Category Archives: Culture

In Support of Silence


Last week I went to go see a thought-provoking documentary, In Pursuit of Silence. As a systems thinker and writer, I value silence and have always been relatively sensitive to sound, especially while at work. I wanted to see what a film dedicated to studying silence had to present and maybe emerge with some new clarity around the impacts of silence and sound. The film had a perfect balance of science and spirituality that flowed and had prominent insights and calls to action surprisingly relevant for leaders to consider in cultivating supportive work environments. In this post I’ll detail my takeaways in terms of three key benefits of silence in the workplace, the value of intentional sound, and next steps for cultivating a culture of deeper support and collaboration on your team.

Three Benefits of Silence

The film documented the uses of silence and sound across many cultures and specific environments around the world from Japan, to Alaska, to the continental US, to India, and more. One of the most prominent features to me was also the piece about sound and the impact on schools. In cities, sounds from trains and surrounding noise are a major problem for school environments and impact the learning process negatively. In the school featured in the film, they reported that the loud train across the street from the school lowered productivity (class progress, etc.) by 15%. I thought of this in terms of the workplace, where similar focus and learning is necessary, and how I have been affected by sound. Through deeper reflection, I realized three central aspects of a supportive, productive work environment that are best cultivated in silence.


Having a one-pointed focus improves productivity rather than concentration being divided between your work and a conversation going on beside you.

One (maybe obvious) way that sound has impacted my work is focus. I can remember once at the workplace that I was working on an analysis project and there was construction outside. There have been many studies that have shown that distractions like construction, telephones ringing, dogs barking, and other noises have a negative impact on productivity and concentration and people do not necessarily adapt over time.


Learning is vital to expanding your tool belt at work, and is also vital to integrating new information and inputs to understand your work and improve the quality of the work you do.

Beyond the ability to merely having a consistent train of thought to focus on the work at hand, noise inhibits your ability to reflect, learn, and think independently. It’s not just distraction here but disturbance – disturbance of the internal dialogue and thought process you may have going on when focusing on something that resolves learning or reaching a resolution. When we have many inputs to reflection on and action on independently – meetings, e-mails, learning, etc – we need independent reflection time to integrate all of the information and actually apply it to what we are doing in our work. This is really the same as the ability to learn!


Creativity takes focus, reflection, imagination, and deep thought, among other things. I have found that I have birthed by most creative thoughts and insights in silence.

Maybe the most important thing that gets squeezed in the face of constant sound is creativity. Creative people know that though inputs and inspiration are necessary, all of that inspiration and learning integrates in silence for many of us. In our changing world, where technology is automating repetitive tasks more and more frequently, it’s more important than ever to be able to think creatively. That is, it’s important to be able to reflect and synthesize information to develop new insights and solutions to complex problems.

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The Value of Sound

Though silence is clearly valuable and I’m a huge proponent of it, I can’t deny the value of sound as well. As I mentioned above, sound is often a source of healing or inspiration and it is certainly key for collaboration in the workplace. Communication in meetings, video for trainings and conferencing, music (during those tedious independent tasks or team bonding activities), and clapping (praise and celebrating wins) are important.

After watching the film and deeper reflection (in silence), I realized that what seems to be missing is intentional sound and instead what is happening more and more is unnecessary or unintended use of sound in the workplace and the world in general. We invent something new that solves one problem but it’s creating many more – and these inventions like planes, trains, cars, copy machines, air conditions and purifiers tend to be noisy. So, we’re trading off some of the things above for these improved experiences. Also, we’re using sound to argue louder and get our point across, which is not collaborative or conducive to a supportive working environment.


How can we as leaders use this information to develop better environments for our teams to improve productivity, quality, and engagement? A first way is to be mindful of what cultivates a supportive working environment for you and your team. The answer is different for everyone. This involves checking with team members through weekly touch bases or observing to monitor how they respond to and ask for certain, unique supportive working conditions.

