How we think matters

If you do belong as I suspect to the tribe called ‘the creatives’, then your job is not exactly to support anybody, but to lead the way through your service; to inspire employees to think more creatively as they tackle complex problems.

You have a responsibility, and it is to remain true to your calling, to never forget who you are and what you stand for. Remain immersed in conviction, Wholehearted, become bigger and authentically YOU.

It is only when you walk the talk, live a life of immersion in your values and embody your purpose that you stand a chance of prevailing. And prevail you must, because you know that creativity is the key to human liberation, and that message needs to be heard.

We are tired of the same old, same old, because same old only produces the same boring results. You were meant to be change agents, not just process agents. If you truly belong to the tribe of the creatives it is high time you became the change agents you were meant to be.

How we think matters. It matters to the results we say we want. It matters to our personal and professional bottorn-line.


What we typically call thinking is aimed mostly at interrogating our memory for solutions to problems. The operative assumption is that the answer lies in memory if only we could access it. This is thinking focused on the past, retrieving stored information is thinking that avoids risk and novelty. It is thinking that seeks to restore certainty. It does NOT produce insight (new thought). To produce fresh new thoughts we must look to the unknown and get out of our comfort zone. We must look to the future.

When we think from the past, we re-actualize that past and prevent the exploration of more creative avenues for solutions to problems. Future—thinking or forward-thinking is unsettling for it offers no assurance of rightness; nothing has been tried and tested. Yet it almost always guarantees new and unforeseen possibilities.

There is a common state of mind that facilitates the emergence of insights (new thoughts): an easy-going, unpressured and open state. The more often you reside in that state, the more often you will have insights.

Ways of thinking – Logical thinking versus lateral thinking

What is the Whole point of thinking? What is the purpose?

What does it mean to think logically? Is there another way to think?

Asking what does (5 + 5 =?) equal – is our traditional way of asking. There is only one possibility.

Asking what two numbers add up to to. (? + ? =10) The creative way provides many possible answers.

Lateral thinking is a term created by Edward de Bono (1970) to describe a set of approaches and techniques designed to find radically new approaches to problems- to come at them from the side rather than the front.

Vertical thinking is selective, lateral thinking is generative.

(Linear, logical thinking versus non-linear thinking)

The processes are quite distinct. Rightness is what matters in vertical thinking.

Richness is what matters in lateral thinking.

Vertical thinking selects a pathway by excluding other pathways. Lateral thinking does not select but seeks to open up other pathways.

With vertical (logical) thinking, one may look for different approaches until one finds a promising one. Then the search is over.

With lateral thinking, one goes on generating as many approaches as one can, even after one has found a promising one.

Lateral thinking is provocative, it provokes the future. Lateral thinking and vertical thinking are complementary. Much like transactional leadership and transformational leadership are complementary.

Mental Models

Our filters — biases, triggers, assumptions and habits — restrict communication, limit, alter, and misrepresent what we hear. They define and confine our reality.

The way we see our world (mental models) affects our thinking and experience of the world and therefore determines our way of being and our actions.

Mental models are representations of reality that people use to understand specific phenomena. They represent deeply ingrained assumptions or generalizations that influence how we understand the World and how we take action. These deeply held internal images of how the world works are developed over time through the process of socialization, including education, experience and interaction with others.

Filters, determined by our history, family myths, social constructs, hopes and dreams, education, relationship issues, religious beliefs, ego issues, keep us in our safety zones.

“Filters help us organize our world, regulate emotions, accomplish goals, maintain our sense of self and maintain our moral centers. We need them. We just need to know when they are limiting the outcomes of our conversations.”

Mental models are very often hidden and we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior. Once created, they become fixed and reinforced in the mind, becoming difficult to change.

The function of mental models is to “mediate reality for our minds and help us categorize and organize an endless stream of information we take in every day.”(DeBono, 1991).

Our brains restrict what we hear in order to maintain our status quo, limiting the accuracy of how we hear what our communication partners intend to convey.

