In Control

Life is sometimes crazy, isn’t it? I mean, look at what we have gone through in just a few short months this year.

A pandemic killed the world economy and dramatically increased mental health cases.

Racism pushed its way into the limelight, temporarily quashing pandemic concerns while protesters took to the streets.

We expanded our vocabulary with new phrases and word pairings. “Physical distancing.” “Social distancing.” “We’re in this together.” “Stay safe.” If you are like me, hearing these words is like hearing nails grating on a chalkboard.

Despite everything, however, the earth continues to revolve around the sun 24/7.

What awaits us in the bigger picture is anyone’s guess, but one thing is sure: With all the turbulence of 2020 (the irony of hindsight is not lost in that number), we do see goodness emerging both in people and our planet.

Since working at home has become the norm for most, parents are now focusing more on their children. Family time and the family unit have once again become relevant.

And pollution has decreased. The earth is breathing freely again.

As I ponder the first half of 2020, I wanted to share what I believe are essential learnings.

  1. There is but one race on our planet. It is called the human race.
  2. Money is power, and the powerful continue to rule the world. That said, the assimilation of wealth in the hands of a few (the one percent) is not sustainable for humanity.
  3. Medical experts do not always get it right. Pandemic measures done in excess create more harm than good (for example, suicide rates are spiking, domestic violence is on the rise).
  4. Objective news reporting has given way to sensationalism. Ratings and profits are driving what should be unbiased and balanced news.
  5. Social media creates stress in excess. It can usurp all energy in a single post.
  6. Fear makes people do silly things. The media is an excellent incubator of fear.
  7. All individuals function at different emotional levels. That is what makes us unique. That is also what creates severe differences of opinion and conflict. Media helps fuel these differences.
  8. Critical thinking is not something that everyone possesses equally. There is also inequality in the distribution of money. And power. See point 2 above.
  9. Politics are a dirty business. Even good politicians must take a certain amount of mudslinging if they are to stay in the game.
  10. Businesses are opening slowly, and even the grocery store food lines are starting to go by the wayside. Things appear to be returning to normal.
  11. Personal productivity and motivation are inextricably linked. Good mental health also impacts motivation.
  12. Not all businesses will survive the economic slowdown. But not all businesses will die, either.

I’m sure you can add more to this list.

When this pandemic passes – and it will – I hope that you get a chance to reflect on how the experience has changed not only your business but you, personally.

How will your post-pandemic reality look? Will it be the same as pre-pandemic, or will the scars remain long after the “all clear” from epidemiologists and governments?

Whatever your reality, know that businesses cannot operate as usual in the post-pandemic era. If innovation and flexibility were not embedded in your business previously, they must become part of your business mantra now. Companies capable of thinking through new ideas and quickly experimenting are the ones that will survive post-pandemic.

According to the World Economic Forum, the global economic slowdown is forecast to cost the global economy at least $1 trillion in 2020 (not including the tragic human consequences). That should be motivation enough to start thinking about how to adapt your business to a new reality – regardless if a new way of doing business is required.

How do you start adapting your business? Look at the flaws in your organization first – this crisis amplified these flaws. Implementing new ways of dealing with the customer is mandatory to correct the weaknesses.

Next, identify where you need help – is it knowledge, skill, products, or something else? We can’t do everything on our own – ask and get the help you need to sustain your operation. Other areas to evaluate include your data and technology (is it working for or against you?) and your workforce. Machines and computers are great (when and where they are needed), but no business can function effectively without a competent workforce.

In the end, when things do return to normal, know that you are in control – both of your personal and business futures.

Dangerous Information

During the past couple of months, I was fortunate to have had more time to read books and research papers. I also spent more time on social media (not sure that I can call that a good thing, but it’s true!) – in particular, Facebook and LinkedIn. As I dove into social media, I was surprised to read several comments labeling information as “dangerous to the public.” Several people stressed the importance of removing videos and articles to “protect the public” because of the dangers “to the public” of “misinformation” or “false information.”

