Categories
Curiosity Foundational Values

What Exactly Happened to the Cat?

What does your childhood home look like now on Google Street View?

What is the most interesting piece of IMDB trivia for your favorite movie?

On what website can you find the inventor’s original intent for the Ruffles potato chip?

What piece of sports trivia would you share that would stump your friends? (For instance, why is a marathon 26.2 miles?) Are you 100% sure that you’re right about it?

When was the first electric car made? When was the first internal combustion engine car made?

Is your favorite teacher still alive?

How the heck is white pretzel salt actually made?

How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

Did you care to look into at least one of the above questions before you reached this paragraph?

I implore you to share your most surprising findings on either the LinkedIn or Twitter threads relating to this post.

Now, I can’t tell from here how curious you are. But you can. It’s a pretty safe bet that you are reading this on a device that has access to the Internet, and if you didn’t take the time to look into at least one of the above things, what got in your way? Are you, perhaps, on a schedule to finish reading this page? Or are you, perhaps, light on curiosity?

There are eight foundational values at the root of The Progressive CIO, yet there is only one that is shared by just about all of the hundreds of senior managers I have consulted for or worked with over the years, and that is curiosity. I suppose this means that, despite some of the dysfunction I have witnessed in my professional encounters, there is at least one thread that ties most leaders together.

Why do you suppose that is the case?

To be curious is to be fully invested in one’s personal growth. Why would anyone want to hire a person who wasn’t interested in that? Even if you are hiring someone for a rote task, a non-curious individual would be a bore to work with. Yet, we have all worked with people who lack curiosity. Perhaps it’s hard to smoke out this attribute in a standard interview. One has to be curious about the curiosity of others in order to get to the starting gate. Therein lies the rub! What will you do to nurture this in your own life?

I once knew a vice president named Joe who proudly fathered the most richly rewarding line of manipulative interview questioning that I’ve ever encountered. This is how it went:

Joe: “Do you have any regrets?”

Interviewee: “Hmmm, yes. I wish I had {studied violin; finished college; traveled to Europe}.”

Joe: “Why didn’t you?”

Interviewee: “I didn’t have the time.”

Answers of that last sort occurred more often than Joe would have liked. The crux, for him, was that we all have time to do the things we want to do; we merely make choices about what we do with our time. He was most interested in hiring candidates who understood this.

Now, I have to say, I have shared this story probably a hundred times over the years, and I have gotten into some interesting disagreements. I remember one individual saying, “I have children. I don’t have the choices about what to do with my time that you think I do.” To which I replied, “I appreciate that, but it is still a choice. You are just choosing not to be a miscreant. Plenty of people do make the choice to be a miscreant. You, too, could make the choice to be a miscreant. I want you to realize that it is a choice, albeit one a fine person like you has made with integrity.”

We went on a bit, and I followed up by making the point that, beyond this sort of thing, we (typically) do make choices to have children, and there are consequences to that. These sorts of things are delicate, mind you. But they are healthy to take the time to consider. And, of course, beyond even that delicate point, we are all free to make a choice about whether or not we even live. For what it’s worth, I hope that you, dear reader, continue to make the choice to live!

So, to say that we don’t have time to do something is a lazy way of overlooking some of the tougher choices we have to make.

Curiosity is a choice. Because of that, curiosity will sometimes feel like it is slowing you down (see: Patience). The single most useful curiosity-based tool that I use regularly is the exercise of the “Five whys.” There is no question that it will slow you down, but if you’ve never used it before, give it a try sometime. I am willing to bet that you will continue to find that sort of slowdown to be immeasurably healthy.

Were you aware that there are a host of curiosity tests online?

(You’d be correct in thinking that I hoped you searched for that before I mentioned it.)

Take — no, make — the time to take some of these test. Curiosity is a choice. More pertinently, I suggest that you make the time to look for it in others.

Carve out the time to look into the things you need in order to grow, and you will grow. Plodding forward without a care in the world about what else might be possible is not a terribly strategic way of getting things done. If you do not value curiosity in yourself, it will be difficult to nurture that in your teams.

Should you encounter someone who argues: “But curiosity killed the cat!,” simply smile and offer: “If the cat steadfastly practiced the alternative, there would be no kittens to follow.”