The success in our conversations largely depends on how well we know our communication partners, how the topic fits with our beliefs, memory and habits, and how our filters bias the conversation.

Your world is perfectly organized to support what you believe.

Our brains hear what’s comfortable and misunderstand, ignore, misappropriate everything that is not. We listen through filters. Our filters try to keep us safe.

It’s much easier to stay in the safety of the status quo, the current state of what other people around you are doing, rather than put your neck out there with an idea that could necessitate a change.

When the way we see our world changes (our mental models are challenged and changed), we can then change our actions and get very different results.

Saying YES — Possibility—thinking versus Deficit—thinking

Have thoughts ever caused you to become sad?

Words have an emotional content. The way we communicate triggers emotions in others, fear, joy, etc. many emotions. Emotions determine if and how an action will be taken. An emotion is energy in motion. Our Words have the capacity to alter the chemical balance in someone else’s brain.

SCARF examples.

The usual questions exercise.

What happens when you say YES?

Things fall into place to give you what you want.

You gradually start seeing possibilities. Confirmation bias.

What happens when in the interest of remaining in our comfort zone, we get in the habit of saying NO to life?

-We miss opportunities (disguised as challenges) to discover something new, try something we haven’t tried before, opportunities to learn and grow.

Learning and living are the same. In fact, learning is the whole point of living.

Try and stop and see what happens!

When we stop learning, we start to die.

The most progressive and memorable moments in our lives happen when we say YES. When you say YES, the next opportunity might change your life; you build a better network, you become happier and you reconnect with your child-like creativity.

NO closes possibilities. YES opens up possibilities.

Innovators act differently so they can think differently.

Try behaving differently. Try saying yes to something you would normally turn down. Try different foods, different music (in Nashville, I did, and now understand country music), try making the first move…

Whatever happens, you will learn something.

What matters is that you open yourself more to what life has to offer. Life is already saying YES to you in so many ways. Now it is simply waiting for you to say YES back so you can have it more abundantly.

There is no script, no limits, no rules, no set path, just you and your beliefs.

You are in charge of your experiment. You can try a little change, or a huge change.

Saying NO is the real risk, because it closes doors.

What are you willing to say YES to?

How we view failure does not help us succeed

Failure happens when our response to an event is not constructive.

It is indeed our lack of appropriate responsiveness that turns an event into a failure. It is also how we view failure that ultimately makes failure real. To some, there is no failure, only learning. It is only recently that our view of failure has changed for the worse. It seems that we have forgotten that success is built on repeated failures that triggered tenacity and perseverance as the only adequate response. You graduated, not because you had the highest IQ but because you persisted when others dropped out.

We have grown to understand success and failure as opposites, when in fact they are the two sides of the same coin. If you try very hard and push the envelope, you will surely fail. And that’s good because if you learn from it and keep trying you will eventually succeed. Intelligent failures take you to lasting success. Think of Michael Jordan’s “I win because I failed so much.” There are no failures, only lessons. The real question is “Are we willing to learn from them?”

Why are we all so afraid of failure?

Fear is the creativity killer

All the negativity around us causes us to develop Internalized powerlessness.

Internalized powerlessness is Fear by another name.

Fear is just a thought that has one job – to keep us safe. Fear keeps us safe by keeping us small, stuck and the same.

What we need is bring Courage back and counter Fear—based decision-making.

Are you playing to win or are you playing not to lose?

Fear is a negative prediction of the future. Fear seems bigger the more you dwell on it. Face it and it lessens or disappears. Fear is the opposite of creativity.

« Creativity is the key to human liberation. » Grace Lee Boggs

« The enemy is fear. » Gandhi

Monkey brain and its effects [stress and ADHD culture]

Fear is exacerbated by the fact that as a culture we find it difficult to remain mindful. Fear, through the stress that it produces, raises the level of cortisol in our bloodstream and triggers us to pay attention to threats that are only imagined and to other False Evidence Appearing Real. Certainly controlling people capitalize of those fears and use them to make us their puppets.

Monkey brain simply means that our minds are always in a state of agitation.