When has information – any information – become a danger to the public?

When did we become so incapable of deciphering fact from fiction? Or useful information from wrong information?

When have we ever before proclaimed knowledge to be dangerous? This call for censorship of information is not only surprising, but it is also very concerning.

The concept of information being dangerous in the hands of the public is undoubtedly true – to communists. Communist regimes rely on information censorship – the less that people know and the more targeted the government message, the more likely the people will conform to government rule. But that is communism – a trusted cousin of socialism – not democracy.

Democracy implies freedom. Freedom to elect government representatives. Freedom to choose. Freedom to access information. Freedom of media (i.e., media without government intervention). However, democracies appear to be eroding even though more than half of the world’s countries are democracies.

According to Pew Research, in Canada, for example, only 66 percent of those polled favoured free speech, and 73 percent favoured free media. These numbers are shocking, but not inexplicable.

First, the Internet appears to be playing a pivotal role in undermining democracies. And second, corporate and government agendas generally do not serve democratic goals or achieve democratic outcomes, serving only the purposes of those in power.

Neil Postman wrote in 1985 that “we no longer engage in civil public discourse. We are simply amusing ourselves to death.” We see this in social media. Look at Facebook, for example.

Facebook has 2.36 billion users, and most of those users have a low tolerance for long-form text. The younger generation, especially, will not read if the text involves more than a few paragraphs. Few among them will read a book, but they will engage extensively with short quips on Facebook.

According to James S. O’Rourke, a University of Notre Dame professor whose research specialty is reputation management, “news sites have discovered that more people will click on the video than scroll through the text of a story.” The problem with this, he says, is that “no man can understand his own argument until he has visited the position of a man who disagrees.”

Given this, it’s not surprising that the majority “now live with a thin collection of facts, distorted information, and an insufficient cognitive base from which to make a thoughtful decision. Accurate information is no longer driving out false ideas, propaganda, innuendo, or deceit.”

Research on technology conducted by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie revealed that our use of technology will weaken democracy between now and 2030 due to the speed and scope of reality distortion, the decline of journalism, and the impact of surveillance capitalism. Even those who expressed optimism often voiced concerns.

An internet pioneer and technology developer predicted that by 2030, as much as 75 percent of the world’s population will be enslaved by artificial intelligence-based surveillance systems. These systems will be developed in China and exported around the world:  “These systems will keep every citizen under observation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, monitoring their every action.”

Let that information sink in while you consider the implications of such systems in democracies.

Dan Gillmor, co-founder of the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and professor of practice in digital media literacy commented that “governments (and their corporate partners) are broadly using technology to create a surveillance state, and what amounts to law by unaccountable black-box algorithm, far beyond anything Orwell imagined.”

He goes on to say that “this can only happen in a society that can’t be bothered to protect liberty – or is easily led/stampeded into relinquishing it – and that is happening in more and more of the Western democracies.” He states that institutions such as journalism are failing to protect liberty.

The impact of technology on democracies is a concern, and this new call to censor “dangerous” information is doubly concerning since it directly impacts our freedom.

Who has the right to take down videos that pose a counter-argument to government views? Who has the right to remove articles that don’t voice the sentiment of the majority? Who has the right to narrate a different story to the one told?

As technology becomes progressively more robust and social media even more prevalent, will any of us notice how easily our freedoms are stripping away?

Opinions, Judgments, and Creds

It is a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving an indelible mark on our society. In addition to the tragic number of deaths, which number, by the way, is no more or less than seasonal flu, it has also impacted the world economy, mental health, domestic/other violence, poverty, and general wellbeing of people.

It has also divided people – bringing out the best and worst in all of us.

