Enlightened Conflict

contextual contextual contextual

May 10th, 2015


we are mosaics

“Most men are individuals no longer so far as their business, its activities, or its moralities are concerned.

They are not units but fractions.”


Woodrow Wilson







In business and in Life …  people like consistency.


We actually like rules.



And we really <really> like some guidelines for how to do things, what to say and when things should be done.





And … we love, yes, LOVE to look to the past for answers or the ‘formula for what to do or how to act.”






That sneaky ‘learn from the past or be doomed to repeat mistakes’ advice.



True … but not true.



What makes it not true?true not true








Future truths, or solutions, only partially reside in the past. The other part lives in the present … and what is swirling around that moment.



Which brings me back to the opening quote.



We like to see things as units and yet they are simply fractions.



Some people stand on fractions and act like they are whole solid foundations.


Be wary of those people.




They are not really seeking truth … just answers … okay … well … maybe just an answer.






“Fear not the path of Truth for the lack of People walking on it.”





Robert F. Kennedy





I admit … the trouble we constantly run into is … well … context.


We are always contextual … mosaics of the moment … and this is troubling for those seeking simple answers.


And, frankly, most of us would love a simple answer now & then <if not all the time>.


But some people thrive on simplicity and black & white.



Please do not read into what I just wrote that these people live a colorless life.


Everyone has color and everyone certainly has pieces of light within and without.





“We are mosaics.



Pieces of light, love, history, stars … glued together with magic and music and words. “


Anita Krizzan






All I am suggesting is that magic, or the contextual aspects, in Life creates a certain intangible aspect to everyday situations. And while this intangible thing is a nagging aspect in common everyday life & business … at critical points, let’s call them ‘semi-critical moments or junctures’, the contextual intangible aspect is nerve wracking.


Nerve wracking because we want a simple solution in semi-critical moments.


And context demands some complexity. It demands looking at fractions and not the whole.



This means we constantly struggle with the fact <the Truth as it were> we, as individuals, businesses, countries and societies, are simply fractions and not the unit.



I would also suggest decisions, business & in life, are simply fractions and not a self-sustaining unit.



And, yet, we try and make most of our decisions as if everything is aligned and unmoving … kind of like taking a snapshot and taking action.



Uh oh.



wide open spaces far to goThis means, contextually, whatever action or decision you take or make will be relevant to what was … not what is.





“Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.


That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”



Milton Friedman





In closing out this thought I would like to point out that this thought, while it seems like a stronger Life thought, is maybe even more importantly a business thought.



Far far too often in business we ignore the fact each decision is contextual seeking comfort in “let’s look to the past for the answer.”



I admit I find it slightly odd because in today’s business world every single mistake or hiccup/interruption in the status quo is labeled a crisis … and crises tend to produce real change.



On the other hand … maybe that is my explanation to the oddity.



Because they really aren’t true crisis we tend to depend on the ideas lying around.



And the most typical ideas lying around are “what can we learn from the past.”



If you ever wonder why great decision makers should be paid some inordinate amount of money … reread this. Great decision makers see the past, the present & the future and envision the mosaic better than most of us <certainly I>.



They understand the situation is simply a fraction of what is.



see what we look for


This should also help explain why so many people make incredibly bad decisions.




Every moment, every situation, every success and every failure … is contextual.



In fact … contextual exists in almost every situation in such a wide vivid mosaic perspective that … well … ‘learning from the past’ almost seems like an inordinate waste of time.

the communication blizzard

November 1st, 2013


So.blizzard of work


While I was using some Toffler wisdom and words <see Armageddon post:

http://brucemctague.com/madness-in-the-world-armageddon-and-a-dose-of-reality > I noted there was an interesting snippet in one of his books on communication overload … he called it <because this was 1980> “the paper blizzard.”


I imagine I am using this as a ‘perspective’ post or observation.


We are always complaining about communication overload between texts and emails and phone and carrier pigeons.

