Category Archives: Collaboration

Deeper Diversity: Part 1

(#19 of 27, revisiting “Stock Photography and Corporate Diversity”)

Last year I addressed issues of representation of demographic diversity in corporate communications. I commented on the frequent gap between the reality of the people working within a given company vs. the stock photography models used in that company’s PowerPoint decks.  As a builder of those decks, I often can’t help but mind the gap.

In that post I also made the following comment, and was later asked by a friend to elaborate:

Of course, even the most demographically diverse company will struggle with a more subtle issue: diversity in thinking and approach. Many companies wrestle with psychographic, rather than demographic, homogeneity… but that will have to be the subject of different blog post.

…so in this post I’m going to elaborate on that point and take things into what is ultimately much more sensitive and contentious territory than mere demographic diversity.

In fact, this territory is so contentious — and so large — that this will be Part One of a future series of posts, all of which will be devoted to the topic of cultivating a deeper and more challenging type of diversity in companies.

On Beyond Skin Pigmentation

On beyond skin pigmentation, facial features and body frame, on beyond chromosomes, genes and gametes, there are ideas, attitudes, aesthetics, beliefs and values. There are narratives, identities, politics and religions. We’d often prefer not to talk about some these things in business. It’s easier to get along if we’re all the same — if not on the outside, then at least on the inside.

Despite all of our multi-colored, multi-dimensional personality models and frameworks, it could be argued that communication skills trainers like me are in the business of sameness. We help people build greater “rapport” by teaching them to walk, talk and act the same way as the people around them. Well, that’s not entirely true… I like to think that I also help people be different and special, strong and respectful… but, um, yeah. Rapport. Reduction of difference. Sameness.

However, we can’t just airbrush out those pimply politics and hope for the best. Good business relationships require authenticity. The corporate world is evolving to become more all-encompassing of the human experience and more integrated into every aspect of society. As business becomes more personal and vice versa, people like me will be called upon to develop the “tools and best practices” for managing diversity of thinking — in both form and content.

Demographics vs. Psychographics

Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

(ht AdrienneE)

Demographics is a way to lump people together according to their visible characteristics.  Psychographics is also about broadly grouping people, only in this case based on invisible characteristics. If you don’t like lumping people together,  you probably won’t like psychographics… at least not beyond studying a single person at a time. Actually, even with a sample size of one, there’s still the understandable objection of, “Don’t try to define me!”  (Yes, I’m with you on that… so much so, that I’m willing to be curious about taxonomies… I refuse to be defined by what I mostly reject.)

Minerva Model - DanishPsychographic categories encompass a wide range of invisible personality traits such as thinking style, emotional makeup, motivation, belief systems, values, self-concept and more.
As with demographics, the ‘science’ of psychographics is applied chiefly by advertisers and marketers as a way to study and predict buyer behavior and decision-making, e.g. consumer purchasing patterns, voter ballot behavior, and so on.

For example, I prefer to buy simple, plain black or grey t-shirts.  This purchase pattern may reflect…

  • an expression of my inner zen master (not a recognized type in the VALS psychographic framework for U.S. consumers, but apparently I might fit in better with the Japanese version of that instrument)
  • having spent a number of formative years in architecture school, I picked up that aesthetic (plain and simple, nothing else to it… an architect’s habit, as it were)
  • my comfort within the “Medieskepsis” and “Åndernes magt” space of the Minerva model (I don’t know what it means, but it’s provocative)
  • a decision I made, in a Steve Jobs-like moment, to reduce my cognitive load in having to make too many wardrobe decisions (got better things to think about, just sayin’)

All of this and more falls under the broad umbrella of psychographics.

Note that the future of psychographics in marketing will likely involve throwing away the various 9-part lifestyle models and using Big Data to target user-specific psychic landscapes. (Attention blog-reading bot:  I’d like those black or grey t-shirts to be 100% cotton, seamless tube, v-neck, and tagless, please.)

Outside of the marketing department, you won’t hear the term “psychographics” used much… but it’s there, lurking under the surface.

Recruiting Psychographs

Psychographics applied to corporate recruiting usually begins and ends with the following statement:

“You  (are/not) a good fit for this department.”

