Copying and Stealing Ideas

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Good artists copy, great artists steal – Pablo Picasso

The other day I had a dilemma. I was looking for Caribbean-based consultants to work with that had something unique to offer. I knew of several firms and individuals, but I wanted to be able to bring some complementary and different skills to the client I was working with.

However, I discovered that there is a significant reticence among people in my profession in the region to share ideas, or opportunities, or clients. I think the same is true for other professionals, including lawyers, doctors, engineers and architects.

The stories I’ve heard go something like this: “I wrote an article in the newspaper on topic X and the next thing I heard was that my consulting colleague was out there selling the exact same thing, using my ideas and calling it theirs.”

Bitterness and hard feelings follow shortly after… along with a promise to themselves to “never let it happen again.” With that promise, follows a contraction. The consultant stops the free flow of ideas that commences from that bottomless, mysterious place that ideas come from, through the consultant’s mind and into the world expressed in either spoken words, written pages or projects.

The result is that the consultant is unable to become known as an expert, and deeply honed expertise is what clients are willing to pay a premium for.

I can’t say that this point of view has come to me easily – it’s taken some lessons in trust on my part to get here. Until recently, I also saw ideas as something to be defended, hidden or kept to oneself in some way to ensure that the maximum revenue could be made from them.

But that is a little like trying to grip beach sand in one’s palm. Sand that is scooped up in one’s hand stays safely in the hand when the grip is loose. Once the grip is tightened, the sand begins to leak out through the fingers, and as the grip is tightened into a fist, more and more sand escapes.

From my very recent experience this year in which I’ve written and published far more than ever before, I’ve learned that the more ideas I put out into the public, the more ideas I’m able to generate.

Now, who would have thought that?

I certainly did not think that way, and instead would “sit on” small innovations for months and even years, trying to “get them right” and afraid that someone would steal them. Now it seems that the opposite is true. Getting the ideas out of my head and into the public domain (such as this blog) has freed up my mind to come up with more ideas than I have time to put into words.

Recently, a friend of mine (Andre Bello) wrote a book that clearly established his expertise in the area of negotiations with some innovative ideas, presented in the form of a medieval fable (see the blog entry entitled “A cool book on negotiating with sword and spirit.”) The book established him in my mind as the “go-to guy” in the field, not just in the region, but also internationally.

That led me to think about the best consultants in the world. The fact is, they are masterful in not just coming up with ideas, but also in generating the courage required to continue to put them out there. I recently wrote a blog entry about Peter Block, a consultant who has taken gigantic strides in defining a unique area of interest. What’s interesting is that there is almost no connection between his first book and his most recent tome – the earliest book had to do with consulting skills, while the latest has to do with philosophical management. He’s shown a willingness to abandon his public and probably profitable area of expertise, in order to develop (and take a risk on) an entirely new area of interest.

I am rapidly becoming a proponent of people stealing my ideas.

In short, here is my invitation.

Go ahead. Use them. Take and give as much credit as you feel. Let me know what you do with them, or keep it to yourself. Repeat ideas word for word, or use only their essence. Make a ton of money, or make no money whatsoever. Come back for more. Or don’t.

As I mentioned on my website, A Course in Miracles makes the point over and over that ideas are strengthened when they are shared. Consultants are at their best when they are sharing ideas with wide audiences, and I, like most of my colleagues, want to be at my very best. I prefer to have my ideas (if they are any good) strengthened through actual use, than to just have them take up valuable real estate in my mind.

So, if you’re a consultant, and are inspired, send me what you’ve got, and I promise that I will steal it. Then, if you have not done it already, steal what I’ve got. Only then can we really talk about working together!

PS
An interesting link : How to (Legally and Ethically) Steal Ideas

Hidden Camera

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How is this for an idea that’s way out there?

I have seen (and used) the tremendous power of the kind of training that gives the trainee a direct look at themselves. We humans long for a good look at ourselves, and yearn to see ourselves as others see us. Looking in a mirror is only so useful, because the moment we catch ourselves looking, we shape things up.

While feedback based on the direct observation of others can be useful (and is always biased), there is nothing as effective as seeing our own actual behaviour on tape. At that moment, our habits and behaviours that do not work are obvious and plain to see.

In the Caribbean we have front-line service workers who specialize in delivering “Service with a Scowl,” “Screw-face Service” or “The Mash-up Face Treatment.”