I once had a co-worker I sat across from in our open working space that would start the day blasting rock music. Even though she had headphones on, I could still hear it. It increased her productivity with what she needed to do but was devastating to me when I was craving silence in order to focus and read my e-mails. Solution? We talked it out and empathized with each other by communicating our points of view, experience, and needs. She turned down her music and eventually we decided it was best for our relationship to move further apart, which was totally fine and improved our relationship overall.

Open communication, empathy, and mindfulness are key. Cultivate a team culture where people feel comfortable speaking up if sound is annoying them. If they report that sound is affecting their work, support them by doing something about it that works for everyone. Reach a resolution. Also, lead by example by asking the same of yourself. How does silence support you? How does sound support you? What sounds do you intentionally allow or use in your work environment? What unintended sounds (noise) are jeopardizing your focus, reflection, and creativity? How can you take a step toward resolving it given the insights above?

A fountain cannot function beautifully without water in the reservoir. When you reflect and design environment with the supportive aspects and fuel you need to do your best work, your productivity, quality of work, and enthusiasm improve. You can find many more insights, prompts, and exercises for cultivate a culture of communication, collaboration and supportive work environment for yourself and your team in my new book, Awake Leadership.

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Thanks for reading! I hope this helps you become more interested in your relationship to sound.


In Pursuit of Silence Film website.

Awake Leadership

Pairs of Unlikely Compliments: Compassion and Competition


Two weeks ago, I saw Vincente Fox speak about qualities of strong modern leaders. He mentioned many qualities but two that he mentioned seemed very conflicting, until I listened and thought about it more. He stated that modern leaders must be compassionate to foster collaboration. He also mentioned that competition is important for modern leaders to foster creativity and for world leaders to solve global issues. I am not a fan of competition. I have never been a fan of competition ever since I was young. However, after listening to Vincente, I realized that competition is a tool, like anything else, that can be used for good or for bad, depending on the scenario and the application.

First, what is compassion and why does it matter? If compassion is sympathy or love toward others suffering or in need, then compassion takes connection and empathy on the part of a leader. Compassion fosters transparent, sustainable relationships within organizations and successful collaborative relationships with business partners. When you are able to practice compassion, borders fade away and seemingly separate people can more easily collaborate, relate to one another, and come to mutual agreement or at least mutual understanding of each side of an argument or experience. If you can practice compassion, by understanding that someone else, depending on their perspective may have a different understanding or experience than you perceive it as true, you can start from these to reach a mutual understanding without giving up due to frustration or at least agree to disagree and preserve the relationship without burning a bridge and collecting stress. Compassion allows you to feel connected to more people and make your organization more universally appealing, inside and out.

Where does competition fit in then? Doesn’t competition exactly counter compassion? Competition entails gaining superiority over others who are trying to do the same. If an organization is compassionate, can they not practice competition? After much thought, I realized that many organizations misunderstand a more creative, deep use for competition or merely use competition in the wrong way. Competition is often based on a perception of scarcity. For example: there are not enough customers for both organizations to be profitable if they both exist, there is only one #1 spot on the Fortune 500 list, and there is only one most profitable organization in our industry. If we reframe competition and take the scarcity, the threatening part, and replace that with a use of challenge, a vehicle for both improvement and for realizing your organization’s unique purpose and contribution, competition can be used for freedom and eventually the fear of competition fades away. If you come up with an idea and it’s always the best, sometimes we don’t feel challenged to come up with a better one or a new one as conditions change or we’re never challenged to work beyond, toward a bigger contribution or purpose. Also, other, often better ideas give us new inspiration for how to make our own idea or offering even better or different. If you aren’t the best or you feel like you’re constantly competing for customers, maybe it’s time to stop forcing trying to be the best at “that” and begin working toward a different, more niche, more interesting, or more useful “that”. This approach to competition takes creativity – not forcing, rushing, or withholding.