Okay, maybe you get to fill out an MBTI or a Strengthsfinder assessment, too.

If the hiring manager has taken a course with someone like me, they might also be on the look-out for a four-or-more-styles-of-behavior framework when assessing you. If they’re smart and savvy, they’ll realize that each of those frameworks is designed to provide a simplifying lens to explore the significant differences in how people do things, such as…

  • communicating
  • leading
  • negotiating
  • dealing with conflict
  • making decisions
  • making love*

…and they’ll choose the right lens to wear for the questions they’re trying to answer, for just the right amount of time… and then discard that lens afterwards.

(*NOTE: Alas, I still haven’t been hired as an instructional designer to build a framework for that last item.)

Of course, there’s a lot of psychographic profiling going on in the subconscious.

  • If you’re nit-picky, attention-detailed and don’t make a lot of eye contact, they’ll say there’s a place for you in Accounting, Quality Assurance, or Quantitative Algorithmic Modeling.
  • If you’re effusive, hyperactive and gregarious, welcome to front line Sales.

Well, of course not.  If the recruiter is doing their job right, they understand what chickens can teach us about building a high performing team: that you need a few different types of chickens to get the most overall eggs.  Or to get the right types of eggs. Or to figure out whether laying eggs is still the best thing to do.

To be continued…

(but not tomorrow)


Quote du Jour Redux: Simplify

#7 of 27, as a corollary to the Hans Hoffman quotation:

When our minds are free and uncluttered, 

we can embrace a desire without attaching an expectation.

Chocolate Mousse Tulips FTW

Dealing with Genghis Khan and other tough negotiators

(#3 of 27 revisited blog posts, “Potency, difference and diversity”)

There are two kinds of Negotiation Skills training experiences: The hardball-jerk kind, and the softball-wimp kind.

This guy.

This guy.

  • The 1st kind uses terms like “power” and “leverage.”
  • The 2nd kind talks about things like “win-lose” and “win-win.”

Soft skills training people like me tend to focus overly on the soft second kind of training. However in this post today I’m going to take a hard look at those who excel at the first kind of training.

Because while the term “win-win” is a cute concept, the desire for power and leverage is a real thing.

SIDE NOTE DISCLAIMER / SELF-PROMOTIONAL PLUG:  Did you know there’s also a 3rd and 4th kind of negotiation skills training? More about those in the comments section below.

Genghis Khan Quote 1

Re-introducing Genghis Khan

A couple of weeks ago I briefly mentioned the far-reaching genetic effects of two remarkable people — the Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages, and the Mongolian warlord/emperor Genghis Khan. What I didn’t mention in as much detail was the specific mechanics of their reproductive success: they were nasty, brutish and cut short the lives of many, many others.

Let’s talk a bit more about those jerks, Niall and Khan, and their hardball use of power and leverage.

Genghis Khan’s story is well documented and instructive on many levels. An appropriate place to start or review the lesson is this video at the Khan Academy.  Yeah, I know, Khan Academy, so ironic.

Khan’s lust for violence and destruction knew no bounds, and his well-trained horsemen brought an apocalypse upon a good chunk of the world.  Different cultures define a “deserving ruler” in different ways. For example, in many cultures when a ruler has a superior military technology, there’s an expectation that they will use their power and leverage to protect and stabilize their immediate territory and interests. However for Genghis Khan the power and leverage of his more advanced military was applied towards a goal of worldwide subjugation and devastation. No journalistic hyperbole or metaphor here.

Genghis Khan Quote 2

As for Niall, not a lot is known specifically about him as an individual, but the legends that surround paint a picture of nonstop raiding, plundering and conspiracy. The epithet, “of the Nine Hostages,” refers to the cruel strategy of exploiting other people’s concern for their loved ones in order to extract concessions and ultimately wipe them out.

For those who see kindness and compassion as ideal virtues to cultivate in human beings, Khan and Niall present a problem. As highly aggressive and competitive individuals, they managed to spread their genes (and associated lessons) further and wider than those of the kinder and gentler stock of humanity. More worrisome is the idea that they succeeded in evolutionary terms (as well as social terms) precisely because they seized a moment where the rest of the population was weak enough to get exploited, creating an evolutionary bottleneck that their chromosomes (and associated lessons) could pass through.

