Why I love conference facilitation and design

Here’s an example of why I love conference facilitation and design. After setting up a Personal Introspective this morning (25 minutes) I turned over what happens to the small groups. Watch the listening and involvement of every person as I weave my phone through the circles of chairs.

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Look back to look forward

Janus-VaticanSometimes it’s good to look back to look forward.

From September 2002 through November 2009 I kept a journal, writing each day before going to bed. Every once in a while I’ll pick one of the five thick notebooks I filled during those seven years and read some entries at random.

Why do I do this?

I don’t revisit my journals to immerse myself in my past. Back then, I wrote to capture and reflect on my experience while it was still fresh, to explore how I responded to and felt about the day’s events. I didn’t write for posterity, and there are many raw experiences in these pages that are painful to recall.

Instead, I dip into what I wrote to compare where I was then with where I am now.

Sometimes I discover that life circumstances have changed. Perhaps certain issues that once preoccupied me no longer do. (For example, my financial situation has changed for the better.) Perhaps some issues are still part of my life, but my response to them is different (e.g., speaking in public no longer scares me as much as it once did.) And perhaps I’m aware now of issues that were absent from my journals (e.g., the implications of growing older.)

Whatever I discover, when I look back at what I used to think and do I receive important information.

Often I discover that I am continuing to change and grow in specific ways. As someone who wants to be a life-long learner, someone who doesn’t want to be “stuck”, that is good and encouraging information to have.

I also notice that certain aspects of my life haven’t changed significantly. Frequently, that’s because they are core aspects of who I am and the world I inhabit.

And sometimes, I become aware that I’m stuck in some pattern of behavior or response that I’d like to change. That’s good information too.

Look back to look forward. At the end of a peer conference, a personal introspective allows participants to explore new directions as a result of experiences during the event. On a longer timescale, old personal journals (or any records of past personal introspection) can be a great tool for learning about ourselves and mapping our future path on life’s journey.

Creative Commons image of Janus courtesy of Wikipedia

How many mistakes have you made?

How many mistakes have you made?How many mistakes have you made? It depends.

From one perspective: millions. The step you attempted at eleven months but fell and skinned your knee. Your shame on hearing the gasps in class on announcing a sixty percent pop-quiz test score because you were supposed to be smarter than that. The time when you were so nervous at the interview that IBM turned you down for an internship. Girlfriends you fell for who dumped you. The partner who kicked you out of your solar energy business after five years hard work. The decision to adopt infant twins that led to so much heartache during their adolescence.

From another perspective: none. How else could you found out how to walk without all the attempts and resulting falls? Would you have ever dealt with false shame if you’d never become aware of it? How long would it have taken to discover your dislike for working in large organizations? If your first girlfriend had been the woman who has been your wife for 37 years, how would that have turned out? What other way could you have learned so much about running a business and managing employees in such a short time? Would you have absorbed so many vital liberating lessons about yourself without the hard truths you were forced to confront during the painful process of being a better parent?

All the learning that grows out of every single mistake.

How many mistakes have you made? Millions or none? It all depends on your perspective.

Facilitating change: Don’t confuse your product with your business

How do you facilitate change? In this occasional series, we explore various aspects of facilitating individual and group change. Today, we’ll explore what happens when you confuse your product with your business

Don't confuse product with business AAPL vs MSFT

At any point in time, our businesses have a range of products and services available to customers. We have worked hard to develop and market these products. We’ve struggled to create something unique that can be distinguished from those of our competition.

There is a trap that’s easy to fall into, a trap baited with a simple truth about human nature.

We fall in love with what we create.

The trap of falling in love

When we’re in love, we want everything to stay the same forever. Times are good, we have created something wonderful and we want it to last.

But in business (and life too) nothing stays the same. Our competitors see what we have done. If it’s successful, they copy it and work to co-opt, improve on, or commodify what was once uniquely ours.

The need for continual business growth

Just as the best human relationships are those that provide the possibility for each person involved to challenge the others to grow, the most functional and successful businesses are those that are able to challenge the current status quo they have made and build something new, even at the cost of moving on over time from what they once created and loved.

Consider Apple, maker of the iPod, the most successful music player. Did Apple, having defined and owned the category, focus on building better and better music players? No; they made incremental improvements while pouring energy into the development of the iPhone, a whole new product area that, while eventually cannibalizing Apple’s iPod sales, made far greater profits than if they had stayed with what they first built.

The same lesson holds in the world of consulting. As my mentor Jerry Weinberg puts it: “Give away your best ideas.” Novice consultants are often fearful of losing the secret sauce they have concocted. Veteran consultants—and there are many novice consultants who never become veterans—have learned that when you teach your clients to handle future similar problems themselves, they’ll appreciate your generosity and are more likely to give you further work or favorable word-of-mouth.

Fall in love with what you do

Since 1998, Microsoft put its resources into incremental improvement of its cash cow products, to the expense of its efforts to create innovative new products. The result—a stock price that has not changed significantly over the last fourteen years. (Apple, whose stock price has increased 50x over the same time period, will suffer the same fate if the company doesn’t continue to innovate.)

If you want to be successful in the long term don’t confuse your product with your business. Fall in love with what you do not what you create, and you will be able to move on from the successes of your past to the successes in your future.