Compassion starts within; it starts with practicing compassion toward yourself by reflecting (as in the Support Section of Awake Leadership) and through practicing compassion toward your team and partners. Competition can build strength, endurance, and authenticity to fuel your best contributions when paired with compassion. Also, how compassionate you are toward your customers and employees may actually make you more competitive in your quest for success. It’s definitely a different approach from the normal modern corporate approach to successful leadership. If you practice compassion and this kind of approach to competition, customers may come back more often and you may retain team members longer. You may find more space, authenticity, and, eventually, even ease in your day to day. Try using both compassion and competition as compliments to each other instead of choosing one or the other. See what happens.

Thanks for reading! If you’re ready to learn more about how to balance compassion with competition and challenge, order your copy of the Awake Leadership guidebook here.

Learning the Deeper Whys Through the How


Flipping through my notebooks this week, I came across a quote I wrote down last year that resonated with me as a leader and team member:

“You must know “why” before you can know “how,” but as you are learning the “whys”, you must constantly practice the “hows.” – Steven Stipelman

This quote is from Steven Stipelman’s book, Illustrating Fashion: Concept to Creation. Steven is an amazing fashion illustrator, teacher, and author. In this quote, Steven is referring to learning fashion illustration. I am definitely not an illustrator. So why would this resonate with me? When I read this, I thought: is this not also the evolutionary process of our approach to our work in companies and organizations?

Whenever you begin a new endeavor, whether a job or otherwise, you have a reason why. You may a take a new job to learn, to make money, to contribute to something bigger, to spend time with people, or a combination of whys. There are millions of initial whys for starting something new. However, you won’t actually go for it and start without having a why. You might start with a why that is more personal and the larger why of the job or company may at first not feel so meaningful. It may be more of a means to an end and you may be going through the motions, going through the how, to achieve your why. However, as you learn how to do the job, over time, the whys are revealed: whys for yourself and the why of the larger company or organization. Do you find this is true?

There are millions of initial whys for starting something new. However, you won’t actually go for it and start without having a why. 

Many of my whys for starting a new job started as something more superficial like a good feeling about the opportunity, a reason to start something new, or a well-paying job. As I spent time there and learned how to do the job, I found that I kept doing the job because I found deeper meaning in it, I enjoyed it, I loved the team, or I was learning new things. I also often realized that I was contributing to something bigger and meaningful to many users or customers. I found it was true that I didn’t really understand my deeper whys until I had directly experienced the how over time. I took ownership of improving the how with curiosity and dedication. This approach also helped me to be a more curious learner and a more patient worker. I believe finding true meaning in what you do takes dedication, patience, and practice over time. The more time I spend in a job or workplace, the more I understand the whys of the organization and my own whys for doing the job evolve and deepen as well.

I found it was true that I didn’t really understand my deeper whys until I had directly experienced the how over time. This has helped me to be a more curious learner and a more patient worker.

In Awake Leadership, one of the opening exercises in section one is writing your team’s mission. If you are a leader within a company or organization, you are usually given a mission that contributes to the overall mission of the company. In Awake Leadership, we look at how your team fulfills your mission through specific tasks: the hows. Over time, as you execute your tasks toward the mission and work through the guidebook on the other important vitals, the “how”, or Vision Plan, evolves as your team gain news skills, learns more, collaborates more, and obtains better tools. By practicing the Awake method and taking iterations around and up the Awake staircase, you fine tune your hows and you learn how you contribute to the overall company mission. This is one of the focuses of Awake Leadership: to get clear on the how to reveal the whys.

…get clear on the how to reveal the whys.

Working to master the how to constantly reveal deeper whys allows for greater efficiency as well as clarity, confidence, and meaning in your work. You may have to pivot a few times; try new ways of approaching objectives, pivot roles, change companies, or change work fields before you resolve your own true whys, reveal the whys of your company or organization, and find a mission you’re enthusiastic about. Continue to be curious about how you can improve the how and continue to ask why. Learning and practicing the how leads to resolving deeper questions inside. You also develop empathy and compassion for others. Once the whys become clear and meaningful, it becomes easier to execute and improve the how, you lead with more confidence and authenticity, and you become more enthusiastic about your work and contribution.

