On April 30th, author and New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about “weavers” and “rippers”: those who actively seek to find the ties that bind us together through good and bad times, and those who look for—and enlarge—divisions that separate us from each other and our common humanity. He cites multiple polls that show Americans from both ends of the political spectrum united in the desire to do whatever it takes to deal with the current crisis. He talks about acts of selflessness and heroism that bring tears as I type.

Brooks also points out that we Americans are more united now than we have been in the almost twenty years since 9/11. I remember back then former-NY Governor, Mario Cuomo, asking what it would take for us to be selfless, kind, and united on a regular day, not just in a life-threatening emergency; and Brooks asks that question now.

It’s a good one, and one each of us can ask as we live and work together in times that push boundaries and challenge norms. Not just because we live in the midst of COVID 19, but because we and our world are changing in formerly unimaginable ways, right before our eyes, socially, technologically, and ecologically.

“Everywhere I hear the same refrain:” writes Brooks, “We’re standing at a portal to the future: we’re not going back to how it used to be.”

But where are we going; and how are we going to get there? United as weavers, or divided as rippers? What is a future we all can get behind, and how might we all participate in actively creating that future, beginning now?

Here are some questions to share with your colleagues, partners, family, and friends to support you in thinking about creating the future now:

  1. What are the changes happening in the world (social, economic, technological, environmental) that are having a big effect on the way you live and work? Think about multiple generations in the workplace, gender preferences, virtual workplaces, social and political perspectives, climate change, etc.
  2. What effects are these changes having on you and the people around you and how is everyone responding: are you “weaving” or “ripping”, or a combination of both?
  3. What does a future look like that everyone in your organization or community would be excited about creating?
  4. What if you knew it could happen? What specific actions could you take now to find commonality and take action?
  5. What would be the positive impact on you and your organization when you have accomplished this?
  6. What will you commit to doing now, and with whom?

The world as we knew it has changed. We are navigating an unprecedented global health crisis. We are also navigating  fear, fatigue and disruption. Fear can run amok in the midst of chaos.

We ask you to pause for a minute. Stop! Breathe! Inhale! Exhale! You have weathered the storm so far. Sometimes you felt overwhelmed, but you are still here. And you are thriving in the midst of enormous uncertainty.

Amidst the current COVID-19 global pandemic, workers from across sectors and industries are finding themselves telecommuting from their homes. While “working from home (WFH)” has been a rising trend among “knowledge workers” and self-employed “gig workers” in tech-centered industries, for many this is a first in their career. Organizations large and small are trying to grasp the new challenges this creates as we are all forced to disperse and hunker down.

Below are a few essentials to keep in mind as we all try to navigate WFM during this moment:

Keep (or build) a routine. With everyone’s fears and anxieties rising about unknowns in the present and future, it’s more important than ever to keep consistency as a way of finding comfort and familiarity in ever changing circumstances. WFH may feel liberating at first. For many it means saving time from that long commute or space away from difficult colleagues or a flurry of distractions in the office. However, if we do not stick to and master the basics, we can quickly begin to feel like everything is spinning out of control.

That extra time that you find in your morning from not having to commute does not have to be dedicated to sleeping in. Just because this newfound freedom and flexibility allows you to “roll” from your bed to the first conference call of the day, does not mean it is sustainable for your mental wellness or performance. Also, no one wants to see you in your pajamas on the Zoom meeting.

If you were a hard-charging, early riser with a solid exercise regimen and personal development rituals, then stick to it and refine it for new circumstances! If you have struggled to build a consistent routine, now is the perfect time to use that savings in the morning and afternoons to invest in yourself. Start with small, achievable goals and incrementally build your way towards them. Use this time to build long-lasting habits.

Create a space for success! Part of keeping a sense of normalcy is ensuring that you have a workspace at home that enables you to succeed. You do not want to find yourself slinking down on the couch every morning with your smartphone while your spouse or roommate streams Netflix in front of you.

If you do not already have a functional home office or library, try to find another space in your home that is private, quiet, well-lit, and allows you to stay organized. Try to avoid (if possible) places like the dining room table or bedroom that are dedicated for relaxation. You do not want your unfinished work staring at you over dinner or wake-up first thing to it! Ideally, you want a space that at the end of the workday you can shut down, unplug, and close the door to.

