Archive for November, 2009

Sound boards rock

November 30th, 2009 Kevin No comments

I am sure there are not enough sound boards in the world. Sound boards are people who listen carefully when others speak. They do that to learn and react to what they hear. It is their attention that both honors and challenges what we say.

They take our words and expressions at face value. A common sentiment for them: “If you said it, it must be true for you, let’s see how and why.” Sound boards make sure they understand what is said first, exploring and discovering how we got there, knowing our way of thinking and feeling. Only after they get us on our terms do they begin to appreciate what we said in their way of thinking. That approach makes all the difference in the world between a good sound board and a not-so-good sound board.

Sound boards are real handy when we need to understand stuff for ourselves before sharing what we know with others. With a sound board handy, answering and stating things lets us do something very important, it lets us tell ourselves what we think.

Out loud. A sound board let’s us tell ourselves things out loud. We can hear ourselves talk it out, what it means, how it works. It is in that telling, in that stating, that comes our knowing.

Now, place a smart sound board in the middle of all those answers and statements we make. Tell him or her something, anything, and see what happens. What is the reaction we get? Do we get away with what we just said? Or, is there a search for proof? Are there follow up questions that show gaps of logic, missing facts, or opinions not yet expressed? Do we make sense? Can we even understand what we are saying?

Sound boards are the real deal. They are an invaluable step in figuring things out. They help us get things done because they cement our knowing.

Humans are lucky; we have a cerebral cortex, its really big and they are still figuring out all its bells and whistles. Who misplaced the user’s manual, anyway? That’s another post… The thing is, we do know that the funny looking jiggly thing called our brain is like a muscle. Oh yeah. That means we need to flex it. Daily. To ensure its in proper working order.

Sound boards help us do that in spades, they are like “fitness trainers for the brain.” They train us, make the things we say out loud come to life. When they are real good, they challenge us to speak clearly and purposefully about what is on our mind. They make us tie up loose ends, track down reasons for why we say what we say, and hold us to an organized progression of thought. Go figure.

We are surrounded by them and covet them. They come in many forms: moms (the best cross examiners); pops; great bosses; close friends; kind strangers and good clients and customers. These sound boards stick to what we say like bloodhounds on a trail. They genuinely want to know how we know what we know. More than that, they want to connect it to what matters.

They help line up our thoughts so we can do something with them. Thinking, and speaking (and rearranging our thinking), and finally, doing… its a good trio to have around. It avoids the reckless, hapless reactive world of low to little thought and high to furious action.

Their ought to be more sound boards. With them present we would have more checks and balances on what we say. We would end up hearing the reasons we say what we say (not always the prettiest, we come to find out). They help us explore what we hope the outcome will be of saying what we say.

We need more sound boards. Because in the end, we ought to mean what we say… and understand it too, as it gets reflected back at us with the help of a great sound board.

Exit interviews: capture the stories; honor the legacies

November 26th, 2009 Kevin No comments

80 percent. That is the oft-quoted percentage of knowledge that walks out the door when folks leave a job. What are we doing about that? Does it make sense to let it just evaporate away like that? Heck no! Here’s what Knowledge Advocate does about it for our clients:

1) before the interview we get to know the person’s area of expertise –  this is the territory, contours, and boundaries of what he or she knows and our prework prepares us to explore it;

2) we carefully read and review the legacy of the person’s body of work – we collect the documents and other work-product the expert put together during his or her work and prepare it to share it during our interview– these things trigger great memories and ensure stuff that needs saying gets said;

3) we acknowledge that experts have a hard time explaining the every day stuff they do – we are all expert at something and know those routine patterns and habits are hard to explain; as a result, we accept the challenge involved with uncovering and revealing hard-to-explain know-how so we can connect how important it is to the company’s bottom line;

4) we prepare a strategy for the interview specially tailored to the expert — our strategy involves hunches and our skilled, highly trained knowledge instinct– we do not use an outline of standard questions; that’s because we know people are organic and the last thing they want to hear is a set of standard questions, instead they want to hear questions tailored to their special circumstances and that honor the experts they truly have become;

