers never do.

About 20 years ago I came across and article in the magazine “Reader’s Digest” that I have enjoyed greatly over the years. The article was entitled “Our Crazy Language” and was a condensation of a book by Richard Lederer entitled “Anguished English.” It is a great read if you enjoy literature and English. These are some of the highlights of the Reader’s Digest article, so I guess you could say that this is a condensation of a condensation of the book by Lederer.

I promise you’ll get a chuckle out of this.

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English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet. One in every seven human beings can speak it. More than half of the world’s books and three-quarters of international mail are in English. Of all languages, English has the largest vocabulary—perhaps as many as two million words—and one of the noblest bodies of literature.

Nonetheless, let’s face it: English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, neither pine nor apple in pineapple, and no ham in hamburger. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candy, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what other language do people drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? Recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same thing, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? And where are the people who are spring chickens or who actually would hurt a fly? I meet individuals who can cut the mustard and whom I would touch with a ten-foot pole, but I cannot talk about them in English.

You have to marvel at a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which your alarm clock goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, is not really a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up the essay I end it.

Don’t Cower, Get Superpower Willpower

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-man-running-beach-image20589079What is willpower?
One of the simplest definitions of willpower is, “Controlling your behavior; doing things you should and want to do, and NOT doing the things you shouldn’t and don’t want to do.”

Facts about willpower
Some interesting facts have come out of the latest research on willpower.

  • Willpower is like a muscle in 3 ways.
  1. If you don’t use it, over time it will “atrophy” and grow weaker.
  2. The “power” of willpower will deplete. If you use it too much in one day, it will grow “tired” and weak like your muscles feel after too much exercise.
  3. Over time, you can build it up with use, like you can build muscles. Willpower becomes stronger with use.
  • Willpower is not fixed at birth. You’re not born “with” it or “without” it.
  • Not something one person has and another doesn’t. We all can develop willpower as we exercise it.

Important steps to exercising willpower

  • Delay gratification. Look at the long-term good and not the short-term pleasure.
  • Use “I want power.” Kelly McGonigal, in her book, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works” says that we need to use “I want power” instead of willpower. Set a goal for what you want to accomplish and think of that instead of what you are giving up. Don’t think, “I have to give up chocolate cake,” think, “I want to be 10 centimeters smaller in my waist, feel better, and healthier.
  • Goal-setting. As we’ve discussed before in this blog, probably the best way to accomplish anything is to set a clear, achievable, and measurable goal. The same is true with exercising willpower.
  • Set a regular schedule. As I said above, if you use too much willpower in one day, it will become fatigued and weak, like a muscle. One way to not be forced to exercise excessive willpower is to create habits and schedules that will take you away from the problem areas so you don’t have to “use up” your daily allotment of willpower.

Other Practical tips that help build willpower

  • Do the hardest thing first while willpower is strongest.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Believe it or not, getting enough sleep helps us exercise willpower better.
  • Have and keep a good attitude. A bad attitude drains willpower; a good attitude builds it.
  • Get plenty of exercise. This may not seem obvious, but exercise also contributes to developing willpower.

The good news is that if you have felt like a failure when it comes to exercising willpower in the past, it is never too late to take some of these steps to help yourself build willpower and accomplish the important things you really want to do.

Embrace Uncertainty

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-cartoon-businessman-high-wire-illustration-image30920402Some researchers were conducting a study and were interviewing people on the street. They asked one man, “What do you think of uncertainty and indifference?”

His reply was, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

We all have to live with uncertainty. Marc Schoen in his book “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You” has this to say: “Uncertainty is inevitable. It’s human nature to find uncertainty very unsettling, and as such it’s also human nature for it to create high levels of agitance within us. As we wrestle with uncertainty, we struggle to find ways to manage it— and many attempts can worsen its effects.”

And yet, many times uncertainty can help us because it forces us to resolve problems and to accomplish more than we we would otherwise.

“Uncertainty avoidance” was one of the five cultural dimensions Gert Hofstede reported in his landmark research a few decades ago. There is both a personal and a cultural aspect to uncertainty avoidance.

Personal
Some people are, by their very nature, more adventurous and enjoy uncertainly to a great degree. Research has shown that this is both a function of nature and nurture.

