Now Presenting, Facilitation!

Teamwork

I have seen some amazing presentations in my life. I’ve seen speakers who know how to captivate their audience, tell an engaging story, and drive the point home. I’ve heard startling facts, emotional anecdotes, and hilarious tales. And most often, I’ve left my seat feeling motivated, inspired, and ready to take action in some way. Then, when I’m asked to share what I learned with others, I’ll often respond, “you had to be there.”  Presentations can be very impactful and I fully believe that public speaking and storytelling are important techniques to embrace. I appreciate the fact that there are countless presentation trainings available for people to improve their skills; I only wish that people gave as much thought to their facilitation skills.

Facilitation is the art of guiding others to a defined objective by listening and asking questions to enhance the results. While presentation pushes information out to the audience, facilitation pulls information and guides discoveries. Where the presenter says, "here's what I think..." the facilitator asks, "what do you think?"  In a facilitated session, everyone in attendance is a participant rather than an audience member. There’s a sense of ownership that the session belongs to everyone involved and that you get out what you put in.

The facilitator sets the tone in the room by embodying the behaviors that she wants to see in others. She takes on an empathic demeanor and seeks understanding whenever possible. She makes no assumptions and ensures that she sees various points of views before moving forward. In doing so, she creates a space where every participant feels encouraged and supported to speak their truth and make discoveries.

There are plenty of reasons why you may want to seek facilitation over presentation. For instance, when you have a group of talented individuals and you’d like to reach a consensus, innovate collectively, or solve a problem together, then it’s important that you have a facilitator to guide them. Everyone in the room should be able to focus on the problem at hand; the facilitator should focus on how they get there.

If the facilitator navigates the map and acts as the DJ, the participants are free to drive.

Fulfilling Intentions at the Upper End of What's Possible

Last fall our team worked on the design and delivery of a leadership meeting for the top leaders of a national financial services firm. Our role was to partner with the executive team and other key stakeholders to design and deliver a meeting that helped to:

1.     Build connections and trust among leaders to advance the organization’s vision and strategy

2.     Offer an opportunity to leaders to develop solutions around tensions in their business

3.     Challenge leaders to be role models of leadership and create the environment for their teams to execute on their vision and strategy

Working to fulfill an intention of this nature is a healthy challenge. There are multiple stakeholders, many perspectives on what should be on the agenda, and the stakes are high.

Also, meetings like this aren’t designed in isolation – along the way we are watching the economy, paying attention to the performance of the business, and hoping hurricane season doesn't stop us in our tracks.

At the end of engagements, we always take time to debrief, reflect, and think about what we learned. This helps our team continuously improve how we fulfill intentions. As I reflect on this experience, achieving “the upper end of what’s possible” is on my mind.

Throughout the project, there are times when our clients say, “that’s good enough” or times when our team says, “we are done ideating and need to move to development and implementation.” However, this time around, I am reminded that statements like these help us to navigate but shouldn’t necessarily be accepted. There are times when they are indeed true, but there are many more times, when we need to continuously challenge, continue to develop, draw on past learnings, and get input from others. The upper end of what’s possible is only possible when we commit not to settle. 

Arrival - How Language Echoes and Enforces Culture

Recently, I saw Arrival, a science fiction movie about aliens arriving on earth and mankind’s struggle to communicate with them. In many ways, this film highlights the challenges inherent to communication and the impact that language has on our perception. I’ll do my best not to spoil any of the plot, however while I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but think back to the importance of articulation as it relates to culture.

In the movie, one of the characters shares a theory that the language you speak actually affects the way in which you think. This comes up several times throughout the film. One notable instance is when a nation begins teaching the aliens a game. The concern was that by using a competition to communicate, the aliens would see humans as competitors as opposed to partners.

“If all I ever gave you was a hammer...every problem is a nail.”

This concept has stayed with me as I now see how much language impacts the way I think. When I learn a new word or phrase, I find myself using it repeatedly. This not only affects the way I describe my surroundings; it affects how I internalize my surroundings. Given that language is the medium in which we communicate our thoughts to others, it seems inevitable that language would impact the way we formulate our thoughts to begin with.

At organizations, language can contribute greatly to the culture in place. For instance, when I worked for a company with “performance reviews”, I felt as though my manager’s comments were designed, first and foremost, to be reviewed by other people. Whereas working for a company with “feedback” offered a sense that the company was invested in my growth and development. Everyone internalizes language in different ways, but at it’s core, language reflects the values of a culture. I think it’s important to remember that language also enforces those values by framing the way in which we think.

Getting There

The summer after high school, my friend Jacob and I embarked upon a road trip from Chicago to Seattle, down the coast to Los Angeles, and back on Route 66. It was an amazing journey that pushed my 2002 Toyota Matrix nearly to it’s limit. In that trip alone, I spent time in 20 different states and made more memories than I can count. However, one of my favorite memories came even before we even got in the car.

