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Archive for October, 2010

Oct
26

Laughter and Learning

I spent the day teaching Social Styles to a wonderful group from PwC.  Smart, engaged, funny, sincere – these folks were simply delightful.

When I’m working with groups, I love to combine practicality and fun: I’ve noticed, over the years, that if you can teach people with humor, it works better.  If I can illustrate an important point by telling a story that makes people laugh – they tend to remember the point better.

Years ago, I read a story about Jewish children in New York in the 19th century learning Hebrew: every time they fully learned a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, they received a cookie in the shape of the letter, because “when learning is sweet, it is remembered.”

I agree.  Humor makes learning sweet, whether you’re teaching children or grownups, colleagues or family members, in person or at a distance.

Posted in learning

Oct
18

The Middle Path to Success

I love it when research supports my intuition.  I suspect that’s a basic human reaction, “See, I knew that!”

I just found an article on the AmEx open forum that references a recent HBR article called Roaring Out of the Recession.  The authors did a year-long study of the performance of 4,700 public companies before, during, and after the last three economic recessions in America (1980-82, 1990-91, and 2000-02).

What they found: the companies that did best – by quite impressive margins – were those that reduced costs selectively by focusing on operational efficiency (vs. across-the-board cost-cutting), at the same time invested in the future by spending on marketing, R&D, and new assets.

Which (I’m bragging a bit now) is precisely what I suggested in a series of posts I wrote last year, on May 14, June 11 and August 19. Fortunately, we’ve also been making this recommendation again and again to our clients over the past year: Re-trench smartly; make sure you’re operating as efficiently and cleanly as possible; don’t hold on to people, processes, or products that aren’t working. AND focus on growth and success; keep envisioning your hoped-for future and figure out how to get there.

Our clients seem to be doing well, and that’s the important thing.  But it’s nice to have the data on our side, too!


Oct
13

Form and Function for Four Hundred Years

I just got back yesterday from a little mini-vacation in Amsterdam.  (I blogged before going about the Amsterdam Botanical Garden – the Hortus Botanicus; it was indeed wonderful.)

When I visit a place, I’m always curious to find out about its history, so I talk to people and read things – I especially like historic plaques, and I also appreciate the marketing stuff written by enthusiastic locals.  It’s often not entirely objective (heavy on the good, light on the bad), but I enjoy the pride people tend to take in their home-place, and these pieces are generally full of interesting and easily digestible information.

And I especially like it when something I read clarifies something I’ve observed.  We stayed in a lovely little hotel right on the Singel, one of the canals, and we did a lot of walking around.  I was struck by the combination of beauty and function I saw all around me: the canals themselves, the rows of canal houses, the brick roads with their bike lanes, the shapely old trees shading it all.  It reminded me of one of my favorite sayings, an admonition of William Morris, one of the fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement: “Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I try to use that sentiment as a guide in my own house, and it seemed to me that much of what I saw of old Amsterdam fulfilled those requirements.

Then at one point, I picked up an English-language magazine focused primarily on talking about how cool it is that UNESCO has recently made most of central Amsterdam a world heritage site.  It explained how, when the city was first being built up – almost 400 years ago – the canals, houses, green spaces, and connecting roads were designed by and for the residents of the city, primarily merchants and tradespeople.  Unlike most cities of that era, which grew up around the castle or fortress of the local ruler, Amsterdam was created to make the lives of ordinary people easy, efficient and pleasant: to balance work and culture, family and businessTo be both useful and beautiful.

The result is a place that, 400 years on, still works well: it’s human in a wonderful way; sized for people to walk and bike, hang out with their families, run their enterprises, enjoy neighborhood restaurants and art galleries, visit museums and concert halls.

I loved it; it’s a city model for the 21st century.


Oct
5

Succeeding in New Worlds

I’ve been reading James Clavell’s Shogun over the past couple of weeks – my husband recommended it to me, knowing both my love of history and my appreciation for a well-crafted tale.

It’s the fictional story of an Englishman, a sea pilot named Blackthorne, coming to Japan at the end of the 16th century.  At the time, very few Europeans had visited Japan – primarily Portuguese and Spanish traders and a handful of Catholic priests.

For Blackthorne, Japan might as well be a new planet: he knows nothing, has heard nothing, of the culture, language, history, customs, and mindset. They are entirely foreign and bizarre to him, and there is nothing and no one to guide him.

Clavell does a wonderful job of evolving his hero as the book progresses. As I’m reading I’ve noticed that Blackthorne’s main tools for staying alive and, ultimately, succeeding in this new world are his curiosity, his willingness to let go of his pre-existing assumptions, and his ability to learn from his mistakes.

And I can’t help but think: those are also our main tools for staying alive (metaphorically) and succeeding in this new economic and technological world in which we find ourselves.

We need these mental tools as we look to discover how to build and operate successful businesses and lives in the 21st century, when so many of the assumptions that served us in the past may no longer be valid: assumptions about how we’ll work together and navigate through our careers; what our customers want and how to market it to them; how we’ll communicate and be entertained and informed.

Reading Shogun is a great reminder to me to get curious and stay curious; question my assumptions; be attentive to what isn’t working for me and look for alternatives.

Posted in Books,learning