Giving Up Annual Goals

It's time to question the unquestioned ritual of setting annual goals. They have three flaws.

Most worlds change more on a tempo of every couple quarters, making annual goals more speculative than realistic

When people feel that they only need to pay attention to the short term, they will declare the most uninspiring goals possible 

Many times these are abandoned because they compete with the demands of everyday business

My experience has been that it's better to set two year success indicators, and then translate these in agile two quarter progress indicators that take the form of projects. People vision with more passion the further out they declare the possibilities they would love to achieve. Going out further gives success indicators more of the feel of lenses that more clearly reveal opportunities and possibilities in the present. This keeps them agile.

We then assign time invested in each project that aligns with the actual amount of time we can make available from the business of everyday business.

This keeps everyone inspired, realistic and productive. 

Do Good Leaders Like Smart People On Their Team?

In a word, yes. Other leaders like to surround themselves who they can feel superior to. They believe that people are better controlled who are not as as smart as they think they are. And this belief comes at large known and unknown costs.

Good leaders like to surround themselves with people whose smarts, connections and intuitions are admirable and engaged. Their people feel and act respected for their strengths. And this approach comes with all kinds of known and unknown benefits.

Brainstorming & The Agile Canvas

The usual group process, whatever the context, has long been brainstorming. People throw out ideas, supposedly without filters like realistic considerations, and then vote on their considered best. The Agile Canvas has nothing to do with this ritual. We define success and progress indicators. We identify what we need to decide and research. And we use quick interations of action to develop and fine tune best learning and achieving our most important indicators. It's highly inspired, realistic and productive. A profoundly different process with a profoundly different set of engagement and outcomes.

Designing Organizations For Collaboration

It's still curious to hear organizational leaders yearn for cross-functional collaboration while maintaining fairly fixed functional identities, with their own metrics, budgets, meetings and rituals.  I'm not arguing against these. I'm interested in actually designing for new levels of collaboration. For example, having people from different functions pair with two or three people from other functions for monthly coffee or tea. As simple as this is, I cannot say how many organizations spend incredible amounts of lip service to collaboration and don't even do things as simple as this. With a little imagination, we could cook up endless pathways to the same intent.

3 Things To Never Do In Meetings

Not all regularly scheduled meetings are equal. Each lives along the continuum between best and worst uses of time. Among things to never do in meetings, here are three classic time and talent wasters. 1. Having people communicate things in the meeting that they could and should have communicated real time

2. Allowing people to argue opinions, positions and assumptions where there are important questions on the table that can and need to be researched

3. Letting people talk without recording and posting each contribution.

If meetings are essential, we are wise to create cultures of efficient engagement. It isn't complicated.

The Anatomy Of Courage

Many of us believe that the realization of our largest, deepest dreams will take courage. Courage is the harvest reaped after planting, nurturing, protecting and growing small seeds of new actions. No one wakes up to great courage. It is cultivated in steps, one new action at a time. Courage does not deny or eliminate uncertainties. Courage does what can be done in the face of the thousand that cannot.

Courage does not come from external pride, promises or permissions. It doesn't require the absence of weaknesses, limitations and constraints. It comes from commitment to possible actions inspired by improbable dreams. It's Rosa Parks showing up as a defiant bus passenger in the Civil Rights movement after a long arduous journey of being trained to do just that, for that reason, on that day that marked a milestone in social justice. Courage: one new action at a time in the cumulutaion of wow.

Is Positive Thinking A Problem?

Gabriele Oettingen at New York University has research suggesting that when we visualize positive outcomes in any areas of life doing so drains energy that would otherwise prime and support us in followup through on actions required. I would suggest to actually pay attention to your own experience, which could be that optimism medicates you into inaction, or that it does the opposite in inspiring and energizing action.

In the meantime, she proposes "mental contrasting" which is positive visualization of success blended with realistic consideration of anticipated obstacles and corrective strategies. Her research indicates this works better than just optimism, pessimism or agnosticism.

It's interesting that in the Agile Canvas process we do just that. We start with visualizing success (our stories) and then quickly move into identifying our questions: the research and decisions we need to realize our stories. It's pure mental contrasting. Now nice to know there's research supporting its efficacy.

The Myth & Paradox Of "Accepting People As They Are"

The idea of "accepting people as they are" (and its corollary getting people to accept us as we are) was based on the inaccurate belief that habits we call "personalities" are immutable. The neurosciences have demonstrated that the brain is neuroplastic. It has no permanent structures and within weeks new habits can be built in the brain. Habit is not destiny. To say anyone has to accept anyone sustains the inaccuracy. It is more accurate, not to mention more empowering, to support change, which turns out to be our nature as much as it is the nature of our world.

