Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Story-Telling: inspirational wisdom

Since the beginning of times storytelling was an integral part of human existence. That was a way to transcend knowledge, warn against hazards, inspire, scare - choose any communicative function you like - storytelling has it all.
Have you ever thought how many versions of Cinderella there are across cultures? From the 1st century BC and ancient Egypt to African legends (where Cinderella often was male) up till Pretty Woman with unbeatable Julia Roberts, there are thousands of tales and variations. Why? Because the plot is simple, it stays in your memory for a long time and it is highly educational: the moral is clear - be conscientious, obedient and have a small shoe size, and you will get your Prince Charming all right.

Storytelling is becoming increasingly important in the modern world of speed and technology. We are so swamped by zillions of informational stimuli that it takes a truly powerful emotional charge to break through to our conscience. That is the reason storytelling is now at the top of the list of key leadership competencies. Put concisely,
Stories can capture our imaginations and make things real in a way that cold, hard facts can't.
Storytelling in Organizations: Why Storytelling Is Transforming 21st Century Organizations and ManagementWhat is more - storyteller has the power to transform change-resistant organizations. I will not bore you with technicalities of storytelling (e.g. composition, audience awareness, presentation, message, impact, reaction response, etc.), even though it is extremely important to tell the story right, otherwise the result might be quite the opposite. There are tons of information available online and in the bookstores on the subject (I will just quote one book, which I think is good - Storytelling in Organizations), but it is more a guidebook for those who already has the grasp of what presence is and is a confident with presenting (even though those two words sounds similar, there is a chasm of difference between them). For those who are only beginning, it would be best to combine the knowledge from the book with:

  • acting classes
  • voice practice and
  • building presentation skills

heeb-storytelling.gifYou can start with small things. For instance - here is a short exercise for you and your team.

Next time you are having a meeting where you would like to build a little more trust, a little more teamwork and create some convergence, ask everyone to come prepared with a story, a poem, a song, a picture (with a story around the picture) and share those with the team. At the end of the exercise note how the atmosphere in the group will change.

I would be genuinely grateful if you share your experience adding a comment here.

In the meantime, here are some stories that have been travelling around the net for a looooong time, and I am sure many of you have seen them. Read through a couple of them and try to observe how they influence you. How are they constructed? Why are they memorable?

Finally - what is YOUR personal story?


Five lessons to make you think about the way we treat people.

1 - First Important Lesson - Cleaning Lady.
During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school? Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. "Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say 'hello'. I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

2. - Second Important Lesson - Pickup in the Rain.
One night, at 11.30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read "Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others." Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.

3 - Third Important Lesson - Always remember those who serve.
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked. "Fifty cents," replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. "Well how much is a plain dish of ice cream?", he inquired. By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. "Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

4 - Fourth Important Lesson. - The obstacle in Our Path.
In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand! Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

5 - Fifth Important Lesson - Giving When it Counts.
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, I'll do it if it saves her." As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away". Being young the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Get a Better Grade - listen to music

What is your favorite singer or a band? Gaga? Bad for you. Not only in a sense that you will be shunned by the society and mentioning her name in public would cause derogatory glances being cast on you, but also because listening to her while brushing up your subjects will in no way increase your chances to do better on the exam. Listening to Mozart or Handel, on the other hand, will produce the opposite effect, significantly increasing the information retention rate.

The unquestionable authority on mnemonic processes, Dr. Georgi Lozanov, conducted profound research on techniques of suggestopedic hypermnesia, in which he was experimenting with music, colors, movements, etc. The results of using music in trying to boost memory productivity are amazing. Here is, for instance, one of the experiments that some of his followers did:

In 1982, researchers set out to find the effect that combining music and memory would have in the retention of information. They chose 300 graduates and post graduates, all with PhDs. They split them into two groups. To the first group, they orally taught vocabulary words, with no other sound in the room. They did this by saying the word, then the definition. To the second group, they taught the same words in the same way, but added music in the background, particularly music from the Baroque and Classical periods.
The results, they found, were astounding. The disparity in the two groups of the recall of the vocabulary words was so great, that they did another test a few weeks later. The group that had not had music playing in the background could remember almost none of the words that had been taught a few weeks previously. The group that had the music in the background could remember almost all of the words.
Music is so powerful because it helps us:
  • establish a positive learning state
  • create a desired atmosphere
  • build a sense of anticipation
  • energize learning activities
  • change brain wave states
  • focus concentration
  • increase attention
  • improve memory
  • facilitate a multisensory learning experience
  • release tension
  • enhance imagination
  • provide inspiration and motivation
  • add an element of fun
  • accentuate theme-oriented unitsThe key is to choose the right music for your exam review sessions. 
According to another research, bands and performers like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Queen, The Doors, Janis Joplin decrease your abilities. Tempo is the key:
Listening to classical music set to 60 beats per minute (such as Mozart and Baroque period compositions) stimulates both the right and left parts of the brain and allows the listener to be more susceptible to processing information appropriately. Dr. George Lozanov used this 60-beats framework to instruct his pupils to the tune of a 92% rate of retaining the material.
So here is a bit of "perfect" music for information retention. I found Handel's Water Music Suite very relaxing and disposing for studying. Enjoy!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Innovations That Rocked the World - Newsweek

