Want to create great products together? Want to be more innovative or creative? Do artwork. With your team.
Something the article doesn’t mention is that every yoga pose was invented by someone whose body needed that particular stretch at that particular time. Ideally we would all have the skill and awareness to improvise our own exercises every day. Lacking that, we follow rigid and uniform routines that are inevitably wrong for us.”
The way I see it, yoga is an ancient spiritual and healing tradition that has various expressions in our culture. Sure it’s been commercialized and I can find yoga studios in trendy neighborhoods that are filled with people who do the practices at a shallow level and are taught by teachers who don’t understand it. But there is a spectrum… I’ve found that if I put the energy into it, I can find yoga teachers who do hold the spark of the spiritual and healing traditions, and who don’t merely ape the practices.
The great yogis of old could invent new poses and even whole programs of healing that involved poses, meditation, diet, and other learning, customized for each individual. And not just for themselves — yogis are healers. But they too stand on the shoulders of their teachers and a large body of passed-on knowledge. And there are great yogis alive today, along with a spectrum of teachers, down from the yogis — teachers who teach other teachers but may be expensive to travel to see, all the way down to those special yoga teachers who are genuine practitioners in our neighborhood yoga studios who can offer what they know directly, in person, for low cost. Not all hold that spark of life. But if you look you can find the living lineage of healers, and that lineage does help you customize your healing to your own body. It’s not inevitably wrong for me. And I’ve seen plenty of others get the right customized healing from different yoga teachers.
Ran also said,
“This reminds me of how religion starts with direct experience of the divine, and then hardens into rules and memorized prayers. Or how learning starts with curiosity and self-directed exploration, and ends up in lifeless forced schooling.”
Here too I would ask, isn’t that a generalization? There are spiritual traditions alive today that have great life in them, the direct experience of the divine. I’ve looked and found them, and practice one of them that is alive in me (Shambhala Buddhism). It’s tempting to look at religion from the outside as something that is dead, lifeless, ossified, meaningless. And in fact many are, especially the mainstream culture’s religions in each region of the world. But there are genuine spiritual traditions that are alive today in the fringes.
“Or how learning starts with curiosity and self-directed exploration, and ends up in lifeless forced schooling.”
And yeah there too, the mainstream schools in our current culture do that. But in the fringes there are different experiences. That phrase “ends up in…” seems to me to imply a linear view of growth, that things start young and good, and end up old and bad. Why can’t I be a cool old dude? Why can’t new effective and healing cultures grow up out of the ossified ones? My son goes to a healing noncoercive “school” or learning collective (PSCS) that is alive and well now, and is relatively new – it wasn’t around 20 years ago. If you seek it you can find new growth and healing.
I wish healing, spiritually-connected, non-coercive, curious culture was more widespread. But Ran, you might be surprised at how much there is already. How can we make these communities stronger? How can we link them to create a culture that will grow up through the cracks of the mainstream one that is not working now? How can we help more people choose healing cultures over ones that are dying? Those are the questions that I think we should be asking.
I’ve written about flow and work elsewhere. Lately I’ve become interested in multipersonal flow – a flow state that is achieved as part of a team, where multiple people are experiencing flow while interacting with each other. You can see what Jim and Michele McCarthy have to say about multipersonal flow in Software For Your Head.
Why does this matter? Well, flow is highly correlated with personal growth. Teams that help their members enter flow states can grow faster than other teams – since their members are in the zone of personal growth. Since flow is also related to enjoyment (but not pleasure) this means team members will have more satisfying work experiences. It’s important for growth and enjoyment to be linked, so that people and teams will want to increase their skills and challenges. Consistently choosing more challenging experiences is what leads to greatness.
Flow can be difficult to find for individuals – Csíkszentmihályi says in his books that many people experience flow only rarely. However, some people often experience flow, and Csíkszentmihályi calls them autotelic individuals. The skills to find flow can be learned, and while there is not much written about the subject, I think it’s easier to find flow with a bunch of other people who are also seeking it, and who are all using practices that lead to flow, like the Core Protocols.
