Thursday, January 12, 2017

Imagine!’s Leadership Development Group Update: January 2017

Imagine!’s 2016 / 2017
Leadership Development Group Update
Submitted by Cameron Navis

For those who have been following the various Leadership Development Group (LDG) over the years, you are likely already aware that part of our curriculum involves reading a set of books (usually no more than three) on the topics of Leadership, Professional Development, and Organizational/Corporate Development. For those that are newer to Imagine! or just haven’t been following the LDG for very long, now you’re in the loop!

Pictured above (left to right) are Kathryn Craig, Jessica Gaylord,
Cameron Navis, Alicia Burdick, and MacKenzie Haering
The first book your 2016/17 LDG read this year was: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, by Daniel Pink (for those select few with exceptionally good memories, recall that last year’s LDG also read a book by Pink titled simply: Drive).

On December 14, we were joined by Executive Team Member and prestigious Head-of-Innovations Laurel Rochester to discuss the bulk of the book and share our various thoughts, feelings, impressions, takeaways, etc. Pink’s book is bright orange and 247 pages and it begins with a statement:

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the … future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers.”

He goes on to present evidence and argue that this shift from a society built on “logical, linear, computerlike capabilities” to “a society built on inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities” is actually the case, as in happening right now, for real. Whether because the book itself was published more than a decade ago (in 2005), or because of the specific nature of our work at Imagine!, Pink’s statement did not strike any of us LDGers as the controversial, needs-to-be-justified-and-have-evidence-marshalled claim he seems to think.

A majority (a full 180 pages) and most interesting part of the book is given over to examining and explaining the key attributes of “right-brained thinking.” Pink dubs these attributes “The Six Senses” and argues that they are important/necessary for people either to have (inherently) or to develop in order to be successful in the present age. If you’re a left-brainer like me and the news that you’ll need to work on your artistic side in order to stay professionally competitive is less than happy, be advised that Pink is big on development. Each subsequent chapter about one of the Senses ends with a not-too-short “Portfolio” section which provides ideas and exercises for building the discussed Sense.

Our cohort sat down the other week and shared what we thought our own relative areas of strength and weakness were in regard to the Six Senses, as well as the areas of strength/weakness for the different departments we represent (represented departments this year include: Innovations, CORE/Labor Source (CLS), IBHS, and Case Management). What follows below is the full list of Pink’s “Six Senses,” but I won’t be commenting on all of them. There were a select few that generated a lot of discussion at our big meeting with Laurel and I want to confine my thoughts just to those areas of strength/weakness we saw in Imagine! as a whole. For the sake of your time and the length of this article, those fretting left-brainers will have to look up Pink’s book and the “Portfolio” stuff on their own. My own personal copy is available for borrowing if anyone wants it. I’d also encourage you to look up and contact ANY of us on LDG for further discussion if you’re curious. There is only so much that can go into a newsletter article.

Actually, before we begin (and to back WAY up), let’s recognize that the left-brain/right-brain thing could maybe use some unpacking. Refer to your nearest psychology textbook to confirm what I’m about to say: it is generally recognized in pop psych and neuroscience that the left portion of our brains and the right portion are responsible for different things, house different skills, and are in general just way WAY different. The left portion is strong and instrumental in things like mathematics, logical thinking, analysis, etc. It’s the “cold reason” side. Whereas the right portion, and Pink’s point is made here, is traditionally thought to be strong in the softer stuff, things like drawing, music, design, etc. It’s the “intuitive” side. There is a popular image you may have seen (and if not, use your right-brain to imagine) which captures the essence of the difference of the two sides: imagine the left side of your brain covered in a black and white chessboard, with scary-looking towering pieces moving at slow, methodical rates, and the right side of your brain as an explosion of color and lightning without form. That’s more or less the stereotypical difference, with all the stereotypical personality traits that come with being strong on one side versus the other (lazy artist, unfeeling thinker). And the book’s provocative sub-title (“Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”) aside, Pink’s actual argument is that the most successful people, and indeed what’s necessary for success, is to be strong on both sides. “A Whole New Mind.” Get it?

OK, the Six Senses according to Pink are: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. Design, Story, and Play all made for large topics of conversation, so I’ll share the snippets of those:
  1. Design: Design is variously defined in the book as: “the human nature to shape and make our environment in ways without precedent in nature,” and: “a combination of utility and significance [emphasis original],” and: “in its simplest form is the activity of creating solutions.” Jessica Gaylord with CLS was the only LDGer this year who claimed Design as one of her strengths. The rest of us felt that we could improve in this area and we felt that Imagine!’s relationship with Design is complicated. Imagine! places a high premium on Design as innovation (if we’re thinking of design in terms of the “activity of creating solutions” definition listed above), but lacks the more aesthetic side of Design and also sometimes function. So while it’s encouraging that Imagine! values good Design and wants to grow this Sense in its employees (hello LDG!), our group also thought that we weren’t seeing this as a strength in practice.
  2. Story: The section on story was very interesting and all of us had some takeaway from it. Story is bolstered in the book as an ability to place facts “in context and to deliver them with emotional impact” [emphasis original]. We saw the Gerald’s Story video, which gets shown to new employee during orientation, as a positive example of Imagine! doing Story well. But those of us in Case Management and Innovations felt that we could be better at Story. So often when training a new hire there seems to be an emphasis on speed. Rushing. You just want to get them through the training quickly so they can start working shifts. And needing to rush means boiling things down to just the facts; there isn’t a lot of time to tell stories. One suggestion we discussed was to start making or building consumer historical narratives. Overall, we think that Imagine! has a great and cool story, the people we serve also have great and cool stories, and so again the resource and value is there, but we could be better at putting this Sense into practice.
  3. Play: This is pretty self-explanatory and unfortunately it’s an area of improvement probably for everyone (although Laurel identified this as one of her strengths, so you never know). We work with some of the freest, funniest, most playful people in the world and yet a lot of us are either too overworked or too stressed to have fun ourselves. I include this Sense on the list here maybe mostly because I myself had such a visceral reaction when reading it. Reflecting on my work style as a young professional, I recognize that I do not reserve any time or space for Play. All of us have a lot to do, too many things to do probably, and because the nature of our work is the service of other people, we often put ourselves second and/or last. Our own happiness and sense of joy become less important than the comfort and joy of the people we serve. So Play (at least on a personal level) can seem unimportant, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT. Pink offers a lot of reasons as to why it’s important, but you’ll have to read those yourselves. Let this serve as your annual reminder to HAVE FUN at work, take a hearty break, and keep in mind the big picture of why we do what we do.
In conclusion: if you are thinking about resolutions for this upcoming year, consider being more intentional about honing that colorful right side and read Pink’s book. There are lessons and tips for all of us in here. Happy New Year everyone!

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