All of these violent and aggressive tendencies translate into a series of destructively heavy-handed negotiation tactics that show up in the board room, the sales desk, the auto dealership… and not to mention the world stage. Once one of those places is overrun with Genghis Khan types, its efficacy as a constructive forum drops to near-zero levels — it just costs too much to get anything useful done there.

Sons and daughters of Khan

No Asshole Rule by SuttonOkay, what have we learned so far?

It’s too easy to resist the example of Khan and Niall and say, “Yeah, but nowadays these aggressive traits don’t get selected, neither biologically nor socially” i.e. being a jerk doesn’t get you anywhere.

I completely disagree, for one fundamental reason:

There is a Genghis Khan in all of us.  

You don’t need to be a direct descendant of Khan. A moderate amount of testosterone will do… and yes, regardless of your gender there’s going to be some C19H28O2  in your bloodstream.

Furthermore, attempts to reduce testoterone often result (or are caused by) an increase in cortisol, the hormone of powerlessness, victimhood and Stockholm Syndrome. Khan wins again.

As for extending the No Asshole Rule as a social policy, it really only works within a given tribe… and even then, tribes have a tendency to eventually sub-divide and compete from within, especially as those tribes become larger and more variegated.

A drop of biologically-driven ambition is all it takes to upset a socially-engineered pool of pacifism.

The inevitable conclusion

There’s a whole lotta Khan out there.

Every single day, a would-be Khan makes a discovery that will help them become an even stronger Khan.

Every week, a mini-Khan gets some hardball negotiation skills training from a mega-Khan.

There’s no way to quash Khan, least of all through the mandatory application of the 2nd kind of negotiation skills training… that would just soften the landscape for Khan and provide an evolutionary filter for the non-Khans.

What to do about it, then?

  1. Recognize, protect against and discourage the emerging Genghis Khans on your negotiation landscape
  2. Rechannel your inner Genghis Khan to be passionate, creative, and ambitiously constructive

The rest, as they say, is mere commentary.  Now go and learn how to do that.

Rough and Refined, Filipino Style: Sinawali Eskrima

For the past couple of months I’ve been learning about double-stick Sinawali, which is part of a collection of martial arts known as Arnis or Eskrima, which emerged in the Philippines over the course of that country’s long and complex colonial history.

The word “Sinawali” derives from the Kapampangan word “sawali” which refers to woven bamboo matting material.  The intricate weaving motion of Sinawali — traditionally practiced in pairs with hardened rattan wood sticks — is truly remarkable to watch and listen to… and even more remarkable to do and experience directly. Like the mats that the martial art is named after, those who practice Sinawali use a few simple basic motions to create beautiful, elaborate patterns.

Functionally, Sinawali is a great (and fun) way to build strength, speed and dexterity, all while learning about how to deliver and respond to different angles of attack in barehanded and hand-held weapons-based combat, disarming opponents, and so forth.

By practicing Sinawali you develop your body’s intuitive sense of balance and movement… going from Star Wars Kid to becoming Karate Kid.

Yet, Sinawali is so much more than a functional martial art… it is a kind of dancing…  sensual, percussive dance that can only be learned properly with a partner.

Like many things Filipino, Sinawali represents a powerfully beautiful mixture of cross-cultural influences and seemingly contradictory ideas.    Sinawali is both graceful and savage, rough and refined…carefully calculated on the one hand, and fiercely passionate on the other.

Sinawali — a metaphor for high impact collaboration, communication, coaching, and play.

Sinawali Clip Art Woman - The grip is all wrong, that's a judo uniform she's wearing, but her manicure is fabulous

Sinawali Clip Art Woman – Her grip is all wrong, that’s a judo uniform she’s wearing, but hey, let’s be honest, that is one fabulous manicure.

Thought du Jour, Constructivist Edition

If, as a facilitator, all you do is manage their state and nudge them towards what they already have the capacity to do, then they will win.

That’s why they call it facilitation.

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