5) our well-crafted tactics honor the person, respect his or her details, and simplify meaning — we connect and link what is said with the things we sense matter most for those who will inherit the person’s legacy; whenever we ask questions there is always a future audience on our mind and we work as if they were in the room with us to ensure that what we capture is easy to understand later;

6) we bundle what we hear into stories that are easy to understand and easy to act upon — during the interview and after it we capture the spirit of what we hear in narratives that explain how, why, when, where, and for whom the person acted with his or her expertise– the power of great exit interviews comes from the stories that the departing person is able to leave behind;

7) finally, we get feedback to clarify that we captured the right stuff — people do not always get to say on the spot what they mean and intend; to absolutely confirm we got it right we interact with the expert after the interview and confirm that what was said makes sense– this step let’s us confirm who will benefit most from what the expert talked about and how to best maximize its value.

We know our attention to details, respect for the person’s expertise, and extreme skill at asking flowing questions rather than static/formulatic questions makes all the difference in our exit interviews. With our top notch questioning method, we ensure that our clients hold onto the stuff that matters most, those smart thoughts that drive market excellence and corporate advantage.

Categories: Consulting, Questioning Tags:

Tapping in to the knowledge well

November 24th, 2009 Kevin No comments

We each have a wealth of knowledge within us. Tapping into it can be difficult. Researchers speak of knowledge as either explicit or tacit. The first is easy to express and easy to find. The second tends to be the harder, on demand stuff that may not come out unless the right questions are asked.

Asking the right questions lets you tap into the knowledge well. Getting good with questions turns you into a “knowledge wildcatter.” Like a wildcatter finding pay dirt in an oil patch, great questions give you the leverage to find the rich stuff people know and have a hard time offering up. Great questions help you hone in on your knowledge instinct. A great questioning method let’s you know when to ask things, for what reasons, and what you can expect to find. And when you hit the right spot, stand back!

Here’s the thing: knowledge wildcatting is a skill. The good news is that even if you are not there yet, you can get better at it over time. So don’t despair if you come up empty. Just take a look at how you scan the field. Consider what tools you use. Double check your drills and the stuff that supports them. And whatever you do, don’t despair when some of your taps run dry. Pay dirt takes time, patience, and perseverance. And a little luck every now and then wont’ hurt a bit.

Categories: People, Questioning Tags:

One septrillian things going on

November 24th, 2009 Kevin No comments

One septrillian. What the heck is that? Rumor has it, that is the number of “things” that happen at every moment of every day to keep us keeping on. Think of it as a “1″ with lots of zeroes behind it. Cells grow, cells get removed, the heart and liver and kidneys all work, we eat, we do other things, everything works [mostly]! It is truly amazing, so much going on.

One this is certain: we need to control almost none of it. No worries about gas exchange, food digestion, viral attacks, etc. Phew. So, how much do we control at any moment of our day? Even if biofeedback or deep meditation are your things, maybe 150 different things? For the rest of us, maybe 20 things (at our peak effort)?

So how are we doing with the stuff we do control? The thoughts in our day; the talk that presents our findings. We also move, walk, finish tasks, that kind of thing, we are generally conscious of those things (although some stuff is such habit as to make it to autopilot status, like the drive to work for example). Also, we consciously seek sense: seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, balancing, and touching.

How are we coordinating the things “we” find out with the one septrillian other things on autopilot? This post is about the portion of the one septrillian that help us think through things and come up with stuff about how to navigate through the day. It is a post about managing those things so we do best by our entire body. These are the extra things, for example, that happen inside us and become our dreams, inform our guts, and make our hearts stop.

How are we managing the vast majority of things we do not control with the 20 or so things we do control? Funny how management of our own bodies compares well to management of our corporate “bodies.” Here is a quick list of things to think about when managing the vast majority of things we do not control.


First, how do we know our cells have something to tell us?

Make it easy for them to be heard.

