Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nuts, Bolts & a Few Loose Screws

L.T. has two university degrees.

A Bachelor of Science plus an MBA.

Cash flow projections, GANT charts and building operational plans are child's play for L.T. Few can play cerebral hopscotch the way L.T. can, analyzing sales volume, fixed and hidden costs, profit margins and inventory churn to reveal formulaic solutions for business success.

L.T. is a classic linear, logical, left-brained, nuts & bolts thinker, often regarded as the most smarticle person in the boardroom.

"I routinely rejected air-fairy, artsy-fartsy, blue-sky dreamers as unfocused, and without discipline. Grandiose thinkers without any hope of ever achieving anything real. That's why I favored methodical, strategic, logical, well thought out strategies to get things done in a timely, efficient, productive manner. My mantra for many years has been, 'If you can't measure it, don't bother doing it. That's why concepts like 'Pay it Forward' meant nothing to me. There was no way those initiatives could be quantified".

"But, one day I wake up to find myself pretty much the only left-brain thinker in the room, surrounded by creative types, spending hours in meetings that seemed to go nowhere. I used to sit there, look at my watch and wonder 'what's the point'? Arrogant when you consider the organization I'm part of has achieved more than most small businesses could ever hope to accomplish in a lifetime".

"Then one day, an idea fell on me like a ton of bricks".

What L.T. discovered is the essence of Nuts, Bolts & a Few Loose Screws. Phraseology that serves as a metaphorical dichotomy, describing how polar opposites mesh for optimal business, brand and team success.

met·a·phor - A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison. Ex: "All the world's a stage".

di·chot·o·my - A division of two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.

Dichotomies are common.

In" The Argument Culture", Deborah Tannen suggests Western society's cultural dialogue is characterized by a warlike atmosphere in which the winning side attempts to display truth as one would a trophy. Listen to everyday conversations unfolding around you and notice the debates triggered on any number of subjects:

- Men vs Women
- Love and Reason
- Good vs Evil
- Heaven and Hell
- Quality vs Quantity
- Tangible and Intangible
- Rational vs Holistic
- Body and Soul
- Justice vs Mercy
- Offense and Defense
- Leafs vs Canadiens
- Intellect and Intuition

Typically, opposing ideas produce either-or arguments with each side trying to prove the other wrong. Conceptually, Nuts, Bolts & a Few Loose Screws can be categorized in a similar fashion as you contemplate the people you interact with. In any business, left-brain, nuts & bolts thinkers tend to dwell and focus on areas such as:

- Key Performance Indicators
- Employee Turnover
- Strategic Planning
- Budgets & Forecasting
- Return on Investment
- Income Statements
- Balance Sheets

However, some companies are caging a different animal altogether. Often regarded as having a "few loose screws", these right-brainers relish chewing on abstract bones such as:

- Compelling Sagas
- Tribes
- Symbols & Rituals
- Character Diamonds
- Distinctive Design
- The Cool Factor
- Blue Oceans & Purple Cows

In most companies, there is a mix of left-brain intellects and right-brain intuitives which in itself presents an inherent problem or challenge.

Each side believes their way of thinking is the only path.

Our brains are divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is linear, sequential, logical, and analytical. The right hemisphere is nonlinear, chaotic, intuitive, and holistic. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that one sign of a "first-rate intelligence" is the ability "to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still be able to function." And a sure sign of first-rate business intelligence is the ability to recognize two diametrically opposing ideas, weaving them into a new model superior to either.

Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, argues that far too often, business leaders settle for simple tradeoffs. Products can be cheap or reliable, but not both. In his book, "The Opposable Mind", Martin contends the best thinkers are those who can transcend the either/or perspective and find new solutions. In a perfect world, we would all utilize what Martin calls "integrative thinking" to examine problems as a whole, embrace the tension between opposing ideas and create new alternatives.

Reality, however, has a way of intruding on what is ideal.

There aren't many integrated thinkers to begin with and since the left/right brain dichotomy is so pronounced, Nuts, Bolts & a Few Loose Screws might be the most practical alternative to recognize the value in embracing what the other side brings to the table. In other words, no one - not even you - has all the answers to the challenges your team faces each day. However, your ability to discover new ideas and skills escalates when a collaborative platform develops with those who are radically "different" from yourself in the way they view the business world.

This is precisely what happened to L.T.

"Usually its purely by accident that you stumble into a situation where you realize that collaboration with the opposite side actually produces an outcome far greater than either side could do on their own. It's like buried treasure and if you haven't discovered this 'secret', you could spend your entire career thinking your way is the only way and getting frustrated by the other side".

