Keep an Open Mind

Open MindKeep an open mind but not so open that your brain falls out.

As part of a recent talk around creating a culture of innovation, I included this quote which is commonly attributed to physicist Richard Feynman. After the talk, a reporter asked me for the source of the quote to use in an article. Since I wasn’t sure, I spent some time researching and discovered that, like many famous quotes, the origin is unclear.

The earliest related mention I could find was in an 1866 speech that Sir Edward Clarke delivered to the U.K. House of Commons:

The mind was indeed so open that it had nothing in it at all.

However, this quote doesn’t include the memorable portion of the brain falling out. That phrase shows up in a 1937 article in The Yale Law Journal:

They have a number of bitterly satirical comments on persons whose minds are so open that their brains fall out.

For those who prefer a more exact match, the January 27, 1940 edition of the Blytheville Courier News reported that Professor Walter Kotschnig told Holyoke College students to keep their minds open: “but not so open that your brains fall out.”

Regardless of the original source, the spirit of the quote is powerful: if you want to create change, you have to challenge your own deeply-held assumptions. But don’t forget common sense.

Great Leaders Think Simply

Those of us who are privileged to be leaders understand how difficult it is to lead people.

Not assets, not resources. People.

Early in my career, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be a leader. I talked to more seasoned leaders, I read books on management theory, and – most importantly – I asked the people reporting to me. I quickly realized there was no cookie-cutter approach to leadership. Each person has unique aspirations, skills, and deficiencies. And my success was contingent on their success.

Over time I developed my own leadership mantra, manage by walking around, which is also the name of my personal website. The phrase comes from a management style at HP in the 1970’s; though some believe the first person to truly manage by walking around was Abraham Lincoln.

In 2009, in an attempt to simplify the views on leadership that I developed during my three tenures as a CEO, I finally wrote down My Management Guidelines: focus on outcomes, reward people for results, and let people do their jobs.

Re-reading these five years later, I’m struck that my guidelines still hold true. But I think they are missing something; a unifying theme.

Great leaders are able to find the signal from within the noise. Great leaders concentrate on the important not just the urgent. Great leaders think simply.

Let me illustrate what thinking simply looks like, and how it can help you become a better leader. As they say, show, don’t tell.

Leadership principle 1: Focus on outcomes, not activities

What this means
Tracking an activity is akin to measuring what I call an ‘ego metric:’ website page views, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, etc. When we focus on the outcome, we remind ourselves the point of the activity in the first place. And if a specific activity isn’t contributing to the desired outcome, we should course correct to something that will.

Think Simply illustration
Which is a more meaningful metric: the number of people who attended a company event, or the number of people who attended the event and later purchased your product? As a CMO, I believe in running a marketing organization as a business which means the outcome is more important than the activity.

Great leaders think simply about focusing on meaningful outcomes. And they know how to ask the right questions to figure out which outcomes are meaningful.

Leadership principle 2: Reward people for a focus on results

What this means
As naturally follows from a focus on the right outcomes, I don’t like to reward people for trying hard if they were working on the wrong things. I prefer to catch people doing the right things and provide them with instantaneous feedback.

Think Simply illustration
At my last job, I handed out ‘Becher bucks’ to reinforce behavior (better exchange rate than Schrute bucks), but there are many ways to reward employees that aren’t financial. Motivated people are likely to replicate the behavior (in this case, focusing on the outcome and not the activity). This can scale beyond real-time feedback to building KPIs that promote the right set of behaviors and create the right results.

Great leaders think simply about rewards as a way to align their peoples’ goals with that of the company.

Leadership principle 3: Hire good people and let them do their jobs

What this means
I want my employees to be able to do their job better than I can do it myself. If I think and act like I can do it better than they can, I don’t really need them around.