Second, how do we know they are trying to tell us something?

Listen carefully to what they have to say.

Third, how do we know what they say makes sense?

Get and give feedback.

Fourth, what should we do about it?

Make decisions.

Fifth, and then what?

Follow through.

And whatever else you do, be kind! This is our body after all, and we have to live with the consequences! It is amazing how much proper care and treatment of our own bodies correlates to how we care for and treat our corporate entities. Make room for hearing, listen carefully, get all the facts and evidence you can, come to conclusions and make solid decisions, and execute what needs to be done with due care.

Categories: Consulting, Thoughts Tags:

Ancient creatures, new tools, same old talk patterns

November 23rd, 2009 Kevin No comments

This week, 150 years ago, Darwin dropped his monumental book, On The Origin Of Species, into the world’s library system. From then till now, its not always been clear how evolution works. On that note, I am struck by how we humans came to be over these many, many thousands of years.

Unlike Galapogos finches and flightless cormorants, we humans have been mostly constant for the last 30,000 years. That means what Socrates, Plato and others said at the dawn of Greek’s golden era in the 400s B.C., what the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said around 200 A.D., and what our friends and colleagues said last week is sort of all the same when it comes to the human condition.

What’s different? One clear difference is all the new tools we use to flex those anciently wrought muscles and excite those evolutionarily sound neural pathways. Tools for scheduling our days, meeting up with folks, talking to them fast and accurately across wide expanses of time and space. Lots of tools that can help us get along better with people. Here’s the question. Do the new tools, most invented since Darwin’s work, make us talk any better?

Probably not much and the jury’s still out on that one. As sophisticated as our broadcasts of “big talk” are, the kind of stuff we hear at the national and international level, we still like our small, tribe-like whispers. We revel in the complaints and gossips of our mini-conversations. We hold secrets close and share them sparingly, coveting what we know and keeping quiet when a speaking opportunity arises.

This is our condition: we are creatures of beliefs supported by wonderfully extravagant assumptions and superstitions. Our rules and principles might change and always underlying them are the beliefs that move our traits, behaviors and habits. A true evolutionary leap might occur of us all when rules and principles align with our beliefs to form one complete message.

Let’s get right to it: who or what evolves how we improve our talk so we can do it better? Any hunches? My thinking: you and me, that’s who. Evolution gave us language that, combined with gestures, dominates our natural landscape. Vocal cord development, along with a mysterious coordination of left and right brains, propelled us as masters of our universal domain.

The gift of language affords us incredibly inquisitive natures. We conquer lions and tigers and bears with language and cooperation. Talk is our distinct competitive advantage among all animals– as far as we know.

Lately, how well have we evolved our talk tools and devices to leverage even better survival and sustainability of the species? How well do we talk and what improvements have we made in that area over the last 5,000 years?

These are some thoughts to ponder during this week of celebrating Darwin’s insightful masterpiece. In sum, what role might we play in the evolution of our own species when it comes to talking well with others?

Categories: People, Thoughts Tags:

Tired of the same old interview questions? Try this one.

November 22nd, 2009 Kevin No comments

Before reading further, promise me you will try and answer the question that follows? I promise it will make the point of this post mean more. Ok, here’s the question:

What is your personal code of conduct?

Thinking about it? I appreciate your college try at an answer.

Not an easy question. Regardless of the answer, the interviewee gets in the right frame of mind without embellishing too much. What he or she stands for matters. Honesty is high on the list. So is respect, attention to details, and transparency. Great states of mind during an interview!

Categories: Questioning Tags:

How’s your [human] memory system? Got back up?

November 22nd, 2009 Kevin No comments

Ever heard of Vannevar Bush? In 1945 he wrote an article for Atlantic Monthy called “As We May Think.” In it he shared some crazy talk about desktop memory systems and linking information so others could see it. He relied on then-existing technology and envisioned not-yet invented things like, oh well, the Internet, hyperlinks, desktop computers and more.