As you might imagine, I had never planned a trip of this scale before this point. I was freshly 18 years old, and every trip I had taken had either been through a community service organization or planned by my family. This was the first time that I was free to plan a trip for myself and go wherever I could with the money I had earned at camp. It was a truly freeing sensation.

As Jacob and I sat down to plan the trip, we felt as though the skies were the limit. Before we even opened the map, we both shared where wanted to go most. Jacob would be attending USC in the fall, so he wanted to go to L.A. I had heard great things about Glacier National Park, so Montana was the top of my list. During that first talk we went through a ton of bucket-list ideas: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Four Corners, Seattle. We put all our ideas onto the table without even questioning if it were feasible or if we were dreaming too big. And then, we opened the map.

I often think back on this experience when I initiate a new project at work. All too often, I find myself looking at the limitations in place before ideating potential paths to take. I get bogged down by what’s feasible, what’s been done before, what’s not an option, and this greatly limits my ability to dream big. If I had done this with Jacob, we would have never made it to L.A. We would’ve started by opening the map and finding the quickest route out of the city, winding up in Indiana.

So instead of starting by focusing on the map and seeing all the places you can’t go, I suggest starting with where you want to go. Then, find a way to get there.

Go From the Inside Out

I married into a large family. A situation that I was ill-equipped to handle in the early years of my marriage. I grew up with two siblings and one cousin. That was the whole of us. Suddenly, I was immersed in a small town’s population on any given holiday. A swirling mass of people of all ages. All of whom seemed to believe that their volume and constant movement was completely acceptable—normal in fact.

Now, nearing 20 years later, I embrace everything about my family—good and hard. And what I learned along the way has turned out to be invaluable when it comes to embracing something new and different.

When you first are presented with something new or different, it is easy to view it as so foreign in nature that you wonder how it will ever fit into your life. All you see are the barriers to giving it a try. People seem to be doing something that you are unaccustomed to or have no experience with. In the case of my family, I was completely unaccustomed to being with a group of people who had such diverse views and interests and dreams. It was pretty easy when I only needed to interact with a few people who rarely challenged my views on life. When first experiencing my extended family, the conversations around me were hard to decipher and even harder to find an entry point for participating. At least, that was my perception from my seat on the couch as I looked in from the outside at this mass of people.

The trick, which took me a little while to figure out, is to actually start embracing new things from the inside out. When you do this, you begin to see all the things people are doing from within to help others connect and feel as if they belong.

The easiest example I can give of this is the vacation jigsaw puzzle—an activity that occurs every time we gather for a little “rest and relaxation.” Here is what happens. My wife and her sisters (there are a lot of them) rapidly unload everything from the numerous SUVs that arrive at any given vacation spot. The contents may vary year-to-year but two things stay constant—a ton of food and one jigsaw puzzle. As the kitchen gets stocked and the volume of conversation reaches a ridiculously high level, my wife finds a small table and places four chairs around the table. She then opens the puzzle box, empties the contents, and walks away. That is it—no announcement and no instructions.

It took me a number of vacations to actually recognize what happens next. Initially, I would periodically walk past the table as a small group of family members chatted away and puzzled. More chatting than puzzling to be honest. I was never inclined to sit if an open chair was available as I always felt it would consume too much time. Instead I would go off and read the paper, or swim in the pool, or partake in some other activity that seemed closer to my interests.

On a morning when most were still in bed, I sat down alone at the table and began contributing to the work of previous puzzlers. Before long, a niece joined and then a sister-in-law and then a son. It was quiet for a while as we each worked on a section. And then we started putting our sections together and the chatter started. I have no idea what we talked about. When we finished our sections, we left and gave way to another small group which followed pretty much the same routine. A little focus. A little chatter. And a little contribution to task at hand.

While assembling the puzzle is a rich metaphor in and of itself that is not what I took from this ritual. What surprised me was the very conscious act of staging the puzzle in the first place. It was an easy way for people to convene and begin to feel as if they belonged. Where you might get lost and go unheard in a mass of people, you certainly are found and heard in a small group of four. That is where you first feel connected and gain the comfort to gradually expand into other small groups and activities. When faced with something new or different, you shouldn’t try and embrace it all at once. You should start somewhere small inside and work your way out to the larger experience. Along the way you will learn a new way of doing things through the guidance of those who have previously sat in your chair.

You go from the inside out.

