The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Possibility

DON’T STOP AT THE EDGE OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE

We are not rewarded for not knowing, write veteran consultants Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner in their fascinating book Not Knowing. We are not expected to  not know. People look for certainty in their leaders. But beyond the expectations of others, there is our own comfort, the authors explain: not knowing is uncomfortable, and it’s better to know. And when you don’t know, the answer, for the sake of ourselves or for the sake of those who believe in us, is to fake it. We pretend to know.

Another danger of the tyranny of certainty is, according to the authors, to have unwavering faith in the experts. For 1,400 years, the ancient Greek physician Galen of Pergamon was the ultimate authority in medicine; it wasn’t until the mid-16th century that Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius finally dared to question Galen, whose mistakes and discrepancies should have been apparent to all by that time (the authors note that a medical school professor holding up a human heart after a dissection would comment on the three ventricles as described by Galen, although there were clearly four in the heart he was holding).

Darkness Illuminates

In truth, the authors explain in the second part of Not Knowing, “darkness illuminates.” D’Souza and Renner tell the story of the tragic Burke and Wills expedition in Australia. Robert Burke and William Wills were the first men to cross the continent but died of starvation on their way back home. They died of starvation despite the fact that the Aborigines in the area had thrived for thousands of years and did everything they could to help the white men. But Burke and Wills didn’t want their help; they didn’t, in their opinion, need the people whom they considered savages to tell them what to do to survive.

Burke and Wills died staying at what the authors call “the edge” of their knowledge, refusing to go no further. It is the willingness to not stop at the edge that allows artists to create, scientists to discover and entrepreneurs to launch their enterprises. How does one find the value in the unknown, especially when in so many domains — areas such as business, politics or even social situations — not knowing is viewed as a weakness or a barrier?

The answer lies in what the authors call “negative capability.” This is the ability to “negate” rather than add: the ability to clear the mind rather than fill it. “This idea of negative capability,” the authors write, “is powerful because it captures the need for making space in the mind to allow new thought to take root. It clears the mind of existing knowledge, clichés or existing assumptions.” The concept also emphasizes that clearing the mind is as much a “capability” as filling it. Building on academic research, the authors note that silence, patience, doubt and humility are all examples of negative capabilities.

Empty Your Cup

In the final section of their book, the authors group negative capabilities under four headings (each earning a separate chapter):“empty your cup,” “close your eyes to see,” “leap in the dark” and “delight in the unknown.”

“Empty your cup” is a metaphor for seeking to make room in a mind that is filled with knowledge. Experts are rarely revolutionaries because their minds are already filled with what they think they need to know. Thus, it was a non-banker who revolutionized the industry with microbanks. Grameen Bank founder Mohammad Yunus didn’t know that it was wrong to do what he was doing, including lending to the poor instead of the rich and focusing on women instead of men. If his cup had been full, he would have known and abided by the rules, and never launched the microbank revolution that made him famous.

“Close your eyes to see,” is the art of observing, listening and questioning. Improvising, experimenting and embracing mistakes are some of the activities associated with “leap in the dark.” Finally, the authors encourage readers to “delight in the unknown” by, among other ideas, unleashing their curiosity and creativity and not being afraid of foolishness and play.

A learned mix of academic studies and scores of compelling stories from a wide variety of domains, this brilliant, inspiring book will have readers leaving their desks (figuratively, one hopes), finding their way to the edges of their own world, closing their eyes and opening their minds, and waiting for the ideas and insights that will come from “not knowing.”

Building a “Better” Company

Back in August, we looked at a recent business trend as evidenced by a surge in books about Purpose. Today I’d like to dig into a related trend just beginning to show up in books – The B Corporation.

A B-Corp is an organization certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. B Lab has been at the forefront of this movement and certifies each organization, a group which has topped 1,000 companies from 80 industries and 35 countries.

There is a B Assessment that a company can take to see if they qualify for B Corp status, available at BImpactAssessment, and the website BetterWorldBooks which brings together books in the field of sustainability, B corps, and similar topics.

The first book to come across my desk specifically about B Corps is The B Corp Handbook, written by Ryan Honeyman, himself a B Corp owner. Honeyman worked closely with over 100 B Corp CEOs and senior executives to share their tips, advice, and best practice ideas for how to build a better business, and how to meet the rigorous standards for–and enjoy the benefits of–B Corp certification.

This book makes the business case for improving your social and environmental performance, and offers a step-by-step “quick start guide” on how your company can join an innovative and rapidly expanding community of businesses that want to make money and make a difference.

The B Corp Declaration of Interdependence says it all:
We envision a new sector of the economy which harnesses the power of private enterprise to create public benefit.

This sector is comprised of a new type of corporation – the B Corporation, which is purpose-driven, and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

As members of this emerging sector and as entrepreneurs and investors in B Corporations, we hold these truths as self-evident:

That we must be the change we seek in the world.
That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and the future generations.

This group holds to quite high aspirations and the movement seems to be growing. You can see what we’ve covered in this area through recent summaries of The Purpose Driven Economy in September, and The Responsible Entrepreneur coming out next week.