Fear has become a strong motivator during this pandemic. Fear is prevalent because of uncertainty, and daily news reports of disease numbers are also fueling that fear. Because of uncertainty, people are divided in their views on the pandemic – either they support the pandemic measures (fear taking root in a lot of cases), or they do not (questioning everything with why and how does this make sense?). While I do not doubt that the disease is real, I wonder whether the measures were the best move, especially given that the COVID-19 numbers in no way reflect the severity of the illness as initially communicated.

What’s interesting, however, is that my opinion has created a rift even within my network of friends and colleagues. While I respect the views of others, many people do not do the same when faced with information that contradicts their beliefs. This blanket rejection of opinions is not a good thing for society.

A person that I do not know wanted to know what gives me the right to state my opinion on the pandemic. Am I a virologist? An epidemiologist? An infectious disease expert? I am none of the above, but I am a concerned citizen who is seeing the data and asking what I believe to be thoughtful questions. I don’t always take information at face value. I tend to look for the meaning behind the message. And in my humble opinion, that’s what every person should be doing when faced with information, especially information that keeps changing daily.

Social media has made it excessively easy to have opinions and pass judgments. We feel anonymous and protected when we’re behind a computer screen floating our words in a virtual world. We don’t see the recipients of our words, but we feel their reactions in the words they write to us even though they may not address us by name.

Unless you’re a credentialed scientist, medical expert, or government official and, therefore, credible, it appears that you no longer have a right to an opinion about the pandemic. Readers and listeners judge your motives and question your background.

“What gives you the right to say that the measures may be wrong?”

“I can’t wait for you to end up in ER with COVID-19, and I hope they check your social media accounts to see which side of the pandemic you’re on before they give you treatment.”

“The numbers are real, and people are dying, how do you not see that?”

People are turning into monsters at their keyboards. They’re lashing out because they can’t believe for a minute that scientists, medical experts, governments, or media could be wrong. Those in positions of power would never lie to us, and they would certainly not manipulate us through fear. Would they?

This pandemic has zapped our critical thinking and replaced it with pure emotion. Logic is absent. In some respects, this is understandable. People have lost their jobs and their businesses. As well, their mental health may be in decline, and their domestic situation may be in turmoil. Yet, their expenses remain the same. It appears that those in power have ignored the human condition by focusing exclusively on strategies to stop a killer virus, regardless of costs.

The business loans and wage subsidies from governments are a small step to rectifying problems, but this isn’t the answer. The losses experienced by the lockdowns will never be recouped. There are no winners here other than the one percent.

The responses to this pandemic have been nothing short of a crapshoot. Leaders know this. Most of us do, too.

While we’re in no position (for now) to do anything but follow the rules, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves get through this.

  1. Understand and believe that the disease is real. It is not a hoax.
  2. Understand that proper hygiene is essential and having clean hands is always good – not just during a pandemic!
  3. If you’re active on social media, respect all opinions. If someone’s opinion doesn’t mesh with your beliefs, don’t be nasty and react emotionally. Consider whether there is some truth in the other view. You might learn something.
  4. Respect all people, especially the ones who don’t agree with you.
  5. Know that the measures are not a forever thing (at least, that’s what I’m hoping!).

When this is over, the data will reveal whether the current measures were correct. Until then, respect your fellow citizens, both in-person and online.

In closing, let me leave you with this quote from an anonymous source:

“You must always be willing to truly consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs, and admit the possibility that you may be wrong. Intelligence isn’t knowing everything. It’s the ability to challenge everything you know.”

 

Productivity in Crisis

There is so much fear-mongering around the COVID-19 (a strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS) pandemic. While the pandemic is real, the approach to quashing the virus is unrealistic and is damaging not only our economy, but our mental health, as well.

Simply stated, the disease statistics do not support the measures.

Of all those infected, 80 percent will experience mild symptoms and make a full recovery while 15 percent “might” need hospitalization. Of the 15 percent, some will die. The world death rate is 20 percent, but this is only for closed cases and does not account for active tested cases. Nor does it include all cases (i.e., those that have the virus but were never tested).

