The Rationale of Irrational Decisions: Considering Emotional Needs

By B. Kim Barnes, Barnes & Conti CEO

Artwork: Carnival of Harelquin by Joan MiroLife would be so much easier for leaders, managers, parents, friends, politicians, if only human beings behaved in predictable ways based on facts, logic, rational thought processes, or even fulfillment of practical needs. Sadly, for those of us who are required or inclined to influence others to act in ways that are good for them, for the team, for the organization, the community, the nation, or the world, it’s just not so simple. Whether you’re trying to get your children to brush their teeth, your spouse or partner to exercise, your team members to collaborate, your company to focus on greater diversity, or your peers to vote in what you consider their best interests, you are bound to be disappointed if you focus only on their intellect or even on vested interests — what you believe they have to gain or to lose.

We continue to learn that people are often moved toward seemingly irrational decisions by values they hold dear and, perhaps even more strongly, by the pull of emotional needs. As influencers, we can’t afford to ignore them and can benefit by considering how to align with them. Something that doesn’t make rational sense to us may meet a deep need or fulfill an important desire for someone else. Read more ›

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The Fire This Time: A Remembrance and a Reminder

by B. Kim Barnes, Barnes & Conti CEO

Fire storm 1991In 1991, my house burned, along with 3000 others, in a huge firestorm that struck the hills of Oakland and Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was unexpected – though, in hindsight, it could have been anticipated. It was an event over which I had no control. It changed everything about my life and those of my neighbors. Being a writer and an educator, of course I felt driven to draw lessons from the way all of us responded to this event – to begin to understand how to deal productively with sudden, imposed change. I wrote an article with some ideas about how we were able to get through the difficult days and months that followed the firestorm and published it as part of a manual on change leadership.

Ten years later, after the awful events of 9/11, I revisited and revised the article in response to a client’s request for something to offer the people in her company who were so deeply shaken, as we all were, by the experience of watching and living through the terror attacks.

Today, we are all dealing with the shock of a pandemic. I reread the article and I believe the lessons I learned during that long-ago event are still relevant.

So today, I thought I would once again share those lessons. Here they are, slightly revised.

Let go of any illusions of control or “magical thinking.” I believe that consciously letting go shortened the “neutral zone” time for me. Friends who did not do this later reported that they stayed in a suspended state for many days and delayed taking practical actions to recreate their lives. Visualization of a positive future; one which you can help bring about, is productive; imagining that you can control the forces of nature, of the economy, of human nature or global politics, of a rampaging virus, is not. Letting go is a conscious choice of “mental action.” I found it helpful to use a mental image of letting go, such as opening my hand. Until you are able to do this, you will remain fixed in the past.

Take time to grieve, but not more than you need. Two days later, after the fire was out, we were allowed to walk in to see what was left. Although we really knew what we would find, it was a shock to see our neighborhood looking as if it had been bombed out, in a war zone. Our home was gone; in its place a strangely beautiful ruin. We cried and hugged. Then we got out the shovels we had brought and began to dig for remnants of our lives. There was more grieving to do, of course, but it happened from time to time as a natural part of the work of remembrance, healing, and rebuilding and never after that day was the central focus of our lives.

Read more ›

Leading Through Pain: Reflection, Dialogue, Discomfort, Commitment, and Growth

By B. Kim Barnes, Barnes & Conti CEO

Judgement Day, painting by Aaron Douglas, 1927
In recent days, I have read several messages from CEOs of a variety of companies, large and small. The common theme is that we all need to examine our own behavior, decisions, and biases. The vivid and horrifying images we have watched in recent days have made it impossible to look away from the truth of racism and lack of respect for the lives of those who are different from us in race, class, ethnicity, gender, religion, political beliefs, or status.

We have been through difficult times before, where our values, beliefs, norms, practices, policies and laws have required intense scrutiny and change. There have been reforms, but too soon we lose focus and return to the status quo – or else feel as if we have stated our position, taken action, solved the problem, and it’s time to move on. But change does not happen because we make statements or form commissions or assign responsibility. It happens only when we are willing to take a hard look at ourselves and our organizations and go through the excruciating, uncomfortable, cold-eyed process of honest re-evaluation of both what we say and what we actually do – and then take action as a result.

Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe, put it this way:

“…As a leader who really cares, I feel the responsibility to not just talk about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but to make meaningful changes and contributions through my own actions and how we operate at 23andMe. Our management team, Board and employee base must have greater diversity. I am ashamed to say I do not have a single black employee who is at Director level or above. Our product is euro-centric but must expand to be inclusive and equitable. We absolutely have the potential to be better. Despite our efforts, I have to honestly say that we are also part of the problem.

I’m holding myself accountable. I’m holding 23andMe accountable. And I’m asking that our customers hold us accountable. This will include making sure that we change our hiring practices, that we make sure we give greater promotional opportunities within the company, that we dedicate resources to evolve our product to better represent all communities and that my management team and Board have more inclusive representation…”

Stu Landesberg, CEO of the Grove Collaborative, a natural products company, said:

“At Grove, we’re starting at home. We are having hard conversations, listening to our employees and our customers, and finding ways to use our corporate platform to chip away at systemic injustice. We made our first ever internal grant, to our Diversity & Inclusion squad, for more initiatives that can help us drive more equity and thoughtfulness within our company and our industry. We are engaging our employees to participate and guide our financial contribution; based on their votes, we will donate at least $10,000 to charities and organizations fighting racism.