They constantly ruminate over something that happened in the past or make projections about things that may happen in the future, finding it hard to stay in the present.

Rumination is the real cause of stress.

To remain in the present non-judgmentally, focused on the here and now, paying attention to the body, its sensation, not identifying with or seeking to capture any thought that happens to pass through our head is the best way to learn to regain a sense of perspective and regain control of our own behavior. To be mindful is to be non-reactive. It provides you the freedom to choose your own responses, a sort of freedom if you will. Growing in mindfulness is also a way to grow one’s ability to focus in the interest of great creativity.

The job of true leadership is to transform internalized powerlessness in the words of Steve Jobs: “Innovation differentiates between a leader and a follower.”

Leadership and followership are both about exercising your right to speak up, to be heard, and to be strategic about it. The movement of followers contains leadership within it. In fact, followership is leadership. Leadership is followership.

The fixation on leadership has contributed to a culture in which the rest of us feel we don’t have to do anything, we are not responsible. It’s the leader’s fault.

The fantasy is that the leader is responsible for our collective good.

Let us all acknowledge that we have become leader-centric, fixated on leaders.

There is this fantasy that the leader is the one that matters.

Certainly, leaders do matter, however… followers have always mattered, and they matter more now than ever. Technology is driving the change. Followers have impact, they either support the status quo or they don’t.

Followership is the response of people in subordinate positions to those in senior ones.

It is a social relationship between the leader, followers and the group. It is not subservience or passive obedience to orders. Rather it is a process whereby followers engage in constructively critical thinking, and interact with and support the leader to help achieve a task.

Followers provide the “horsepower” to organizational performance. Everyone is a Follower. Virtually everyone is a follower at some point in his or her life. And perhaps more importantly, anyone occupying a position of authority plays a followership role at times, as first—line supervisors report to mid—level managers, mid-level managers report to vice-presidents, vice-presidents report to CEOs, CEOs report to Boards of Directors, etc. This being the case, followership should be viewed as a role, not a position. It is worth keeping in mind that some jobs have clear leadership requirements; virtually all jobs have followership requirements. Given that the same people play both leadership and followership roles, it is hardly surprising that the values, personality traits, mental abilities, and behaviors used to describe effective leaders can also be used to describe effective followers.

Leadership is not a position.

You cannot be assigned or appointed to be a leader. You do not need anyone’s permission to be a leader. You don’t need to be the smartest, or the prettiest. You don’t need a degree.

Leadership is a posture, a decision, a choice, an impulse. It is initiative.

Leadership is ACTION. Leadership, thought of that way becomes a habit, a pattern of thoughts and behaviors, and eventually, a lifestyle.

It is now initiative, rather than conformity, that is required.

Leadership is interaction, between leaders and their followers. What goes on between leaders and their supporters is what is significant. Leadership is essentially about how we relate to others; how we view them, as mere cogs in a wheel, objects, or real people with a brain and a voice. To dehumanize people means to suppress or at least, not honor their yearning for freedom and justice.

Sawu bona/Wabu Sawu bona/Sikhona. “We see you.” “I am here.

Leadership arises from the core (values) of who a leader is. It starts from the inside out. For people to follow your lead, it’s important to demonstrate and share your values so they aren’t left guessing what they are, and to give them clear and compelling answers as to what you stand for and what they should expect.

Taking a stand clarifies your own morality. We all choose what we stand for with what we say, what we do, and what we keep silent about. If you are going to take a stand, it forces you to make the case. You initiate change because something does not align with your values and you envision a better way.

Leadership is about taking responsibility. When you take responsibility you cannot feel like a victim taking 100% responsibility and making zero excuses; and not looking to anyone else to do it.

Leadership is about having the courage to step up despite the fear. Stepping up is seeing a need and deciding YOU are the right person to do something about it.

It is about doing what YOU can, focusing on the right things at the right time.

Choosing to act and stepping up inspires and challenges others to act. When you step up, it inspires others to believe they now have permission to step up. People begin to stand up because they know they will not be alone. They follow because they believe it is a better way. But deep down, people show up and step up for themselves.