This is one time where I will invoke Trump’s infamous “fake news” claim. The percentages of overall deaths relating to COVID-19 are false. If the entire population is not tested for COVID-19, then the percentages are exaggerated, and the number of people reported to be infected is inaccurate.

Is the virus deadly? It can be, but so is the flu. So is heart disease. So is tuberculosis. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year. As of April 18, COVID-19 killed about 159,000 people worldwide. When was the last time we shut down the world economy during flu season? Right. Never.

You may say that vaccines exist for a lot of diseases, so COVID-19 is new in that regard. Maybe, but the entire world population does not get an annual flu vaccine or any other vaccine, either. This is a fact. However, not to worry – Big Pharma is working on that vaccine, just like they did on the others.

Disease or no disease, good hygiene is important and social distancing makes sense when dealing with someone with a contagious illness. However, where is the logic in shutting doctors’ offices, shutting stores, shutting private and government offices, and shutting other so-called non-essential services to protect, possibly, 15 percent of the population that is immunocompromised? And where is the logic in socially-distanced lines outside grocery stores and pharmacies? It is utter nonsense!

I may sound like I do not care, but that is not true. I care deeply about my family, friends, and community in which I live. I’m sure you also care for those you know and love. However, the extreme measures imposed on us by governments are not in our best interests. The measures may be in the best interests of the top one percent, but after this is over, most of the population will be decimated not because of the virus, but because of the inane shutdowns that led to economic devastation.

If the entire USA gets COVID-19—population of about 330 million people—based on current statistics of 15 percent hospitalizations, about 49.5 million people may need to be hospitalized. If Canada’s entire population of about 38 million contracts COVID-19, about 5.7 million may need hospitalization. These are big numbers. However, remember that these numbers assume that every person gets the virus. But this isn’t true, is it?

Not everyone will get sick. Not everyone EVER gets sick at the same time nor does everyone EVER get the same diseases that anyone else might get. Some people will NEVER get COVID-19, even if they are in direct contact with someone who has the virus. The same applies to other diseases.

Good hygiene and social distancing may help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The Centre for Disease Control recommends putting distance (at least six feet) between yourself and others, practicing frequent hand washing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces—especially when someone is ill. That seems like common sense when dealing with anyone with an infectious disease. However, all of this can still be done while keeping businesses open to maintain our economic productivity.

As I ponder our current situation, I ask myself if I’m missing some important information about the virus that might help justify the extreme actions imposed on our livelihoods. However, I do not see the logic. I cannot reconcile how shutting down the economy does any good for anyone – whether you are sick with COVID-19, heart disease, the flu, measles, or any other illness.

One thing is certain: We have become drones (perhaps terrified drones) of the government while those selling the “practice” of good hygiene and social distancing are raking in profits. This is occurring at the same time as millions of workers are laid off and businesses are closed (some likely forever). Yes, governments are providing support through wage subsidies and loans to those who have lost their jobs and businesses, but when this is all over, someone will need to pay back those subsidies and loans. Be prepared to expect higher taxes in your near future.

There is inequity even in the government stimulus. Not every family of four gets the same government benefit. Some families get the full benefit, while others receive nothing. Some people want to go back to work because they do not qualify for unemployment insurance and are running out of money; others want to seriously injure those who break the quarantine. For some, quarantine is optimal – a moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flipflops, with a cocktail or coffee. But for most, this is a desperate financial and family crisis.

Look at Sweden. Sweden stands apart. Sweden is not in complete lockdown, yet Sweden’s COVID-19 numbers are on par with similar populations. It is not any better or worse. But Sweden’s people are working and living normal lives – they gather in groups (less than 50), their restaurants are open, they are not forced to wait in lines outside grocery stores. They can shake hands if they wish.

