Thursday, July 25, 2013

Structure is Critical

A client called me the other day because he was having a hard time writing a response to an RFP.  Although he is an expert in his field, he was stymied.  He needed to complete it in short order but was baffled about where to start -- or where to go once he began.

This is not unusual: those with great knowledge often find that details begin to cloud the big picture.  It's hard to know how to organise thoughts when you know every intricacy of a field.

After 20 minutes phone consultation, during which we reviewed the necessary elements, the proper structure became apparent.

My client composed the piece and submitted it immediately after our discussion.  The good news: his firm received authorization to start the work the very same day.  His client was so impressed that she speeded up her company's approval process by sending a purchase order and asked for an invoice immediately.

Get the structure right, and the rest will follow.  Those who have worked with me on in-person communication know it's my mantra.  No less for anything we write.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Communication as the Most Immediate Road to Leadership

People often ask me for tricks and tips to be a more polished presenter.  It's the wrong question.  The right question is how can I adjust what I say and how I say it to be a leader?

Leadership has become a buzz word, and like the word "awesome," the loss of its original meaning will be felt.  There really is no other word that can express the same idea.

Leadership is the essential, unspoken goal of every act of communication when you're trying to persuade.  In fact, Mark Pagel believes that the power of language is not just learned but also genetic.  No wonder a little bit of practice and the right feedback can make a weak speaker into a commanding one.

The only indisputable measure of leadership (and to that end, great speaking) is the number and calibre of people who follow. 

As an aside, this is one reason for which corporate departments' claims of "Thought Leadership" seem rather flimsily conceived.  The term they're looking for is "business insight".  Claiming leadership before the insight is tested in the market is just a bluff.

However, if you want to see how leadership is done through public speaking, take a look at Malala's talk at the UN.

To decide whether you agree or not, here's the question: would you disagree with what she says?  Is your faith in what's possible invigorated?  Would you follow her?

And she's just 16.

Friday, July 12, 2013

More on Carol Dweck: What Does Feedback on Intelligence Do for Performance, in Schools and Work?

Continuing from the last post, what does feedback have to do with the way we perform, as children and adults?  And is it ever too late to change our mindset?

Carol Dweck has found that those kids with a growth mindset - those who think intelligence can be expanded through effort -- recover from set backs, take on difficult tasks, and improve scores more easily than those who do not.

What's more, a growth mindset can be learned, at least in part by the kind of feedback children receive from adults and each other.  Here's her example:

Children in Chicago schools of the same age and with the same scores were given three kinds of feedback when completing a task:

1. Wow, great score!  You must be smart at this.
2. Wow, great score!  You must have worked very hard.
3. Wow, great score.

The first is a fixed mindset response, reflecting that intelligence is set.  The second is a growth mindset response, reflecting that through effort, new connections are made in the brain and can increase what we think of as intelligence.  The third was the control group response, neither one nor the other.

After the task and feedback, all children were told that they could do whatever they wanted next.  They were offered the choice between a task that they could do easily or one that would take effort.

Those with fixed mindset feedback took the easy task.  They had been told they were smart, and they didn't want to jeopardise their status.

Those with growth mindset feedback took the harder task.  They felt they would be rewarded, both in their growth and from adults, from making an effort.

The control group came somewhere in the middle.

Perhaps not surprising, Dweck has found that the same sort of results occur with feedback in an office environment. 

For more, here's a video from Carol Dweck on mindsets and how they shape all of our performance.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Carol Dweck and Transforming Mindsets from Fixed to Growth

Continuing from the last post changing attitudes toward marketing objects, here is one on marketing the way we think.

At the RSA yesterday, I heard Dr. Carol Dweck talking her research that shows academic results for children are determined not by intelligence, not by effort, but by mindsets.  This might sound obvious, but not when you dig down.

It also applies to adults in business, but let's start with the kids and work our way up.

Two Mindsets: Fixed vs. Growth

Dweck contends that there are two ways of thinking about oneself and one's academic achievements: Fixed and Growth.  The Fixed Mindset is characterised by the conviction that intelligence is a fixed trait.  You are either smart, or you're not.