Leadership is an act of influence. It is never an act of control, coercion, or domination. Authentic leaders live according to core beliefs and principles that attract others.

Leadership is truly about listening, the most important part of interaction and communication. Saying ‘No’ is safe and easy. It requires little thought. Finding ways to say ‘Yes’ is the real accomplishment. One that requires real thought.

Becoming bigger

True empowerment gives people the confidence, competence, freedom, and resources to act on their own judgment. There is such a thing as self-empowerment. You do not need permission to be great. You can give yourself permission.

Definition of empowerment: the granting of authority to do a particular task without first seeking approval.

Empowerment goes both ways. People empower leaders by acknowledging their leadership and working harder to make their vision a reality.

When you allow yourself to become bigger you experience increased feelings of personal power, security and tolerance for risk; your thinking expands and you become bolder.

The acquisition of power causes individuals to feel more positive, in control, and optimistic about the future, and to become more goal-oriented and likely to take action.

The absence of a sense of personal power does the opposite: pessimism, inertia…

Elements of strength and power: straight back, self-confidence, relaxed and calm demeanor, great listening skills, slow measured vocal tempo, absence of nervousness in voice and body, succinct to the point speech, few words packed with high value, take up space, alignment of verbal message with non-verbal message, cut out excessive head bobbing, comfortable with silence, deliberate uses of silence and pauses…

Elements of presence: Posture, centering, grounding, they are in the moment, focus, eye contact, deliberate body movement, paying attention to what’s going on rather than being caught up in our own thoughts, feeling good and showing it…

Elements of warmth: open body language, attentive stance, lean in, voice modulation, dress style, positive attitude, attitude of gratitude, show compassion, making others feel comfortable by being comfortable, smiling…

Rethinking conflict as collaboration

What are the benefits of conflict?

Bold claims:

  1. Conflict fosters an awareness that problems exist
  2. Conflict puts more information at everybody’s disposal
  3. Conflict offers us an opportunity to appreciate different perspectives
  4. Conflict challenges assumptions
  5. Conflict leads to the clarification of important issues
  6. Conflict leads to greater understanding
  7. Conflict often results in a better grasp of options, better decisions and options
  8. Conflict leads to better solutions to problems
  9. Without conflict there is no innovation

1O. Conflict is a great way to learn more about others

  1. Conflict teaches you a great deal about yourself
  2. Conflict creates opportunities for growth
  3. Conflict leads to improved communication
  4. Conflict leads to improved working relationships
  5. Conflict reflects caring about the issues

I6. Conflict signals the presence of some measure of trust

I7. Conflict leads to increased commitment

I8. Conflict leads to higher levels of engagement

I9. Conflict leads to improved employee morale

  1. Conflict leads to higher team performance
  2. Transforming conflict is quicker than letting conflict fester
  3. If you are unwilling to engage in conflict, you will not accomplish the things that are important to you.

My recommendations:

  1. In the name of excellence in delivering the mission, managers and employees need to develop conflict-confidence.
  2. By setting clear expectations, we need to co-create a workplace in which constructive conflict is encouraged.
  3. We need to reward, recognize and thank people who are willing to take intelligent risks, stand up and support their position (even if they are wrong). That’s leadership.
  4. We need to establish a norm in our groups that conflict around ideas is expected and that personal attacks are not tolerated.
  5. We need to emphasize that if any leader experiences little to no conflict in their group; they may want to examine their own actions. They may be stifling it and with it, the creativity of the group.
  6. We need to emphasize that if what you’re doing engenders no conflict, no one cares, and it may not be worth doing.

What is conflict?

Conflict comes from differences in values, ideas, expectations, perspectives, intentions, priorities; experiences… Conflict is a by-product of our diversity.

Conflict occurs when what you want, need or expect interferes with or violates what I want, need or expect.

Conflict is always about what’s important, and it is inevitable.

Conflict arises from pe0ple’s needs, and needs unmet do not just go away, and cannot be wished away.

They lie in wait for the next opportunity to express themselves, which in organizational life means that they will continue to get in the way of something we want or need to get clone.