Negativity In The Agile Canvas Process: No Problem

When groups work together with weak, ineffectual or non-existent collaboration models, negativity can be a signifcant time waster and disruptor of creativity, learning, agreement and action. And arguing back and ignoring are often neither effective nor sustainable strategies. This is not so in the Agile Canvas process. We quickly translate any negative expression into a new question, or important consideration in the crafting of new stories and keeping all sprints highly realistic. Sometimes when people are negative and they feel heard, they actually become better able to learn, listen and contribute value to the group.

The Math Teaching Controversy

Once again, a new app has launched that can translate a printed math problem via phone camera into a current answer. Presumably, any app should also be able to show the mechanics behind the answer.  The functionality has been around through voice. I can query my phone while cooking to find out how much a third of a sixteenth is. The response is faster than most people could find paper and pen to do the math the way they learned as a child.

My expectation is that each next wave of math students will be increasingly less interested in and motivated to ignore the technology that will continue to be increasingly wearable and dependable. It seems reasonable to think that engaging students growing up in a radically different world than their grandparents will require a different engagement model than that of their grandparents.

Why Some Groups Produce Fabulous Outcomes

I've been working with and studying successful groups for decades. My biggest takeaway from my positive psychology graduate studies was that the best way to help all groups succeed is to study and apply the practices of successful groups. What many of us in this space observe is that it's the quality of conversations that play largely into the success equation. Successful groups talk more freely, listen more deeply, question more smartly and think action is the best learning media around. 

They produce the kinds of fabulous outcomes and breakthroughs we see today in technology, medicine, community transformation, the arts and entrepreneurship. All the ways people have better access to quality of life come about as the result of successful group collaborations. Best of all, their practices can inspire and inform any group's development.

Launching The Agile Canvas 2.0

Today I am pleased to launch The Agile Canvas 2.0.  The evolution of the model began in the mid-90s as I did my first book, Collaborative Creativity. My research and practice indicated there are a handful of essential habits that make collaborations productive in generativity.

A few years ago the model integrated the best of Agile Project Management methodologies which particularly make collaborations resilient in contexts where change is a constant and issues are more complex and wicked than simple and malleable.

It would be a rich oxymoron for an agile based model to not adapt, grow and change in its own form.

This new iteration integrates all of the dimensions of the process into a simpler form so it is more conceptually accessible across contexts. In the simplest terms, it presents a simple 3-dimensional flow:

What do we want?

What do we need to know?

What will we do?

It is particularly powerful in moving groups from being stuck to flourishing because it moves them from a focus on negativity to possibility, from deficiency to learning and from talk to action. Groups realize their potential to the extent they focus on passion, learning and doing.


What the new model does is get to the essence of the model's power and simplicity. It still works with any kind of planning, collaboration and deliberation as well as any size and diversity of group and focus.

Stories are the possibilities we desire that we have already created, are in process and that we wish to create together. 

Questions are the kinds of research and decisions we need to do in order to realize our stories 

Sprints are 2-week cycles of work that will achieve our most significant stories.

One of the most powerful and unique aspects of the model is how it consistently engages a variety of people, personalities and perspectives. The model strongly engages a variety of people in the process, including people who show up:

  • Knowledgeable and not knowledgeable about the focus and its context
  • With positive and negative perspectives
  • Whose time orientations are more predominantly past, or present or future focused
  • As introverts and extroverts 
  • With a bias for talk or action

The new model features the same benefits in a simpler and deeper way. Like 1.0 it will be a unique space for people to become smarter, more engaged and significant together.

Contact me to explore the new model more.

The podcast of this post 2014-10-24_10-21-39_150.m4a (3:14)




The Irrelevance Of Succession Planning

Once upon a time in the patriarchal era of steep hierarchies, it was customary for executives to vet and groom the successors to their throne. It was a time when lifelong careers and long executive tenures at the same organization were normative.  It's unclear if and whether that era will ever return. As cultures move from patriarchies to partnerships, succession loses relevance. Senior leaders instead grow vital and vibrant networks of talent. They can no longer predict the span or arc of their tenure, the evolving needs and markets of the organization nor the career aspirations of others they support. 

When leaders grow talent and networks of talent, the next generation of leadership naturally and more authentically emerge.

Podcast of this post: 2014-10-22_17-48-34_137_1.m4a

Playing To The Exceptions

As they grow, organizations naturally seek order. They form the belief that creating rules and systems will protect them from chaos. The belief forms in the realization that the nature of life is change, and with that, uncertainty and unpredictability. Realistically, no rule or system can perfectly anticipate or accommodate every application event. We can design agility into structure. And when unplanned and unpredictable exceptions occur, success is resilience, not resistance.