Sweden has a mortality rate that’s about twice as high as that of Denmark (where full lockdown measures are employed)—0.01 percent of the population dead in Sweden versus about 0.005 percent of the population dead in Denmark—and only half that of France.

The bottom line is that this pandemic has created ill-conceived measures and these measures will ruin more lives than save.

We are all paying an extremely high price for COVID-19, indeed.

The People Problem

Much has been written about good and bad leadership and, specifically, how good leaders build and promote thriving organizations, while bad leaders quickly kill any progress. I recently had an experience with bad leadership (really bad leadership!) and saw firsthand how bad leadership was made worse by the organization’s own people – the very assets that organizations hold dear.

While poor leadership is one thing – and there are ways to manage this issue – the organization’s assets – its people – can sometimes do more damage to the organization than its inept leaders.

In an organization where I was recently involved, here is what I observed about its people:

  1. Complacency. Those that are complacent don’t care about what happens to the organization. They believe their life is good and can’t see outside their own shells to notice that the organization is struggling. They don’t care to make a positive difference in the organization – they are content to keep the wheels turning just as they are and just for themselves.
  2. Self Interest. Like the complacent, those with self-interests will never speak up on behalf of the entire organization. These people only care about themselves. They will sit on the sidelines instead of speaking up, or they may even side with the bad leader if it serves their interest. Those that work for their self-interest are not individuals in whom one could place any trust for the benefit of the entire organization.
  3. Fear. Those afraid of “rocking the boat” are another problem in the organization. For whatever reason – perhaps it’s fear of change or fear of losing their jobs – those that fear speaking up may stand behind someone who will speak for them and they don’t particularly care where they’re standing. However, when it’s their turn to speak, they never will. These people grumble, but not when it matters or to whom it matters.
  4. Incompetence. Sadly, there are incompetent people in any organization (starting from the leader and downward). The incompetent will try to sound smart, but one can easily see through their veils. Sadly, a lot of people can be duped by an incompetent leader’s BS.
  5. Talker. The long-winded gas bags take up too much time, and even if they may say something useful in the end, because they talk so long, people lose interest in listening to them. Gasbags need to learn to get to a meaningful point quickly if they expect to be taken seriously.
  6. Inability to Walk the Talk. Those that spout off a myriad of things that need to be fixed in the organization but when it comes time to fulfill their promises and get things done, they do not follow-through. Eventually, others realize that these people are full of hot air and can’t be relied upon for any positive change in the organization.

The bottom line is that while people are necessary for an efficient organization, the type of people that make up an organization is as important as the type of leaders in the organization. Quality over quantity cannot be over stressed.

What I learned from my experience in this particular organization is that it is impossible for one person to make a change. One person can certainly initiate change, but if the people of the organization don’t support the change, there is nothing to be done.

The bottom line is that organizations not only need exceptional leaders for organizational success, but the organization’s people are just as important. Without the right mix of leadership and culture, organizational progress can be impossible.

Changing Negative Thinking

Do you work with colleagues who typically react negatively to situations? You know the ones – those that see everything as bad in the world; they want to punish all perceived wrongdoers; they reject all solutions to problems; they believe that good people do not exist; and so on.

To evaluate negative thinking, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology looked at the impact of worry on performance. The study found that those who reported worrying at least 50 percent of the time or more were significantly less able to perform a simple exercise involving sorting of objects. The researchers discovered that this was a result of increased levels of negative thoughts.

When the brain is faced with complex tasks, negative thinking hurts your ability to process information and think clearly.

Think about a time when you were angry. Recall how your anger (negative emotion) impacted your ability to reason and be productive. In fact, thinking negatively about problems makes it harder to think of a helpful solution (if indeed any solution at all!).

Another impact of negative thinking is that it changes your brain chemistry. Prolonged negative experiences prevent us from distinguishing between real and perceived threats and cause us to over-react. Those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder may have this characteristic.