Difference is the genesis of conflict, and conflict is the genesis of change.

Conflict is change.

Conflict is change. Without it, attitudes, behaviors, and relationships stay the same.

The issue of conflict is really about allowing everyone to bring their full potential to what they do every day at work.

There are five levels of conflict:

  1. Problem to solve
  2. Disagreement
  3. Contest
  4. Fight
  5. Intractable situation

Why don’t we intervene early when conflict is easier to transform?

Change the focus from people to behaviors.

Labeling people shifts attention from what they did to who they are.

Define the problem as a person and you’re in trouble. The possibilities become limited.

If you define the problem as the difficult behavior, now you can do something about it.

People can’t change who they are, but almost everyone can change what they do.

Understanding the situation and framing it in terms of behavior enables you to be softer on the person and harder on the problem.

Assertiveness is where you need to be in order to properly start building your conflict-confidence.

Conflict Transformation

The best way to deal with conflict is to radically change the way we think about it.

We must abandon the notion that conflict has to be resolved, and adopt instead the notion that conflict is ‘energy in motion’ that needs to be transformed into what it really is, an opportunity for creative growth. But that requires conflict-confidence.

This presentation is about rethinking conflict and putting its power to work for our offices and our lives. Putting the energy it generates in motion. Channeling it into forward movement.

It is not about a clash of personalities, which should be avoided. It is about creative abrasion or a clash of ideas, which should be encouraged; and ultimately, is about our ability to be more creative and innovative together.

Under what circumstances can we consider conflict constructive?

When it is future—focused, (not past) and focused on ideas, (not personalities).

The Tools of Conflict Transformation are

-Practiced listening skills and Powerful Appreciative Questioning skills

-Own your perspective

-Focus on behavior

-Take deeper breaths

-Slow things down

-Pay attention to your words

-Indicate your desire to solve the issue

-Find a shared vision of success

Managing Diversity of Thought

The best way to deal with conflict is to radically change the way we think about it.

Diversity means difference.

Difference takes many forms.

Difference is relational.

Difference is disruptive. It disrupts the status quo. Any time you add difference you create tension.

How has your difference been troublesome in the office?

Difference is generative. It generates change. Whether the change is positive or negative depends on the capacity of the group to include difference.

Inclusion is the capacity to include difference. Social groups are naturally conformist. They tend to resist difference and change. They absent their brains, and deny their critical thinking skills in the name of acceptance and belonging.

Inclusion is dialogic. It is about the sharing of power. When power is not shared, and one party has to do all the accommodating, the relationship is not dialogic, and inclusion is not happening. What is different is forced to conform, and we get mediocrity, if not worse.

Inclusion is creative. The more difference we include, the more intersections we create. Intersectional thinking gives life to new things.

Creative abrasion

The bottom-line here is that we have to be willing and able to work with and through tension to leverage diversity of thought.

Conflict is constructive when it improves the quality of the decisions made, stimulates creativity and innovation, encourages interest and curiosity (the unpacking of ideas), provides the medium through which problems can be aired and tensions released, and fosters an environment of self-evaluation and change.

Conflict improves the quality of the decision-making process enabling all points of view, particularly the ones that are unusual or held by a minority, to be weighed in important decisions. The expression for this is creative abrasion and what it simply means is that groups often produce more and better ideas when they are composed of assertive individuals with diverse skills, knowledge life experiences, abilities and perspectives.

Creative abrasion is a process in which people with divergent worldviews and skills interact to produce, synthesize and catalyze lots of new ideas. In this process, differences are amplified while none is discarded or allowed to dominate.

Innovative companies like Google, Pixar, Apple, IBM, Nissan Design International and many others have cultivated and harnessed the frictional energies released between distinct perspectives and work styles to generate new directions and novel solutions. They have transformed pregnant moments of friction into opportunities for breakthroughs.

Conflict transformation is all about SCARF. Status. Certainty. Autonomy. Relatedness. Fairness.

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I write in the margin. J'écris dans la marge.

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