And, while we are a small company, we do see ourselves as a leading values-driven business in the natural products industry. We want to use that position to make our sector more equitable. We support minority owned businesses, and commit to increasing our purchases from them by at least $250,000 through 2021.”

We owe it to our employees, customers, communities, and to ourselves as leaders to ask that we be held to account for our actions. That we pay attention to our own assumptions about others. That we question why we retreat to our comfort zone of people like ourselves when we could be learning, growing, and creating new solutions by reaching beyond our bubble. We should be seeking our discomfort zone – that place where we challenge our beliefs, listen to those with whom we think we will disagree, entertain seemingly impossible ideas, expose our vulnerabilities.

My team and I have asked ourselves what we, as a small company, can do to contribute in a meaningful way at this time. There are a few things that occur to us, in addition to being conscious and careful in our practices for hiring, choosing partners and vendors, and making monetary contributions that support organizations that promote justice. We will welcome requests from minority – especially Black-owned – small businesses – for pro bono seats in our public leadership programs, or to arrange such a program for an organization of Black entrepreneurs, local or national. We are open to providing pro bono leadership coaching sessions to leaders of minority-owned businesses. We are happy to donate copies of my book on influence (Exercising Influence: Making Things happen at Work, at Home, and In Your Community. Wiley, 2015) to these entrepreneurs and organizations. Please let us know of leaders and organizations that could benefit.

Self-satisfaction has no place in these troubled and troubling times. Openness, outreach, risk-taking, courage, determination to change, asking for feedback, honest self-examination, invitation to others to criticize our actions and, yes, accountability – these are the behaviors we need to model if positive change is to be the result of this crisis. Welcome to the Discomfort Zone.

Change, Risk, Innovation, and Opportunity: A Way to Approach the Pandemic

Nelson Soken, Ph.D, Chief Innovation Strategist

Light Bulb: Change, Risk, Innovation

During this time, I find myself spending countless hours absorbing information about the pandemic from both a health and an economic standpoint. At times, I am emotionally drained and anxious like many of us; however, at some point, my optimistic spirit emerges and my focus moves toward a positive future, filled with opportunity.

In our Intelligent Risk-Taking, Strategic Thinking, and Managing Innovation workshops, we introduce the concept of the change formula adapted from Gleicher’s research for change (Dannemiller, K. D., and Jacobs, R. W. (1992). “Changing the Way Organizations Change: A Revolution of Common Sense.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 28(4), 480-498.)

The formula is as follows D x V x S > R ->C where:

The left side of the equation is:

D = Dissatisfaction with the status quo
V = Vision of a preferable future
S = Support for and assistance in making the change

And the right side of the equation is:

R = Risk (perceived) of the loss of tangible or intangible resources (money, opportunity, “face,” etc.)
C = Change

Thus, If D, V, and S are not present in some form, the intended change will not occur; to support and drive change in people and organizations, the strength or impact of D, V, or S must be increased, or R needs to be reduced.

Interestingly, this formula describes the typical organizational situation we face during the current COVID-19 pandemic. We have been forced into a dramatic situation where an external force (a virus) has dictated that we make dramatic health, social, and economic changes within a matter of weeks.

To respond to the current circumstances, it is critical for us to use the power of creativity and innovation. This situation requires us to “color outside the lines” in order to manage our businesses. Examples of such creativity are described in a Washington Post article by Rachel Siegel, “Cheeseburger,” (April 11, 2020) where restaurants are tapping into their supply chain contacts to do whatever it takes to generate revenue, continue operations and provide value. Some restaurants are going beyond curbside take-out orders and providing other “essentials” that customers need, such as produce, meats, and other food staples; even selling or providing toilet paper as an incentive for customer orders. In a Forbes magazine article by Jason Wingard entitled “Pandemic Pivots: These 3 Companies are Making it Work”, Wingard describes how companies have pivoted in different ways: designers making face masks, distilleries making hand sanitizer, a taco restaurant creating an “emergency kit” which includes supplies to make 40 tacos plus a free roll of toilet paper. This is innovation in a time of crisis and aligns with the old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention.” So, what does the future look like and how will we navigate it, starting right now? Read more ›

Constructive Debate? Or the Meeting after the Meeting?

Building Better Ideas BookWhy do we have to have the “meeting after the meeting,” that intense discussion about what we should have said, but didn’t. In Kim Barnes’ soon-to-be-published book, Building Better Ideas: How Constructive Debate Inspires Courage, Collaboration and Breakthrough Solutions, she begins by discussing the all-too-common scenario in which ideas and honest opinions only show up in the “meeting after the meeting.”

Kim makes a compelling case for engaging in “Constructive Debate,” an open process for considering, vetting, and improving ideas. She has compiled her experience and research in her new book, to be published in October by Berrett-Koehler. Follow the link below to read a substantial excerpt from the book.

From the excerpt:

“Organizational or team cultures that discourage disagreement and debate risk missing ideas that could transform their business results, create greater efficiency, or help them to become a great place to work, attracting the best talent. Those ideas, or the seeds of them, walk out the actual or virtual door of their company every day between the ears of team members.” #constructiveDebate, #buildingBetterIdeas

Read the excerpt on LinkedIn