Stick the Landing

While I was a camp counselor, we always felt a surge of energy on the last day of each session.  It could’ve been the longest two weeks of your life, but the last day was always a blast.  We’d blare music over the speakers in the dining hall, sing the most popular songs from the session, and smile ear to ear.  Even the campers who had spent the session rolling eyes and dragging feet would get into the spirit.  It was magical.  In hindsight, this seemingly spontaneous celebration seems masterfully crafted.  Especially now that I’ve learned about the peak-end rule.

The peak-end rule is a theory that we remember an experience primarily by how it felt at it’s most intense moment and at it’s close. When I reflect back on my personal experiences, I believe this to be true.

Once, I led a backpacking trip for eighth graders.  We were cursed with bad weather and yet, somehow, the bugs were even worse. However, for all the pain that we endured as a group, what I remember most is how we laughed the entire time.  I remember singing as we hiked through the rain and inventing games to kill our entourage of mosquitos. After it poured all night, my co-staff and I would wake up early and walk around the half-collapsed tents with a guitar serenading the campers to wake them up.  It was a fun session. On the last day, we proudly told the story of our adventure to the rest of camp as though we had completed some triumphant journey.

Looking back, I realize how easy it would’ve been to write that session off as a failure.  As soon as things got bad, we could’ve said to ourselves, “well this one’s a wash.”  Or, “these kids aren’t coming back to camp.”  But if the peak-end rule is true, then all you really need to do to turn an experience around is make sure that the best moment is more memorable than the worst moment and stick the landing.

Email Harrison

Practice Makes Permanent

Famous psychology writer and author of 2008 best seller “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell stated that 10,000 hours of practice will turn anybody from an average Joe into a “master” of a skill or craft.  This means that I could pick up the tuba tomorrow – with no prior tuba experience – and practice 90 minutes a day, 7 days a week, each week of the year, for 20 years, and I would become a master of the tuba.

This theory, originally developed by K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer, is scientifically sound and valid. That being said, I believe that popular culture has gotten carried away with this theory and glamorized the possibility of becoming a “master”. A master is someone that is the best at what they do, someone that leads the field in their skill and essentially has no competition for the number one spot. Gladwell discussed that The Beatles became masters of music because they simply had so much exposure and time to practice their music. We have seemed to forget that practice time is not the only factor that will make someone a “master.” In the previously mentioned study, the word “deliberate” appears quite often – a key word that I believe we’ve chosen to forget.

Anybody can practice their skill for hours on end but what we need to be aware of is how deliberate, or “intentional” we are while practicing. If I were to practice the same song over and over again without making any adjustments, I would begin making the same mistakes, ultimately not quite “mastering” the skill but instead, beginning to trick myself into believing I’m mastering the skill. While mistakes are inevitable and part of the road to becoming a master, it is of utmost importance to learn from our mistakes and improve upon them on the road to mastery.

The second aspect of mastery that is often neglected is the practice of soliciting feedback. While I can sit and practice a musical instrument for years at a time, I might begin creating cognitive roadblocks, assuming that my way is right, or the best. Feedback from an individual that has a fresh perspective and unbiased lens allows us to truly grow through evaluation. Evaluation sheds light on specific tasks that require more practice to achieve mastery.

While I am by no means a master of a specific skill, it is clear to me that while the 10,000-hour rule may hold true, there are other factors that must align to become a “master” of a skill. One must receive ongoing feedback to improve their performance and it is imperative understand that practice makes permanent, it doesn’t make perfect.  

Work and Play

While I was acting in college, a director once told me, “what a playwright calls a work, actors call a play.”  His point was that it was our job to explore the potential of the script by making unique choices and “playing” within our roles.  While I can’t seem to find this quote anywhere on the internet, and have heard many playwrights refer to their works as “plays,” the quote has still stuck with me for years.  Not only is it a fun expression, it highlights the value of leveraging different working styles to achieve great results.

Recently, I’ve learned about convergent and divergent thinking in relation to problem-solving.  I think that this dichotomy is very similar to the idea behind work and play.  At it’s core, convergent thinking is the process of bringing together many ideas to form one solution (ideally the best possible solution).  In a way, it’s similar to the work of a playwright.  When they sit down to write a script, a playwright may be daunted by the blank page; the possibilities are endless, so deciding what to write about is quite the undertaking. However, they sort through all the possible settings, characters, and lines of dialogue and put pen to paper.  They take a seemingly limitless world and add limits to it.  They define rules to the way people behave, how they interact, and what types of things they say.  By the end of the process, the playwright has defined clear confines to the piece—what is on the paper is final, the lines of dialogue must be spoken, and the established rules must be followed.

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is the process of generating a multitude of possible solutions to a problem.  Certain acting methods encourage a divergent approach- exploring every possible way to say each line or move through the space. If the script defines a world in which the characters operate, the actor’s job is to find the edge of that world so they can see the full potential of the piece.  How far can they push the boundary before they lose sense of the show’s reality? While the playwright and actor must both utilize some combination of divergent and convergent thinking to accomplish their goals, it’s the process of alternating between the two that adds dimension and creates something wonderful.