Once the whys become clear and meaningful, it becomes easier to execute and improve the how, you lead with more confidence and authenticity, and you become more enthusiastic about your work and contribution. 

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“Learning, being curious and alive, and sharing your thoughts and knowledge will help you find a style.” – Steven Stipelman 

Thanks for reading!

To begin learning the how to reveal the deeper whys for your work, check out the guidebook: Awake Leadership. Awake Leadership is an interactive guidebook for driven, curious leaders and teams.

Turn Your Chair to Create Opportunity and Experiences


I don’t watch a lot of TV but The Voice is a show I follow closely. It’s the heat of the season right now, so it’s on my mind and my screen. To some, The Voice might seem like another competitive performance show (and it is) but there is a powerful metaphor that applies to leadership, team building, and personal development. I have learned a few lessons from the coaches and the vibe on this show when hiring people and developing teams. It’s true!

The end of a season on The Voice is always exciting because the winner is chosen. However, I still love the start of the season when the coaches build their teams. During the Blind Auditions, the four coaches sit with their chairs turned away from the stage and they listen to each contestant sing a cover clip of a song. If the coach wants the contestant on their team, they press their button to turn their chair around. If multiple coaches turn around, the contestant gets to choose which coach they want to join. The Blind Auditions continue until each coach has a full team. This show took my heart the first time I watched it because the contestants’ faces light up as the first coach turns around. They stay focused and continue singing but they light up with happiness and hope – each and every one that gets a chair turn.

Here’s one of my favorite Blind Auditions

If you’re a leader or team member, you probably remember the first time someone showed interest in you and extended you a job offer to join their team. It feels empowering when someone in a place of influence and power saw (or heard) something in you that they connected with. It doesn’t always turn out perfectly; sometimes we learn what we like and sometimes we learn what we don’t like through new experiences and relationships. However, it’s a chance to learn something new, learn more about ourselves, and learn what we have to offer. It’s also a step, big or small, along our big-picture career journey.

As leaders, we often have the opportunity to give someone else an offer to learn and contribute. Just like on The Voice, we don’t have unlimited spaces on our team – we can’t support everyone – but it’s such a gift to have this power. We get to extend an opportunity to someone and share our skills and experience. Unfortunately, many leaders hire in order to fill seats on their team and use team members as a means to an end, to achieve results and move forward themselves. Sometimes it’s because this happened to them as a team member and sometimes it’s because once we gain a job or leadership position, it’s easy to lose sight of what someone did for us and the fact that we were given that opportunity way back when. The high of the initial acceptance wears off and the excitement fades. When this happens, we also often forget that we need to pass it on and do this for others – create opportunities, turn our chair for others, and share what we are enthusiastic about and what we have gained in our experience.

Don’t fill positions to fill seats on your team. Fill positions to create opportunity and experiences for people. The more we invest in others, the more we get to enjoy watching what they become and how they contribute to the world. Many argue that the winners of The Voice are not “successful”. What is success anyway? The contestants go off in cool directions from making albums, to Broadway, and beyond. This speaks to not just entering the show to get a record deal but instead enjoying the journey with the coaches and believing the Voice is not the end of the road. There are limitless possibilities beyond just a record deal… beyond winning just this battle. There is a bigger picture to what is happening and developing if you have the foresight to zoom out and think about it as a lifetime of experiences, contributions, and learning. This speaks to the importance of detachment not only as a leader, in terms of results of the skills and mentorship time you share with your team members, but detachment on the part of the team members to be as dedicated as you are detached to their current work and go with the flow for where it takes you next. There can be dedication, detachment, and gratitude on both sides.