Negative thinking may also result in symptoms of stress such as rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and a heightened arousal (“fight or flight”). Imagine sitting quietly and then suddenly experiencing fear in the form of a panic attack. The body responds with an increased heart rate, increased breathing, perspiration, and elevated blood pressure. Negative thoughts affect our brain through this same stress response.

If you are a negative thinker, here are some things you can do to turn those negative thoughts into positives:

  1. Give yourself permission to have the negative thoughts. By giving yourself permission, you don’t beat yourself up and you are free to re-direct that energy into work that is worthwhile. Do you have a project that needs to be completed? Do you need to respond to emails? It’s like the devil versus angel on your shoulder – everyone is allowed to have negative thoughts once in a while, but if it becomes a daily constant practice, then give yourself permission to break the cycle.
  2. Turn your negative self-talk into questions rather than accusations. Instead of your inner critic maligning your thoughts, ask, “How can I make this a good situation?” or “Am I willing to do what it takes?” When you ask questions, you allow yourself to explore scenarios and your negative thoughts are turned into curiosities and observations instead of fear.
  3. Don’t strive for perfection right away. Focus on progress – the “baby steps” – that will take you from negative to positive thinking. Positive affirmations may help, but if you’re using them, you need to truly believe them; otherwise, they may backfire. For example, instead of saying, “I am the best thing on planet earth,” say, “I can be the best thing on planet earth if I . . . ” and then identify the steps you will take to meet your affirmation.

Also, consider the Law of Attraction to help you overcome your negative thoughts. The Law of Attraction says that by focusing on negative or positive thoughts, we bring into our life the negative or positive energy that we exude. Therefore, if you want more positive things to happen to you, then thinking positive thoughts is the way to go.

Here’s to positive thinking and to a productive future!

 

Motivational Posters – Fad or Comfort?

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the overwhelming motivational posters, sayings, and related paraphernalia on various social media sites? Why on earth do so many of these things exist? And even more so, why does everyone feel that they need to share something motivational with the world all the time?

I confess, I was sucked into this wormhole a while back, but I’ve been away from social media because I’ve been focusing on getting a Master’s degree and now that I’m back into my various sites, I’m gob smacked with the amount of seemingly well-intentioned messages that have flooded the Internet.

Sure, some might say that I’m not a nice person if I dislike motivational sayings, but seriously, my question is why do we NEED to see these sayings all the time? What is it that drives those to post motivational sayings? Is it because they themselves have no motivation, so by posting, they feel that they’ve done the rest of the world a favour? 

I imagine at this point, all those of you who understand the theory behind the motivational mumbo-jumbo are now eagerly writing posts to demonstrate how useful this is to man(woman)kind, but that brings me back to my question: Why do we need so much well-intentioned motivational “stuff” on social media? Are we so despondent and unaware of our own skills and abilities that we need to bombard the Internet with every silly saying under the sun?

If Ghandi were alive today, I doubt that he would be plugging up the Internet with his wise sayings. He’d be preaching it to those who are closest to him; those that care to listen.

My take on motivation is this:  You don’t need to get your motivation from the Internet – in fact, do yourself a favour and stop using the Internet as a motivational device. You won’t find motivation there (if anything, all those motivational “can do” sayings can really drag a person down!).

Build your resilience by doing superb work in whatever you set out to accomplish. And don’t forget to help your work colleague or your family with a task in which they are immersed. That’s how you build motivation – by being there and proving yourself to be useful when you are needed, time and again.

 

Learning at Work

How is your work day going? What have you learned from your job, from your peers? If you aren’t learning at work, how rewarding is your job, really? In addition to working to maintain a satisfactory standard of living, informal learning at work adds to an individual’s work satisfaction.

Various reports hold that informal learning in the workplace accounts for about 90 percent of everything that employees learn. This may be an accurate number if we consider Albert Bandura’s social learning theory positing that we learn through observing others’ behaviours and attitudes as well as the outcomes of those behaviours.  