 Convergent and divergent thinking go hand-in-hand and are cornerstones to innovation.  After converging to define a problem or set a goal, it’s important to diverge and imagine what could be possible within the given parameters.  It’s important to work and play.

Email Harrison

 

 

Stop the Disappointment

Need your team or a group of people to learn and embrace a new concept, skill or process? Stop planning single day trainings in hopes that they will become experts!

Since the publishing of the 70-20-10 model[1] in the mid ‘90’s, learning professionals have questioned how much can be achieved through formal training. Yes it is an important place to start. Yes we need the single day training, but the formal training alone is highly unlikely to produce the desired outcome. The proper conditions have to be present for people to take what they learned in a formal training and apply it to their work. It also helps if someone else (a team member, manager, leader, etc.) has been trained on the same concept, skill, or process – this way, one can get coaching and feedback on their application of the material.

Although the validity of the 70-20-10 model has been called into question due to sample size (only about 200) and the survey population (only high performers), what the model purports is now supported by newer research in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning where the three authors apply recent findings in cognitive psychology to effective learning.

Spacing, retrieval, and interleaving are the methods that a single day training fails to achieve, but what cognitive psychology says is needed for effective learning. 

Using a new concept, skill or process when solving everyday work challenges relies significantly on memory. And to create memory, we can’t just learn something once. We must be exposed to a concept over a period of time (spacing). We must retrieve the information (call the information to mind) more of the time as well as interleave (mix the practice and study of separate but related topics). When individuals are asked to retrieve information over a period of time and when this information is taught and practiced across various arenas, individuals are more easily able to remember the new concepts, skills or processes they are being asked to demonstrate, hence effectively learning. 

So, next time you need a formal training on something, make sure the plan also includes spacing, post-training retrieval, and interleaving to make sure you get the outcomes you desire.  

“We harbor deep convictions that we learn better through single-minded focus and dogged repetition, and these beliefs are validated time and again by the visible improvement that comes during “practice-practice-practice. But scientists call this heightened performance during the acquisition phase of skill ‘momentary strength’ and distinguish it from underlying habit strength.”2

The techniques that build habit strength, like spacing, interleaving, retrieving and variation are integral to our approach to building capacity for change. 

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[1]  The 70-20-10 Learning Model, developed by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger, and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership, explains that seventy percent of professional learning and development takes place during real life, challenging on-the-job experiences. Twenty percent of learning and development comes from coaching, feedback, and observing and working with role models. Ten percent of learning and development comes from formal training that includes facilitated in-person training sessions, online programs and self-study.

[2] Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel 

Motives That Motivate

Recently, we have been working to fulfill a number of intentions focused on engaging, recognizing, and developing employees. The sr4 team has considered how to effectively communicate the purpose of these programs within an organization. Opportunities for recognition, engagement and development have the potential to drive employee motivation and enable an organization to direct the efforts of employees towards the organization’s strategy, mission and vision.

So, what motivates? How can you recognize, engage and develop your team?

Part of developing an understanding of what motivates employees is appreciating that different things motivate different people. As simple as that sounds, motivation arises in different forms that directly affect engagement and, in turn, the overall success of the organization. Some people are motivated to work due to their own personal enjoyment of what they do - intrinsic motivation. While others thrive in environments that utilize rewards to encourage hard work- extrinsic motivation. Our research tells us that if an activity is incentivized through extrinsic reward, intrinsic motivation suffers.

Traditional extrinsic motivators like cash and travel perks, have shown to be successful to start. But what happens when an employee continually seeks this form of motivation? Relying only on extrinsic motivators sets an organization on an unsustainable path of future expenses and diminishing returns. Possibly more important, it devalues an appreciation for the process of everyday work. Placing value on an employee’s work and behavior develops sustained motivation within an organization.

We believe that intrinsic motivation and incentives are more relevant than ever to today’s workforce. Intrinsic motivation is the positive charge one feels when fulfilling a purpose through self-management. Employees who engage in intrinsic motivation recognize the value they are contributing to their organization.  These individuals act autonomously, take ownership of their work and focus on accomplishing something towards the goals and strategy of their organization. Employees who are intrinsically motivated recognize their competency and progress, fostering a positive intra-personal experience. This phenomenon creates a cycle of personal fulfillment, increased engagement, and productivity. So, what motivates your team?

Paving Pathways

Our colleague Chris Hart has been using the analogy, “Don’t start by building sidewalks. First, watch where people walk, and where the paths develop, and then build your sidewalks where the paths are.” So at a meeting recently, our colleague Erin Jones mentioned that she had searched the Internet and had not found any validation of this practice.