The Voice reminds me of the times I have been so excited and grateful that someone turned their chair for me so I could take my experience to the next level. I was even more grateful when my leader showed up each day to share experience, skills, and feedback with me. Always remember that you have valuable skills and experience to share and give it selflessly. It’s amazing to see others take what you have to give and make it their own. In turn, the members of our team become valuable extensions of our abilities and connections that help us move toward our objectives in and outside of work. The most rewarding part is watching them develop into something completely their own and enjoying their unique contributions while on our team and in the future.

As a team member, it’s important to show up and reach out for those opportunities you’re interested in and enthusiastic about. Use your voice. Don’t get discouraged when a few people don’t turn their chair. Spend time honing in on who you are and find your tribe and a leader that believes in you. It will happen. Eventually, you’ll be in a position where you have the power to turn your chair for others. Use that power for good. Watch it grow.

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So, find people you love to work with and are enthusiastic about. Turn your chair for them and selflessly share your skills, provide inspiration and wisdom, challenge them in a kind way that takes their experience to the next level, and give acknowledgement and encouragement. As a team member, show up, learn all that you can, and express your enthusiasm and gratitude for what you learn. Find a place to work with a mission and people you love and your power will proposer. It takes time and dedication. Cultivate a deep curiosity for what is possible in this phase of your journey and beyond.


Thanks for reading!

I’m passionate about this stuff. It’s true! For insights and exercises for finding your authentic voice and creating experiences for your team, check out my new book, Awake Leadership.

And… watch the Top 8 contestants perform on The Voice Monday night.

The Art of Creating Original Work and Ideas

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This past weekend I went to see the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit at MOMA with friends. The exhibit follows Diebenkorn’s progression from his early career through his latest work. Throughout the exhibit, Matisse’s paintings are placed next to Diebenkorn’s, showing how Matisse influenced Diebenkorn’s work. I love art but the relationship between Matisse and Diebenkorn was most interesting to me. Even though Matisse and Diebenkorn never met, Matisse’s work influenced Diebenkorn just through the medium, through the work itself. Diebenkorn’s work started out as very amateur and similar to Matisse but progressed into different, original work. This got me thinking about originality and about the role of teachers and influencers in our lives. Many people talk about how nothing we come up with is original – everything is just an idea from somewhere else. This may be true but then how are there so many new ideas and works emerging all the time? How do people come up with original ideas and works? As leaders, we also learn our skills from our leaders, teachers, and influencers we choose to follow. How do we create original, new products? How do we come up with ideas for how to improve our team’s work? How do we lead with authenticity – a style that is our own? The exhibit reconfirmed my belief in the importance of our teachers, influencers, and creative synthesis. 

Teachers and Influencers

Teachers and influencers are sources for skills, ideas, and support. Teachers are important guides that help us learn skills and tools for producing work and new ideas. They help us find the ‘what’ and ‘how’ we want to contribute to the world. Teachers inspire us and also help us to find inspiration and influencers. In Deibenkorn’s case, his professor at Stanford led him to Matisse’s work. We often find deeply insightful teachers at school; however, you don’t need access to higher-level education to find a teacher, learn new skills, or find inspiration. In our rapidly changing and evolving society, learning no longer stops after school. It’s an important, ongoing process. You can find a teacher in all aspects of life, throughout your whole life. You can attend a class in something different from your day-to-day work or in something that could add value to work and interests. You can learn from your leader or a mentor at work by asking questions and progressing toward new roles and responsibilities. I have learned most from my leaders at work, professors, and amazing teachers in a wide range of areas outside of school and work as well. Find teachers you love to learn from and live life to learn. Also, be selective about what types of content, lessons, leaders, and teachers you’re following. Who are you choosing to learn from day-to-day? Why? 

