Author of "This Is Rage" and "Endless Encores"

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When a Mess Is Not a Mess

By on Sep 14, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

True story: When I sat down to write this blog post, immediately after typing the title, I spilled a glass of iced tea on my desk. How appropriate, pointedly ironic, I thought. I am about to write an article saying that a mess is not always a mess, and then I make a mess. Or did I? It’s probably not lost on you that the next thing I did after spilling my iced tea was to clean my desk. Save for the few papers that were soaked and had to be tossed (ah, well!) it gave me the long procrastinated opportunity to eradicate some clutter. Where there was long-ignored dust between books and computer cords, there are visible patches of polished wood. Who knows when I would have gotten to those desktop dust bunnies? And so a modest mess immediately became an opportunity, precisely the story I wanted to tell. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Hot Mess is a contemporary descriptor gaining momentum. I’m not sure I understand its full colloquial application, but it does seem to roll off the tongue. Has the global pandemic complicated by contradictory expressions of strategy and uncertain leadership left us of late in a hot mess? It would be hard to argue the contrary. Facts and opinions are muddled. Too many hospital intensive care wards are filled. Families are losing loved ones. Jobs have been wiped out in record numbers. Businesses are told they can reopen only to be told to close again. No one is quite sure whether schools should be attended in person. We’re even arguing with each other about whether mandated mask safety constitutes some violation of personal liberty. Yes, that is some hot mess. It lacks leadership and accountability. It’s chaos that has been largely disowned rather than harnessed for cohesive transformation. What’s the difference? When can we throw our hands in the air with rage and declare a hot mess, and when is it an opportunity? Better asked: Aren’t we always better off trying to convert a mess into an opportunity? Having faced a lot of business messes in my years—and largely knowing that every time I have been able to do something I believed mattered...

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Desperately Needed Now

By on Aug 24, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Last month I wrote about the value to be found in breaking through the noise all around us. For many readers the question remains: What do we need to better focus on actions that matter? At the same time so many of the prior norms we may have taken for granted have deteriorated, I’ve had the joy of watching several business teams succeed. I continue to study closely how they are doing it, how they are staying focused, how they are transforming adversity into moments of triumph. There are commonalities in these observations that I hope become more accessible as we make our way through our national election and look forward to recovery from this awful pandemic. What I am suggesting may sound like getting back to basics, but when those basics escape us, it can only help us to recognize the kind of leadership that allows us to traverse hurdles rather than be consumed by them. Here are three basic rebuilding blocks I think are helping the people I see emerging from crisis stronger—three basics I believe are desperately needed now. We Need Confidence We have to believe our concerted actions will get us somewhere. If we are asked to sacrifice we need a reason. If we are asked to embrace a plan, we need to understand the components of that plan. If we are told certain tactics will help us achieve a strategic goal, we need facts that support the premise of the actions we are asked to take. When we are given specific examples of the kinds of masks that will protect us, we hear in those specifics a well-reasoned recommendation that is worth following. When we hear from historians that mail-in ballots have been used without measurable distortion since the Civil War, we know we can trust the results of an election with their expanded use in a time where location-based polling places are difficult to staff. These are simple examples where demonstrated expertise reinforces our confidence. Curiously enough, it is precisely the twisting of confidence that lets a con artist win the day. The root of every “con” is the abuse of confidence. When we put our trust in leaders to help us navigate...

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Lost in Noise is Learning

By on Jul 21, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

We are so bombarded by noise at times it’s hard to think. The raging debates around coronavirus public policy, racial injustice, and the presidential election form a perfect storm of noise. A cacophony of this magnitude only naturally sends us to seek shelter from the storm. Don’t give in to the temptation of numbness. Where there is noise there is a signal. Sometimes you have to listen hard for it, but it’s worth the effort. Where there is crisis there is learning. During the entirety of the Covid-19 crisis, my own company has been digging deeper into data, questioning every one of our prior assumptions, revisiting foundational convictions that have proven to be upended by circumstances. It’s been meticulous work, exhausting in many ways, but every bit of analysis has been worth the long hours of difficult discussion. Through a highly Socratic process, we have reinvented our business model for the better. All of that has me thinking: What else might these crises be telling us? What else can we learn from the turmoil all around us if we don’t allow ourselves to hide from the rhetorical barrage? Here are a few ideas penetrating my consciousness in the realms of global warming, trusted communications, and government core competency. Everyone Doesn’t Have to Drive Every Day I live in Los Angeles. I look outside and the air is clear. The freeways are empty. Coincidence? An accidental moment without significance? Perhaps that’s the case, as some have argued the temporal reduction in emissions and anecdotal benefits of fewer cars on the road, but what if it were sustainable? Could one of the answers to climate change be so obviously right before our eyes? I’m not a scientist with the credentials to make such an assessment, but I certainly would like the problem studied objectively. Until a few months ago, we woke up daily with the habit of getting in our cars and driving to work no more questioned than brushing our teeth. It was just something we did. In no previous discussion of environmental distress did I hear anyone credibly propose getting more than half our cars off the road, because the proposition would have been a non-starter. Then one day...

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What Is Normal?

By on Jun 22, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

I have never given a commencement address. Maybe someday I’ll be asked. No, I’m not fishing, just pondering the opportunity to rant a bit in academic garb. Ah for the chance at an honorary doctorate of anything from anywhere! Okay, now I’m fishing. If I were invited to give such a dignified speech this year, I think the question I might pose to students is: What is normal? Why that? Much of what I’m hearing these days is all about getting back to something called normal. What is normal after the Covid-19 pandemic? What is normal after three months of shelter-in-place directives? What is normal after the brutal police murder of George Floyd? What is normal after millions of people flood into the streets for weeks to protest against systemic racial discrimination and social injustice? Maybe what bothers me isn’t so much the idea of normal as the notion of getting back to some previous state that is somehow better than where we are at the moment. Perhaps we want to believe there will a new normal. In that new normal, would it be possible we could all agree on what would constitute a better normal? Could we all agree that honesty should be normal, that we shouldn’t lie, particularly when the consequences to others of not getting the truth could be dire? Could we all agree that believing in science should be normal, and in unforgiving matters such as health and safety, documented facts should triumph over manipulating opinions? Could we all agree that exercising our right to vote should be normal, that in a democracy we are better served if every citizen votes, that it should be easy to vote, that elections focus on well-reasoned policy instead of lobbyist agendas, and that politicians seek office to be public servants where scandal and mudslinging take a back seat to critical issues? Could we all agree that the unquestionable dignity of human beings should be normal, and that matters of race, ethnicity, gender, faith, sexual orientation, and age have no place in one person casting judgment on another? Could we all agree that acknowledging life as precious should be normal, that empathy is preferable over insult, that competition can...

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Trust Is Not Negotiable

By on May 26, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust. I’ve been thinking a lot about truth. I’m trying to wrap my head around what I thought for fiftysomething years were the basics: If we’re going to climb a mountain together, we have to agree on what mountain we’re climbing, where it is, are there airports nearby to get in and get out, has it been climbed before and under what circumstances—you know, the facts. We won’t necessarily know the exact temperature at the top, the weather patterns tomorrow or the next day, the precise condition of the trail at every turn, those sorts of variables. There are always unknowns ahead of us that we’ll discover together, but if we can’t start on the same page, how can we possibly agree on plans to address the unknowns? I find these days truly unsettling, not just because there is a debilitating health crisis before us, but because I don’t have enough trusted information to know what the crisis is and the ability to share in that belief set collegially with a vast majority of the population. We are confused. We are bombarded with conflicting information. We are scared, anxious, and divided when we need to be informed, building consensus, and united. How do we address monumental problems when we have little idea what we can believe? In the age of the Internet, with the ability to share more factual information globally than in all of history, we are mired in noise. How do we navigate a crisis and ask people to make personal sacrifices—not the least is the temporary surrendering of certain personal liberties—without a unified voice in leadership speaking with sound judgment and reverence for the impact of expert advice? To me, the deepest impact of the Covid-19 pandemic beyond the tragic loss of human life remains the nagging head fakes that cause me to have no idea what to believe. Contradictory information is not just a health concern. The unrestricted blending of fact and speculative opinion can undermine our entire economy. If truth blows in the wind, if we have no idea what basic financial information constitutes truth, how can we wisely invest? How can we guide careers? How can we...

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5 Key Learnings in Crisis

By on Apr 21, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Many of us are trying to decipher some level of meaning in the Covid-19 crisis. I must admit, I’m unable to find any. This is an act of nature, an act of environment. I see no message in either the depths of pain and loss this disease is causing globally, or the resulting social and economic havoc that is its byproduct. I think if you’re looking for a clear definition of existential occurrence, this is as clear as it gets. For better or worse, the dialogue doesn’t have to end there. Like any shock to the system, Covid-19 does offer us some learning opportunities. I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past several weeks. Here are five modest headlines I believe can be some of our more instructional takeaways once we together find a way to cross the chasm. Leadership and trust are inseparable. In the absence of recognized authority, chaos will fill the vacuum. We are seeing this and suffering with it day after day. The issue is not whether we are politicizing a deadly disease, whether our polarization is obstructing more sensible activity. In times of distress, we all crave calming leadership around which we can rally. As I have written many times before, trust cannot be assigned, it has to be earned. Effective leadership cannot be mandated. Leadership is acknowledged by example. There is no such thing as alternative facts. A fact is a fact. While scientific practice can be revisited by disproving the conclusions around previously applied data, it can only be done so with more disciplined inquiry and even more rigorously evidenced data. An intelligent, educated population hungers for touchpoints of agreement that can be demonstrated empirically. without hype, manipulation, or ulterior motives. Our nation and our planet have indeed managed through historical crises worse than Covid-19. If you look back at how those triumphs occurred, you will likely see the link between leadership and trust on grand display. Investing in readiness is not a luxury. I wish I could find the words to express my dismay in how flat-footed our nation has proven itself in addressing a severe threat to our fundamental health and wellness. Even the most basic understanding of chain...

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