Discuss this specific post on Twitter or LinkedIn.

🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyZf0mKXZr8.

[Logo]
Categories
Commitment Compassion Curiosity Current Events: 2021 Empathy Humility Patience Vulnerability Willingness

Fixing Today’s Workplace Requires Packing Up Our Politics

Taking a look today (December 6th, 2021) at the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction bestseller list, I see:

  1. History (THE 1619 PROJECT)
  2. Biography/Entertainment (WILL)
  3. Biography/Entertainment (THE LYRICS: 1956 TO THE PRESENT)
  4. Biography/Entertainment (THE STORYTELLER)
  5. Holiday (ALL AMERICAN CHRISTMAS)
  6. Entertainment / Food (TASTE)
  7. Personal stories (THESE PRECIOUS DAYS)
  8. Biography/Medicine (THE REAL ANTHONY FAUCI)
  9. History (THE PRESIDENT AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTER)
  10. Biography/Entertainment (THE BEATLES: GET BACK)

Compare that to two years ago at this time:

  1. Politics (A WARNING)
  2. Politics (TRIGGERED)
  3. Entertainment (ME)
  4. Politics (BECOMING)
  5. History (SAM HOUSTON AND THE ALAMO AVENGERS)
  6. Communication (TALKING TO STRANGERS)
  7. Personal stories (FINDING CHIKA)
  8. Personal stories (EDUCATED)
  9. Biology (THE BODY)
  10. Politics (WITH ALL DUE RESPECT)

Those differences are telling. Two years ago, post-election, with our cold civil war a-brewing, politics was our fascination. Today, we are weary for just about anything other than entertainment. Our brains and our souls need a rest and a reset.

Interest in work-related topics is also in an ebb cycle. People are not in the mood to read books, columns, or blogs that consist of generalized advice aimed at improving their work lives. I suspect people realize that questions about what’s truly going on right now in the workforce have no easy answers. What’s truly going on is that our cold civil war has bled into our work life.

The Progressive CIO was borne out of my epiphanies in the wake of COVID-19 — a long and turbulent wake that we are still navigating. My writings have reflected my work and encounters along the way. In recent months, however, I’ve slowed. I have nothing to offer that I think can address our cold civil war, and writing more about the eight foundational values of The Progressive CIO seems tone-deaf at the moment. While those values are — and always will be — important, getting back to considering them will require navigating out of our current wake, which requires addressing politics.

We’re not supposed to have politics in our workplaces, though, right? As it turns out, it’s too late for that. As we attempt to return to offices, COVID has brought politics into the workplace as never before, for a simple reason: the semiotics of the face covering.

I cannot think of any symbol in the workplace — or in everyday life — that has communicated a political stance so overtly in my lifetime as the manner in which face coverings are (or are not) worn. This is not to say that wearing a face covering or not is, unto itself, a form of political expression. As with a tree falling in the forest, it’s the junction of the act and the audience where meaning takes shape.

Take a look at these four different face-covering scenarios, and reflect on what they say to you:

At least one of those will strike a nerve within you, wherever you sit on the political spectrum.

Semiotics are a part of everyday communication and everyday life. Face coverings fall into the non-language communication subset of semiotics, which are distinct from the more-commonly-encountered non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication involves a language; that is to say, a system of communication with a learned form and structure. Music is a language, for instance. Non-language communication, on the other hand, lacks any system or learned form and structure. Lines on our roads are non-verbal communication; a driver swerving around those lines is non-language communication.

Non-language communication isn’t discussed much outside of academic circles. If it were, I suppose we might have a better public dialog about face covering techniques. I suspect, however, that it wouldn’t have an impact on our current cold civil war at work. Whether we like it or not, masks have become a form of wearing one’s politics on one’s face. The bigger issue is that non-language communication, through its very nature, makes verbal analysis more challenging.

At the present, only fully-distributed workforces are in a position to avoid face covering controversies in daily work life. We know, however, that not all workforces can be fully-distributed.

Proposed vaccination and testing rules are about to increase the magnitude of the COVID-19 wake, before the current tide has finished going out. How a company reacts to and addresses these rules puts politics on a company’s face as well.