Here is the funny thing … okay … the interesting thing … well … we have always bitched and moaned about it.


I brought up good ole Toffler from 1980 because he gives us some historical perspective on communications as well as some real numbers.

In addition … he also points out that this ‘blizzard of communications’ actually provides a common structure throughout global cultures.


Say what? All this paperwork <electronic communications> and overwhelming no-time to look at all stuff is cultural? Yup.



All human groups, from primitive times to today, depend on face-to-face, person-to-person communication. But systems were needed for sending messages across time and space as well. The ancient Persians are said to have set up towers or “call posts,” placing men with shrill, loud voices atop them to relay messages by shouting from one tower to the next. The Romans  operated an extensive messenger service called the cursus publicus. Between 1305 and the early 1800’s, the House of Taxis ran a form of pony express service all over Europe. By 1628 it employed twenty thousand men. Its couriers, clad in blue and silver uniforms, crisscrossed the continent carrying messages between princes and generals, merchants and money lenders.


During First Wave civilization all these channels were reserved for the rich and powerful only. Ordinary people had no access to them. As the historian Laurin Zilliacus states, even “attempts to send letters by other means were looked upon with suspicion or . . . forbidden” by the authorities. In short, while face-to-face information exchange was open  to all, the newer systems used for carrying information beyond the confines of a family or a village were essentially closed and used for purposes of social or political control. They were, in effect, weapons of the elite.


Global localThe Second Wave, as it moved across country after country, smashed this communications monopoly. This occurred not because the rich and powerful grew suddenly altruistic but because Second Wave technology and factory mass production required “massive” movements of information that the old channels simply could no longer handle.


The information needed for economic production in primitive and First Wave societies is comparatively simple and usually available from someone near at hand. It is mostly oral or gestural hi form. Second

Wave economies, by contrast, required the tight coordination of work done at many locations. Not only raw materials but great amounts of information had to be produced and carefully distributed.

For this reason, as the Second Wave gained momentum every country raced to build a postal service. The post office was an invention quite as imaginative and socially useful as the cotton gin or the spinning jenny and, to an extent forgotten today, it elicited rhapsodic enthusiasm. The American orator Edward Everett declared: “I am compelled to regard the Post office, next to Christianity, as the right arm of our modern civilization.” For the post office provided the first wide open channel for industrial-era communications. By 1837 the British Post Office was carrying not merely messages for an elite but some 88 million pieces of mail a year …an avalanche of communications by the standards of the day.


By 1960 the third wave the industrial era peaked and the Third Wave began its surge, that number had already climbed to 10 billion. That same year the U.S. Post Office was distributing 355 pieces of domestic mail for every man, woman, and child in the nation. The surge in postal messages that accompanied the industrial revolution merely hints, however, at the real volume of information that began to flow in the wake of the Second Wave.


An even greater number of messages poured through what might be called “micro-postal systems” within large organizations. Memos are letters that never reach the public communications channels. In 1955, as the Second Wave crested in the United States, the Hoover Commission peeked inside the files of three major corporations. It discovered, respectively, 34 thousand, 56 thousand, and 64 thousand documents and memos on file for each employee on the payroll!


Nor could the mushrooming informational needs of industrial societies be met in writing alone. Thus the telephone and telegraph were invented hi the nineteenth century to carry then: share of the ever swelling communications load.

By 1960 Americans were placing some 256 million phone calls per day — over 93 billion a year – and even the most advanced telephone systems and networks in the world were often over loaded. All these were essentially systems for delivering messages from one sender to one receiver at a time.


What was next? A society developing mass production and mass consumption needed ways to send mass messages and communications from one sender to many receivers simultaneously. Unlike the preindustrial employer, who could personally visit each of his handful of employees in their own homes if need be, the industrial employer could not communicate with his thousands of workers on a one-by-one basis. Still less could the mass merchandiser or distributor communicate with his customers one by one. Second Wave society needed and not surprisingly invented powerful means for sending the same message to many people at once, cheaply, rapidly, and reliably.