It’s occurred to me that these workers have absolutely no idea what they are doing with their faces or bodies. They probably can’t imagine the experience that is left in the minds of their customers.

Why not video-tape a front-line worker, using a mystery shopper, as a way of training the worker, by starting with new awareness?

Well, not so fast…. an employee would have to know that this tape could be created at any time, even if for training purposes.

This could be remedied by including mystery shopper video-taping as a formal tool for training and feedback. In other words, employees would have to know that at some point they could be taped for their own development.

For employees that were hired without that understanding, companies would have to gain the employee’s agreement before proceeding.

Only then could the employee be open to the message that’s on the tape, and use it as learning experience par excellence, rather than just high-tech bad news.

Freedom and Accountability at Work

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I’m a lucky guy

After a hiatus of several years, I picked up a book that I had started some time ago by Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block called “Freedom and Accountability at Work.”

The book itself is a revelation, and I’m glad that I picked up the book after so long, and didn’t give it away. I’ll have some more to say on the book when I’ve finished reading it, and have gotten some time to digest it.

But the “lucky” part is that I visited Peter Block’s website (click here) and read a couple of his most recent papers, in the form of an interview and a speech.

They are remarkable pieces of work and will take me a good long while to digest both of them fully. Here are my first cuts, both of which are

A Time to Heal

This paper almost seems as if it were written for the Caribbean workplace. It starts in the following way:

Nursing, more than almost any other profession, defines the meaning of service. The nurse is the front line, what we might call the touch labor, of the U.S. health care system. The job represents the heart and soul of authentic health care.

Why, then, is there a shortage of nurses and why do so many nurses find the job so stressful? The crisis is not about the work itself, but how to create more fulfillment in the work. The problem is not primarily lack of skill or motivation, but the context in which the work is done.

Block goes on to address a theme that runs through his book — that employees are best related to as adults, and as equals to management. Although this path is more difficult, it is much closer to one that empowers our potential as human beings in the workplace.

Leading the Way

This excerpt was taken from his interview with How magazine.

What are the traditional leadership models that businesses have embraced?

“Leadership” is a well-developed misconception. The dominant belief is that the task of leadership is to set a vision, enroll others in it and hold people accountable through measurements and rewards. It’s a patriarchal system used to create high performance through centralization of power. Most leadership training focuses on how to be a good parent. We teach how to “develop” people, as if they were ours to develop.

We do a lot
to create the notion that bosses are responsible for their people. All that parenting has the unintended side effect of creating deep entitlement and having employees stay frozen in their own development. Most management techniques are ways of controlling people so they feel good about being controlled.


Yikes. Now that’s what I call “telling it like it is.” For me, it’s almost scary to admit that there is a lot of truth in what he’s saying, because there are many, many careers that are riding and depending on the premise that he is dismantling.

So I’m lucky to have found what Block has been thinking, and been writing about. Both papers, and his book, are leading the way to an entirely new way to relate in the workplace.

Incidentally, his newest book “The Answer to How is Yes” seems to be an exposition of the ideas presented in these 2 papers. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Mastery, and My Plumber

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Mastery, and My Plumber

It’s strange what having a blog does to the mind.

It’s now 3:21 am and I’m wide awake with a blog on the mind. In case you’re new to blogging, no, it doesn’t mean anything illegal, immoral or fattening. This has more to do with having a need to write, and for me, blogging fills the space between having a swirl of thoughts buzzing around in my head, and some end-product like a white paper or published article.

The thoughts I had in mind came from 2 meetings I had on consecutive days this week, both of which went better than I thought they would.

One was a workshop with some managers, and the other was a speech. In both cases, I was the one in the front of the room with the PowerPoint presentation. One audience had about 20 people, while the other had about 200.

In both cases I entered that elusive “zone” in which I found myself completely enjoying what I was doing. Time seemed to fly. My shoulder, which includes a recently dislocated collar bone, stopped hurting. I was accompanied by 2 of my best friends in life, a consultant and my wife. One event was in Barbados and the other was in Jamaica (I did a lot of flying to attend the two.) They were very different in design also, with one designed as a facilitated workshop lasting over 5 hours with a client, and the other being a pure speech given in about 35 minutes to the Jamaica Customer Service Association’s (JCSA’s ) annual conference.

In both cases I used ideas that are presented in my blog. They were thrown out into the world in this space as infant thoughts, and then grew into adolescence in subsequent entries before being tried on live human beings.

