Tag Archives: management

Doing Nothing Is Really Something

Today’s guest blogger, Jones Loflin, is an internationally recognized speaker, author and trainer, and the co-author of the award-winning book Juggling Elephants.

In our activity-obsessed culture, the idea of doing nothing is not considered a positive thing to do. Oh we talk about relaxing and disengaging, but even those moments of idleness are incessantly interrupted by the ding, chirp, or ring of an electronic device. The tide is changing, however, and there is now mounting evidence that we need these moments of what I call “sacred idleness. Forbes had an excellent article on the subject just a few months ago.  I’ve taught the general benefits of taking an “intermission” in my work life balance training for several years, and am always looking for more neurologically-based facts to support the value of doing nothing.

Enter the book, Autopilot: The Art And Science Of Doing Nothing, by Andrew Smart. It’s an intense read about how the brain works when we are actively working on tasks versus when we are idle. While the author’s goal is to show how doing nothing improves our creativity, the information is beneficial to any of us who are trying to figure out how to enhance our focus and increase clarity in our lives. Some of Smart’s findings include:

  • Our brains need to go on autopilot. Smart gives a brilliant analogy of how putting a plane on autopilot allows the pilot to rest and conserve mental energy for higher risks tasks like landing. In the same way, Smart argues, we need to relinquish control of our brain and allow it go where it really wants to go-and let it take us there. Constantly trying to prevent the brain from acting in this manner (i.e. being busy), causes mental fatigue, whereas allowing our brains to wander actually refreshes our mental energy.
  • Idleness brings deeper thinking. Smart writes, “Through idleness, great ideas buried in your unconsciousness have the chance to enter your awareness.” Always being activity -focused subdues these more meaningful thoughts or reflections.
  • Letting your mind wander actually gets you more organized. Smart says that when we “space out,” information in our brain begins to flow more freely between different regions of it. Connections are made that are not possible when we are focusing on the completion of a list of tasks or just trying to get stuff done.
  • Constant activity reduces creativity. One of my favorite sentences in the book is, “As children become more scheduled, more measured, more managed to achieve, and more hijacked by digital media, they become less and less creative.” And couldn’t the same be said of adults? We allow so little time for informal interaction, brainstorming, and just casual discussion in the workplace. Every moment is hyper focused on getting something done… NOW! Ironically, some of the best ideas that move an individual or organization forward come when the focus is NOT on generating those ideas.

So what are some guidelines for doing nothing? Smart’s timeless example is lying in the grass on a summer afternoon, looking up at the clouds. The main requirement is that you not be engaged in trying to complete a task or focus on one external stimulus. This would include getting away from your normal work or life environment with all the reminders of incomplete tasks and all the stuff  you could be doing. I was intrigued to read that having random noise during our down time is okay, and even acceptable. It stimulates the brain to make connections between normally unconnected items or thoughts. Listening to music during our idleness, however, is not recommended. Remember, it encourages you to focus on just one thing (the music) and our goal is to let our mind wander… and wonder. I found some other good tips at Real Simple.

The strongest case Smart makes for being idle from time to time comes when he writes, “….as we organize our lives down to the last second, we are suppressing our brain’s natural ability to make meaning out of experience.” Sounds like a pretty good reason to do nothing.

How could you start building more moments of “doing nothing” into your week?

To learn more about personal productivity from Jones Loflin, try out his SoundviewPro course: The Five Keys to Experiencing Extreme Personal Productivity.

Herbie Hancock: Get Out Of The Way When Your People Are Learning

Today’s guest blog is from John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, first published at Forbes.

If you want your people to grow and develop sometimes the best thing to do is to back off.

Herbie Hancock, the legendary jazz keyboardist, tells two stories about trumpet virtuoso and bandleader Miles Davis that illustrate this point. Hancock was an up and coming player and got an invitation to audition with Davis and his band. Davis was already a legend but Hancock was still cutting his chops.

Told to report to Miles’ house, Hancock met the band and Miles played with the group for a few minutes then as Hancock told an audience on Sirius XM Radio, he threw down his trumpet on the couch and went upstairs. The band kept playing. Miles did the same thing a day later. And after a few days he invited Hancock to cut a record with his band. Hancock says that he learned twenty five years later that Miles’s disappearing act was purposeful. He went upstairs to listen to the group via his intercom. He knew that young musicians could be intimidated by his presence so he removed that distraction.

Another lesson Hancock shared with his audience (in conjunction with his new memoir Possibilities about Miles was his gift of teaching. Miles would seldom give musicians a complete answer when they questioned him about something musical. His strategy was to let the musicians learn by themselves or with the band. Hancock now a veteran performer and teacher himself says that when you learn something on your own you remember it better. The lesson becomes lasting.

What managers can learn from these stories is that young performers, or those new to a team, need to be given a certain amount of leeway to show what they can do. This of course is after you have recruited and trained them. Some may be more independent than others but all benefit when the boss steps away.

Furthermore if the boss is always hanging around, looking over their shoulder, he or she may undermine the employee’s confidence. Or because the boss is present may set himself up as the hands-on tutor ready, willing and able to answer all questions. Support is good; “hovering” is limiting.

There is something else unsaid in the stories about Miles Davis. He had his pick of the best musicians. Managers do not always have that luxury; they often must work with the talent and skills HR provides them. Some of those folks, unlike a Herbie Hancock type, do need more hands-on development. But there comes a time when that initial development period ends. The employee must think and do for him or herself based upon what he or she has learned. If they are unable to do so then they are not a good fit for the team.

“Every artist was first an amateur,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is up to the manager to provide that amateur with what he or she will need to become a true professional. Hard work and diligence – coupled with talent – will power the transformation.

Learn more about leadership at John Baldoni’s SoundviewPro course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.

The Science of Organizational Structure

The Science of Organizational Structure:
how to design entrepreneurial, customer focused,
team-oriented organization charts

A guest blog with N. Dean Meyer
(copyright 2014 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.)

Many executives don’t realize that there’s a science of organizational structure. But the truth is, once you understand some basic principles, you can read between the lines of any organization chart. You can see who’s fighting with whom, who is not achieving his/her objectives, and who has ulcers! And, of course, those principles can guide you as you design new organizational structures.

The first, and most important, principle of organizational design is so important that I call it the “Golden Rule” of organizational design: authority and accountability must match. If ever they’re separated, then the person with authority becomes an unconstrained tyrant, while the one with accountability is disempowered and can’t get the job done.

Second, consider that people can only process a finite amount of information per day. We can only know so much. We can use our precious brain-cycles to know a little bit about everything – the generalist, a jack of all trades and master of none. Alternatively, we can focus our brain-cycles on a specialty, and perform far better – higher quality, lower costs, quicker, more flexible, and more innovative.

The very reason organizations exist is to allow people to specialize. (An organization of generalists performs little better than an equal number of individuals.) Great organizational structures focus people on clearly defined specialties, and build the cross-boundary teamwork processes that make specialization possible.

Third, boundaries must be clear. If boxes on the organization chart are defined in vague terms, and, as a result, boundaries are unclear, you’re paying people to fight with one another.

Fourth, the way you define people’s specialties is critical. A high-performance organization empowers its staff as entrepreneurs, running little businesses within the business. A healthy structure embodies this philosophy by defining boxes based on lines of business (not “roles and responsibilities” or tasks and processes).

There are five types of business within organizations:
• “Service Bureaus” keep things running. This includes manufacturing, service delivery, customer support, and internal support functions.
• “Technologies” are engineers who design, build, repair, and support solutions.
• “Consultancy” is the sales and marketing function, as important to internal service providers as it is to companies.
• “Coordinators” help others come to agreement on policies, standards, plans, and responses to crises.
• “Audit” inspects and judges others. If this function is necessary, it must never be confused with any of the above customer-focused service functions.

Of course, there are many specific lines of business within each of those five categories. Those lines of business are the building blocks of an entrepreneurial organization chart.

Four questions will tell you whether an organization chart is getting in people’s way:
1. Gaps: If any necessary lines of business are missing, or are fulfilled by many groups but without anybody’s full-time attention, they probably aren’t happening reliably, or with world-class effectiveness.
2. Rainbows: Imagine color-coding an organization chart by line of business. A “rainbow” group is one fulfilling multiple lines of business. At a minimum, it will be stretched to deliver excellence in any one. Furthermore, this may expose staff to conflicts of interests. Examples include mixing up operations and innovation, or business-driven sales and product management.
3. Scattered campus: If a line of business scattered among many groups, no one leader is looking after it in its entirety. This often results in missing specialties (gaps) or overlapping domains (paying people to fight).
4. Inappropriate substructure: The way you divide jobs at each level of the chart tells people what they’re supposed to be good at. If you choose a basis for sub-structure that differs from their line of business, you’ll reduce specialization. An example is a Technologist function subdivided by customer market; each group has to replicate all needed technical specialties, moving people toward becoming generalists.

These same diagnostic questions can help you design a great organization chart that helps everybody succeed.
Learn more about the science of organizational structure with the SoundviewPro course: Structural Cybernetics.

Dean Meyer is the author of Internal Market Economics, as well as six other books on organizational design. He’s a consultant, speaker, and executive coach on how to implement the business-within-a-business paradigm. More at ndma.com.

Do You Really Want to Take the Plunge (Tell the Truth)?

A guest blog with John Stoker, the Founder and President of Light Storm Consulting, Inc. and DialogueWORKS, Inc.

We all have “undiscussables”—things we think and feel but usually don’t say. Whether or not we decide to share those issues, however, is a different matter. Chris Argyris, American business theorist, believed that if organizations would talk safely and openly about their issues and concerns, then immense learning would take place that would allow individuals, teams, and organizations to solve problems, improve decision making, and increase their overall effectiveness. No one will argue with that, but the operative word is “safely.”

Years ago, when I was training at an electric generating station in the Midwest, someone in class said, “We’ve got major undiscussables here!” Naturally, I pressed for an example. The participants in the class told me that the company procedure for obtaining materials and resources to fix things at the plant was a major obstacle to getting the work done and keeping the

turbines online and generating electricity. “So,” I asked, “what do you do when things break down?”

They all laughed and said, “Oh, we have the ‘Rat Hole!’”

“What’s that?”

“We’ll tell you, but if you ever tell anyone, we’ll lock you up there forever!” I promised I wouldn’t say anything.

My class members said that the Rat Hole was a secret room deep in the recesses of the plant stocked with equipment, tools, and resources that they had easy access to. There were welding rods, asbestos clean-up suits, gloves, cleaning fluid, mops, buckets–you name it, they had it all stocked away. When I pointed out to them the costs involved in maintaining a “duplicate” storeroom, their only response was, “That’s what we have to do to get the job done and keep things working.”

When I asked them if they had ever brought up this problem with their managers, they responded in the negative, “There are consequences for doing that around here!” I was told.  Obviously, the inability to bring up concerns safely had large financial ramifications for this company. Failing to speak up always comes at a cost.

Please note: I am not recommending that whatever you hold to be “undiscussables” should always be shared. (Those of us with significant others have learned this the hard way!) Nevertheless, it is wise to stop and think about what might be appropriate to share, or what is better left unsaid.

Has the person I need to speak with reacted negatively or emotionally in the past?

One of the most frequent justifications people offer for not speaking up in a business setting is the fear of negative consequences such as making your manager angry–which shows up as yelling, name calling or some form of belittlement. And there is also the fear of retaliation, such as missing out on a promotion, being fired, being given difficult assignments, or not receiving a raise. If these are your thoughts, you need to consider whether the relationship or the situation would be improved by speaking up, rather than just leaving things how they are presently.

If this person has never reacted negatively to feedback in the past, then you will have to admit to yourself that you don’t really know if they will react negatively in this situation. You might also ask yourself why you are assuming they might react negatively. Rumor? Past experience? Other people’s experiences? Objectively examine the source of your negative assumptions and the negative feelings that accompany those thoughts. If you lack evidence that negative consequences will occur, then perhaps it is worth the effort to speak up.

I’m sure that you can generate other questions that will help you to objectively assess your situations more objectively. The fact is, we all have issues that we judge to be undiscussable, some of which really are better left unspoken. Other concerns–if they negatively impact our results, our relationships, or the level of respect we are currently experiencing–may be worth talking about. Behaviors and work processes will never improve unless concerns can be identified and discussed. If an issue really matters, most people want to know about it. That, after all, is how things get better.  If you had broccoli in your teeth, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Only you can determine if taking the plunge will be worth the reward that follows.

You can learn more about real conversations at John Stoker’s course REAL Talk – Creating Real Conversations for Results.

How to Accomplish an Impossible Project

A guest blog with Michael Dobson, an internationally known project management consultant, author, and lecturer.

Fig 12-2 Impossible Missions Force

In my upcoming book Project: Impossible, part of Multi-Media’s Lessons from History series, I lay out a methodology for dealing with a project that appears to be operationally impossible (that is, it can’t be accomplished within the initial boundaries of time, cost, and performance).