There are other ways to experience multipersonal flow, for instance in sports, music, dance, or multiplayer online video games, but I don’t know much about ways that are centered in the realm of creative work. In the realm of creating computer software, the only other example of people systematically seeking multipersonal flow that I have seen is on Extreme Programming (XP) teams. While the XP originators do not set it as an explicit goal, pair programming, when combined with the other XP values on a healthy team, seems to be able to produce this mental state in team members with some reliability. But XP seems to only be able to do this with programmers, not across an entire cross-functional (business and technical) team.
I also think multipersonal flow is a key feature of #CultureHacking since the goal of culture hackers is to produce team situations where people are learning, growing, and having fun together while delivering effective results. I think companies that do this will be more successful than companies that don’t.
Are there other work methodologies that can do this? If so, will you let me know? I would like to know about them.
These are some of the characteristics of the culture of excellence that I want to see in teams I work with. I think great teams that work in any creative field will share these qualities:
- Optimistic aspiration to greatness – individuals and teams seek out excellence on their own.
- Shared vision – people and teams are aligned around the same vision and goals, minimizing conflicts and wasted effort
- Swift and effective conflict resolution – teams minimize waste and maximize speed
- Results count, not effort – people are oriented on what matters
- Best ideas win regardless of source – improvements are accepted without politics
- Interest in improving team performance over time – people work to create an environment that supports personal and team growth
- Creative intimacy – cross-functional teams that work closely together, and include engineering, business, and user experience people for example
- Proactive self-organization – teams decide what to do and do it, and do not wait to be told what to do
- Great decisions are the norm – and meetings are mainly held to make decisions, not pass along information
- Mistakes and learning are celebrated and encouraged – maximizing learning and encouraging growth
- Healthy relationship to authority – people lead and follow as necessary without cynicism
I think #CultureHacking is about creating teams that have these qualities, since teams that have them will be fun, effective, and truly able to contribute new positive innovations to our society. I work in software, so another reason I care about this because I want the cross-functional (business and technical) teams that I work with to be able to rapidly ship great products and services that customers love.
Flow is a state of consciousness where a person is “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity”.
In the talk, Csíkszentmihályi had a version of this diagram:
In a state of flow challenge is high and skill is high, and people are devoting so much attention to what they are doing that they don’t have any attention left over to worry about themselves or their lives. Apathy is at the opposite end of the scale, with low challenge and low skill, where people spend most of their time not caring how bad things are. Apathy and most of the intermediate states are less optimal than flow.
Most of the literature I have read about flow has focused on individual experience – flow experienced while a person is working or playing by themselves in activities like rock climbing or composing music. (Note that I have not yet read Csíkszentmihályi’s books on business, Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning and Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet – they are on my list to read next.) Flow is highly correlated with increases in performance and personal growth, so I am interested in flow experiences that people have while working on work teams.
One doesn’t want to have the same state of mind all the time, but it seems to me that good work environments enable people to experience flow often, perhaps whenever they want to. Csíkszentmihályi calls people who can enter flow regularly autotelic. Can teams help people be more autotelic? Are teams that do so higher performance than other teams? Do they encourage personal and team growth?
I am wondering if this diagram would help us design better work experiences. If people are aware of their mental states, maybe they can use the diagram to pinpoint where they are on this map, and then set a course that takes them toward flow and growth, or at least toward relaxation. With a team, a person would not have to navigate these states by themselves – they could get help to redesign their work and environment to increase their skills or adjust their challenge level in order to produce the flow state more often. This reminds me of the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment concept from video games, where the game AI adjusts the game in order to keep the player in a state of flow, making it more enjoyable.
Another question I have is, “Can we use this diagram to get insight into why experiential leadership training like Boot Camp works for people? Does it provide an environment where people can more easily migrate from the other states into the state of flow?”