In his book, Social Learning Theory (1977), Bandura explains that there are four conditions for modelling behaviour. These are: 

  • Attention. Different factors can increase or decrease the amount of attention paid to a particular behaviour. This includes the behaviour’s distinctiveness, its effect on your emotions (positive or negative emotions are more likely to be remembered than a behaviour that did not evoke an emotional response), prevalence and complexity of the behaviour, functional value (e.g., how important is the behaviour to your job?). An individual’s characteristics also affect attention to the behaviour (e.g., sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement, etc.).

  • Retention. This refers to remembering what you observed. This is impacted by symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, and motor rehearsal (i.e., practicing what we observed).

  • Reproduction. This is about “doing” what we observed. It includes attention to our physical capabilities to reproduce the behaviour as well as feedback mechanisms through our own self-observation of the behaviour. How well are we reproducing the observed behaviour?

  • Motivation. To imitate behaviour, we need to have a good reason to do so. This may include motivators such as history (e.g., perhaps past behaviours did not result in good outcomes, so a new behaviour is desired) or it may involve promised or imagined incentives.

Like many social and cultural theorists, Bandura believed that the world and a person’s behaviour cause each other – we behave based on our environment, but we also create an environment based on our behaviour. Either way, organizations should take heed of the role that informal and social learning have in the workplace and encourage appropriate learning to maximize efficiency and performance. Following are five ways to increase informal learning in the workplace (adapted from: Growth Engineering).  

  1. Mentoring. Coaching and mentoring help improve training and learning. Knowledge sharing is also a great way to retain knowledge in the workplace and prepare for succession.

  2. Sharing. Social learning flourishes when people get into the habit of sharing their knowledge. Having a center of learning available on the corporate intranet or some other internal forum will go a long way to help employees collaborate and boost their learning.

  3. Experts. Provide expert resources for employees – knowing who to turn to when you have a question will go a long way to helping employees learn from each other.

  4. Rewards. Some companies reward an employee’s hard work with accolades such as “Employee of the Month” or “Top Contributor,” etc. This makes learning more fun. Another way to make learning fun is through gamification – who doesn’t love a good game of Scrabble for Business?

  5. Mandatory Learning. Ensuring that employees complete one level of learning before they can advance to the next level is a good way to ensure that they are reading the corporate handbook (so to speak!). This can be done readily through an online learning platform. This ensures that collaboration and social learning become part of the employees’ learning journey.

Would you like to know how you can learn better from work? Check out the Learning Innovations Laboratory report about the “three stances that make a difference” at work.

How Great Ideas Become Game Changers

Do you have a great idea? Is your idea the proverbial “game changer?” How do you know? Here are four criteria that you can use to evaluate your ideas:

  1. What is the benefit of your idea? What is its return on investment?
  2. What is the cost of your idea? What are its risk factors?
  3. Does your idea have a strategic fit with your organization? It needs to be consistent with your organization’s practices.
  4. How easy will it be to implement your idea? This is a key criterion.

If your idea passes all of the above criteria, then you possibly do have a “game changer!”

Other things to consider in relation to innovative ideas include:

  • Most innovation is incremental. If you have 25 percent of your organization’s people making a difference every day; that will amount to huge change over time. Patience is a virtue.
  • Innovation usually surfaces on the front lines. For instance, it’s the FedEx guy who realizes things can be done better; not FedEx management.
  • Size of the organization is irrelevant when it comes to innovation. However, bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation because it only rewards conservative victories. Be bold!
  • Innovation is sensitive to both new and desired customers. For instance, I believe it was Wayne Gretzky that said, “I don’t skate after the puck, I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  • Innovation requires champions, but it also requires other things like focus, resources and priorities. It’s about consistency. For instance, if you need a fiscally prudent environment, then it needs to be fiscally prudent every day. Through consistency, the organization can change belief systems.
  • Innovation requires patience. Sometimes results of change can take a long time to show themselves. Remember the first bullet point above: Patience is a virtue.
  • When you have a “game changer” in hand, you need to exploit it. Seek out new markets. Use social media. Get noticed.

