When I described our most recent restructuring plan to a friend – a seasoned and successful financial professional – he was certain we must have hired McKinsey & Co. to help us think things through. Wrong. It was Erika Andersen. Danny Meyer, President, Union Square Hospitality Group
Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of spending the day with a team of executives who trust each other. Many of their jobs have expanded or changed completely recently, and we were meeting to figure out how they can best operate as a team, given their new configuration and roles.
When we work with teams, we quite often use a model that focuses on five elements that characterize high-performance teams: clear and compelling goals; well-defined roles; simple and effective processes; practical measures; and high trust.
Over the course of the day, we worked through all five elements, and I helped the group agree on ways to clarify and improve in all the areas. When we got to trust, there were a few fairly minor things that needed to be addressed, but overall it was the element that required the least work.
As I thought back over the day, I saw that this core of trust was at the heart of what made the day so productive and enjoyable. People told the truth to each other; they felt free to disagree; if someone didn’t know something or turned out to be wrong about something, that was OK. There was a lot of humor, and people were at the same time relaxed and focused throughout the session. It would have been hard to ascertain who was responsible for the various ideas and agreements that ended up in our final work product: once an idea was on the table, there was little pride of ownership – everyone weighed in, riffed, made it their own. It was truly a group process.
At dinner that night with the group, an exceedingly enjoyable and comfortable affair, I realized that their trust has this same positive impact on their interactions every day. This group of people is extraordinarily successful and effective by every measure – financially, creatively, and in terms of building long-term asset value. Their trust in each other is like a lubricant: it makes their interactions smoother, faster, easier, clearer, more accurate. They waste much less time than most teams in miscommunication, useless political wrangling, self-protective posturing.
Once again, I saw the importance of trust; it really is the foundation of great personal and professional relationships. When there’s trust, nearly anything else can be solved. When there’s not, it makes everything else difficult.
It’s so wonderfully fun having a grandchild. One of the great things about it is that I get to experience all over again, in a way I haven’t since my kids were small, how amazingly good little kids are at learning.
Think of all the things that any child learns between the ages of 0 and 3: how to walk, talk, eat, play games, sing, run, climb; the basics of social interaction; how to express an enormous range of emotions; the core of logical thinking (cause and effect, for instance). And on and on.
And it seems to me that little kids are such astonishingly adept learners because of two things 1) they’re insatiably curious, and 2) they don’t attach any negative emotions to not knowing something – no worry, embarrassment or fear. Here’s a great little example of me showing Hannah how to do something new – and her having no hesitation or resistance:
She looks at the dirt on her hands, not knowing what to do. I show her a way to get it off. She watches, tries it; it works. Success! New thing learned!
When I’m at my best, I’m almost this curious and this unafraid. Learning is then fast, fun, and nearly non-stop.
I’m realizing that I aspire to bring the curiosity and fearlessness of a toddler to my grown-up life: what a great combination.
I’m often astonished by the sheer beauty of the physical world. Last weekend, for instance, my husband and I went hiking in the hills near our house in upstate New York. At one turn in the path, we found spread out before us a beautiful little lake: rocky shores crowned with evergreens reflected in clear, untroubled water. Then two hawks flew lazily overhead, riding the thermals. It was a perfectly lovely composition.
At times (not always, but often) our human endeavors create a different but still compelling kind of beauty. The skyline of New York can be breathtaking. Watching the hammers hit the strings inside a piano is a neat yet complex mechanical choreography, an engaging counterpoint to the music being produced.
Today a friend sent me this wonderful little video of commercial flight paths around the world over a 24-hour period. (If you view it full-screen, and high quality – click the little ‘cog’ in the lower right-hand corner, you can see the daylight moving across the world, too.)
The little yellow dots are like a dance of airplanes; they flow in one direction, then, as the world turns and day becomes night in a different part of the world, they flow in another. I don’t know exactly why I’m so charmed by this. Maybe it’s because I love the idea that we sometimes create beauty without intentional effort – and sometimes even in spite of ourselves.
And maybe it’s simply that I enjoy finding beauty, and I like being surprised by its existence in unexpected places.
I’ve decided that one key skill for surviving and thriving in this century is the ability to turn on a dime. That is, to be comfortable with rapid and complete state changes.
For instance, I just went from laying on a Caribbean beach with my darling husband, doing absolutely nothing, no responsibilities other than enjoying his company and avoiding a sunburn to – BOOM – standing in a big corporate meeting room outside of DC, facilitating a session with 50 people, none of whom I’d ever met, about the digital future of their company.
Different on almost every level – and with very little ‘shift time’ in between. This kind of rapid alteration of circumstance and focus is specific to our modern age. At any time in human history up until the past hundred years or so, it would have taken me days or weeks even to travel from Jamaica to DC. I would have had lots of time to make the physical, mental and emotional changes required.
And until this past century or so, most people’s responsibilities and activities were more ‘all of a piece’ and less changing, as well; you were a farmer, or a housewife, or a shopkeeper, or a person of wealth and leisure – and that was what you did most all the time.
Now we all play lots of different roles: a farmer can also be a housewife AND a person of wealth and leisure. In fact, one of the people on the beach with me in Jamaica was Sandy, a row-crop farmer and housewife from North Dakota, who was spending a week doing the same thing I was doing – and what in earlier times would only be done by people of wealth and leisure.
We haven’t had more than blink of time, evolutionarily speaking, to accommodate ourselves to these new possibilities. No wonder we often feel tired, overwhelmed and confused.
I suspect the best way to thrive in this new world is to have a really strong sense of who you are at your core. Who are you that doesn’t change, no matter where you are, what you’re doing, or who you’re with? If you’re clear about that, then you can dance through the changes…