Office Spaced

Today’s Lesson: If you want to innovate, invite the Weird.

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Traditional office spaces suck.

Cubicle farms, desks with monitors, filing cabinets, pen cups, rolling desk chairs, grayish carpeting, etc… It is all designed to inculcate boredom and efficiency. At the same time, companies and leaders are chanting mantras of innovation, empowerment, work-life balance, transparency, etc…

These are opposing forces. Innovation does not come from maximizing efficiency and following cookie-cutter practices. Innovation is almost, by definition, messy and creative and sometimes a little destructive.

It is easy for leaders to say things like, “We want our employees to have fun and enjoy their work” but how would your top leaders react if your employees were truly embracing their creativity?

Look at your office space. Does it invite creativity? Your people might be weird but does their work space invite them to embrace their weirdness? Are they encouraged (through more than words) to pull forth the creative sides of themselves and blur the lines between “work” and “fun”?

For those companies still not ready to leave the office behind altogether and become a fluid, adaptable, remote work team operating more like a swarm than an old battleship, start by re-thinking your environment. What is weird about it? How can you encourage collaboration as creative play? How can you maximize people colliding (and thus ideas colliding) while also respecting quiet time and space for individual contemplation?

How can you make the “weird” normal and celebrate it?

Would it be weird if you walked by an office and saw a company vice-president sitting in lotus-pose on top of her desk, meditating?

Would it be weird if you were in a meeting where the notes and ideas were being jotted down in multi-colored crayons and pictures instead of words?

Would it be weird if two grown adults went running by your office after you heard someone shout, “Tag! You’re it!”

Would it be weird if you saw someone sprawled out on the floor, head on a pillow, taking a 15-minute nap in their office?

We do not associate any of those things to productivity but I challenge you to consider play, creativity, and rest to be the essence of productivity. The most innovative ideas of our time have not come from project management spreadsheets and TPS reports. They have come as flashes of insight, often in someone’s garage while they are tinkering, or as a result of a conversation in a bar, or having just awakened from a dream, or simply from quiet time in the bathroom (we all know we do some of our best stinking thinking there).

The obvious place to start encouraging the weird is in your office space itself. What would make your team excited to visit their work space each day? What can we do, as leaders, to have our team go home and talk about work and share their passion with their friends and on their social media (as opposed to sharing all the negative parts)?

Here are 3 easy ways to start. You certainly do not have to adopt this list but it might get your inner weirdness to perk up.

1. Look at the obvious and already successful model for inviting productivity and collaboration: Starbucks (or any local coffee-house). Starbucks is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think “weird” but it was the very fact that they were weird that made them famous. A coffee-house is weird in a good way. It has an open floor plan with often kitschy or eccentric local art and decor that invites conversation.

A coffee-house is a central place where people gather and chat while also working. There are tabletops of varying sizes for both group and individual work, couches centered around coffee tables, mellow upbeat music, coffee, tea, wi-fi, and plenty of places to both plug-in and unplug, not to mention outdoor seating. How many of your team members would appreciate some outside time on a warm, breezy day? With laptops, tablets, and smartphones at our disposal, why does work still happen in dreary, dark corners as if it is something shameful, to be hidden away from the light of day?

2. Replace leather office chairs and fake mahogany tables in conference rooms with end tables surrounded by bean bag chairs and Indian-style sitting pillows. Make sure each chair is a different color or type than the rest. If sitting on the floor is too icky for you, then go with high top tables and bar stools. Just get away from looking like a bunch of lawyers discussing politics.

3. If removing most office walls is out of the budget, consider painting them different colors. Have a red wall, a blue wall, a yellow wall. Splash other colors on them. Encourage your team to write their favorite lines of lyrics or poetry on the walls or paint pictures on them if they are artistically inclined. Free, local art! Create an environment both your team and your clients will go home talking about.

There are plenty of ways to make work better for everyone. Go nuts with embracing the weirdness secretly residing in your people, begging to be let out.

Make a nap room full of nothing but big durable pillows.

Make sure there are chairs, pencils, crayons, and swaths of paper or writing boards in the hallways for spontaneous meetings.

Instead of motivational posters, decorate the halls with dry erase boards to capture ideas or share stories as people walk by.

Play games. Instead of a project update meeting every Monday morning, how about a board game meeting every Monday morning?

Make your office pet friendly. How many employees would love to bring their dogs or cats to work? It is definitely a hassle but worth the joy on most faces when the pets come to visit their area (those who are allergic can avoid the pets or be told upfront that the office is pet friendly, or they can work outside).

 

You get the idea.

If you want innovation, start by inviting the space to be innovative. If you want boring, predictable, drab, mediocre results, then by all means make your business look like every other business… and you will be just like them.

 

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Don’t Marry Outcomes

By not being tied to a specific result, you might achieve surprisingly better results.

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Yesterday, I shared my story of winning a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone that was supposed to arrive as an S5 smartphone (an older model). I was pleasantly surprised by the upgrade, which was a little thank you for my patience when they lost the one that was supposed to be sent.