This gap came to be filled by the mass media.  In the mass media, from newspapers and radio to movies and television, we find once again an embodiment of the basic principle of the factory. All of them stamp identical messages into millions of brains, just as the factory stamps out identical products for use in millions of homes. This meant standardized, mass manufactured “facts,” counterparts of standardized mass manufactured products, flow from a few concentrated image factories out to millions of consumers.


Without this vast, powerful system for channeling information, industrial civilization could not have taken form or functioned reliably. Thus there sprang up in all industrial societies, capitalist and socialist alike, an elaborate info-sphere — communication channels through which individual and mass messages could be distributed as efficiently as goods or raw materials. This info-sphere intertwined with and serviced the techno-sphere and the socio-sphere, helping to integrate economic production with private behavior.


Each of these spheres performed a key function in the larger system, and could not have existed without the others. The techno-sphere produced and allocated wealth; the socio-sphere, with its thousands of interrelated organizations, allocated roles to individuals in the system. And the info-sphere  allocated the information necessary to make the entire system work. Together they formed the basic architecture of society. We see here in outline, therefore, the common structures of all nations — regardless of their cultural or climatic differences, regardless of their ethnic and religious heritage, regardless of whether they call themselves capitalist or communist.


<source: Alvin Toffler 1980>





Here is my point.


overcommunication too many wordsEver since the ‘white collar job’ was created we have been stressed out by over communication. Or maybe better said … we have always been bombarded with an overwhelming amount of communication.


Whether it was the stacks of paper <memos, point of views, letters, reports, presentations, phone messages to be returned, etc.> in the good ole days or today’s hundreds of emails appearing in your inbox … our time has always been stretched with regard to communications.


We have always lived in a blizzard of communications.


And we kind of like it … and it is addictive <no matter how much we bitch & moan>.

Whoa. Like and addictive?

Remember … I wrote this in my time post http://brucemctague.com/noli-timere-business-and-life :


–          Chemicals <within us>. Every time we feel our mobile phone vibrate or ring or ding … we get a small dopamine injection in our brains. Over time this serves almost like an addiction … which results in us wanting this distraction more and more. So when we aren’t being interrupted we go and seek interruptions <check our twitter accounts, Facebook, pinterest, emails> in order to re-inject the ‘doing chemical’ into our brains <and we feel good within the moments>. Oops. The trouble with this? Every time we are interrupted we need to refocus ourselves afterwards … which takes time and energy.




In the good old days communication may have been less often but I would like to point out that it was more often with increased depth <think 5 sentence email versus 5 page point of view>. Basically … more words, more thoughts and more thinking required.


All this said … I go back to my original thought on making employees successful … focus.


I could argue that the deeper you have to intensify your focus <the deeper the interruption> the more energy and time it takes to re-focus on something new.


Therefore … the communication blizzard is consistent … simply with different dynamics over time.


Which is worse <or more difficult>?




Pick your poison.


My real point?



Lets all quit bitching about technology distractions and how the world is so much more difficult today in managing all the random messages we receive and whatever we want to call the blizzard of communications we live in.




20 years ago.


40 years ago.


blah pageSitting at your desk at work has always been overwhelming in terms of communications.


Are the distractions different today then they were in the past? Sure.


Are these distractions any more … well … distracting then they were in the past? No … not really.


Not all distractions are created equal. But we certainly have an equal amount of distractions.


We should all just admit we live in this blizzard … and … well … deal with it.



i hate brainstorming

September 11th, 2013


“The key to being consistently innovative is to create a new form for something familiar and then to find a function it can perform. maybe we have no ideaThat is why, when we first hear about a new idea, we often experience a sense of disappointment with ourselves: Gee, why didn’t I think of that? The most consequential ideas are often right under our noses, connected in some way to our current reality or view of the world.” – Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results <Boyd & Greenberg authors>



I hate brainstorming.

I love thinking <and encouraging everyone to do so>… and I love innovative ideas <and encourage everyone to believe they can think of an innovative idea> … but hate brainstorming.