If your living quarters are limited in space or if you have multiple persons competing for quiet space to work, get creative. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs or create temporary dividers. Anything that enables you to focus and separates your work from your personal life.

Communication. Right now, everyone is feeling the pressure. Many homes have more than one adult and possibly school-aged children under one roof, all trying to get things done. It’s very important that everyone is open and honest about their needs are and aware that there are competing priorities all around us. Members of the same household should try regular meetings to deconflict schedules and priorities. Through this dialogue, a couple might decide that one spouse should watch the children, while the other works for a set period of time and then trade off. Whatever you work out, prepare to be flexible as circumstances rapidly shift.

As a member of a team at your place of employment, you should also be regularly communicating the challenges you are facing from home and your proposed solutions. This could mean everyone working on a staggered schedule or taking a longer lunch break to go for a walk with family. In order for that to work, everyone needs to be clear what the goals and priorities are for the organization as a whole.

If you are a leader in the organization, be conscious of everyone’s collective anxiety, especially with an uncertain public health and economic forecast. Be prepared to constantly communicate and reinforce your intent to others. Try to set reasonable goals for the team to meet. Old metrics for productivity may not be possible to measure right now. Instead of looking at things from a “9 to 5” hours-worked perspective, take a 360 view of the organization and what needs to happen to weather this storm. Try to measure success by tasks complete, not time in chairs or constant emailing. Instead of routine assignments, use this time to invest in professional development or long-term projects that are often deprioritized during regular periods such as finding new markets and product lines or implementing new technology for process improvement.

A few great reads for learning how to lead teams through complex circumstances is Team of Teams by Stanley McCrystal and One Mission by Chris Fussell. Emphasized in both books is the importance of leaders communicating their intent throughout their organization including to geographically dispersed teams. Both provide excellent case studies and tested tools to implement within your organization.

As many of us hunker down in virtual work environments to try to keep each other healthy, our long-time collaborators, David Emerald and Donna Zajonc at TED* (The Empowerment Dynamic), send us all a wonderful reminder: 

… social distancing does NOT mean social disconnection.

We can all do our part to stay in touch with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues during this trying period. David and Donna, recommend the following 7 points to help keep each other out of Drama and move us into the Empowerment Triangle:   

  1. Tell the truth about the current reality of this pandemic. Rather than focusing on blame, resisting, or trying to control things not in your control, surrender to the truth of this situation, even though there is much we don’t understand or know.

  2. Self-care is world care. Take responsibility for your self-care, which will help build your immune system by getting adequate sleep and nourishing food. Without a self-care plan there’s a higher risk of succumbing to fear and the Dreaded Drama Triange (DDT), which only feeds the same in others.

  3. Avoid drama conversations. One “social distance” we heartily recommend is not to engage in “ain’t it awful” exchanges, gossip, or passing on stories of doom and gloom.

  4. Be intentional about reaching out and connecting. Each morning ask yourself, “Who can I connect with today?”

  5. Share what you are grateful for, when you do connect. When others hear your gratitude list it helps evoke a positive feeling in them. Ask what they are grateful for. A gratitude practice will train your mind to look for the good, rather than feed the fear.

  6. Focus on what brings you joy and creates nourishing moments. When your heart sings there’s little room for fear.

  7. Above all be kind, patient, and compassionate. We have no idea what is going on in the life of others, so let’s give each other a break!

Read the full article here

Experience the latest TED* (the Empowerment Dynamic) work with the 3 Vital Questions to transform workplace drama, supported by a new book by David Emerald.

M&B principal, Abby Straus, is a 3 Vital Questions (3VQ)-certified trainer and we collaborate with other 3VQ practitioners throughout the country. We have incorporated 3VQ frameworks into a number of cohort-based leadership programs and offer several stand-alone workshops including virtual delivery format. 

Contact us to learn more about how you can create more Empowerment and less Drama in your team or organization. 

 

All leaders, from the executive down to the team level, should view themselves as stewards of their organization’s most valuable resource: their people. As the person in the lead, others will be looking at how you set the tone and pace of the organization.