However, I have a very clear memory of my father coming home from work one day in awe of a practice he had seen at The University of Houston. He was a civil engineer, and he said there were a lot of new buildings that had opened at the U of H, but the planners had delayed building any sidewalks. “They believe the students will find the most efficient ways to navigate the new parts of their campus,” he told me. “So they’re going to wait and see where the paths develop. And then they will come back and pave the pathways.” It made an impression on me, because he was not easily impressed – and he was unmistakably impressed when he was talking to me that long ago afternoon.

But was my memory accurate? Many decades have passed. Thankfully, today we have satellite views of everything on earth. So I checked out the UH campus, pictured above. Look at those sidewalks! They look like, well, paved-over walking paths! No right angles. Denser in some areas. Wider in apparently high-traffic locations. I think this satellite view validates my memory of what my father, the engineer, had described.

 

The important matter, though, is “why does Chris use this analogy?”

 

It’s because he believes in a distinct method for fulfilling intentions. That method starts with identifying the talents, services and resources that are already available to those who must do the work of fulfilling an intention.

From there, you identify the groups and individuals that are willing to sit down and participate in what the intention is all about and the roles they might play in bringing it to life.

Next, in those early conversations, you make connections with potential advocates who have existing networks that can serve as force multipliers for your intention. And then you mobilize them to repurpose their networks to help fulfill the intention.

That’s the “pathways” part of this method: see where the people walk, where they intersect, where they congregate, where the volume is and how the outliers can be reached.

And then you build the “sidewalks.” These sidewalks are about getting people to go in the right directions toward fulfilling the intention – and then closing any gaps in the overall design, which might mean shutting down pathways that don’t take people where they need or want to go. Now we have a system that can be carefully studied. We’re looking for points of entry – onramps for getting new people into the flow of intention fulfillment. And we’re looking for barriers that deter people from getting where they need to be. With that studious approach, we can build the speed, intelligence and effectiveness that leads to fulfilling intentions at the upper end of what’s possible.   

That’s a clear alternative to the massive rollout – where you make all the decisions and build all the infrastructure, and then “launch it” to all the people who do the work. This alternative is all about starting a conversation about the intention, putting people in motion, mobilizing every asset you already have, watching how the pathways develop, formalizing those pathways – and then: you study what happens and you act on what you learn. We’re doing that at sr4, and it works.   

Email Bill. 

Camaraderie and Culture - on and off the field

It’s no secret that when you’re having fun at work you perform better. In “Smarter, Faster, Better”, Charles Duhigg references a conversation he had with Laszlo Bock, the head of Google’s People Operations department. Bock states, “There’s a myth we all carry…we think we need super-stars (on a team). You can take a team of average performers, and if you teach them to interact the right way, they’ll do things no superstar could ever accomplish.” Although the Chicago Cubs do have a few superstars, their manager, Joe Maddon, is a master at getting all 25 of his players to interact the right way.

As an avid Chicago sports fan I can’t help but be excited about the Cubs right now. I’ve seen Chicago’s other teams (the Blackhawks, White Sox, and Bulls) have some winning seasons but the Cubs are a level above that right now. Some might credit their success to the amazing starting pitching; some might credit the front office for putting together a roster of young stars. While credit is due in each of those places, I think we should be talking about Joe Maddon. On and off the field, Maddon has created an environment where it’s okay to have some fun and try new things. Heck, he even had David Ross, a catcher, pitch for an inning last year.

In a profession where you’re on the road over 100 days of the year, away from your home, missing from your family, and sleeping on planes just to get a few hours of shut-eye before another game, it’s important to keep team morale and energy levels up. Joe Maddon has crafted the perfect plan to go back to the basics and have fun with his team. On their last long road trip, the team was assigned to wear “zany” suits much to the joy of the media and team members themselves. In the latest of long stretches away from home, the Cubs are sporting matching blue tracksuits with nicknames stitched on the back.

These zany suits and matching outfits aren’t just to show off their best record in baseball - Maddon is intentionally building camaraderie and a culture of fun among his players. “I know it’s a business; I know there’s a lot of money. But it’s a game. So play it like one,” Maddon says. With the intention of encouraging fun at work, the Chicago Cubs are displaying what a great organization can do with a unique culture outside the playing field.

Questions? Comments? Intentions?

Email Jay. 

Equip Your Audience

Recently, our team completed a project in which we designed a Listening Session to spread awareness of a new marketing effort for one of our clients. It was a three-hour engagement with a variety of guest speakers and panels of subject matter experts, however the part that I enjoyed the most was designing a Listening Guide for the audience.