I felt a feeling of what I can only call mastery.

Which brings me to my plumber….

My plumber is someone that I knew as a teenager, from my days attending Mona Baptist Church. He was called in by my mother (who happens to be my landlady) to fix a bath-tub leak and a toilet that would not stop running.

After he had done the repairs, we asked whether or not he had a replacement tip for the faucet in the kitchen. It seems that the prior tenants, in their desire to leave with as little as possible while taking as much as possible, seemed to have made off with the tip of the faucet that regulates the water flow. The result is a constant and too-strong flow of water that wets the unsuspecting user, frequently with water that is uncomfortably hot.

Well, as we’d say in Jamaica, “who ask me fi ask him about dat?”

He responded with a lengthy lecture on the need to replace the spout also, because they do not sell the tip separately. Furthermore, he informed us that we had what I’ll call “the Briggston Company A Type” (the true name was lost as soon as it was said.) that was brought to Jamaica in the 1960’s and he used to get it then from Mr. Bowen on King Street, and he in turn brought it to Jamaica at my plumber’s request, which he used to do from time to time based on unusual needs. Furthermore, this maker had a particular seal at the bottom of the spout that was superior, so over time this became the most popular faucet in Jamaica.

(I am clearly not doing justice to the complexity of the subject, and this I say without irony.)

He clearly knew his stuff.

And he truly wanted me to see the world that he sees: I see tip-less faucet, and he sees a world behind that faucet that comes from being someone who loves what he does.

Yesterday while I was preparing to give my JCSA speech my wife realized that she knew the woman sitting next to her.

Actually, it was the woman who recognized us, when we didn’t. She asked us if we came into the HiLo supermarket at Manor Park and we said yes, we did. Then it clicked. She remembered us from a 3 minute interaction in which my wife asked her what the appropriate tip would be for the fellows who take the groceries to the car (just as they do in some places in Florida, but not in the N.E. USA.) She remembered us from then, and while we were laughing at the coincidence I told her that her particular HiLo was the cleanest supermarket and best laid out I’d been in since I’ve returned to Jamaica.

She took the compliment in stride, and without batting an eyelid she asked: “Is there anything you’d like to see us improve?”

I was taken aback. She repeated the question a few times to make sure that I was not just stupid, but the truth was that I could not think of a single thing.

My barber is another one… he loves what he does enough to have left a secure job at the top-rated barber in Kingston (Upper Cuts) to open his own shop just across the street from me. His place is impeccable, incidentally. He, of course, always looks sharp.

And he put me on to a lady who sells replacement parts for my own clipper, which I sorely needed at the time.

My plumber. The HiLo lady. The barber across the street.

They are all people who love what they are doing, and relish the challenge of it, and seeking to master their own corner of the universe.

None of them is rich from what I could tell (my plumber must take a bus to get around town.)

Yet, I’ve worked in corporations with people who earn hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) who hate what they do, and have convinced themselves that they cannot stop doing it. And there are a LOT more people like that than there are masters.

A recent survey in the U.S. showed that some 40%+ of employees are “doing just enough work to keep their jobs.”

But this blog isn’t about them, it’s about the few who dare to fall in love with what they do for a living. They do so in spite of what the cynics around them have to say. They seek out ways and means to fall in love over and over again with their work, by continually expanding their knowledge, broadening their experience and trying out new ideas.

I’m aspiring to have more and more of these masters in my life. They are not only more skilled than their counterparts, but they are likely to open up a sizeable gap over others who are not so in love with what they do.

In reflecting on the last few days, I realized that I could only deliver the workshop I gave to my client and the speech I gave yesterday because of the following truths: the material for the workshop was developed and created by me over 7 years ago, and I’ve been practicing it diligently since then by delivering it repeatedly.

Also, yesterday’s talk wove together threads that I’ve been building up in this blog since I first started blogging early this year. I didn’t realize this at the time, but blogging is addictive – the more I write, the more I want to write. The more ideas I share with you, The Reader, the more ideas come.

And, it took hours of blogging to develop the ideas into a decent speech in which I would have something different to say.

So here is what I’ve learned – the joy of mastery is available now, and at any moment, by developing a love relationship with our chosen work. The tangible and visible fruits, however, take time to come.

So here’s the deal: do what you love, because it beats the alternatives.