In too many organizations today, extra hours and days worked are seen as badges of honor. We often get dragged into competition with colleagues over who stayed the latest or showed up on the weekend. Mobile and remote technology can add fuel to the competition as emails zing back and forth long after most have officially ended their workday. All of this supposedly signals who is most dedicated or should be promoted within the organization.

We all want to be passionate about our work and feel valued within our organizations. Sometimes this does mean contributing extra hours for a special event, new initiative, or emergency situation but the grinding 24/7 “always-on” work culture cannot be sustained, not without diminishing returns for the organization as a whole. And it’s not just our place of work that suffers but also our health, our families, and our communities.

Few people alive today have as impressive of a resume as Robert M. Gates. His multidecade career in public service took him to the top of the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense. In addition, he also served as president of Texas A&M University, national president of the Boy Scouts of America, and on numerous corporate boards… to keep it brief.

In Gates’ book A Passion for Leadership, he discusses a practice he established for himself and others as both Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Secretary of the Department of Defense. These cabinet-level positions were demanding and answerable directly to the President. Gates explained that, absent a meeting at the White House or national crisis, he would try to leave the office by 6:00 P.M. every night. Quite often, as head of these expansive agencies, he would have additional work to finish at home. However, by leaving the office he signaled to staff that it was okay for them to leave as well, to spend much needed time with families and to rest. He knew that as long as he stayed in his office, others would too and work late into the night. Over time, this would lead to worn out staff making “bad decisions and giving bad advice.”

For these same reasons, Gates said he always used vacation time: three weeks in August as CIA director, two weeks in the summer and one at Christmas as defense secretary, and four weeks as president of Texas A&M. As Gates said about his time-off:

“I always returned from vacation with a yellow tablet full of ideas and initiatives for further change and reform.” It’s about recharging so we can use our creative energy and talents most effectively.”

Mobile technology and remote working options have created new challenges for escaping this “always-on” frenzied work culture. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the bleeding between work and home life.  How many of us still respond to phone calls, text messages, and emails after leaving the office or “logging off” for the day? How many of us go to bed and wake up checking work messages? Has your weekend ever started off on the wrong foot because a colleague fired off a heated email at 7:00 PM on a Friday night? Ever take a quick “peak” at your work email or “check-in” from a family vacation? Our modern working lives do not have to be like this!

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to setting boundaries and expectations in the workplace, as a leader you set the tone and pace for your organization. Make sure your expectations are clear to everyone and lead by example.

In the spirit of Gates’ 6:00 PM Rule, below are a few ideas to consider when setting expectations and guidelines for use of mobile technology and remote working within your organization:

  1. Avoid checking work communications outside of set hours
    • Turn-off work devices at home
    • Uninstall work email apps over long weekends and vacations
    • Ask: do I really need work email and related apps installed on my personal phone?
  2. Be mindful of colleagues’ personal time by not sending message outside of set hours. This can create a ripple effect and breed unhealthy competition where everyone is engaging in work at all hours
  3. If working later than other members of team, use your DRAFT folder and schedule send times for the next business day
  4. If “on-call” or working to meet deadline, the team should set a clear start and end time/date
    • Set clear expectations for what needs to happen in these special circumstances
    • Use leave time immediately following any extra demanding periods

Most importantly, as leaders, be the champions of cultural change in your organization. Set the example. Go home, unplug, and rest up. Then encourage others to join you so we can all give 100% when it matters most.

This article is the part of a series on how to most effectively manage our time and attention for the work that matters most. Subsequent articles will continue to look at technology and how we interact together in organizations. Check back later for more!

The challenge in today’s workplace is to be increasingly more efficient, effective, and above all creative in our work. To rise to this challenge, we must be able to focus our attention and devote our time to the tasks that matter most, whether that be preparing for a sales presentation or writing a report for stakeholders.

In our hyper-connected world, this means not only escaping from interruptions in the physical world, but the endless barrage of alerts coming from our computers and mobile devices. Setting up boundaries, both physical and digital, leaves open the necessary mental bandwidth and the freedom to pursue our creative endeavors.