In thinking more about it today, I realize I could have been upset that a Note 4 arrived. After all, I won an S5. Before the Note 4 arrived, Samsung sent an electric wine bottle opener–also a cool gift–and although it was not an S5, I was accepting of it as well. I had actually given up hope for the S5, so when the Note 4 arrived, it was a big surprise.

Think about how this applies to other areas, though, like work goals. Sometimes we can be so focused on hitting a particular target that we miss the benefits of an unintended success. I often explain to my team if they focus on the Quality of their sales, then the Quantity will come automatically. The team members who understand this idea tend to excel. The ones who struggle, focusing on how many sales they have instead of how good each sale is from the customer’s experience, tend to feel disappointed and frustrated with their results. At the very least, they are missing out on making more money than they would otherwise.

 

Today’s lesson: Sometimes if you shoot for the stars, you might hit the moon. Or if you are expecting the moon, you might win a sailboat–unexpected surprises happen.

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Today’s Lesson: The Zen of Success [140829]


I am proud to have a team that regularly outperforms teams double its size in arguably better markets with more tenured staff. My team performs at a high level regardless of moving targets, staffing adjustments, market changes, or customer traffic patterns. I attribute much of our success to two things, and I was reminded of these today while speaking to a peer: Patience and Persistence. Here is how it works:

Patience: I distill information. It is rare for me to make a decision without analyzing available data and asking for input from my team leaders. Even when I am not directing a team, this is true. For example, I read lots of books on leadership but I throw most of the information out. It is not all relevant to my style of leadership and some of it is plain bad (one popular example is the idea of “servant leadership“–an oxymoron that makes great copy but is meritless as an actual principle). When a directive is delivered to me, I do not necessarily pass it on to my team untarnished. I examine the core value of the message, decide if it is right for us and how the team can best ingest it, and then act in alignment with our team values.

An easy way to kill team effectiveness is by delivering conflicting messages. That is why it is important to be a filter for the information coming in. I once worked for a company that had, as one of its core values, “Empower employees” yet required employees to complete a requisition form for the most basic office supplies, even Paper Mate cheap ball point pens–if you wanted one, you were “empowered” to fill out a form. Of course, the irony of that was lost on no one… except the head of HR.

Persistence: I take the long view. I have learned that everybody wants something and they want it now but that is almost never a path to sustainable success. In personal affairs or in business, we deal with agendas. Family, friends, coworkers, bosses, vendors, television news anchors, brands, even our pets have an agenda and they all want you to follow theirs.

Instead, I stick to my team’s agenda, deliver the results we are focused on despite distractions and requests coming at us (distill the information), and ensure we are operating within our team values and principles. If we understand the overall mission we have been charged with (which is usually closer to “grow the business” than it is to “we need to sell more widgets now, now, now!”), then it is easier to quiet the noise, take the long view, and follow our agenda.

In a more than 20-year old company, my team has quietly become the fifth most consistent performing team in only 3 years and we continue a quiet but steady rise. Sometimes we are recognized but usually we don’t make big splashes; we just continue to do well and try to improve day by day. We never seek magic bullets and we do not compromise our team values of Integrity, Honesty, and Trust.

If there is a secret Leadership club where all the popular leadership skills are passed out to every author basically re-writing the same book, I was not invited. I have figured out a few things, though, by simply being persistent and patient. It takes persistence to seek information, edit what does not fit and find those little nuggets that change everything. It takes patience to walk, not run, when others are screaming “fire!” and you know that keeping your team on task sometimes is the task.

Whether in business or personal success, I can tell you patience and persistence always pay off.

 

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Today’s Lesson: How To Get Immediate Results [140819]

My team won a sales contest. We received accolades, which was nice, and a few of my peers asked what I did to help drive results so fast.

My answer: “Nothing.”

When it comes to leading a team, there is no such thing as “immediate results” (except maybe in the case of an actual emergency like a building fire or earthquake).

The contest happened to be luckily timed but the actual coaching and conversations with my team around selling those products began about 3 or 4 weeks earlier. It was just finally paying off.

It’s fun to imagine that when I say “Jump!”, people just do it, but in truth, I wouldn’t want that type of team anyway. A team that jumps without questioning might quickly find themselves on the wrong side of a steep cliff.

So as far as getting immediate results, as with most fad diets, the only plan that works fast is temporary, unsustainable, and produces bad results or no results over the long run.

Take the long road. It is sometimes frustratingly harder or slower… but in the end, it just works.

 

 

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Today’s Lesson: How To Make Diamonds Out of Goal [140815]

Whether leading yourself or others, sometimes you have to ask for more than you think is possible to find out what actually is possible.

You have to put the pressure on to deliver unreasonable results. I learned this over and over when training for my black belt. I was frequently more surprised than my instructors by what I could do. They knew I had it in me but until they pushed me (sometimes literally) I did not know what I was able to accomplish.

I was reminded of this today when a peer summed up a story I told about coaching one of my team members past their perceived limits so they could find bigger success than they knew they were capable of.

He said, “Right. No pressure; no diamonds.”


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