What is happening to the world? Check out this link first - it's a chronological timeline of all major innovations of the humankind (well, the wheel is omitted for some reason):

Innovations That Rocked the World - Newsweek <- click here

Any tendencies you have noticed? The closer we are getting to today, the fewer radical technological changes we observe. Right, there are qualitative shifts and enhancements, but whether it's a humongous Nokia of the first model of an iPhone 4, it is still still a phone, performing a few more functions compared to its predecessors. There may be nano-technologies and other improvements to the way our lives are being run, but most industries have realized (I hope) that the era of life-changing inventions is over.

What does it mean for all of us as managers and employees and the society in general? Only one thing - the human capital is becoming the most significant differentiator in a firm's competitive advantage. The battle is beyond radically altering our lives - the battle is for the hearts and minds of the consumer (of products or services).

Do an easy experiment and google phrases like "strategic HR", "executive coaching", "leadership development" and the like. On the latter I have got more than 35 million entries. As a contract, "radical innovation" returned me something like 1.5 million. Without oversimplifying the issue, the main message is that the focus has shifted. We are not a technocratic society any more - that was back in the 1920s, when an employee was just a nut in the huge mechanism of an industrial unit. Nor are we an MBO culture any longer. This is a debatable point, but in its classical application, MBO is too straightforward for my liking. We are turning into an innovation, learning and creativity society - those being the only differentiating factors.

We all know that talented and bright employees hate boundaries, rules and restrictions. At the same time, try running a company with no structure and policies at all. This is, in my opinion, is the predicament of the future, and I believe that formal carcasses of many corporate entities will soon become to fade to ensure that creativity and innovation flow freely throughout the organization and splash over into the wider community. Are we ready for the change?


Sunday, June 27, 2010

My bestest enemy

Why did I put this video on the blog? For me it edifies the basic principle of duality in our world. Black is inconceivable without white, friends somewhat lose in importance if there are no enemies, and of course there would be no HR if there were no employees.

What do we hear about our function most of the time - "back-stabbers", "paper-shifters", "nose-wipers" and many more no less descriptive pleasantries, intended to demonstrate the amount of disrespect the employees vest in HR practitioners. Who do the same employees come to if there are problems? Correct. We are like doctors - people don´t come to our department if everything is fine and nothing hurts. They like to complain and critisize, since in most cases it is an expense and the value HR delivers can not be touched, kissed or taken home for the kids to play with. One of the blogs about HR has the title Evil HR Lady - can it be any more obvious? However, no matter how hard you throw stones in fair weather, when the proverbial masses hit the fan, HR always comes to the fore to manage crisis, communications, appease the unions and keep everyone happy.

Simplistic, I know. Yet, the duality principle holds. If everyone is happy with HR, it means HR is doing a bad job. You cannot make a cake for everyone: there will always be those who are not satisfied with whatever decision is taken. However, if that decision is taken within the stated clearly communicated procedures, following the correct and transparent processes, in the long run it pays off in high trust, respect and committment.

Now that we have established that the staff and HR live in the constant tension between love and hate, the question is how to manage the expectations and create correct perceptions. How many companies have robust internal marketing strategies for their functions, be it HR, Finance, IT, External Affairs or whatever else? Why not? Usual excuses about lack of time and resources are not really convincing, because the time and resources companies save when employees know the ropes and processes and don´t inundate the respective functions with questions and requests is worth much more. Add heightened transparency and insreased trust - you have the solution.

The drawback for the managers is that it takes the power away from them. The more you empower the staff, the more is shifted to the individual level (Level Zero as it is coined in certain companies). However, that is the time that you can spend on strategic issues; that is the time you always complain you don´t have!!! It seems like another contradiction, and people like contradictions because those are opportunistic in nature. Still, at the end of the day, that is the basic premise our world is built on (unity and juxtapposition of the contraries, if we want to get philosophical on this), and what would be the fun of choosing Coke if there were no Pepsi?


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