- goals are clear
- feedback is immediate
- there is a balance between opportunity and capacity
- concentration deepens
- the present is what matters
- control is no problem
- the sense of time is altered
- the loss of ego
I think Boot Camp goes to all 8 points – some directly, some indirectly.
- Goals are clear, feedback is immediate – this is not immediately obvious, but in Boot Camp you set your own goals and get feedback on them right away. The feedback is in the form of “Am I having fun? Do I feel like I am making progress?” Since there is no outside coercion to keep doing anything that isn’t “working” in Boot Camp I found out I can get information instantly and can adjust immediately.
- Balance between opportunity and capacity – since Boot Camp is a purely voluntary learning environment, but help and coaching are available instantly, there are large amounts of both and participants can freely adjust them to their liking.
- Concentration deepens, present is what matters – the default Personal Alignment is “self-awareness” and campers are immersed in art, which rewards present-moment experience. The training schedule as very few fixed meetings so campers’ time is mostly their own.
- Control is no problem – since the Boot Camp environment is entirely optional, and each activity is optional (by the use of the Pass Protocol) participants can choose to engage in experiences that match their level of skill and challenge.
- Loss of ego – best idea wins regardless of source is a Core Commitment, and painting on each others’ paintings also helps. The Boot Camp manual specifically says to make your product great, only put in great ideas, great work, and great art… don’t try to have everyone represented.
- The sense of time is altered – this was one of my profound experiences at Boot Camp, when I was immersed in my own Personal Alignment work during my first Boot Camp. It was at Crystal Lake and I spent a long time outside, looking out over the glassy water. Then I finally came inside to find that while I was contemplating, my team had been hard at work, and our Web of Commitment ceremony was going to begin in a few minutes… For the ceremony, my team wanted me to make a painting of my Personal Alignment. I only had a few minutes, and at first I despaired – how would I do that? Then I remembered Jim and Michele saying that a good idea can change cost, time, and quality all at once. I looked back out over the lake and had an insight on what to do, started painting, and in a few minutes had the perfect representation of my alignment. How did that happen?
My hypotheses is that we can design improvements to Boot Camp, to work environments, and leadership coaching experiences by using this model… we can ask ourselves, “What does someone need to head toward flow, rather than heading toward apathy?”
As for insight into why Boot Camp works… I think that one reason it works is that it immerses participants in an environment where flow is much easier to attain than default culture’s work environments. For me these repeated flow experiences helped me realize that my everyday work could be more like Boot Camp: filled with more personal growth, more immersion in energized focus, more enjoyment.
Culture Hacking is the systematic design and implementation of team practices, commitments, and viewpoints that yield desired results. In other word, it’s about hacking your own culture. This is an idea I got from Jim McCarthy.
Culture Hacking is an art. It’s also an empirical process – you have to make a change, see what works, make more changes and so on. Culture hackers each have their own aesthetic and also share techniques, practices, and “culture software” like the Core Protocols, Scrum, Lean, and so on.
Some culture hackers work on methods that can be shared between teams; others work on the culture for specific companies. Some, like the Core Protocols, are applicable to both.
Culture Hacking as a field or discipline is at a level above individual systems. Culture hacking at its best is about creating cultures that enable people and teams to achieve greatness. Culture hackers combine and edit cultural systems, practices, values, and viewpoints, try them to to see if they work and share them with others. They do so systematically, rationally, and in the spirit of play.
Culture hackers see culture as software, and as such think that it has many characteristics of software:
- ease of use
- and so on…
Culture hackers see that culture has a viewpoint, an architecture, and an internal structure. Culture hackers see culture as something they can modify and improve on.
Culture hackers operate at different scales, sometimes simultaneously – on the level of internal experience of an individual; on the level of individual behavior; between two individuals; or between a team of three or more. Culture hackers operate on teams inside companies and outside them, on the level of one team or many teams, and even at the level of whole societies or even groups of societies.
It almost goes without saying that culture hackers like trying on new things. They are okay with being uncomfortable in a new culture that they have created or that they are trying out for the first time.