Also available: a podcast of this post 2014-10-22_11-32-53_150.wav


Reflections On Happiness At Work

One of my favorite current projects is working with a team dedicated to bringing happiness to workplaces. When we introduce the idea that happy people do well at work, we experience the whole range of reactions from passionate alignment to crusty skepticism. 

Having authored a groundbreaking book on happiness a couple years ago (The Joy Of Thriving), my experience leads me to instead of talking directly about happiness, instead talking about now people want to feel at work. Happiness in most contexts is a word fraught with issues that render it more complex than simple. I continue to meet people who argue that there are more important things to them than happiness, including suffering when life calls for suffering. And of course, the whole happiness paradigm threatens controlling leaders who believe, often at an unconscious level, that happy people cannot be controlled.

So in practice, I favor references instead to how people feel and how they want to feel in their work, arguing the science and experience that how people feel dominates how they show up at work with peers, leaders, partners and customers.

It turns out that asking people how they want to feel in any context is a new and therefore potentially powerful conversation. We take their responses and facilitate them crafting the kinds of actions that can bring about what matters emotionally to them. It is also powerful because it is a skill they can and do directly transfer to transformation in their personal lives.

The prime takeaway from this work is their realization that they can do things that ends up having a more profound and enduring influence on how they feel than their circumstances. It is core to their engagement.

The Improbable Art Of Intentional Luck

Fast Company recently posted an article on how some people create their own luck, rather than externalize it as a disowned larger power. Lucky people share four habits:

They intentionally build variety into their lives

They follow and cultivate their intuition

They expect to stumble on good fortune

They see the good in anything

When I facilitate strategic planning, I still like to have people identify what future good luck would look like and what they could do to bring about the conditions for these events. People always find it easier than they expect. Very empowering.

An Innovation Enthusiasm Taxonomy

Startups, whether entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial, need to carefully parse out the enthusiasm they evoke and earn. Here is a short taxonomy to consider:

The enthusiasm of friends and families

The enthusiasm of your team

The enthusiasm of industry experts

The enthusiasm of investors 

The enthusiasm of early adoptor customers with placed orders

The enthusiasm of later adoptors with placed orders

It is wise to consider each in their own context, not generalizing one to the other. Often, the synergy of them together paints the richest canvas for moving forward. 

The Power Of Presence

Many of us have at least an intuitive sense that being present to tasks, people and patterns in our work has amazing value. Being distracted is one opposite of being present. Being unpresent happens just as well when we're attached to judgment, whether good or bad. This doesn't mean eschewing judgment. Being discerning is a critical requirement for our effectiveness. Non-attachment to judgment means openness to new information, to the possibility that there may be more to any reality than what appears. It is openness to the ubiquitous fact of change.

One of my teachers encouraged us to add the simple and powerful words "for now" to any judgment. This creates context for perspective and opens space for us to see beyond our judgements.

Being present gives us power in all of our efforts and relationships at work.


Showing Up With Integrity

Whatever our relationship to our organization or community, we have much to gain by showing up with integrity. Integrity is acting with a sense of trustworthiness and transparency. We make and keep agreements. We communicate our perspectives and intentions. We expect and support the same in others. People do not have to guess whether we will keep our word or what we're up to.

Integrity is not an inherent character quality or explicit personal decision. It is not an inevitable or imposed social construction. It is a habit that we can develop and master over time. It both honors our vulnerability and empowers us with courage. It engages our passions and strengths.

Showing up with integrity requires trusting ourselves. We trust ourselves when we live and work from principles. Principles are statements of what works for us. When we know what works, we trust ourselves. This is the foundation of integrity.

Acting with integrity raises the possibility but not the guarantee that others will reciprocate. The only way we have to help others act with more integrity is to show up with integrity ourselves and to explicity expect it from others.

A team of people who show up with integrity will dependably outperform a team of people who doesn't.

The Transformational Transition From Which To How

Interesting conversation with Silicon Valley investment leader Andy Hyde after my work with the investment community here on the critical imperative of relationship building in this intense and complex space. Part of the complexity is that this space is fraught with polarities: sell-hold, slow-fast, quality-speed, outsource-insource. Groups get stuck, delay creativity and actually lower their collective intelligence when they approach these with the wrong question. The wrong question in polarities is always the question of which.

The right questions that cause thrivancy instead are questions of how, specifically how we can build and leverage all of the strategic advantages of both poles, which there are often many. Moving from wrong to right questions liberates groups from the tyranny of or and unleash the power of wisdom of and. The simple and profound shift from which to how aligns the group and juices creative and inclusive possibiltiies. In a word: Magic.