Below are a few tips for setting boundaries in the workplace and creating the space to focus on the most important tasks in front of you:

  1. Make it known when you need to focus with no distractions:
    • Announce it at a staff meeting in advance
    • Block out time on your public calendar (“unavailable”)
    • Use a “do not disturb” sign on your office door or cubicle
    • Ask colleagues to hold phone calls and visitors
    • Turn-off alerts and mute all devices
  1. If a colleague or visitor “drops in” for an unexpected, off-topic conversation, greet them politely, as you do not want to discourage “face-to-face” interactions, “open door” policies, or the free flow and exchange of ideas. However, it is imperative that you are direct and upfront that in the moment, you must focus your energy on something else. Invite them to return or schedule time on the calendar for that chat.
  2. The office can be a never-ending flurry of activity. Collective anxiety can rise in periods of tight deadlines, budgeting periods, or tumultuous current events. Our colleagues, both peers and supervisors, will find ample opportunity to infringe on our time and attention. All of this can take away our focus and drain our creative energy.
    If you find this describes your workplace, you may want to find an alternative space, that provides you a needed escape and relief from the daily “busy-ness” around the office. This could include:
    • Unused meeting, conference, or breakout room
    • Library
    • Cafeteria or offsite coffee shop
    • Work from home

Whatever space you use should conform to established organization polices and be most conducive to how you work. Some people like absolute silence, while others thrive in a busy space full of white noise. Working from home has its own set of benefits and challenges for getting things done. Be thoughtful with whatever you chose.

  1. Be strategic and intentional with your calendar. It is said that “time is a finite resource that we will never get back.”
    Do not overbook yourself and make sure that your calendar is being used most effectively to support your goals. This includes how you spend your lunch time, scheduled breaks, or those precious free moments. Sometimes the most “efficient” or expedient ways to spend our time are not the most fruitful. Quite often, we fail to leave critical space for reflection or informal engagements with others.Former Secretary of Defense and Marine Corps General, Jim Mattis, in his new book Call Sign Chaos, offers a kernel of wisdom on this subject from his 40 plus year career in national defense:

    … lack of time to reflect is the single biggest deficiency in senior decision-makers. If there was one area where I consistently fell short, that was it. Try as I would, I failed to put aside hours for sequestering myself outside the daily routine to think more broadly: What weren’t we doing that needed to be done? Where was our strategy lacking? What lay over the horizon? … a leader must try to see the overarching pattern, fitting details into the larger situation.

  2. Find a personal “battle rhythm” that allows you to get things done creatively, separate from the needs and priorities of others and away from endless distractions.
    Some of us work best in the early morning hours, while others prefer to work late into the night. Sometimes arriving just 15 minutes early, before everyone else filters in, can help us set our priorities and jump into a creative flow. Whatever it is that works best for you, find and stick to it!
    Knowing that we all work differently, managers and leaders in organizations may want to examine workplace policies to make allowances for flexible working hours and locations, even if just temporary to help a team get through a project or trying period.

This article is the first in a series on how to most effectively manage our time and attention for the work that matters most. Subsequent articles will look at technology and how we interact together in organizations. Check back next week for more!

This past winter, M&B principal and Northeast Economic Development Association (NEDA) board president, Abby Straus, appeared in the annual journal of the Kettering Foundation, Connections 2018: Experiments in Organizational Innovation.

In the article entitled: “Vibrant Communities: Reinventing an Economic Development Organization,” Straus discussed the organizational transformation underway inside NEDA to maintain its relevancy to those creating vibrant communities throughout the region. Along the journey toward reinvention, Straus explained, NEDA began to ask itself:

Who has a stake in the economic wellbeing of our communities? How might we engage them, so they feel included and want to participate in the NEDA community? How might we connect members to ideas and to each other to create value that will produce revenue? How might we support local associations in their work in collaboration rather than competition?

In answering these questions, Straus said, NEDA discovered:

… that our purpose doesn’t lie in solving problems for our members, but rather in connecting them to each other and to the solutions they—and we—create together. We learned that there is an appetite for connection and co-creation and that NEDA can provide an environment in which people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives might exchange knowledge and experience in service to creating an economically vibrant Northeast.

