Calling: The Fighter

There’s been enough research to show that buy-in happens when people shape the decision. There’s been enough clarity on knowing the “why” causes people to align behind decisions. There’s been enough qualitative and quantitative work to show the value of collective networks in accomplishing real change. If you followed the 3 links, you know that these are truths. Kotter, Simon Sinek, and Clay Shirky are no lightweights in the area of management, leadership and the role of social networks mattering in outcomes, respectively.

We know we ought to work with others, have shared vision, and figure out how to work better with each other. We agree in this intellectually.  And we know this matters even more when it comes to the important, tough problems. Yet, we don’t do it. When push comes to shove, here’s some of what we actually do:

  • Decide to just do it ourselves “cause it’s easier than involving people”.
  • Go limp and deal with the issue by not cooperating.
  • Form an “elite” team to work on the problem. We disenfranchise everyone else.
  • Debate the ever-changing “what”, rather than know what matters to us and why.
  • Act as if titles matter. Our own (I’m the boss) or someone else’s.
  • We can’t decide so we do many things, spreading our resources out like too little peanut butter over too much bread.
  • Look to the “leader”, rather than acting like leaders ourselves.
  • Stop listening to objections. Don’t involve the naysayers, cause they’ll just slow down progress. We only listen to the comfortable voices.
  • Wait to get the engraved place card to make our selves involved.
  • Show up to meetings as if it’s about taking notes rather than engaging.
  • Read email rather than engage one another.
  • Always ready to talk but never to listen.
  • Always ready to tell but never to be changed.
  • Spread the notion that “things will never change”.
  • Don’t wade into disagreements.
  • Don’t say anything because we fear we’ll come across as ____ (a prick, an ignorant ass, stupid as all get out, arrogant, pissed, emotional, or fill in your own item).
  • Don’t name the elephant in the room.

And, hey those good management principles get tossed aside.

We then move to how can we get things done, in spite of each other.

Because the reality is that we human-ities stay nice and safe inside our own ideas rather than sharing them with others, and dealing with the necessary part of what happens when ideas rub against one another. But there is a cost: progress is limited. Energy dissipates. Passion is lost. Innovation stagnates.

The root cause we must solve for: most of us don’t know how to deal with tension. We don’t know how to fight for an idea, without tearing down people. We don’t know how to fight for an idea, without making it about winners/losers. And we hate the process. Conflict is chaotic, emotional, and unsettling; and so we would rather avoid it. Maybe our families fought so we don’t want to. Maybe our families didn’t fight, so we don’t want to. We think of the fighters as the ones who have not learned better. Regardless, we never face into the wind. And, without this skill, all of us never learn how to do something that really needs to happen. We never learn how recombine, synthesize, and liberate new meaning and new ideas, together.

(credit: purchased from Istockphoto)

Until this changes, nothing ever does. “Fighting” is part and parcel of the creative process that involves other people. It is a necessary skill for a culture of innovation. It’s why I’m delighted that Joe Gerstandt and I have organized a practical work session on what we called “Let The Wild Rumpus Start!” where we won’t just talk about it; we’ll teach and problem solve on it. I’m already planning on being at SXSWi 2012 so you might as well put me to work by voting for this session.  (Deadline is next 2 days). Maybe we’ll have to play The Boxer to start?

10 Replies

  1. Lovin’ that list, Nilofer. Those just roll off the tongue, don’t they?!

    While we’re at it…
    – We’ll tackle that after the next round of funding.
    – Our company believes in a single point of accountability. (And that is not you, so kindly keep your thoughts to yourself.)
    – Unless you have the data to prove it, I wouldn’t bring it up.

    And on, and on.


  2. Great post!

    Learning how to have healthy conflict is critical for a team to succeed. Unfortunately, many people just don’t know how to manage it. Glad to hear you’re working on solutions.


    1. Francine,

      Why thank you.

      MurderBoarding (the original name of New How) was the process way to get people to collaborate to pick 1 of many ideas/options. It’s detailed in chapter 6. But am amazed at how many people (bosses, individual contributors, small or big firms) really hate this conflict stuff.

      Joe and I have this idea of doing skits which will push my own envelope of something I’ve always wanted to try, and I think VERY fun.


  3. Successful team building is a myth which I liken to that of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial myth is that success just happens overnight, when in reality entrepreneurs labor away in relative obscurity, usually for a decade a more until they achieve success. The team myth is that coherent teams just gel and work in harmony while producing great results. It’s all easy and things just happen.

    In reality team building and maintenance is difficult. A good team is like a dysfunctional family. Creative tension and conflict is a normal part of life. The day-to-day may be difficult, but the stronger the tension, the better the results. Like a good family, the outside world views the conflict-free team on their best behavior, whereas behind closed doors the battles ensue and contribute to the creative process.

    The ironic part is that many entrepreneurs and business builders mistakenly seek to avoid the very thing that will increase the likelihood of their success – the conflict.

  4. Well put. It’s too bad that people have truly forgotten what it means to “play well together and share your toys.” This is a refreshing reminder. Thanks for opening up the discussion.

    1. Less to lose when it’s toys, plus most “rewards” don’t reinforce this as a standard, right?

  5. I’m a big believer (and user) of the simple framework Wiliiam Isaacs offers in his book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together.

    Voicing … Speaking your true voice and encouraging others to do the same.
    Listening … for the meaning emerging not just form yourself, but from the whole.
    Respecting … the coherence of others’ views, even when you find what they are saying to be unacceptable.
    Suspending our certainties so that we might entertain other possibilities.

    We have to become comfortable speaking our own truth in a way that doesn’t deny others right to express theirs, and to say “help me better understand where you’re coming from” instead of aggressively asserting someone else is ridiculous or wrong.

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