Influencers are people that impact our beliefs and opinions about the world. Their ideas and work resonate with us. We find their work and ideas interesting, relevant, and important. Influencers give us new ideas, perspectives, and insights through their works – art, writing, spoken words, etc. Even though Matisse and Deibenkorn never met, Matisse’s work influenced Deibenkorn just through the medium, the work itself. It was cool to see how Deibenkorn progressed from a very amateur artist, almost copying Matisse, to having a style all his own. We can find influencers all around us. You probably have found yourself reading an article or a book by someone profoundly inspiring and interesting that you then start to follow. LinkedIn even has labeled some successful members “Influencers” that you can follow and read the articles they share. Influencers are the authors of books we choose to read, the movies we choose see, and the TV shows we choose to watch. Influencers are our friends and family we choose to hang out with. Influencers can also be our environments. Matisse drew inspiration from Paris and Nice. Deibenkorn resided in the US and drew inspiration from the west. Our environment has such a huge impact on the work we produce and what we believe is important. Since moving to California, my work and beliefs have changed dramatically and that is reflected in my book, Awake Leadership. Find radical, interesting, kind people to follow – people with attributes you want to emulate. Explore a new city or part of the word. Go to conferences, concerts, and art exhibits to find new ideas. Who are your influencers? Where do you draw inspiration from? Why?

Creative Synthesis

Teachers and influencers guide us to learn skills and ideas. They inspire us and they have an huge impact on the direction of our work and our beliefs. However, they can’t create our original work for us and they can’t tell us how to lead in our own, authentic way. We have to do that for ourselves. When we synthesize the ideas, concepts, and skills we have learned from our teachers and influencers, we can create original works and ideas. The creativity part becomes important when we consider how we synthesize the ideas and skills we have gathered. This is why people that come up with original ideas are also considered creative. They have a knack for skillfully bringing together the best of what they have gathered into something new that adds value for others and themselves. So, though the disparate ideas and skills you gather may not be original on their own, the product of synthesizing them in a new, creative way is original. 

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Three Tips for Starting Now

If synthesis of ideas and skills you gather is important for coming up with something original, then the first step in generating original works and ideas is to have multiple teachers and influencers. You don’t want to have so many that you only skim the surface of what each has to teach. However, having two or more teachers or influencers that really spark your interest means you have teachings and inspiration to synthesize into something new. Though Matisse was one of Deibenkorn’s primary influencers, he had many people serve as his teachers and influencers along the way.

One way to begin practicing your creative synthesis today is to start a daily writing habit (page 25 in the Vision section of Awake Leadership). By writing daily, you can bring awareness to areas of your life that could be improved. You can acknowledge practices and products you use that could be improved. You can write about aspects of your work that you like and aspects you don’t like. You can reflect on your skills and ideas and come up with new things you want to learn. As you add new skills and ideas to your tool belt through learning from teachers and influencers, you synthesize them to fill in blind spots in your own life. Eventually, after dedicated practice, you start to work through the obstacles by generating ideas for improvements and new ways to add value to your work and your life. 

Coming up with something original is a creative process, and it may take many versions and a lot of practice before really making it something that is an improvement on something that already exists or something completely new that can add value for yourself, your team, and your company or organization. In my opinion, the biggest barrier to being original is not producing anything at all – not making an effort to practice synthesizing your ideas and skills into something new and sharing what you come up with. You have to start somewhere. Start practicing and start gathering feedback. You can’t let fear and doubt stop you, but you should stay humble and constantly question your work and test it for feedback. Until you try, until you test it, you will never know if it could be the next big, original, successful idea that moves your company or the world forward in a positive way. The feedback should come from others and from you: what others say they like and what you see and feel is right. Your original ideas and works might not be something concrete like a painting or a product. Your original work may be teaching something in a new way, writing a book, or leading in a way that is new and specifically beneficial for your organization. Try out different types of works and ideas and see what you enjoy as well as where you and others see benefit. 

