10/17/2014

I figured that today I would write up my notes from the conference I was at yesterday. The keynote session, anyway.

It’s important to figure out what our “sacred cows” are. Those are the things that, for whatever reason, we get all defensive about when people suggest that we change them, move them, let go of them, etc. If someone said to me, “I think you should start going to bed at 8:30 p.m.” I would wrinkle my nose up and make lots of uncomfortable noises before disagreeing. Staying up late is one of my sacred cows. That’s pretty much the only time of day when I can sit in complete silence. If I went to bed earlier and woke up earlier I could have that silent time in the morning, but I really rely on having it at the end of the day so that I can unwind.

Anyway, we all have our personal sacred cows. But we also have organizational sacred cows. The ones at work, or at the place where we volunteer, or at our church. Some of them are more visible than others. Growing up Mormon, I can say that men holding the priesthood is a Mormon sacred cow. They’re not willing to budge on that even though there is a growing public outcry for equality. At work we have some sacred cows. The head of our organization is the only person who can talk to the media. If a reporter calls me for information, I have to send them to our top executive. No questions asked. Just forward the call or email. It’s a little bit annoying, and I understand why it’s done that way, but…it just reeks of bureaucracy.

Another thing we have to be aware of is how we measure success. The keynote speaker told a story to illustrate this. A guy was walking along a dirt road when he passed a farm. As he passed the farm, he saw bulls-eyes drawn all over the side of a barn. And he saw a guy holding a bow, and there were arrows right smack in the middle of each bulls-eye. He approached the man with the bow and said, “Wow! That’s incredible! You hit every single target, how did you do that?” The man replied, “I just shoot the arrows at the side of the barn, and then I draw bulls-eyes wherever they land.”

We all do that, more or less. The organizations we are a part of do the same. Sometimes we finish a project, and it went all wrong and we wasted so much time, but we slap a big banner up on the wall at the end of it and we celebrate it like it was a huge success! I mean, I guess it’s worth celebrating any achievement, but was it really a success? And, connecting this idea with the last one, it is not a good sign when celebrating every change as a success is a sacred cow of your organization. Like, you can’t stand up at the end and say, “Hey, that was rough, let’s not go through that again” because you’d be implying that your organization wasn’t perfect and successful in everything that it does. That’s baaaaad.

Speaking of success, sometimes it’s not as easy as shooting a bulls-eye. Sometimes it’s a long process and you need evaluation points. Like you could change the trajectory of the arrow mid-flight. It’s really important to establish those evaluation points to ensure that you’re still on the right path, that you’re still headed for the bulls-eye and not for some other part of the barn wall.

That’s enough metaphors for now, I think.

The keynote speaker also discussed ideas like:

  • don’t wait until it’s too late to change – this brought to mind the idea of disruption. He talked about how railroad companies thought they were just railroad companies when, in fact, they should have viewed themselves as transportation companies. They could have branched out into other transportation modes to stay relevant.
  • be a team – you have to want to win. If something is preventing you from winning/succeeding, you have to identify it and deal with it. On a team you have to focus on a mission and a vision. In a family you focus on individuals and feelings and that sort of thing, so even though it feels good to say your organization is like a family, perhaps it would be better to refer to it as a team. Teammates can give each other criticism and, when they do it with an eye on the mission of the organization, it is less of a personal affront.

I’m going to try to bring some of these ideas up here at work, because I think we have a lot of areas of improvement.

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