I have been in so many of those brainstorming sessions that either never got going … or just devolved into a company bitch session as soon as a senior person left the room … that I have not only become quite cynical with regard to brainstorming … I actually hate them <i.e., believe they are ineffective>.



And worse?

When the session is over … everyone goes back to their desks … and … DOH! … another meeting is scheduled <because the senior person went back to THEIR desk thinking ‘that was cool … everyone got to be creative and we got lots of ideas!’>.




Think bamboo shoots under fingernails painful. There were not a lot of useful ideas and the time was most likely not very useful to everyone. In other words? Useless.



These 2 guys <Boyd & Greenberg from the quote> published a book discussing brainstorming and outlines what every competent common sense business person already know. Typical brainstorming is not effective and not very useful.


brainstorming box peopleNow.

That doesn’t mean the book doesn’t have a value … because I think it will probably be worth it solely because it attacks the “think outside of the box” tripe <which has always drove me crazy and inevitably created this aggravating buzzing noise anytime anyone said the phrase>.


Their book?

I have always called what they are writing about “working backwards” <but they will make gobs of money and I won’t>.


Or maybe what I like about what they say is that it is a smarter version of how I describe ‘renovating’ or ‘taking existing pieces and putting them back together differently” or any of those things.


To me … brainstorming has always been ludicrous in that it makes people <or comfortable with uncomfortablekey people> invest absurd amount of energy to get a group of people, who the last thing they want to do is leave their comfort zone, to leave their comfort zone.



Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit  – Brainstorming:

“A supposedly relaxed forum in which no idea is a bad idea – that is, until you generate a bad idea and are met with uncomfortable silence/looks that suggest you are retarded or really uncool/the feeling that you are about to be fired.”


By the way … has anyone noticed that the shorthand for brainstorm is B.S.?

Coincidence? <I think not>.


Here is what I do know for sure.

When most senior executives hear the word ‘brainstorming’ they roll their eyes and maybe make some exasperated noise <a very un-CEO-like noise … one which you do not want to be in a room and hear it … especially directed at you>.

As someone wrote:  Brainstorming conjures up images of employees wasting hours, even days, sitting in beanbag chairs, tossing Frisbees and regurgitating ideas they had already considered. “Brainstorming” has become a byword for tedium and frustration.brainstorming silliness


You want to know how bad that is?


In survey after survey senior management <C-level type folk> rate the importance of innovation very high <say maybe a nine or 10 on a 10 point scale>. In addition … there is not one senior executive worth their salt that disputes innovation is the most important source of growth.


Uh oh.

So innovation is important … but they dislike brainstorming <as it wastes time>. They dislike brainstorming because most times it doesn’t come up with innovative ideas.


Personally I tend to believe that most people think most creatively  not when they are ‘broad thinking’ but rather when they are focused on specific aspects of a situation or problem. In other words … when they constrain their options.

By avoiding some grand abstract ideas … the thinking can be pragmatically driven and yet consistently creative. Most people like to solve problems … therefore that is where they ‘go’ when thinking. But innovation isn’t always about solving a problem … it’s most often all about discovering a new need.




I don’t believe I am sharing any epiphanies … most is used in any common sense <non buzz driven leader>.


The main problem is that most people think innovation starts with establishing a well-defined problem and then thinking of solutions …”start with a problem and then brainstorm ideas for a solution.”


Unfortunately … that is fine for solving problems … but not really for truly innovative ideas.


In addition … the traditional view of brainstorming leverages from the idea that true creativity is almost unstructured and mostly is derived by not following rules or patterns <which is possibly the furthest thing from the truth>.




This is all kind of nuts … slightly counter intuitive … and mostly unrealistic <or have anything to do with reality>.


In fact … in The New Yorker author Jonah Lehrer, in a long, excellent article, argues that the only problem with all this brainstorming thinking is that it is total bullshit:


–          You’re More Creative Working Alone:

Putting people into big groups doesn’t actually increase the flow of ideas. Group dynamics themselves—rather than overt criticism—work to stifle each person’s potential.


–          Criticism Improves the Brainstorming Process:

Usually, inventions often begin when an inventor spots a problem <or a need>. Good ideas usually don’t hang by themselves, unattached. They come about as solutions. Thus, allowing criticism into a room full of people trying to brainstorm allows them to refine and redefine a problem. <note: that means criticism is good>


brainstorming cognitive–          Creativity Is About Happenstance, Not Planning:

Too much familiarity breeds groupthink. Too little meant that they didn’t have enough chemistry to challenge each other. The most productive groups were those with a baseline of familiarity but just enough fresh blood to make things interesting. . . . Studies have shown that the most successful groups of scientists also work in extremely close physical proximity. Just being around another creative person is vital to the process.


<awesome article>




All the ranting aside … I have been involved with a number of successful brainstorming sessions. In addition I have been fortunate enough to have worked with one of the best innovation idea generator people I have ever seen. He maintained a very methodical pragmatically driven creativity process. He successfully designed a dual approach methodology which I thought was brilliant:

–          The ‘all ideas are good ideas’ side:

Oh. It was designed as an online forum.

This was all about quantity … and then the quantity of ideas <no matter how wacky> was filtered through an online funneling process. No face to face … no politicking or egos … simply idea generation.

–          The ‘collaborative session’ side:

Face to face multi-functional group. Short session. Tight construct … problem to be solved … the ‘game’ or ‘put yourself in this scenario’ idea generation design … capture the ideas. Thank you very much for playing <no discussion of quality of ideas>.  Moderator <or the expert> assesses and evaluates the ideas.




What to do when you don’t know what to do.


Realistically not everyone has the ability to come up with ideas but if you do brainstorming thinking hatsfeel compelled to have a brainstorming session I continue to believe the best brainstorming methodology is the tried & true Role Playing model <6 thinking hats> designed by Edward de Bono.


It has the benefit of blocking the confrontations that happen when people with different thinking styles discuss the same problem as well as lets people wear a different thinking hat and try it on for size just to see how it feels.


By the way … the variant of this methodology I have found to be effective is to not designate a person in each group a hat but rather segment time in the session where EVERYONE wears that color hat.


It is a nice trim but chunky session.


It forces everyone to wear the same ‘thinking Hat’ <a different style of thinking> at the same time which means someone will be uncomfortable and someone will be uncomfortable at each segment. But everyone will be comfortable at some point. The thinking hats::


–          White Hat:
With this thinking hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either try to fill them or take account of them.

This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data.

–          Red Hat:
‘Wearing’ the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also try to think how other people will react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.

–          Black Hat:
Using black hat thinking, look at all the bad points of the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.

Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans ‘tougher’ and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action. Black Hat thinking is one of the real benefits of this technique, as many successful people get so used to thinking positively they often they cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for difficulties.

–          Yellow Hat:
The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.

–          Green Hat:
The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. There are gobs of creativity thinking tools & tricks to use here if you want.

–          Blue Hat:
The Blue Hat stands for process control. This is the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When running into difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.


It is a safe useful effective methodology.




In general … where I end up in my own head … brainstorming is stupid and a suckhole of valuable time that could be well invested elsewhere.


In addition it is a suckhole for motivation … because 90% <I made that number up but suffice it to say it may not be 100% but it is way above 50%> of the time brainstorming participants walk away feel like it was wasted time <which is demotivating>.idea_stealing


In the end?

<beyond the fact you are now clear I believe it is a suckhole>


Tricks & gizmos & ‘offsite head clearing forums’ aside … just keep aiming at finding some need to solve.

In groups … as individuals … doesn’t really matter.

If you aim brains at something specific <a need to meet in this case> … there will eventually be a storm of ideas.


But you know what?

You don’t need a frickin’ storm of ideas … you need just one.

Enlightened Conflict