Cultural
Cultures and societies as a whole also tend to embrace or avoid uncertainty. Cultures that embrace uncertainty tend to be more relaxed, feel comfortable in changing environments, have fewer rules, and are more tolerant of change. Some of these countries are: USA, UK, India, China and Indonesia.

Cultures that avoid uncertainty tend to be more rigid, emotional, plan things step-by-step, and have a lot of rules. Some of these countries are: Greece, Belgium, Italy, Russia, Korea and Mexico.

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from “The Hunt for Red October” when Admiral Painter and Jack Ryan are discussing the Russians. Ryan asks if the Russians have a plan and the Admiral replies, “Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.” Uncertainty avoidance!

To illustrate the differences, think of Germany and England. Both cultures are fairly similar, but Germans tend to be much more uncertainty intolerant. Thus, they plan and develop programs and systems to a much greater degree.

What do we need to do about it?

At work in a multicultural situation, we need to:

  • try to accommodate our coworkers who are less tolerant of uncertainty than we are;
  • learn the rules for cultures where uncertainty is avoided; and
  • communicate better with coworkers who have different levels of uncertainty avoidance.

Personally, since uncertainty is part of life, we need to constantly deal better with it. How? By embracing it and not fearing it. Our motto should be: “Embrace Uncertainty.” Constantly expand your comfort zone when there is uncertainty.

To quote Marc Schoen once again, “For now, when you do feel a sense of uncertainty, focus on a feeling of appreciation, and teach yourself to value it and achieve a level of comfort with it— despite how you might initially react to it. You can even focus on other areas of your life in which you feel thankful. With practice, this will ultimately recondition your response to uncertainty as you begin to view it in a more healthy and constructive way.”

A Tale of Two Hamburgers

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-smiled-chubby-hamburger-image22610970It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams…

David Livermore tells a story of a problem McDonalds had when they started operating in India. The company motivates work teams in the USA and Europe by rewarding hardworking employees with the distinction of “employee of the month.” It was very successful in America where people want to be noticed and individualistic…it was a total failure in India where people want to blend in and be part of the group in a collectivist culture.

In this series on multi-cultural leadership, we have been talking about the important subjects of  communication, trust, and human resource policies. Today I will share some ideas about the subject of how to approach motivation in different cultural situations.

As we saw in the example of McDonald’s trying to motivate their employees, well-intended motivational plans can sometimes cause more harm that good.

Motivating employees to accomplish more in both quality and quantity is one of the most important jobs that a leader or manager must do. And it often is not easily done when working in one culture, but complications are magnified in a multicultural setting.

2 Kinds of Motivation

Motivation is usually divided into 2 types: extrinsic (outside of oneself) and intrinsic (inside oneself.)

The rewards gained from extrinsic motivation will “push” an employee to do tasks that he would normally find boring, unlikeable, or even disgusting. These rewards may be something as little as a smiley face on a daily assignment written by a 3rd grade teacher, to all-expense-paid vacation for meeting a large sales goal, a raise in salary, or a job promotion. Often, people think of these as financial rewards, but they can include many other things such as notoriety, fame, parental or coworker approval, etc.

This varies by culture. As an example, lets think about parents wanting to motivate their child to do better in school. Extrinsic motivation in the United States and other Western countries would typically be to provide an external reward (an ice cream cone or more TV time) for better grades. External motivation in a “shame and honor culture” (like some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures) would be to criticize, scold, or punish the child for disappointing grades. For an excellent TED Talk on the subject, you can watch Dan Ariely.

Intrinsic motivational rewards are positive feelings received from the task itself simply because the employee enjoys the work. My wife is intrinsically motivated to solve Sudoku puzzles. Me…not so much.

Where Culture Meets Motivation
As if motivating employees wasn’t hard enough in one culture, it is greatly complicated when dealing with multiple cultures. I only have time to share 2 today.

1. Choice– More choice typically is very motivating for employees from individualist cultures and generally decreases motivation for those from collectivist cultures.

2. Competition– Having a more competitive environment will usually motivate individuals from individualistic cultures while it normally will demotivate workers from a collectivist culture.

For the multicultural leader, we must think through the important issues of motivating our employees of different backgrounds. It’s hard work, but the “rewards” (intrinsic and extrinsic!) are great.