The guide contained a series of interactive sections to dovetail the information being shared onstage. It was designed to lead the audience toward self-discovery and pull information from them. This level of attention to how the audience takes in information is crucial to managing any kind of change.

When planning to announce a new initiative or change, most companies will pay a great deal of attention to the actual announcement. They’ll likely give thought to the word choice, the medium of communication, and the timing. They may even have a team dedicated to planning an event for the launch. More often than not, these efforts will fulfill an intention at an acceptable level.  However, the capacity of The Many to fully embrace something new and different exceeds that of The Few to push information outwards. As a result, this capacity often goes untapped.

Everyone has stories from work of initiatives that fell by the wayside due to lack of engagement. For the more seasoned employees, the launch of something new can become white noise—just another company announcement. It’s certainly a challenge, but I think there's a difference between planning what you want to say and planning what you want others hear. To me, this is the difference between fulfilling an intention at an acceptable level and fulfilling an intention at the upper end of what's possible.

My favorite projects are the ones in which we operate on the side of The Many and empathically design ways to equip the audience for change.

Email Harrison.

8 Reasons Why Camp People Make Great Coworkers

We've each had the joy of working with former camp counselors in many of the positions that we've held. In fact, the two of us started our separate journeys to sr4 via McGaw YMCA Camp Echo in Fremont, Michigan. We love camp and we love camp people. Here are some reasons why we think they're some of the best people to work with.

1. They're True Team Players

When you sleep, eat, and live in close quarters with all of your coworkers, it's crucial to be a good team player and carry your own weight. Camp people get that. Heck, half of their days are spent facilitating team-building and trust exercises and it's important to practice what you preach. 

2. They Live Outside their Comfort Zones

Camp is a place to push yourself out of your comfort zone into a place of personal growth. Camp people live for the "learning zone" and don't shy away from projects that challenge them. In fact, the more challenging the better; that just means they have a chance to grow!

3. They're Built for Logistics

Have you ever had a day so well scheduled that even your meals are announced by the ring of a bell? Well that's every day for a camp person. When you're in the woods and children outnumber adults 10 to 1, order is everything. You need to know where everyone is at all times and have systems in place to find people if they're not where they're supposed to be. It's not surprising why so many camp people work in events; every day at camp feels like a parade that leads to a dinner party that precedes a musical that ends at prom! 

4. They're Natural Leaders

If you can coach a handful of four-foot campers to scale a 10-foot wall blindfolded without talking, then you can pretty much do anything.  As leaders, camp people not only motivate people to do things they don't believe they can do, but they energize them in ways that will get the best out of their potential. Camp people understand the Golden Rule, but abide by the Platinum Rule.

5. They Have Spirit

Yes, they do. Sometimes, an overwhelming amount of spirit. But after a summer of coming up with witty things to say at flag-raising at the crack of dawn, you can bet they'll be enthusiastic during the Monday morning meeting.

6. They Make Dreams Become Reality

Superheroes, rockstars, and pirates are commonplace at camp as counselors do whatever it takes to create lifelong memories for the campers. They're able to bring wildly original ideas to life by buying into a shared vision and committing for the sake of the dream.

7. They Treat their Work as more than a Job

You'll never hear a camp person say, "that's not my job." During the summer, counselors really only have one goal in mind: give the kids the best summer of their lives. So that means occasionally cleaning dishes after lunch and hosing down the KYBO (bathhouse) during service task. It means acting like a fool during evening program and cheering your head off during the all-camp Olympics. It means doing whatever it takes to make that summer the best summer ever, every summer. Camp people don't think in terms of "jobs"-- they think in terms of goals for bettering the team. All they need to know is what the team wants to accomplish and who will be involved. From there, it's everyone's "job" to get it done. 

8. They Leave No Trace

Cabin Clean-up is no joke. Camp people like things organized, clean, and ready to use again. Don't believe us? Come take a look at our office.

 

Email Jay.

Email Harrison.

New Insights into "Making Certain Choices in Certain Ways"

Four years ago, a New York Times reporter named Charles Duhigg published a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business. The focus of the book, as stated in its prologue, was on “habits as they are technically defined: the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. … It’s a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.”

Several of us at sr4 read the book, and we have quoted from it often in our work.

Now comes Mr. Duhigg’s second book: Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. I bought my copy today, and took a deep breath barely four pages into the Introduction, when Mr. Duhigg asserts that “productivity is about making certain choices in certain ways. The way we choose to see ourselves and frame daily decisions; the stories we tell ourselves, and the easy goals we ignore; the sense of community we build among teammates; the creative cultures we establish as leaders. These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.”

Choices, eh? Framing? Stories? Community? Cultures? Those are trigger words for us at sr4. We’ll keep reading, and report back on what we learn. 