Checkout the full article here and tell us what you think! What are some other new ideas in community and economic development that we should know about?

 

This post, originally from January 2013, highlights one of the key frameworks in the M&B toolbox.  We use the features of complex adaptive systems to create tools, methods, and frameworks that allow us to be more agile and realize greater results than we ever thought possible.  We leverage these assets and resources to create a new and more desirable future for our clients and partners. 

The metaphor of the machine or clockwork universe continues to dominate the way we think and talk about the world.

This unusually persistent meme can be traced to Isaac Newton and Copernicus, who understood the universe in terms of elegant, linear, predictable relationships. Behavior in this world is easy to predict, and therefore easy to control.

The theory is that one can understand anything – from the human body to the universe – by dissecting it and completely describing each part. And some things work this way, like your car engine or your computer.

However, we now know that many aspects of our world defy this kind of analysis, that the universe is a system of many systems that operate by a completely different set of rules. The weather, markets, communities, organizations, ecologies of organisms and our own brains, are systems that cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts.

They are complex adaptive systems that learn as they develop. And although the parts interact in unpredictable ways, they develop rich patterns of complex order through a process of feedback that further influences their development. Over time, these systems become more complex, more coherent and more organized.

Here are some components of complex adaptive systems:

Self-organization: Complex adaptive systems are not planned by a central controller. It is the activity of agents in the system, acting individually and collectively that leads to emergent order. Like birds flocking and fish shoaling according to simple rules of interaction

Systems within systems: Within each complex adaptive system are other smaller systems that interact with each other. Some of the most complex systems humans have created, such as the stock market, food production and distribution, transport systems and the Internet interact with humans in an evolving symbiotic relationship.

Emergence: There is no command, control, planning or managing. It is the activity of all of the parts of the system which influences the activity of the other parts of the system.

Feedback loops: Through feedback, connections grow in a system, which gathers momentum, and patterns start to form, leading to the development of more complex patterns.

Simple rules: A few simple rules of interaction lead to complex outcomes. For example, a shift in the way we speak to each other – from “you must!” to “what if we?” – builds trust and accelerates communication that leads to highly synchronized teamwork.

Period doubling cascade: Complex adaptive systems periodically undergo “phase transitions” to a higher level of organization, in what is known as a “period doubling cascade”. For example, the stages of development of the human brain, the magical moment when a group becomes a high performing team and the big social and technological shifts that occur when humans invent smarter tools, such as the shift from the typewriter to the computer.

Coevolution: When the environment changes, individual parts of the environment adapt to the new conditions created by the interaction of all of the parts.

Dynamic stability: Complex adaptive systems live dynamically on the edge of chaos, where new possibilities emerge from the variety and creativity of the system. These give it life and sustain it.

This is a very different world to the clockwork or networked universe with which we are familiar, one that is much more dynamic, less predictable–and, ultimately more malleable–than the one that has shaped so many of our institutions and organizations.

Control is….an emergent property, not an option to be selected. – Dr. David S. Alberts, US Defense

 

M&B recently wrapped up worked on the COZBY LIBRARY AND COMMUNITY COMMONS, STRATEGIC PLAN 2017-2020 in Coppell, Texas. Check out this article, from the local Coppell Gazette, highlighting the new energy and excitement around the library!

 

Cozby Library reaching new levels of success
By Victoria Atterberry
Coppell Gazette 

The Cozby Library and Community Commons’ strategic plan is working out well and has received a positive response from the community.

Monday, the library board met with the Coppell City Council and the Parks Board to update the city on its progress. Library leaders said it has been successful, and many people are benefiting from the new additions and amenities.

“The community loves what’s happening at the library,” said Adrienne Morton, vice chair of the Coppell library board.

The first goal the library adopted centers on collection building and services innovation. The goal primarily focuses on growth and how to better serve the community.

“(Our) efforts there are to offer collections and services that are highly relevant to the community needs and to incorporate innovative collections and programs with those that are popular, valuable or enduring,” Morton said.

Early literacy backpacks, TAMS science boxes and Lions Club game collections for the visually impaired are a few of the new additions that came out of this plan. These new services have been popular among the community and are in high demand.