"A lot of my work depends on being able to deliver training presentations, often with team members more than a little on the screwy side. At first, it felt like I was working with children. They were loud. They played what I thought were silly games. We would constantly run over schedule without covering all the agenda topics. And if you're an organized person like me you tend to want to keep your world that way. I think our natural instinct is to fight to hold on to what we know and I wasn't buying all this free-flowing creativity and improvisation. With each session I was getting more and more pissed off and not enjoying it".

"One day, after a sobering evaluation from some training participants, I had an epiphany of sorts when I asked myself 'What if I could communicate my left-brain principles in a better way'? What if I could share some stories and use right-brain analogies, metaphors and music to drive home the points I was trying to make. And what if I stopped being the hero in my own movie and let the participants be the stars? This is not the type of thinking that comes naturally to a nuts & bolts type thinker, but if you haven't allowed yourself to slurp from the soup of intuition, you are not going to be able to access this. You will get trapped by the need to be accurate, proper, professional, superior and wind up trying to pretend you are smarter than everyone else. Two years ago, I never would have imagined that I would feel so comfortable in front of an audience that I could adlib, create new content on the spot and dance to the theme song of the Austin Powers movies. Yeah baby yeah"!

L.T.'s presentation skills have been elevated to the point where invitations have started rolling in to address many business seminars and international conferences. As a speaker, L.T. delights audiences with a unique combination of hard-core facts and humility, mixing wit with wisdom while generating rave reviews from attendees. Achieving that comfort level, however, proved to be impossible until L.T. was able to let go and mentally float. Release the need for control. Trust the input and perspectives of more 'screwy' collaborators.

Unfortunately, most business people do not seek out these types of collaborations. Hardly surprising when you consider the way hierarchical, command-and-control institutions promote self advancement, often at the expense of others. Real or imagined vertical, top-down structures called org charts frequently impede any coloring outside the lines that may cause career-limiting moves. However, flat, horizontally shaped, team-oriented seamless brands encourage experimentation, exploration and dabbling in the pool of collaboration without feeling the shock waves of repercussions when things don't go exactly as planned.

Nuts, Bolts & a Few Loose Screws collaborations hinge on unusually high levels of trust, not found in many business and professional relationships. Without the anchor of relationship, the "nuts & bolts" Intellectual finds the rants and ramblings of the Intuitive to be annoying, distracting and irrelevant. And as you might expect, the opposite is also true. Without feeling the presence of genuine mutual respect, the "few loose screws" Intuitive finds the bone-dry data of the Intellectual dull, restrictive and stodgy; restricting creativity with unbending, unforgiving emotional shackles and mental manacles.

Intellect is linear. Intuition is not.

Since intuition rarely depends on proof, evidence and statistics, the intellect can rarely be convinced of an idea's merits until much later - once all the facts are in. But, the greatest leaders, explorers, inventors and entrepreneurs never depended on facts alone to dictate what their intuition told them was the right thing to do. If that were so, Ghandi would have failed, Columbus would never have sailed, Edison would have stopped tinkering and Jobs would have quit thinkering.

Intellect is as important as it ever has been. Intuition alone won't launch a space shuttle or discover a cure for cancer. Without focus and structure, the intuitive often resembles an octopus on roller skates. But, that doesn't make the intellect superior. Left-brain logic alone no longer cuts the mustard for organizations sandwiched by unprecedented change, needing to intuitively detect underlying patterns that pinpoint threats and opportunities.

As a society, we as individuals are accumulating knowledge at an exponential rate, yet if you look around some companies are becoming dumb and dumber, clinging fiercely to hierarchical structures and traditional mindsets. Ideas and talents are hoarded in organizational silos, covering butts and protecting status quo. But, the moment a fusion of Nuts, Bolts & a Few Loose Screws transpires, a chain reaction of intellectual and intuitive knowledge is released; spiced with aptitudes and insights that can lift your business, brand and people to stratospheric levels.

Does your company's culture actively encourage you to connect with people who complement what you bring to the table?

Have you given any thought to the cost involved when a business fails to release the untapped potential of its people in the way they work together?

Is it time to re-thinker how your nuts & bolts people connect, collaborate and coexist with their screwy, frequently misunderstood, team mates?

"The future belongs to a different kind of person"
DAN PINK, A Whole New Mind

p.s... Roger Martin is an intellectual type who "gets it" as he addresses direct questions on strategy, innovation and what's wrong with business education


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