When I was talking with Jim, he wondered, “Where is the culture hacker’s version of the Homebrew Computer Club? Will there be culture hackers like Woz? Like Bill Gates? Like Steve Jobs? Like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard?”
I find that many people I admire were culture hackers: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. But I think the future is with the culture hackers who aren’t famous yet – and those who may never be famous.
The startup scene today is composed mainly of people who are doing proprietary culture hacks on their own teams and companies. But there are also people that I admire working in the open: Jim McCarthy, Steve Blank, Larry Lessig, Eric Ries, Kent Beck, Ken Schwaber, and others are working on Open Source culture – team, company, movement, or political culture that others can adopt, share, and build on. The Startup Genome is a team of culture hackers trying to systematically crack the code of what makes companies and teams successful. Creative Commons is a successful culture hack that operates on the level of a society. Lessig is working on another culture hack now, Root Strikers, an effort to re-engineer American society to eliminate political corruption.
These folks show that it does really help to share what you know, and you can make a difference by working in the open with others. If we are to survive into the Long Now, the next ten thousand years and beyond, we’ll have to to be able to engineer human cultures that help us embody the qualities we want – kindness, integrity, foresight, beauty, innovation, democracy – rather than those that encourage qualities we don’t want – greed, violence, lying, stagnation, concentration of power.
If you tweet about this, mark your posts with #CultureHacking so that people can see the movement build.
It starts with you. Let the culture hacking begin!
Getting what you want is the essence of leadership, and that is what I want to talk about in this article. I wrote it for my partner Lena when we had some difficult conflict to resolve. I thought it might be useful for other people.
But before I get to what to do, I want to say what not to do.
Complaining is unhelpful because the complainer wants others to solve the problem. When you are having conflict that does not feel productive, it is often because one or more parties are complaining, wishing others would solve the problem for them.
Complaining also contains the wisdom of communication – since the complainer is trying to communicate with others to get resolution. Complaining often has the spirit of anger, another wise quality, since anger can help motivate people to work for change. Since the anger is directed at other people, though, it is not an optimal problem-solving strategy. Anger is helpful when directed at problems or situations.
Don’t avoid or attack.
Avoiding is another well-used but unhelpful problem-solving strategy. The main thrust of avoiding is the hope that someone else will solve the problem or that it will go away by itself. This rarely happens.
Avoidance’s wisdom is in self-control – carefully considering a course of action is known to be helpful, while taking rash action often leads to suboptimal solutions or even disaster. Too much inaction, though, causes problems.
While avoiding is passive-aggressive, attacking is directly aggressive. It’s suboptimal because it is about stopping action via non-rational means.
The wisdom in an attack is that of engagement with another person or idea. It’s best to engage using rational means, as non-rational engagements can often cause damage.
Don’t fall into self-pity.
Self-pity is similar to complaining, except that the subject of the complaints is oneself. This unproductive strategy is designed to get other people to solve the problem, or to solve the psychological problem of explaining to oneself why the problem exists. It is a cross between complaining and avoiding – since the complaints are directed at oneself, but no productive action is being taken to solve the outward problem.
Self-pity’s seed of wisdom comes in recognizing ones’ own part in creating problems – I find that solving difficult problems often requires changes in my own views or behaviors. Here too it is taken to an unhelpful extreme: by complaining, you reinforce the counterproductive view that you are not capable of solving the problem yourself.
Each of these anti-patterns does contain wisdom: all are based in recognition of a problem. Without recognition there can be no solution. But once you have recognition, it’s best to use strategies that are known to be helpful
So how do you get what you want? The first step is recognizing these anti-patterns in yourself, if they occur. It’s also helpful to recognize them in others so that ones’ team can name them in a non-judgmental way, and begin to learn healthy and constructive patterns of leadership.
Do take care of yourself.
In other words, stay rational. In terms of the Core Protocols, this means keeping the Core Commitments. To solve problems effectively, by yourself or with others, you need to be in a rational state of mind. If you can’t be rational, you won’t be able to be productive. The Core Protocol that is relevant is Check Out: to remove yourself from situations if you notice that you or others are irrational, returning when you and others are rational.