When we are in a place where we know the solution is: “Take politics out of the workplace” and those politics are now a way of life as a matter of public health, then where does that leave us?

It leaves us doing our jobs and trying not to think about them when we don’t have to. It leaves us tired of politics, even if we are energized by them. (Which leaves me to ponder: If one is energized by politics, then what does that say about that person and their priorities?) It leaves us retreating to our homes, our families, entertainment, and the things that truly matter in life. That’s not all a bad thing. But if our lives require us to work, we’re all in a pickle for the time being.

Back to those eight foundational values of The Progressive CIO: I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to reflect on them, and how they play a role in getting ourselves out of our current situation:

Vulnerability: Are we willing to be honest and open with one another about how our current world is affecting us? This will include senior leaders acknowledging that these vulnerable voices need to be heard.

Humility: Are we willing to recognize that this situation is bigger than all of us, and that it is a comedy of errors, of sorts, if not a true human tragedy? It’s difficult to laugh at, but I believe we have to if we are to collectively solve it.

Empathy: No matter your politics or attitude, will you try as hard as you can to see the validity in the other side’s point of view? This doesn’t mean that you agree that the other side is right; it merely means that you work hard enough to try to understand and not summarily dismiss.

Patience: This might be the hardest thing of all. People were tired of not getting their hair colored one month into the pandemic. Do we have the collective patience to deal with one another to move past where we are today? We don’t have a choice, because it will be a long haul. If we can acknowledge this, we stand a chance to get a clearer understanding of what the path to progress looks like.

Compassion: Do we genuinely care about each other, to the extent we are willing to go out of our way to bring comfort to others?

Curiosity: Are we willing to explore the new and unseen options that we have not yet explored to get us past where we are today?

Commitment: Are we willing to make true commitments to one another, and follow through on those commitments?

Willingness: Do we have genuine willingness to do all of the hard work above?

Given how tired we all remain, who can we expect to initiate this sort of effort on a meaningful scale?

Only those who govern us.

I’m not talking about legislation; I’m talking about leading by example, living those eight values. If that sounds like a tall order, it most certainly is. That’s because there is a chasm between politics and governance. The government I am alluding to does not exist today, and has probably not existed in our lifetimes. Until we can pack up our politics, no governing will happen. Until we can pack up our politics, no leadership will happen. Until we can pack up our politics, our workplaces will not flourish. Until we can pack up our politics, the world will not be the place we want it to be. The good news? Packing up our politics starts, apparently, with the books we buy.

Postscript

A friend shared the following response:

I loved your start – the comparison of the top books is quite telling, and I would not have thought to make that comparison. I am right there with you throughout your article until the end. Who should or will initiate these changes? For me it’s all of us, it’s the workers, it’s the everyday people in the workplace, it’s you and it’s me. I think we can be sure right now our leaders are quite absent, especially those who govern.

One of my favorite quotes I encountered along the way of my doctoral studies comes from Ralph Stacey, “Change can only happen in many, many local interactions.” For me, this means it is in the small conversations that spark other conversations and so on that we begin to change culture, that we begin to change each other. I is in those times of making space and being vulnerable that we listen to others and that we speak our truth. In those moments one or the other or both are truly changed, and that sparks a change in the next conversation that we have. For me, it is in this process that true change happens. Not in the top down, governed-inspired or directed change.

But that’s me, and perhaps I am missing some of what you are concluding or alluding to.

I agree with this in spirit—and I had wanted to end with this sentiment. But after reviewing the how the foundational values might address this, and pondering how realistic this would be, I felt this conclusion would sound trite. There is a realist at work in my brain right now. This sort of change benefits from top-down work of unimaginable magnitude. Imagine the impact our governing bodies could have if they demonstrated these values in their everyday actions!

In the “DVD bonus feature” spirit of allowing you to choose your own ending, I encourage you to do just that with this post. I would love nothing more than for everyday people—rather than government—to achieve this change.

In the end, if this post merely encourages discussion, then it will have served a purpose.

Discuss this specific post on Twitter or LinkedIn.

🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-kA3UtBj4M.

[Logo]