Do it better each day, because it makes things more interesting than just keeping them all the same. The hard part is keeping one’s eyes open long enough to see the longer term rewards, especially when they actually may not come. After all, there are absolutely no guarantees in life, and tomorrow October 8th, 2005 may be a reality for you, but not for me.

But being in love with one’s work, and life, may not be a bad way to spend a penultimate day.

High-Tone Managers

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High-Tone Managers

I’ve met a few of them in my time, and one or two of them lately.

What are high-tone managers? They are the relentlessly upbeat, cheerful and smiling managers that perpetually tell a good story, and emphasize the good things that are happening in their business.

They are not unlike those people who in interviews, have trained themselves to respond to questions like “What is your greatest weakness?” with answers like “I work too hard” (without a drop of irony).

Well, OK, Francis, what’s wrong with that? It beats being the opposite, doesn’t it?

At a certain level, we all aspire to be this way – in good spirits in spite of whatever circumstances may surround us. This is a particularly enlightened way to be in life.

My suspicion goes through the roof, however, when the time comes for someone who is “high-tone” to take responsibility for a failure. That’s when it doesn’t seem to be about enlightenment, but about something else.

Once, I observed a manager starting a workshop by defending a programme that had failed miserably. I had trained him to open with an acknowledgment that the program had failed, and that he had played a part in its failure, and that he was sorry about that, and wanted to take responsibility for it.

Instead, what came out of his mouth was a defense of the failed program. He seemed unable to admit to a failure publicly and instead gave his version of “I work too hard.” He was speaking to the issue, but he was taking no responsibility.

This experience has made me think more deeply about these “high-tone managers” who spend a great deal of time and energy trying to look good, and admitting to as few faults and failures as possible. It’s as if faults and failures are forbidden as topics on which to dwell, and both faults and failures must be either turned into positives by quick thinking and talking, or ignored altogether.

High-tone managers are the easiest to promote. They quickly determine what their boss wants to hear, and they thrive on repeating it. They learn just as quickly which topics to avoid, and they make sure to stay away from those, especially if they involve any threat of them looking bad. They are the consummate corporate animals, and get promoted quickly, especially by bosses that welcome their cheerful outlook and hopeful nature.

Unfortunately, the hot-air balloon eventually runs out of gas.

If promoted quickly, there comes a point when the large number of people the high-tone manager has directly or indirectly reporting to him/her her eventually catch on.

In the book “The Wisdom of Crowds” the author, Joseph Surowiecki, describes how groups of people are able to generate a kind of intelligence that a single person or small group is unable to attain.

I think that the same thing happens with managers. Their weaknesses are only amplified when they are promoted, and more people report to them. Over time their employees are able to fit together bits and pieces of their individual understanding, so that a composite is developed that is quite accurate.

For the high-tone manager, it can happen quite quickly. A once friendly crowd turns hostile. A favorite employee turns a cold shoulder. Morale takes a dip.

The high-tone manager responds by turning up the volume, and becoming more upbeat, more positive and more cheerful. The result is a further separation between the manager and his or her people, as they increasingly complain that the manager is “full of bull-shit,” “smoking dope / drinking their own Kool Aid” or “much too in love with themselves.”

If the cycle is not broken, cynicism deepens and every word that is uttered by the managers is met with suspicion. People work to protect themselves from an over-optimism that they fear might leave them dealing with some failure that their boss refused to face. This lack of trust manifests itself most openly when the high-tone manager attempts to “rally the troops,” leaving only one person rallied: themselves.

The cycle only breaks when the high-tone manager starts to demonstrate some recognition of his/her faults and failures, and does so in a way that lets other people know (and not just hear) that there is normal blood flowing through their veins, “just like the rest of us”. This authenticity has a refreshing tone to it that is inspiring and compelling, and can convert even the most hardened cynics. For the high-tone manager, it takes courage and strength of character to give up their natural inclination to do whatever they can to look good. The upside of doing so is that when they return to their natural upbeat selves they can do so knowing that being cheerful and positive is a choice, rather than a habit.

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Afterthought: For the Caribbean business-place, the high-tone manager has a unique challenge. During slavery, the worker that was high-toned was rewarded in physical ways: with better food, lodgings, jobs, treatment from Backra Massah and so forth. They usually would be found working as house-slaves, rather than field-slaves. At times, they would experience hostility from the other slaves as they curried Massah’s favor.

The high-tone manager is working with, and against, this historical legacy and tendency.