How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

START WITH WHY

THE QUESTION TO ASK
Inspiration comes in a variety of forms, but the root of it grows from a fundamental question asked by those who are able to inspire others. The most important question of all, according to leadership expert Simon Sinek, is: Why do we do what we do? Asking this question can mean the difference between a company that makes a profit over the short term and a company that creates long-term financial success. Asking “why” also helps us draw others to us because we all want to understand why things are the way they are.

In Start With Why, Sinek explains that those who remember to answer that question are better able to attract others to their cause and create the inspiration people need to stay loyal and committed. When organizations explore why they exist, they are more likely to inspire their employees to join in their efforts and better able to attract customers to their products.

‘The Golden Circle’
After examining the ways manipulative leaders motivate their people, such as playing the price game, selling through promotions, using fear tactics, playing on insecurities and applying peer pressure, Sinek describes a better path to inspiration: a leadership model he calls “The Golden Circle.”

The Golden Circle is a series of three concentric circles that starts with a circle in the middle that represents why. The next circle represents how, and the outside circle represents what. Sinek writes that every company knows what it does because what simply represents the product or service that the company sells or the job function an employee performs to sell that product or service. How explains how the company is different from other companies. But the why is the most important core that needs to be explored to find inspiration. Sinek explains that the most inspired companies and leaders think, act and communicate from the inside of the Golden Circle and work their way outward.

To describe how inspirational people and companies lead, Sinek holds up examples such as the Wright brothers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Apple Inc.
A prime example of an innovative company that inspires its employees and customers by starting with why is Apple. Sinek shows how the marketing message that Apple uses to create value begins with an explanation of the underlying differentiator that separates the company from its competitors. Sure, it makes computers, but that message comes after the company states that it believes in challenging the status quo and thinking differently.

Orville and Wilbur Wright
Similarly, Sinek writes, the Wright brothers were able to become the first people to pilot their own flying machine before experts with more resources at their disposal. The Wright brothers started with the passion for flight, which was a far more effective why than the mere ambition for achievement that compelled the Smithsonian’s Samuel Pierpont Langley and his shop of well-educated experts who also strove to be the first to fly. Other people joined Orville and Wilbur Wright’s team because they were inspired by their belief that people could fly. This belief helped the Wright brothers excite their team members to do the hard work that got them off the ground before anyone else in the world.

Stories like this demonstrate Sinek’s theory about the importance of inspiration when leading others. Through lively historical examples that captivate while inspiring, Sinek offers readers a wealth of role models to help them find the inspiration to reach their own goals.

Harvest the Low-Hanging Fruit

This is the time of the year when the apples are ripe at the orchard near us. I always like to get there early in the season because there are still plenty of apples down low on the branches that are easy to reach and pick. That is so much easier than later in the season when you have to climb a ladder or pick less than the best fruit that others have skipped over.

This is of course where the business term “low-hanging fruit” came from. Most companies have customers and markets that are easy to exploit without a lot of effort, if you know where to look. That’s where Jeremy Eden and Terri Long come in.

Eden and Long have made a business out of helping companies find and harvest their low-hanging fruit, and they recently published a book by this name. We’ve invited the authors to join us for our Soundview Live webinar Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity & Profits, where they will reveal some of their 77 ways to boost productivity and profits. Among the ways they will explain are:

• Put a price tag on everything to stop the waste.
• Value engineer your products to eliminate what your customers won’t pay for.
• Ask, “But do we know that is true?”
• Brainstorm in a new way, to find problems not solutions.
• Stop ignoring your introverts.
• Push work down to the lowest-paid person capable of doing it.
• Take simple and low-tech over sexy and high-tech.
• If you want the money, spend the time.

Join us to hear more about these harvesting methods and many more, and bring your questions for Eden and Long to answer during the webinar. As always, our weekly Soundview Live webinars are free for subscribers. If you subscribe for $99 you’ll have your money back after just two webinars.

The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking

The inability to elevate thinking in order to set strategic direction can have devastating long-term effects on an organization. Research by The Conference Board has shown that 70 percent of public companies experiencing a revenue stall lose more than half of their market capitalization. Additional research attributes the primary cause of these revenue stalls to poor decisions about strategy.

Rich Horwath, in his book Elevate, points to 10 strategy challenges faced by today’s companies:
1. Time
2. Commitment (buy-in)
3. Lack of Priorities
4. Status Quo
5. Not understanding what strategy is
6. Lack of training/tools for thinking strategically
7. Lack of alignment
8. Firefighting (being reactive)
9. Lack of quality/timely data and information
10. Unclear company direction

One of the key issues Horwath points out as a problem for companies, is their confusion about what strategy really is. There is confusion between Goals, Objectives, Strategy and Tactics. Horwath provides a tool he calls the GOST tool, to help companies clarify what strategy really is, and to separate it from goals, objectives and tactics.

He also provides what he calls the three disciplines of advanced strategic thinking:
• Coalesce: fusing together insights to create an innovative business model.
• Compete: creating a system of strategy to achieve competitive advantage.
• Champion: leading others to think and act strategically to execute strategy.

If your company struggles with strategic thinking, then we invite you to join us and Rich Horwath for our next Soundview Live webinar, The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking, on August 21st. Rich will unpacked these strategy concepts, and take your questions.