It may seem odd that that the first road to getting what you want is to leave, but I and others like John Gottman have found that Checking Out – minimizing flooding – is an effective problem-solving strategy. Things that are easy to solve in a rational state of mind are hard or even impossible to solve when one or more people have their minds clouded by strong emotions. This is just part of being human, but it is one of the hardest roads to follow.
Do ask for help.
You are not alone. Often when faced with problems, people try to solve them alone. One of the Core Commitments is, “Use teams to solve hard problems.” Problems that are hard for one person to solve might be easy for two. Or it might require a few more – but simply by working with others often leads to quick resolution. This is true because other people have other viewpoints, other resources, and other emotional responses.
To ask someone for help, simply say, “Will you help me?” This is the clearest way to ask someone, since it recognizes that they may say no. The Ask For Help protocol has more details.
Do investigate yourself and other people.
Every successful problem solver starts with “I don’t know.” The next obvious step is to learn more. How do you do that? Investigate Protocol is good if you want to know lies with yourself, someone else, or if you simply don’t know where to start.
Often the solution to a problem can be found within yourself. Simply find someone, and ask them to help by investigating you as a detached but fascinated observer would – telling someone your problems can help you realize the right course of action. The Investigate Protocol explains how to do this.
If you think clues about the solution might lie in someone else, you can ask them for help and investigate them.
If you don’t know where to start, having someone investigate you is helpful because by telling the problem to others helps generate ideas. How many times have you asked someone for help, began telling them about it, and then realized the solution?
Do create new solutions.
The best way out of a problem is often to invent something new. This requires imagination and creativity. Simply use your natural talents until you come to the solution, or until you encounter another problem that is blocking you from solving your main problem. You can do this alone, or with a small group of people.
You can create even when you know you can’t create a good solution by yourself: once you have a proposed solution, even if it is unworkable, you can get other people to help improve it. It is much easier to improve an existing solution then create one to begin with.
Creating is the only one of these “Do”s that does not have a Protocol associated with it.
Do improve existing solutions.
It’s much easier to improve something than to create it. So what is the best way of improving a proposed solution? The Perfection Game Protocol provides a structured, non-violent way to give this feedback: First, you rate the work product from 1-10, 10 being best. This is a measure of how much improvement you think you can make, a 5 means you can double it, 3 means you can more than triple it, 1 means you can make it 10x better. If you can’t think of any improvement you must rate it a 10. Then you say what you like, and finish by giving concrete suggestions for what it will take to make it a 10.
You must limit yourself to positive statements that actually improve the work. In this way people can receive the feedback optimally, and then decide on their own what suggestions to use or discard. This is a non-violent technique since there is no criticism or negative statements.
Do listen deeply to other people.
Truly hearing someone else is often enough to solve intractable problems with other people. Listen Protocol provides a structured, non-violent way for two people to deeply understand each other. This is done by having one party state their concerns, one sentence, idea, or feeling at a time. Then the other party repeats back what they said. In this way the speaker can know the listener truly understands what they are saying. You can use a coach to help both parties keep to the structure.
Often when the emotions behind a conflict are deeply understood by all involved, the solution to a conflict will become clear too.
Do make effective decisions.
Decide first, don’t discuss. This is because everyone may already agree with you, and if so, discussing wastes time and energy. If they don’t agree with you, when you decide you can find out exactly what is preventing you from getting what you want.
Discussion is a natural part of human society, and can be quite fun and fulfilling. In team behavior, however, discussion is an anti-pattern, because it does not lead toward action. If you want to achieve a goal (getting what you want) you need to get a group of people to move toward it. Discussion does not do that. The way groups keep their actions aligned in the same direction is by making great decisions.