Think Simply illustration
Remember why you hired someone in the first place. In the midst of an important deadline or project, we sometimes forget what our team’s strengths and weaknesses are. As a leader, you must be confident in your ability to evaluate your people. And if you aren’t, then don’t worry, this comes with practice and experience. Parlay the confidence in yourself into confidence in your team – if you were impressed enough to bring him or her aboard, then you should be confident in their ability to excel.

Great leaders think simply about their peoples’ abilities to do their jobs.

Leaders – has simple thinking ever helped your career?

Photo: Emilia Tjernström/Flickr

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on September 15, 2014.

Blue Juice, Tarmac, and Other Air Travel Slang

Cracked TarmacWe’re still sitting on the tarmac…

Given how much I travel, I’ve used that phrase countless times over the last several years but never thought much about the word tarmac. It turns out it’s short for tarmacadam, or tar-penetration macadam.

Macadam is named for John Loudon McAdam who invented an effective and economical road construction method in the early 1800’s based on crushed rock. These roads worked well for horses and carriages but weren’t suitable for higher-speed cars and their rubber tires. The jagged rocks often caused flat tires and, when it rained, roads eroded and became difficult to drive on.

100 years later, Edgar Purnell Hooley improved on the long-standing process by mixing the crushed rock with heated tar and slag. This mixture could form a smooth surface more suitable for cars. Hooley’s patented tarmac quickly became a world-wide standard for roads.

Over time people started to refer to any sort of asphalt or blacktop as tarmac. The term persists, especially for the paved areas at airports, even though the material is rarely used anymore. Ironically, real tarmac isn’t a suitable surface for an airport. Tarmac softens in hot weather which would likely cause a heavy airplane to sink into it.

Having solved the mystery of tarmac, I decided to investigate other unusual words associated with air travel. Here’s what I learned:

APRON: The section of the tarmac that is not a runway or taxiway; this is whether planes park or are serviced.

CONTRAIL: Short for condensation trails, these are the long, thin clouds that form behind aircraft; most often triggered by the water vapor in engine exhaust.

DEADHEADING: A pilot or flight attendant who flies free of charge because they are currently in the wrong city for their next scheduled flight.

IFR: Stands for instrument flight rules, the standard process for flying planes at altitude via electronic instruments when visual clues are not sufficient by themselves.

JUMPSEAT: The fold-up chairs most commonly used by the flight attendants, especially during takeoff and landing. These are officially known as auxiliary crew stations.

Oh, and one more thing. If a mischievous flight attendant offers you a blue juice cocktail, I wouldn’t drink it. Blue juice refers to the lavatory water.

The Science of Social Selling

Social MediaSocial selling is one of the hottest buzzwords in the technology market. Unfortunately, social selling is usually misunderstood as navigating the sales process using only tools like Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook. While technology can help, social selling is about building stronger relationships with potential buyers, based on an authentic sense of empathy and a deep understanding of the problems they face.

Even if they don’t use social technology, good salespeople already know that creating a connection with the client is essential for success. In real life (IRL for social types), connections are usually made on some common value or some shared demographic. This is why salespeople spend so much time establishing a personal relationship, not just selling their product.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia have shown that incidental similarities between a buyer and seller are enough to establish a personal connection and increase the likelihood to purchase. Incidental similarities include a wide range of events: a shared first name, birthday or birthplace. In the words of one of the professors:

Those incidental similarities can actually shape the situation in terms of your desire to buy and associate with the product or company, your attitude toward the product. It overflows onto the purchase experience — even though, rationally, it really shouldn’t.

Incidental similarities create a sense of connection even though they are superficial and common. Yes, common. For example, in a group of 23 people, the chance two people have the same birthday is greater than 50%. Many companies already exploit this opportunity:

Employees at Disney theme parks and Hilton Hotels wear name tags emblazoned with their hometowns, the researchers note, and many fitness centres display detailed biographies of their personal trainers, right down to the high school they attended.

Social technology can be used to discover the incidental similarities. So, if a sales rep points out he roots for the same sports team as you do, it’s probably not an accident. And chances are you’ll spend more than you originally expected.

That’s the science of social selling.