Finally, to accelerate innovation, promote its likely causes (e.g., front line workers) and exploit innovation for all its worth. After all, it’s innovation that makes the world move forward. In the words of Peter Drucker, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”  

The Dark Side of Electronic Communication

Individuals and organizations alike still rely on electronic mail (e-mail) as a primary communication tool to conduct business. A 2003 study, still relevant by today’s standards, by associate professors Raymond Friedman and Steven Currall, caution about using e-mail to resolve conflicts. While they do not specifically mention it, using other media for the same purpose should also give one pause. 

Based on their review of sociological literature, the authors suggest that escalation of disputes is more likely during electronic communication than during face-to-face conversation. They also recommend a number of ways to ameliorate the risk of escalation, concluding with a call for additional empirical research into e-mail’s impact on conflict management.

The authors define the following properties as present in face-to-face communication:

  • Co-presence (parties are in the same surroundings)
  • Visibility (parties see one another)
  • Audibility (parties hear speech timing and intonation)
  • Cotemporality (parties receive utterances as they are produced)
  • Simultaneity (parties send and receive messages at once)
  • Sequentiality (parties take turns)

It is easy to see how each property enables communicators to “ground” the interaction. In other words, they are able to achieve a shared understanding about the encounter and a shared sense of participation. They also allow participants to time and adjust their actions and reactions so as to move toward agreement. Grounding, timing, and adjusting are all critically important tools in successful conflict resolution.

In looking at e-mail communication, the authors state that e-mail exchanges take place in an antisocial context (participants are isolated at their computers), allow new tactics (such as lengthy messages or communications that bundle multiple arguments together) and are characterized by reviewability and revisability (communicators are able to re-read received messages and extensively shape their responses).

These properties, as well as the lack of those that are unique to face-to-face conversation, engender the following effects (which Friedman and Currall claim increase the risk of escalation during conflict processing):

  • Low feedback. Electronic communication generates little feedback such as clues about how a recipient is reacting to one’s message. As a result, participants cannot fluidly adjust their comments to repair missteps or clarify misunderstandings. Inadvertent insults and loss of face become more likely, and misunderstandings accumulate. Also, recipients can often perceive communication tactics as “heavier” than intended. This causes social bonds to weaken and the involved parties find it more difficult to resolve conflicts.
  • Reduced social cues. E-mail communication lacks the emotional expression found in face-to-face conversations; therefore, the parties rely more on the messages’ cognitive content to manage conflict. In addition, although e-mail participants often include greetings and other forms of “social lubrication” in their messages, the power of such rituals to remind people of social norms and rules declines significantly the longer the delay between message exchanges. When long delays exist, message recipients may respond in socially inappropriate ways – aggressively or not empathetically.
  • Length of messages. When a sender bundles multiple arguments in a lengthy e-mail message, the recipient may forget to respond to one or more arguments in the reply. Moreover, in crafting a response, the recipient may focus only on those arguments that he or she found most upsetting. When a sender believes that the recipient has ignored parts of the message, the sender may suspect a violation of interaction norms. Misunderstandings can accumulate, and inadvertent insults can become more likely.
  • Excess attention. Thanks to the properties of reviewability and revisability, online communicators can ruminate at length about received messages. Research suggests that rumination increases both angry mood and perceptions of a problem’s magnitude. Reviewability and revisability also permit elaborate editing of messages, which increases composers’ commitment to their arguments. The parties become less willing to compromise, begin depersonalizing one another and view the conflict as unresolvable.

The conclusions? Use face-to-face conversations or phone calls to discuss disputes. If e-mail cannot be avoided, then consider that the perceived insult may have been unintentional. Finally, the authors suggest that e-mail users can and should manage risk to resolve conflicts more productively.