The Decider Protocol, and its companion, Resolution Protocol, provides a way for a small group (less than 7) people to make good decisions quickly. Why is speed important? Greatness is simply the abundance of goodness. If you can make good decisions quickly, you create an abundance of them. The Marine Warfighting Manual has this to say:
Time is a critical factor in effective decisionmaking—often the most important factor. A key part of effective decisionmaking is realizing how much decision time is available and making the most of that time. In general, whoever can make and implement decisions consistently faster gains a tremendous, often decisive advantage.
I have found these rules of thumb to be fast and effective ways to get what you want. Since getting what you want is a key leadership skill, mastering these techniques is a good way to increase your capabilities as a leader in all the realms of human life: self, family, friends, work, and society.
There are several points that I did not cover in this article. The first is how to get a group of people to want the same thing (shared vision). Another is, once they want the same thing, what is the fastest way to get them to practice the behaviors described in this article? I will cover these in a later article.
We believe we can make a difference.
We create legendary teams that call forth genius as needed.
We believe these legendary teams will make a significant positive difference in the world.
We believe legendary teams can create and implement technologies, businesses, and organizations that make the lives of billions of people significantly better.
We believe that joining a legendary team will transform a person’s life.
We believe these legendary teams will transform the world of work to something healing to people and the world.
We believe people can learn to wake up and see this is possible.
Our teams are fun, healthy, and high-performing.
Our teams use the best team technologies to achieve their results.
Our teams solve the world’s great problems effectively and without drama.
Being on our teams is an awakening, life-transforming experience.
Two years on one of our teams is better for your life than any university degree.
We train leaders who create great teams themselves.
Our teams create companies that people beg to become customers of.
Our teams create companies that investors line up to buy stock in.
Our teams are opportunities that smart, caring, creative, effective people consider their dream job.
Our teams are cherished by their communities for what they bring to their neighborhood and the world.
Our teams create companies that competitors respect, are challenged by, and look to for leadership in the market.
Our teams create companies famous for being the best in the industry, famous for their integrity and honesty, famous for the respect they have for their employees, famous for solving their customers’ most difficult problems.
I wrote this as an aspiration for myself and my teams. If you want to find out more about how to create teams like this, check out the essay Solving the Problem of Problems.
We believe that software and business are two key elements for solving poverty. First, we do not assert that software alone is enough to end poverty – poverty has many factors, and eradicating it will require many innovations. Rather, we assert that any solution to ending poverty will need software in order to reach all poor people in the time given. Second, we assert that business must play a role in the effort to eliminate poverty as an effective social technology for generating wealth. Eliminating poverty for 2 or 3 billion people is something charity cannot do…
Where software and business come together in the service of poverty is in the field of microfinance. Microfinance is the business of providing financial services to poor people.
The December issue of OSBR covers humanitarian Open Source software projects, there are articles about OpenMRS medical records system, Sahana disaster management system, humanitarian open hardware, and others.
Here’s a short guide I wished I would have had when starting out as an entrepreneur. All these could be my #1 item, I’ve made all of them at one point or another or else been a principal in a company where the situation arose to my detriment. If I had to pick a top mistake, it would be:
7. Not having your own attorney.
Don’t expect venture capitalists (VCs) to look after your interests. When your company is ready to raise funds, the fund provider, usually a VC or two, will be represented by legal counsel. The VC will usually insist that the company hire a fancy law firm that has experience with corporate finance and securities. But who is representing the entrepreneur? Often, no one. You need your own independent legal counsel. You may be hesitant to hire an attorney because you do not want to kill the deal or seem like you are getting in the way. But a good attorney will look out for your interests in a way that does not hurt the company. The same is true if the company is going to be bought by another company.
One thing that that Gary doesn’t say about this is that when you are starting a company, and you have a personal attorney, use them. Run every legal agreement by them, even if you don’t think you need to or especially when other people are telling you not to. This practice may save you a lot of time, money, and trouble. See it as a cost of doing business – a personal attorney is your advocate and is there to help you understand the risks of legal situations.
The reason I put this as my #1 is that a good personal attorney can then teach you about the other 9 problems and help you avoid them.