February 21, 2018

Archives for April 2013

Are we talking about the same thing?

Informal meetingThe conversation seems to go round in circles. Actually, it would be more accurate to say it meanders all over the place. The participants do seem to be talking about one subject though. After all, they’re using the same words.

But they’re not talking about the same thing at all.

And so the conversation doesn’t make much sense and the result is a fog.

The reason is, of course, words mean different things to different people, and they automatically attach the meaning they know to what’s said. All these different meanings have their place, to be fair, but we need to make clear which one we have in mind.

Take “leadership”, for example—one of the most talked about themes in the world today. Unfortunately, also one of the words interpreted in many different ways, such as…

Going first
The individuals in charge of an organisation
The exercise of authority
Taking the initiative in a team
Contributing something to shape the future
Stepping ahead or across
Setting an example

That’s just a few of the possible interpretations. The problem is we may not realise how different our understanding can be.

In another example, we tend to talk about measures and targets interchangeably as if they’re the same thing. They’re not. Measures help us learn about a process, and generally are helpful. Targets, on the other hand, are much more controversial. Do they lead to the desired outcomes or do they make them less likely? Talk in a muddled way about targets and measures without distinguishing between them and we have little hope of making progress.

This all seems rather obvious, but public gathering after public gathering shows we still make the mistake.

It’s wise to assume our words have a wider range of meanings than we realise and state the one we mean (as well as our respect for the rest).

If you want a fruitful conversation; take time to make clear what you’re talking about.

Otherwise, make plans for fog.

Changing what you know

Woman reflecting… as opposed to what you know about.

It’s one thing to know about something, quite another to know a subject and be able to deploy it in life. Unless you can do (or be) something, you don’t know it, not really. There’s a world of a difference between knowing your purpose and knowing about purpose, for example.

This comes up with books—a great change resource if used properly…

Sometimes people ask me to post a summary of a book I’ve read for them to access, as if that’ll achieve the same effect. And sometimes, I’m offered summaries by other people.

It would be handy if you could radically cut the time invested and still get the same result, and change by just as much.

You can’t…

You can know about something from a summary, but you can’t truly know it.

The best books take you on a journey of learning. You’re changed by the process of reading from cover to cover. Your unconscious mind accepts new patterns. As a result, you live what you’ve learned, and achieve the corresponding results.

Changing what you know about isn’t the same as changing what you know.

A summary most likely won’t change what you know. Skip the reading and you skip the change.

What do you know about and what do you really know? And how do you tell the difference?

(I think a clue is one’s a head thing and the other’s a whole body experience.)

Are you condemning yourself to be wrong?

Margaret Thatcher and Tony BlairWe see it as all or nothing with political leaders, and others too for that matter. If there’s something we dislike about them or what they’ve done, we’re inclined to dismiss everything about them.

Nice and tidy, but a mistake.

Because some of what everyone does is right—even the most extreme people you can think of.

If we do the opposite, we are almost bound to be wrong some of the time.

Dismiss everything about someone, and we’re left with only the alternative, on every point.

Best to notice what is right, even amongst what is wrong.

Clarity or ambiguity—which is your friend?

Executives listening to a presentationMost of us have been brought up to seek precision; to look for clarity; the one right answer.

So it seems natural to be uncomfortable with ambiguity.

And yet…

Sometimes ambiguity is our friend. It helps keep people together and, oddly enough, things on track. It allows connection to develop and be sustained.

Define things too precisely and some of those involved will no longer be on board. Keep things a little bit loose and they can leave their hats in the ring, especially if they are predisposed to for other reasons.

Eventually, perhaps, the differences will have to be reconciled. Or perhaps they won’t. Maybe they’ll be unimportant by then, so much having been achieved by the joint effort.

Some questions have more than one answer anyway. “Both-and” applies more often than we realise.

So the skilful management of “creative ambiguity” is an art worth practising.

And of course, in the words of the Tao Te Ching, “Mystery is the doorway to understanding.”

Perhaps ambiguity is a doorway too.

Holding the mystery may create the conditions for learning. Going for clarity too soon may shut them down.

What’s the right amount of ambiguity to tolerate for the particular outcome you want?

Profiling—reformer or reinforcer?