The second goal the library adopted focuses on resources, buildings, technology and systems.

“The focus here is meeting the evolving and diverse knowledge, creative and learning needs of the community by offering innovative spaces, technologies, methods and delivery systems,” Morton said.

Some of the programs that came about through this plan are the teen zone, toddler zone, study rooms, business center, meeting rooms, commons area and a drive-through book drop off. Morton said the drive-through book drop is one of the most popular features of the library.

The library also added self service checkout, laptop checkouts and catalogue tablets for easier checkouts.

“The idea is to make it easier for people to get in and out of the library and get what they need. It’s all about convenience for the community,” Morton said.

The library will soon be adding digital media workstations that will have audio, video, graphic design software and web design software.

The strategic plan includes four more goals focusing on volunteer efforts, advocacy, professional development and funding.

The library was also able to add a number of new building enhancements. Victoria Chiavetta, director of library services said the library was fortunate enough to have extra money in the budget to add these new enhancements.

New podiums have been added in meeting rooms as well as new jacks and network cables. Additional speakers were added throughout the library. The library purchased a third service desk and is also looking to replace staff desks. Since many visitors complained about noise levels within the building, the library is also planning to install new sound masking equipment.

Over the past year, library activity has grown. More and more people are participating in programs and enjoying all the feature the library has to offer.

“We love to see (residents) there,” Chiavetta said. “The library is getting used well and is quite busy.

Check out other examples of and commentary from M&B’s near decade of work in strategic planning for our libraries!

Just when some pundits were announcing the demise of the public library, and politicians are trying to defund them, libraries are undergoing a major revival as centers of community re-invention.

You can call it Carnegie 2.0.

It is 88 years since the last library was built with funds from Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist, but the spirit of helping communities thrive is alive and well across the United State of America.
Altogether, 2,509 libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, most of them in America (1,689,but others in UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and half a dozen other countries.

Cuts to library budgets seems to be a bi-partisan effort. For example, in 2010 New Jersey Governor Christie slashed funding for libraries soon after becoming governor in 2010. In the same year, Newark Mayor, now Senator Corey Booker, cut the budget of the city’s library by 20% when be first became mayor.

It is not all books anymore, although they are not going out of fashion. And googling stuff is no longer reliable, as the Internet is fast becoming a place for “alternative facts”, which are not facts at all.

Libraries are fast becoming the go-to place for:
  • Starting a new project or business, creating a new product or service, or making things
  • Building a resume and finding a job
  • Checking out community talent in the same way you check out a book or a movie
  • Acquiring skills and knowledge, packaged up in smaller chunks, just when you need it
  • Offering internships for community projects
  • Enjoying edutainment for toddlers, children, teens and adults
  • Critical community conversations
  • Meeting and socializing with others
  • Working with your tutor or mentor

The new roles for librarians are:

  • Honest brokers between a rapidly expanding number of disciplines, each with its own specialist language, ways of seeing the world, and growing distrust of other models/frameworks
  • Validators of knowledge of vital importance to communities and organizations who wish to make good decisions
  • Facilitators of crucial conversations between a diverse range of interests, particularly in community decision making and planning, policy making, and implementation
  • Curators of new and ever more diverse collections, including tools, methods, processes, systems and talents.
  • Mentors, so curation, categorizing and research become skills that everyone routinely uses.
  • Trusted partners, helping people and their organizations build the capacity for the wise application of knowledge, so they become much more than “learning organizations”.
  • Conveners for meetings, events, exhibits, safer refuge in emergencies, making and designing.
  • Community systems integrators, connecting organizations and talents in the community, and employing their skills and resources to help their people adapt successfully to change.
Here is an example of the kinds of far-sighted approach that libraries are adopting. It is two version of the strategic plan Maverick & Boutique developed for the Cozby Public Library and Community Commons in Coppell, Texas – the  Cozby Library Slide Show and the Cozby Library Strategic Plan. It is a major part of our consulting practice, currently averaging 4-5 plans a year. We use our own collaborative technology – Zing – shown in the image above to help conduct the community conversations, to achieve the “join in” necessary for the projects our clients  to develop to fact-track community-wide change.