Other questions matter, too:

  1. What are the consequences of failure to meet the original requirements?
  2. Are there unacceptable negative consequences if we succeed?
  3. Could trying make things worse?
  4. How much risk should we be willing to take in achieving our goals?
  5. What are all the things that have to happen to allow us to call it success?
  6. How can we prepare our organization or team to be ready when the impossible project appears?

Except for number 6, the other questions can’t effectively be asked until you have the project (or hot potato as the case may be). And as we’ve seen time and time again on our historical journey, it’s what you do beforehand that often spells the difference between success and failure.

To do the impossible, it helps to be prepared. Preparation starts long before the impossible project swims into your field of view. Whether you and your organization will be able to rise to the challenge often depends on the strength and quality of your preparation.

In the television (and movie) series Mission: Impossible, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF, not to be confused with the International Monetary Fund) takes on challenges far beyond the capability of lesser organizations. How does it do that? First, it selects highly skilled people and provides training in the specifics of espionage. Second, it promotes a high degree of morale and esprit de corps. Members of the IMF see themselves as the best of the best.

Third, and possibly most important, the IMF enjoys a high degree of political support and cover for its operations — at least in the television series. In the case of the movies, it’s more often the case that the problem lies in their own management, and as a result, the movie plots normally involve the IMF team acting without the support of its covering organization. This makes the situation far more perilous, and if it weren’t for the magic of the motion picture experience, those projects more likely would turn out to be actually impossible.

Sometimes a project is impossible for a good reason. In other cases, the project isn’t what it seems. Practice looking at the situation through someone else’s eyes. Play the “what if” game. Look around you. Question the constraints.

And always accept that you don’t know everything.

Learn more about project management at Michael Dobson’s SoundviewPro course  How to Schedule Projects Like a Pro.

The Hidden Path to Predictable Success

A guest blog by Les McKeown, President and CEO of Predictable Success.

How to not just grow your business, but scale it

As a serial entrepreneur – I helped start over 40 companies before I was 35 – and the co-founder of an incubation company that helped launch (and grow) literally hundreds more, I uncovered a pattern few entrepreneurs and business leaders spot: At any point in time every organization – including your business – is experiencing one of seven stages of growth.

Because each stage impacts businesses differently, you can obtain a significant competitive advantage simply by knowing which of the seven stages you’re currently in. In fact, it’s only by being aware of where you are on the growth cycle that you can truly tailor your strategies (and direct your team) to make optimal decisions for future growth.

Thankfully, the seven stages are hiding in plain sight – once pointed out, most people recognize them intuitively. Here’s a quick summary:

Early Struggle
It feels like you’re hacking through the jungle as you fight to keep your newly-born business alive. The main challenge is finding enough cash to keep going until you’ve established a profitable, sustainable market for your product or service.
The mortality rate of organizations is high in this stage – around 80% never make it out of Early Struggle. Those that do are typically led by passionate visionaries who are highly focused on one thing: finding their market.

You’ve found your market and broken through Early Struggle. Now you have a sustainable business – it’s time to have Fun! The key focus moves to maximizing sales, as you shift from “finding” a market to “mining” your market.
This is the stage when the organization’s myths and legends are built, and ‘big dogs’ emerge – loyal high-producers who build the business exponentially during a time of rapid first-stage growth.

The success reaped in ‘Fun’ brings with it the seeds of Whitewater: the business grows, and inevitably becomes more complex. In Fun, you delivered consistent quality in a (relatively) simple environment; in Whitewater, you must learn to deliver consistent quality in the face of complexity.

Doing so requires you to put in place consistent processes, policies and systems, but this brings turmoil as the ‘big dogs’ and other old hands – maybe even you – chafe at their loss of freedom and autonomy. The organization seems to be going through an identity crisis, and you may even doubt your own leadership and management skills.

Predictable Success
Despite the turmoil, you’ve persisted with the implementation of needed systems and processes. Now the organization has the tools it needs to manage complexity, and for the first time is scalable: you can grow the business to whatever size you wish, subject only to the constraints of your industry.

This new scalability hasn’t come without a cost, however – you may have lost some of the big dogs, who couldn’t accept their perceived loss of flexibility and freedom, and the culture of the business may have changed in a way that some find hard to accept.

In principle, any business can stay in Predictable Success indefinitely. In practice, the newly implemented systems and processes often expand, reaching ever deeper into the organization. In response, creativity, risk-taking and initiative decline, and the organization becomes increasingly formulaic and arthritic.
In Treadmill a lot of energy is expended, but there’s little forward momentum being achieved. With an overemphasis on data over action, on form over content, good people start to leave and the entrepreneurial founder(s) – if they’re still there – may become frustrated, and at worst, disruptive.