Email Bill.

Five Tips for Better Communication Through Images

1. Shoot Your Own Photography!

You've got one of the best cameras ever made with you at all times! Don't underestimate your ability to take your own compelling photography. What your amateur photography may lack in quality, it will more than make up for in authenticity.

I'm currently working on the layout and design of a report that needs photography related to police departments. I was unhappy with what I was finding on the stock sites, so I just stopped by my local police station on the way to work and snapped a few shots. Easy, effective and cheap.

 

2. Shoot Your Photo (and especially video) Horizontally

The world is horizontal. Even your two eyes are set horizontal. When you shoot vertically you usually end up missing a lot of details and you end up with a less interesting photo.

 
 

 

3. Use Authentic Images

If you must use stock photography, do your best to find images that are not staged or posed. Look for natural-looking images of real people.

Unless you are writing about handsome businessmen who like to meditate in business suits in the middle of the road, there really is no good use for this image.

 

4. Don't Use Images You Find On Google

This rule gets broken all the time and the companies that own the rights to images love it when it happens. I had a client who got a letter from one of the large stock image companies demanding more than $6,000 for the unauthorized use of 4 photos. He, with his lawyer's help, settled for less, but it was far more than he would have paid for fair use of the images. Don't steal.

 

5. Make Liberal Use of Images

A guideline is to use an image every 350 words on a blog. Documents should strive for an image, chart, table or graphic at least every few pages. In today's attention challenged media world, long, unbroken blocks of text are just too easy to ignore. Frequent visuals help reduce the density of text and, if used well, can help convey meaning and emotion.

Teeing up Appreciative Inquiry

In my golf-playing days of high school, I would generally step up to the first tee full of confidence. But half the time I’d slice the ball into the range next to the first hole. I’d get coaching to envision success; “imagine the ball flying down the fairway,” my coach would say. Sure enough, if I could envision success well enough, it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I’d be sitting nicely for my second shot.

What a surprise to find that there’s a name for that, here at sr4. It’s called Appreciative Inquiry, a school of thought that believes people will grow in the direction of what they are repeatedly asked and where their attention is focused. For instance, if we focus on the negatives in an organization, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of negative behaviors. On the contrary, if we focus on the appreciative approach – the positive behaviors of an organization – ripples of positive behaviors will emerge, eventually creating waves of positive change.

 

At sr4, we often use an expression of this approach that goes like this: “Somewhere, some of the time, to some extent, someone is doing something that is somewhat like what you want to achieve. We must find that person, and recognize their work as what ‘good’ looks like. Then, we can start building toward what ‘better’ looks like.”

Through many years of working with this approach, sr4 has learned to trust in these assumptions*:

  • You move in the direction of the questions you ask.
  • People feel better about moving into the future if they can take pieces of the past with them.
  • If you’re going to take pieces of the past with you, they should be the BEST pieces of the past.
  • Language is a critical tool as you work to create new realities.

These assumptions are evident in almost everything we do.  


*Adapted from The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond

Speak Your Truth

“Do you like Hanson?” they asked, enthusiastically. I didn’t know what to say. The truth was that I didn’t like Hanson, but these were the only other two boys in the class and they seemed to like Hanson a lot. How could I possibly risk social suicide by not pretending to like their favorite band?

After a moment, I made up my mind and said, “Yeah. I like Hanson.”  I regretted this statement immediately.

The boys started laughing as though I had just confessed something humiliating. “Ew, you like Hanson?” they mocked. It had been a trap; these boys didn’t like Hanson at all! I quickly tried to backpedal and said, “Oh, Hanson? I don’t like Hanson.” But it was too late. I had already said I liked Hanson, so nothing else mattered. They laughed for a good five minutes at my misfortune and then proceeded to ridicule me for the next two months for my bad taste in music.

I know, kids are cruel. And twisted. Why would they set me up like that? But even then I knew how moronic they were being. If I had liked Hanson, I probably wouldn’t have minded as much. I’d think, “So what? At least I still have MMMBop.” And to be honest, I genuinely enjoy some really bad music, but that’s never bothered me. The reason that the Hanson fiasco still haunts me to this day is the fact that I had sold myself out to fit in, and they caught me.

In that same class, we studied “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I think you see where I’m going with this. It’s amazing how often we forget the deceptively simple moral of that story. When confronted about my stance on Hanson, I learned that speaking your truth is much harder in real life than in fairy tales. This is just as true for adults as it is for children, if not more. All too often, I see groups of people going along with something that no one really likes simply because they assume that everyone else is on board. But if everyone’s afraid to rock the boat, then the boat’s going to keep going in the same direction that nobody wants.