This mindset is characterised by a reluctance to try new things, difficult challenges, anything that you don't begin with the knowledge that you will succeed.   These children, above all, don't want to look foolish.  There is also the belief that a task should be avoided if it requires effort.  Again, you're either smart at something, or you're not.

The Growth Mindset, by contrast, posits that intelligence can be developed.  In this way of thinking, anything that requires effort is useful because new connections are being created in the brain.  Kids in this group will embrace difficult tasks, and effort is to be expected.  Kids have more resilience when set-backs appear.

Setting the Stage: Studying a Struggling Population

In her research on children "fulfilling potential" intellectually (more on "potential" later), Dweck focused on the transition into 7th grade in a large group of schools.  7th grade is populated largely 13-year-olds, and as Dweck says, the move from the year below can be challenging.  Academically, it signals more work, dividing class members into subject areas, bigger class size, less individual attention.

The emotional effects of these changes, usually without support, are compounded by a dissolution of class cohesion: you might only see familiar faces, including your friends, in one class rather than throughout the day as courses each have their own population.

Some Research to Back it Up

Amidst these changes, the difference in performance, Dweck found, was determined by the way in which children thought about learning.  Dweck studied students who all began with the same scores in math.  Those who had integrated a growth mindset saw a steady increase in grades.  Those with a fixed mindset saw the same decrease in scores that created the reason for the study in the first place.

More on growth mindsets and feedback, and what this has to do with business, in the next post.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Tangible/Visible Cues vs. Digital Media and the Learning Process

Digital strategy consultant, Dean Landsman, is writing an article about disappearing artifacts such as radios and record albums.  At first it felt simply sentimental, but in fact, there are business implications as well.

Dean's article begins by telling a story about passing an apartment in New York without curtains, looking in at the boxes ready for moving out, and the effect of seeing book spines and album covers he recognised.  From four objects -- specifically, 2 albums and 2 books -- Dean could ascertain that the people in the flat were about his age, probably from the same educational/social/economic background, and, like him, were probably Jewish.

He then asked me: what would I have known about these people if the content had been in digital format?  Probably nothing.

Dean wondered to me what the difference is exactly:
There are a number of angles to pursue to expand the narrative.  What became of "bedside books" or bedside reading?  What are the new signals, what if anything,is it that replaces those "identifying" and telling items?  Also, in learning, if the Period Table was always in view in a classroom (or student's bedroom) then the learning process might have had some element of osmosis.  When the lack of daily or regular visual repetition is gone, does this change the learning process?

It's hard to believe that content in digital format will offer the same impact if left on a computer, ipod or kindle, and viewed/read/heard as is.    First of all, digitally formatted objects don't reveal their contents unless you open them on a computer/device, unless, like an album, the cover is distinctive.

Forget about peeping in windows and learning about strangers.  Because we learn from association, and there are no visual cues to distinguish one piece of content from another in equally sized plastic covers, it's much harder for the content to stick in the head.

Objects that can be differentiated at a glance -- size, texture, or implied aural experience (say, where the dial is set on a radio) -- offer fewer cues and therefore fewer associations.  Emotional attachment/engagment isn't easy without a more immediate visual connection for us between the content inside and ourselves outside the object.

Let's take the example of the book by the bed.  The frequency of seeing the cover, feeling the texture of the cover/pages give us two ways to relate to the book as an object.  When the book is carried and read in a new context -- say outside, or on a train -- all the associations go with the content.  And the more senses that we engage in our exposure to content, the more likely we will learn it.

If we only open the book on a computer or kindle, we've got only one frame (the computer/kindle) on a desk, and we won't see the cover repeatedly, over time.  It therefore won't make the same impression. 

To change the impact, we'd need to create different contexts to see the same content -- albeit, online.  That's not impossible.  We can perhaps engage with it in a specially designed game, associate sound or music with it, and vary the kinds of interaction over time. 

Again, as human beings, we learn by association.  A book is a book, because it isn't a chair, before it's a book without reference to another object.  So our experience of some kinds of digital media will narrow associations due to the way we experience the format, perhaps its time to get more creative about new ways of interacting to make learning work online.

Dean's point is about marketing online, but the issues are not dissimilar.