The Big Rut
Treadmill is a dangerous stage in any organization’s development: if it is checked in time, creativity, risk-taking and flexibility can be re-injected, taking the organization back to Predictable Success. Left unchecked, however, the organization eventually declines further, becoming a bureaucracy and sliding into The Big Rut.

In The Big Rut process and administration are more important than action and results. Worse, the organization loses its ability to be self-aware, and cannot diagnose its own sickness and decline. Once in The Big Rut, an organization can stay there for a long time, undergoing a gradual, slow decline into irrelevancy.

Death Rattle
Eventually, for all organizations in The Big Rut, there is only one conclusion: after a brief Death Rattle (when illusory signs of life may be seen in a final attempt to resuscitate the organization, whether by the selling off assets or by being acquired), the organization dies in its present form.

Do you know which of the seven stages you’re in right now? If you’re not at the peak stage – Predictable Success – what do you need to do to get there (or get closer)? If you are in Predictable Success, what do you need to do to ensure you stay there?

You can learn more about Predicable Success by taking Les McKeown’s course Lead Your Organization to Predictable Success.

Twelve Traits of a Change Agile Organization

A guest blog by Phil Buckley, a senior change management professional.

Change agility is rapidly becoming a key skill of successful organizations. It is the ability to quickly respond to new developments—consumer choices, competitive threats, economic conditions, government regulations, etc.—so that opportunities are realized and challenges are managed.

Many common practices slow down an organization’s response rate. Annual strategic planning, siloed resource management and static personal objectives (and incentives) encourage leaders and their teams to complete their commitments as originally agreed, regardless of its current importance.

Agile organizations align three drivers of speed: leadership, resourcing and culture. Here are traits of a nimble organization:

• View change initiatives as a portfolio of opportunities versus a list of projects managed separately
• Know their roles in change including acting as an unbiased assessor of value delivery
• Are prepared to alter assumptions about an initiative even if it means changing direction and abandoning unproductive work
• Own the success of the change after it is launched

• Are assigned to the highest priority changes according to need versus negotiated minimum requirements
• Have right people selected for key change roles including experience, capability and motivation
• Are easily transferable across initiatives and roles
• Are dedicated to measurement of benefits and continuous improvement

• See change as an enabler of ongoing success versus something to get through now
• Understand the organization’s vision and how the change initiatives will help achieve it
• Give honest feedback that is listened to and rewarded
• Discuss, share and follow lessons learned

An organization’s ability to quickly change how it operates to achieve its goals is a key ability to ongoing success. As the speed of change continues to increase, it may not be an option. Adopting these traits could be a good start.

To learn more about change management, check out Phil’s SoundviewPro course Building Your Change Capability.

Turn Your Mobile Device into a Classroom


It’s been five months since we launched SoundviewPro, to provide free video business courses for people looking for efficient ways to improve their business skills.

During the past several months, we’ve added many courses on leadership, management, personal development, professional development, computer skills and more. Courses are being added weekly as we continue to build a strong base of content to match the needs of our business customers.

Every course is free of charge and consists of a group of classes broken up into short video segments. The short videos allow for easy display on mobile devices and tablets. Each trainer is an expert in their field and Soundview brings that expertise to bear in these concise skills courses.

When a customer signs up to take a course, an account will be established for them which includes their personal information and also tracks their courses and stage of completion. They can view a course one class at a time, viewing videos as they progress. While customers can view courses for free, supplemental learning materials including tests, additional readings and a certificate of completion are available for purchase.

Here is just a sampling from the subjects now available at SoundviewPro.


Leading Successfully Through Challenges and Obstacles with Paul White

Helping Successful Leaders Get Even Better with Marshall Goldsmith


Solving Today’s Employee Engagement Challenges with Les Landes

Installing an Accountability-Based Culture for Success with Julie Miller & Brian Bedford


Becoming a Powerful Business Presenter with Stanley Ridgley

REAL Talk – Creating Real Conversations for Results with John Stoker

Personal Development:

Building Brand [You] with Cyndee Woolley

The Five Keys to Experiencing Extreme Personal Productivity with Jones Joflin

Technology Skills:

Microsoft Excel 2010: Introduction with Robert Devine

Microsoft PowerPoint 2010: Fundamentals with Donna Zarbatany

Please check out the courses and let your colleagues know about this free resource. Our goal is to transform the way business people learn the skills they need to move forward in their business and career.