So whenever possible, speak your truth. This is one of the five beliefs at sr4, as it helps to draw the best ideas out of everyone. At the same time, it’s important to create a safe environment for others to speak their truth. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck with a bunch of faux Hanson-groupies; and does anyone truly want that?

Teamwork on the Farm

Growing up on our Grandparents’ farm in the Midwest, my four siblings and I were raised within shouting distance of 10 cousins and plenty of cows, chickens, pigs and horses. We were a scruffy bunch with few rules and lots of places to explore and find adventure. Of the many life lessons I learned on the farm, some of the most important were teamwork and sharing the workload.

In our younger, carefree days we built forts in the hayloft, sledded down the ramp by the hog house and climbed the apple trees by the chicken coops. We dreamed up all kinds of innovative (and very dangerous) games such as using the grain auger as a teeter-totter and jumping off of the hayloft platform into the bin of oats. It’s a miracle we didn’t break any bones!

Our Grandpa had a plan to teach us responsibility, teamwork and cooperation. When each of us turned 12 years old, Grandpa offered to buy us a Holstein calf. The calf would be your responsibility from day one. This included feeding the calf morning and night, calling the vet, paying the vet and feed bills and preparing for the 4-H show at the county fair. We soon learned that being able to rely on the older cousins’ experience and help was the best way to take great care of the incredible new animal in our life.

As we matured into our mid-teens, in addition to owning more animals, we also juggled the responsibility of high school and sports. So we learned to divvy up the farm workload and trusted that it would be done. Each person had to carry their own weight or there would be significant consequences to the health of our animals. This was a true test of trust and teamwork.

The years flew by. Before we knew it, we were preparing for college, selling our animals and going off in separate directions. To this day, we still get together to laugh and reminisce about the fun we had growing up on the farm. The bond we have with our cousins will be cherished forever.

I don’t know if Grandpa knew the impact he would have on each of us. His gift of a calf was the beginning of learning about hard work and responsibility. I learned many skills growing up on the farm. Working together and learning how to cooperate had a significant influence on my life and my career. These skills are with me today and I have Grandpa to thank for that. 

Five Best Practices for Working Remotely

In 2010 I started working for sr4 Partners as a full-time employee. Three years later I moved from Illinois to Kansas and started working for the company remotely. It was important to me to remain a contributing member of the team – but to do so, I needed to learn a whole new set of skills. Here are my five best practices for working remotely…

1.     Stay Connected

It is easy in today’s world to feel like you’re “in the loop” with email and social media, but staying truly connected while working remotely takes more than that. Find out what type of communication works best for your team or clients and take advantage of those channels. Phone calls, video conferencing, texting, emails, internal messaging systems – the options are endless.

Once you’ve selected a way to communicate (everyone feels comfortable using, is reliable, etc.), then set a schedule. Having regular check-in opportunities helps the team stay connected, but it also holds people accountable and allows for consistent communication.

Last, depending on the team you’re working with, it might be helpful to set some boundaries. Some people love working 24/7. Some people need a chance to disconnect and recharge in order to be productive. Have conversations with your team about what works best for everyone.

2.     Be Organized

Staying organized on an individual level and as a team is very important when working remotely. You definitely don’t want to be “that guy” who is wreaking havoc on the company’s file sharing system.

Again, have a conversation with your team about how to store and share files. Discuss how things like expense reports and time tracking will work and make sure everyone has access and feels comfortable using these systems. There are lots of tools out there to help you stay organized – be high-tech and download some apps, or kick-it old school with to-do lists. Your calendar should be your best friend.

3.     Manage Your Energy (not your time)

Having a flexible work schedule can be a blessing or a curse. You can often decide when to get your work done and it doesn’t necessarily have to be within the 9-to-5 timeframe. But, with great flexibility comes great responsibility. Remember – you are working! It’s hard to be productive if you’re still in your workout clothes… or your pajamas!

Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, be open and honest with your team about when you are planning to hunker down and get things done or when you’ll be working or online.   

4.     Get the Best

This goes along with #3 – make sure you are sharing the best version of yourself with your teammates, clients and co-workers. Know your strengths and weaknesses and verbalize those with the people you work closely with.

We recommend taking an assessment like DISC or FourSight with your team to better work together and understand each other’s preferences.

5.     Hustle! 

We don’t mean ‘hustle’ in the way your elementary school gym teacher did – we mean this more like the way Urban Dictionary would describe it. Hus·tle, verb: a faster way to make money also known as the “come up”. When you are “hustling” you should be striving to make yourself invaluable to your company or clients.

Having an entrepreneurial spirit and going above and beyond to make things happen is an integral part of working remotely. No one is going to be checking in and making sure you’re staying on top of your workload – you need to do that on your own. Be determined, persistent and self-motivated.