Team of business people walkingThere’s a problem with the team. They’re not performing as effectively as we would expect…

Tempting perhaps to reach for the psychometric profiling tools to understand who’s doing what and why.

But there’s a danger…

The results of profiling are almost bound to reinforce the problem patterns because they give the individuals involved greater reason, justification even, for being the way they are.


They may become more aware of their traits and choose to change them—that is a possible outcome.

But it might be better just to build their flexibility in the first place; to coach them in different ways of showing up in the world.

Completely holistic?

Earth from spaceCan we ever be completely holistic? Or can we only hope to be more holistic than we were yesterday? Is that even a good idea?

It’s generally a worthy goal, striving to ensure our actions are matched to as whole and balanced a view as possible. More chance then of our actions being truly beneficial. But can we ever be complete in that respect? Even a system we recognise in large scale is part of a still bigger system—every “whole” is part of something else.


Being completely holistic seems beyond reach.

How then to choose our scope? How to choose the boundary of the system with which we engage? How to find the practical optimum between a large enough scope to qualify as “holistic” and something small and simple enough we can actually influence?

As the late Frank Farrelly said in his book “Provocative Therapy,” “When it comes time to act, you have to oversimplify.”

Or as Peter Senge, author of “The Fifth Discipline” says, “Don’t try to figure out the unfigure-outable.”

Being both holistic and practical—another “both-and” to keep in mind and in balance.

Can you see their hesitancy?

Man thinking, looking upwardSometimes it’s obvious…

We notice when our friends and associates are holding back from committing to something—or maybe someone—which in itself is preventing them achieving the results they want.

We might encourage them to “go for it” or to “have the courage of their convictions.”

That’s after we’ve seen they’re holding back; or after we’ve felt their hesitancy.

I think you’ll agree you notice this in others.

But here’s the thing…

Do you see it in yourself (when it’s there to see, or feel)?

What (or who) are you hesitating about?

Caution, of course, is appropriate, but sometimes we overdo it.

What can you learn about your own hesitancy from how you notice it in other people? What are the signals you pick from them, and perhaps could notice in yourself?

Do you need the big roll-out?

Group of people listeningIt’s striking how some organizations think first of the scale required to roll something new out to the workforce at large—a daunting and expensive undertaking.

And yet often the same effect can be achieved with the leadership group attending thoroughly to their own change and growth.

So much cheaper and easier to organize and yet not the usual pattern.

How much does a call cost?

Woman reflectingAre your perceptions of relative cost up to date?

I’m struck by how often people comment on the cost of phoning transatlantic. “That’ll be really expensive they say.”

Actually, landline-to-landline, with my pretty average phone contract, it costs about £3 or $5 for an hour—less than the cost of meeting somebody in town for a coffee.

Most of our model of these things gets laid down at a young age and, unless we make an effort, doesn’t get updated as the world moves on. The out-of-dateness of our map can be rather obvious in this area of relative cost.

Some areas are not so obvious.

Which of your perceptions could do with an update?

We’re all the same; we’re all very different

High Street sceneDuring a workshop recently, I asked for observations on the learning exercise we’d just done. Two people spoke up almost in unison, except that what they said was very different…

“It’s amazing how different people are,” said one.

“It’s amazing how much we’re all the same,” said the other, in almost the same moment.

What a perfect illustration…

We are both more different from other people than we realise, and, at the same time, more the same than we realise. It depends where you look.

If you want to find sameness, perhaps because you want to build a relationship, go toward the bigger themes like family, making a difference, and belonging to groups. Go instead toward the details and chances are you’ll find more difference.

Here’s one practical takeaway…

If you’ve got a job to do, find the areas of sameness and use them to build the rapport you need to sustain the relationship through the areas of difference.


What my participants had to say might well reflect their personal preference for noticing difference or noticing sameness—a personality trait with far-reaching implications: Being a “mismatcher” (noticing difference) is a vital role, but sometimes doesn’t make friends; building sameness makes friends (and sales), but misses more errors. Or it might reflect their preference for big picture or details.

What’s your experience? How much are we the same and how much are we different?

What might your answer suggest about where you prefer to look—big picture or details, sameness or difference?