In systems thinking terms, the inputs are our teachers and our inspiration and the outputs are a creative synthesis of those teachings and influences manifested through our mind and body. Original! That makes it sound simple but creative synthesis takes intentional practice, observation, and feedback. The exhibit reminded me that, in all areas, of life, it’s pretty universal that our original work is the synthesis of the teachers we choose to learn from and the work we choose to expose ourselves to. The practices and concepts that I learned from my teachers, leaders, and influencers I have had throughout my life, especially over the past two or three years, came together in my book and come together every day in my other works and in my own life. Remember: You can come up with original works, ideas, and a leadership style all your own that benefit yourself and others. 

Who are you choosing to follow and learn from? Who are your teachers and influences? What would your exhibit look like? 

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Thanks for reading!

Also, I’m passionate about this stuff. It’s true! For exercises and tips for working on your authentic leadership style, please check out my new book, Awake LeadershipHere 

Find our more about the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit: Here

Power of Slow, Power of Soft Skills


I recently read an interview between Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Grant on why we shouldn’t value speed over power. I loved reading through this interview and I agree with much of Gladwell’s reasoning. Because of my work experience and writing about the importance of balancing hard and soft skill sets, the final question of the interview intrigued me most:

Adam Grant: You’ve written recently about how engineers think. We’re trying to make organizations more evidence based, more data-driven, and that’s what engineers do for a living. Is there anything we can learn from how engineers think as we think about making HR and the world of people more data-driven?

Malcolm Gladwell: I don’t know whether you want to make the world resemble engineering culture. I think you want to find better ways for these two very different cultures to speak to each other.

We absolutely need engineers to think like engineers, but we absolutely don’t want everyone to think that way. Nor do we want non-engineers to shut down the engineers—we want to have both at the table. I’m more worried about the hiring process becoming too dependent on analytics than I am about it not being dependent on analytics enough.

I wish there was a little more humility about what can and can’t be measured. I follow this most closely in sports. You can’t follow the analytics revolution in, say, basketball, and not be simultaneously thrilled at what we can know and deeply humbled about what we can’t know. There were two European players playing for the Denver Nuggets earlier this year. Neither were playing very well, and the consensus was that one or both of them was going to wash up.

Denver traded one of them. It is now the case that both are playing unbelievably well. If you can find any analytic that helped you predict that outcome, be my guest. It was an intangible. They weren’t happy together, and apart they’re fantastic. That just tells you that there’s an awful lot that we can’t easily understand about human performance.

This question was a bit tangent to the power over speed conversation. However, as we analyze and measure phenomena, we replicate the process and make conclusions about its behavior so we can then make similar decisions faster and with more “certainty”. We’re all so obsessed with quantifying and analyzing everything to find a pattern and a reason behind it so we can remove the possibility of uncertainty or imperfection. Why? Obviously, we can monetize a process that decides for someone and gives them more information than they’d have on their own. Also, for many, it feels good to “know” and to discover something “certain” I guess. But is that really “certain”? No matter how much you analyze and replicate, it doesn’t always work. Analytics can be powerful and it’s important to get as close as possible. We’d like to have directional information to help us out. However, there will always be unknowns and this declaration of “certainty” often leaves people dependent and confused. It’s also creating a population of very uninteresting people. 

When we think about this in terms of human performance, we can validate that this uncertainty is true even at the subconscious, body level. When we try something new like a medicine that is recommended, the doctor may tell us it will do something specific for us like cure our flu. Why would they tell us that? They would tell us that because there was a scientific experiment and analysis done where hundreds of people took the medicine and the medicine cured their cold in a high percentage of cases. So, the company started selling the mixture as a cure for colds. This doesn’t mean it’s going to cure your cold. If you’re body reacts like that high percentage of people that tested it out, then it will. However, your body could be different. You may need a different medication or you may just need sleep. The smallest nuance about your body could cause a different reaction. You never know.

In terms of human performance at work, at the conscious level, we can see that this uncertainty is true as well. Let’s say someone is a “perfect” fit for an organization and works there for three years. They find out that someone with the same qualifications and interests – degree in the same major from the same university, the same interests, the same grades and qualifications – graduates and so they recommend they join the company. The company offers them the job but after six months they are not getting the work done and they aren’t enthusiastic about the company. What gives? When you address it with them, it turns out they agree it’s just not working out. What do you do? Do you never hire another graduate of that program? You have one excellent person that, by analytics, measurements, and labels seems exactly the same. You never know. It could be that something happened in their family at that time. It could be that they realized, based on personal past experience that they want to contribute something different to the world. Could you have predicted that?