Enough with the 1940s, how is your memory these days? Could “it ain’t what it used to be” reflect your thoughts best? There is good news! The stuff Mr. Bush cooked up to help remember things is online now and mostly free. Information tools improve how we do three things online:

1) encode;
2) store and consolidate;
3) retrieve.

These three things are fundamental to how we store memories off line (that is, in our brains and with our repeated muscle/movement memory systems).

Wikipedia is a great example: someone starts a topic like “Jelly bean.” That person ENCODED the information. Later, other folks search for “jelly bean.” They find and review the page and can arrange what’s there, adding, subtracting, connecting. This helps STORE and CONSOLIDATE the information.

Things get interesting when RETRIEVAL happens over time. more visitors to the jelly bean page benefit from the content as it improves, and they can also rearrange some more. In this way, the loop of information benefits from more use. By contrast, pages that get little use might as well be forgotten (just like what happens with our own memories: use it or lose it!).

Do you have a back up system for your personal memory? Email is a default for many people. What about images? Flickr. Videos? You Tube. Documents? Microsoft Word or Google Apps. Conversation threads? Twitter, etc. Projects? Basecamp. Work contacts? Salesforce. Social contacts? Facebook or Linkedin. New things arrive daily, like Google Wave, that strive to make backing up your personal memory system online simple and worth it.

Whatever you end up using, make sure it has a wicked smart search engine and a really simple way to drop information in, rearrange it, and call for it when you need it. Ever have something on the tip of your tongue during your own thought process? “Wait wait, don’t tell me!” We hear that all the time. The “search engine” in our own heads helps us find things based on near misses, close calls, and sort-of-likes.

Pay attention to that ease of use. A robust online information resource will do the same thing. It will have a great way to ENCODE stuff fast and easy (that means you can drop in data easy), STORE and CONSOLIDATE it through repeated use, and RETRIEVE it fast and flexibly when needed.

Got back up?

Categories: Brain power, Technology, Thoughts Tags:

Four key things to know about questioning

November 21st, 2009 Kevin No comments

Questioning makes or breaks great conversations. When we use our questioning skill at work and play, these four areas of consideration, in order, come in handy.

1) State of mind: where our mind is as we ask things;

2) Body language: where our body goes as we ask;

3) Timing, tempo and rhythm: how we “dance” with our conversation partners as we ask;

4) Word choice: word selection and presentation in our sentences as we ask.

These four areas frame how others perceive us. Command of them determines how well we do with our questioning. The highest skilled questioners know this: great questioning demands an awareness and high level of play with each of these four areas.

Categories: Questioning Tags:

Big talk and small talks.

November 21st, 2009 Kevin No comments

“Big talk” happens in large groups. Diverse interests abound. Hard to navigate all the cross purposes, intentions, and expectations. During these talks, it’s not what you say as much as what they hear that drives points home. “Small talks” happen in mini-tribes. These are the groups of eight or less that we all speak with daily. This is where the bulk of the stuff that matters happens. It’s important to have both and for the money, exceptional ability at small talks usually fairs better than great big talk. Focus in on those small talks.

For what reasons do we communicate in them? What methods and techniques do we use? How does body language, tone, and rhythm serve us? How come it is that every mini-tribe has a different set of these methods and techniques? Where are the mini-tribe talk standards!

Categories: People, Thoughts Tags:

Parallel learning: where more is more

November 19th, 2009 Kevin No comments

I am working on several learning projects that employ parallel learning to cement new thoughts and connect them together to form meaningful memories. For example, I am preparing a class that teaches the Talk Well method (as it sounds, a method for helping you talk better) in the midst of a wine tasting. Participants will learn about wine as they learn conversation tools that will improve how they talk with each other.

Our brains like learning in small blasts. We like employing what we learn in a separate context to see how it works. We like connecting diverse things that do not at first seem connected. The faster we put to work what we learn, the better the chance it will stick. Learning two things at once, particularly one as pleasurable as wine tasting, can add to, and not detract, from how well we learn both subjects. Go figure.

Categories: Brain power, Learning Tags: