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Your Office Needs More “Yes, and…” Men and Women

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 How to Grow Collaborators 1-2-3

  1. Share your first thoughts as if they were dumb sketches.
  2. Wait for—look for—and welcome reactions.
  3. Then say “Yes, and ….”
  4. Rinse & repeat.
Clear a space for your team.

Clear a space for your team.

You model commitment to collaboration by sharing your first thoughts. This dumb sketch approach to life makes you vulnerable and open to criticism. And there will be criticism. But vulnerability + time creates serious ballast around the notion of getting full engagement from all those around.

Your “Yes, and…” is the other shoe that drops to indicate you are also taking your colleagues seriously. It doesn’t matter whether your colleagues are bosses or employees, “Yes, and…” works up and down the corporate food chain. “Yes, and…” is your go-to reaction to ideas. People will gradually come to understand you think the world needs more ideas with legs and feet, ideas that accomplish stuff.

As kids we taunted each other with how sticks and stones break bones but words, well…you know. But it turns out words have a more complicated existence. In many respects, words have far more power than we ever guessed. And in this growing of collaborators, our words can make stuff happen out in the world (a “speech-act,” one might say). It only takes one committed collaborant (I think I just made up a word or re-purposed a French word) to begin to clear a safe space for collaboration. That space will invite collaborators, who become a nucleus to change a team, a group, an organization—and more.

How will you encourage collaboration today?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 17, 2014 at 9:38 am

How LinkedIn Helps Before You Are Between Jobs

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Generate The Thing Between

LinkedIn is a powerful tool for connection. But lots of people, once they land the job, put connection on the back burner. Some take it off the stove entirely—and that is a mistake, especially in this economy. I know this because many friends and colleagues are on radio silence most of the time. Until rumors of layoff float by. Then it’s connections galore.

Don’t let connections go dormant.

Don’t let connections go dormant.

Connection is something that happens long before you have a need or want to generate a sale. In fact, connection is not about the need or the sale, it is something entirely different. And we make LinkedIn frenemies when we mistake connection for a sale.

For those who understand the importance of connections outside immediate work and building relationships widely, there is a great joy in getting to know people and simply seeing what might happen. It’s not even an introvert/extrovert thing. It is a possibility thing. Maybe it is a thing for dreamers, but I think not. It is for anyone who starts to wonder what is possible outside the structure that encases their days.

This openness to others—this beckoning to others, this waving them close—is the early move toward collaboration. It is the ordinary conversation that starts to generate new things between you, seemingly by magic. It is the beginning of finding common ground that eventually leads to “Wait—what could we do together?”

Curiously, openness to others has a way of working backward into our present job so that we start to see new ways of working, collaborating and connecting.

When teaching college students about professional writing, I try to help them understand that the best jobs are the ones not advertised. The best jobs open and shut before ever posted on a web page or printed as a classified ad. Those jobs are available only to connections. Those jobs are almost incidental to the connection: friends see what you do, how fun you are to work with. Their synapses fire and they say to themselves, “She might be perfect for this need we have.”

Maintaining and growing connection is not for a someday need or someday sale. It is a piece of being human and carries a glory all its own.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Doing Versus Planning To Do

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Stay close to the work



Man is after all a finite being in capacities and powers of doing actual work. But when it comes to planning, one mind can in a few hours think out enough work to keep a thousand men employed for years.


McCullough, David. The Great Bridge (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 381. Quoted in Berkun, Scott. The Year Without Pants (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 67.



Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 2, 2014 at 9:18 am

Could Your Organization Grow Your Spirit?

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LEED-like certification for human-spirit-sustainable workplaces

LEED certification is a rating system that recognizes a building’s sustainability. LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, rates a new building project using five different categories:

  1. Site location
  2. Water conservation
  3. Energy efficiency
  4. Materials
  5. Indoor air quality

Businesses and organizations with the highest ratings display them as a sort of badge of honor for the public to see.

What if there were some system to measure and rate the culture within a company or organization? Since we worry about bullying at school and we’re starting to recognize bullies in the office and toxic corporate cultures, does it make sense to start thinking about organizations that sustain people rather than beat them?


For instance, what if any organization was judged by these four categories:

  1. Bias toward collaboration
  2. Employee engagement indicators
  3. Mix of top-down messaging with true conversation
  4. Ratio of CEO-pay to rank-and-file pay

Seem ridiculous?

It would be difficult to measure many of these, especially since most of the categories seem so subjective. And yet, would it be impossible to measure? Would it be worthwhile to measure? Are we already moving in that direction?

In Minneapolis/St. Paul—like any set of cities—insider talk has long identified those cut-throat corporate and institutional cultures that routinely toss human capital to the side. Insider talk also identifies those bosses, managers and C-suite people without empathy and/or ethical moorings. New employees are generally forewarned when they sign up.

Of course, business is still about earning a living for the people involved even as the organization serves some human need. So don’t think I’m championing some communistic collective. Profits will and must be made to help society move forward.

But as we move toward fuller employment, workers will become more choosy about where they spend their days. And those cultures that have a less sustainable ethos will not be the winners.

I’m not convinced I’ve identified the right categories to measure. What categories would you include?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Joe Lueken: The Grocer With Something To Teach CEOs About Leadership

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Joe Knew Where His Success Came From

Are you one of those poor souls who does not read the obituaries?08012014-ows_140676680423001

Pity: so many memorable stories.

Like the story of Joe Lueken. A couple years ago Mr. Lueken turned down the opportunity to make buckets of cash by selling his Bemidji-based grocery store chain. Instead, as he retired, he set up an employee stock ownership program and transferred the company to his workers.

 “My employees are largely responsible for any success I’ve had, and they deserve to get some benefit from that,” Lueken told the Star Tribune in 2012….

He was a philanthropist who stocked shelves and took his break with the other workers in the break room. And—most telling for me—the people who worked for him had great respect for him. He was a guy whose work ethic and his caring demeanor touched lives. And it seems—at least from my reading of a couple of articles—he did so with joy.

Mr. Lueken died on July 20 after a long battle with cancer.


As we watch the explosion of CEO salaries and look with wonder on the board members who agree to these ridiculous payouts, it’s hard not to wish many of the current batch of muckety-mucks had worked for Joe. Maybe his humanity would have rubbed off.


Image credit: StarTribune

Loose Lips Link Scripts

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Open(ish) access for tight-lipped companies

Technical people can learn something from advertising people.

My creative director friend presented advertising concepts by first showing how his agency team came up with the idea. His presentations took a bit more time, but along the way he restated the problem, showed visuals of how competitors attempted to solve the problem and then revealed stumps of ideas that never really worked. Then he got to the solutions he hoped the client would pay for.

My friend’s process placed his solution in a context that helped those around the conference table understand why the solution made sense. As he spun out his process, he verbally brought these people with him so they were nodding “Yes” long before they signed off on the solution.

The boardwalk protects fragile land while providing access.

The boardwalk protects fragile land while providing access.

Many of my clients guard their proprietary information with fierce protections. And rightly so: their processes keep things running and bring in the coin that satisfies employees, stakeholders and shareholders. But in a search and share economy where like-minded people find each other more and more often, is a firewall surrounding all information really the best way forward?

The right information presented at the right time (that is, just when someone needs it, which typically coincides with a search for that information) affects buying decisions and brand loyalty. Interestingly, your technical people are right now busy working through the context that, if properly presented, would draw others to your product.

People are searching for your information.

If only they could find you.

My more innovative clients are finding ways to help their problem-definers and solution-makers talk more publicly. And as these discussions move outside the corporate walls, they best ones are finding ways to combat the PR department temptation to suck meaning from the words. Because sharing useful information happens person-to-person. And useful information will always have something of an unfiltered quality to it.

How is your organization preparing to share details with those who can help you move forward?



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How To Rip The Top Off Your Club

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Work or church or bowling: It’s easy to mistake why we’re here

First a quiz:

  1. My company exists to give me a job. True or False?
  2. My church exists so I can feel better about myself once a week. True or False?
  3. I’m part of a bowling league so I can practice bowling and maybe get better. True or False?

Lately I find myself using “club” to describe those organizations that have turned so inward they have forgotten their purpose. Sometimes clients forget they got into the business to help customers live better lives. Sometimes they spend their days fixated on managing up. Sometimes pastors think all these people show up to take direction, fill the offering plates and carry out the pastoral vision. Sometimes parishioners show up thinking this hour will medicate me—I’ll be inoculated from the mundane horror of daily life for about a week.


Of course, none of this we say out loud. We also try not to say these things to ourselves. But our attitude gives us away.

When I teach college writing classes and we talk about finding jobs, we spend a lot of time talking about how work is thing we do together for others. Work is not a thing set up for the sole purpose of getting money. If you think the former (work is about helping others) you’ll have an enduring, meaning-making attitude that will help you accomplish stuff in the real world. If you think the latter (work is for me to get money/fame/prestige), you will never be satisfied. Might as well trade derivatives on Wall Street.

It is true that we each stand at the center of our world. Philosopher Robert Sokolowski calls that stance our “transcendent ego.” And that’s just how we experience all there is to experience in the world. But it takes a maturing person to step away from the giddy, teen-age fiction that all of everything revolves around me for real.

Is it time to call your club back to the central purpose—the purpose that people signed up for in the beginning—making a difference in the world? If it is, you’ll likely have uncomfortable conversations with your friends in the club. You may even cause current programs to jump the tracks. But that’s ok: that’s what happens when we refocus on the bigger purposes of why we are here.

That is a work that helps all of us in the club.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston



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