Well, if we can’t make an exact model for complex, new phenomena (like human systems and performance) and therefore we can’t lean on the models and analytics alone to make decisions, then how do we proceed? Throw out the models and start from scratch? No. Don’t throw the models and analytical methods away. These are important, especially in our growing, global society. We should keep modeling, updating the models, and doing the best we can to reveal and share guidance with each other. Use the analytical, experimental information for directional guidance but don’t solely lean on it for the answer, don’t get an ego about how “right” it is, acknowledge that there will always be unknowns and anomalies, and acknowledge we need to be creative, patient, thinkers. In terms of human performance, this is obvious because each person is completely different from another. We aren’t all one collective data point and we don’t fit on one trend line. We’re billions of data points each with millions of attribute combinations that vary differently with time. Each person is not just completely different from each other person but each person is completely different from the person they were a few minutes ago. We want analytics and experiments for directional guidance. Our specific scenario could fit into a higher-level group answer. However, let’s admit to what it is – guidance – and admit we need to be slower, creative thinkers (or have slower, creative thinkers supporting us) to look at the specific situation in terms of what they know about this larger, complex system at this time. Creative thinkers zoom in to the specific details and zoom out to see the larger context and implications. This takes time. We try to make decisions so fast to get on to the next thing. Let’s get smarter and a bit more patient (as well as more interesting and creative) about decision-making. We need high-level, fast modeling as a starting point in our huge, growing world of possibilities complimented by creative thinkers.  

We can go a bit further. In yoga philosophy, you read that action is better than inaction. Sometimes when we realize things are so uncertain, we freeze up and do nothing. We stay stagnant and stuck. I believe, as the yogis say, it’s better to do something than nothing. Doing nothing can be doing something if you feel, based on information and your intuition, that doing nothing is best to move toward your intention. However, usually something needs to be done if it feels that way. A decision needs to be made and an action needs to be taken. If your intention is to move as quickly as possible to provide answer, then an answer spit out from a model alone may be enough. Often, in our workplaces, we are rewarded and incentivized based on largest output in the least amount of time. Is our intention as humans, to just move as fast as possible and go through the motions? Models and technology can help with that. However, I think life can be a little deeper and a little more interesting maybe. We could do a little better. Gather all the information out there but then stop and listen to your intuition. Your intuition, I believe, accounts for all the details in that one in a trillion (considering person and time) experience. Your intuition can give you highly creative, customized insight based on your experience and environment at the particular moment in time. You can look outward for information and data at all that high-level, mass-market information. That can give your directional guidance and it’s a good place to start quickly. Maybe look there first. Then, focus inward. Really look at the specific situation. How could it be different than all the other examples in the general knowledge? Make it a little more interesting than looking for the answer that’s already been found or typing attributes into a model.

Scary as it may be and contrary to our modern societal logic, take it slower. Use the available information based on models and analytics for a benchmark and guidance. Flex your creativity muscle to develop your own analysis, based on your complex knowledge. Tap into your intuition and gut feeling. Acknowledge there is uncertainty. Take action. Observe. 

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It takes practice and patience but your answer may be a lot more meaningful, impactful, and you may discover something completely new and original. See what you find. Finally, make your decision and take action knowing you strengthened your hard and soft skill sets in doing your best. It’s all about learning. Watch the outcome and learn from it for next time but know that next time will be completely, ever so slightly different.

Thanks for reading. 

Also, I’m passionate about this stuff. It’s true! For exercises for building hard and soft skills and even your intuitive sense, check out my new book, Awake LeadershipHere 

The full Adam and Malcolm interview: Here