“When you say, ‘uh-huh’ over and over like that, I can tell you’re not listening to me.”
Me, age 7, to my mom
It doesn’t take a lot of experience to know when someone isn’t listening. From a young age, we can tell when someone is listening and when they’re simply responding.
When we’re with the person, we notice the lack of eye contact or the blankness in their eyes showing us where their thoughts are actually at. When we’re on the phone, we hear the repetitive and monotone mumbles that tell us they’re attention is elsewhere.
Yet often, what we want most is simply to be listened to.
This is true in our personal relationships and in our relationships with the businesses and organizations we support. We want people and businesses to listen to our opinions, to understand them, and to thoughtfully respond to them.
Instead, people and businesses simply “hear” us.
There’s a big difference between listening and hearing
According to the Oxford University Press, hearing is “the faculty of perceiving sounds” while listening is “give one’s attention to a sound” and “take notice of and act on what someone says.”
As I explain to my clients, surveys, focus groups, and even in-depth qualitative research is often a Hearing exercise – the company develops a list of questions, asks their customers to answer the questions, then tabulates the answers and passes them along to whoever needs them.
This is a transaction. An exchange of information. It is not listening.
Listening requires engagement. It happens during EPIC conversations, those typified by empathy, perspective, insights, and connection.
Listening accelerates innovation and drives transformation. When we’re listening, we’re learning new information and discovering new insights, which enables companies to create and act differently, differentiating themselves from the competition and ultimately gaining an advantage.
Listening takes practice but here are 5 simple steps to help you get started:
Drop the agenda – Before you have a conversation within someone, identify the 1-3 things you need to learn and leave space for at least 1 surprise. If you go into a conversation with an agenda or a long list of questions, you’re only going to hear what you want to hear because your mind is primed to seek confirmation for your opinions and to reject anything counter to what you’re hoping to hear.
Follow where they lead – During the conversation, don’t worry about trying to steer the conversation or “keep things on track.” If you only need to learn 3 things in the conversation and you have 30 minutes or an hour, you have plenty of time for tangents, stories, and random connections. This is where the surprises and the insights come from.
Ask Why – Channel your inner two-year-old (or Toyota Production employee) and ask “Why” multiple times. When you ask “Why” you get personal, surprising answers that point to the motivations behind people’s choices and actions. When you ask “What” you get rational, expected, even obvious answers that you, and your competitors, have heard before.
Say as little as possible – Follow the 80/20 rule and spend 80% of your time listening. When you ask a question, don’t go into a long pre-amble about why you’re asking it or follow it with a long list of options or examples. Simply ask the question and the answer will come.
Let the silence work for you – After you ask a question, start counting silently in your head. Before you get to 8, the person you’re listening to will start talking. Silence makes people uncomfortable but it’s also when the brain goes into exploration and discovery mode. And the longer the silence goes on, the faster the brain works to come up with something to fill it. So, stay quiet and let the brain work!
Whether you’re talking to a customer, a colleague, or a friend, you’re talking to someone who wants you to listen, to hear and understand what they are saying. These 5 tips will help you do that and, if done well, discover something wonderful and unexpected with the power to transform.
Originally published on April 20, 2020 on Forbes.com
If you’re innovating without involving your customers, you’re wasting time and money.
I believe this so deeply that I require all of my clients to spend time talking with and listening to their customers at least once during our work together. Investing in customer research, I explain, is the single smartest and best investment that any business can make. Just 5 or 10 customer conversations can dramatically alter the course of an initiative, positioning it for incredible success or killing it before too much time, energy, and money is wasted.
Understanding your customers, especially through Jobs to be Done, is the hill I will die on.
But I actively resist doing this for my business.
The idea of interviewing my customers, or investing to understand their Jobs to be Done, or altering aspects of my business based on their feedback triggers a cold sweat and a very real flight response.
So why is my business different? (It’s not)
Why am I such a customer research hypocrite?
Here are the thoughts that run through my head when I consider talking to my own customers:
I’m supposed to be the expert in this, what if they tell me something I haven’t thought of?
What if my customers say they don’t like or want what I’m doing and would like or want something I’m not?
What if I do try something new and it fails?
It is SO much easier, and it feels so much safer, to keep doing what I’m doing because it’s what I’ve always done and it’s what bigger and more “successful” firms do.
I suspect that I’m not the only one with these thoughts.
Over the years, I’ve spoken with lots of corporate innovators who proposed customer research only to be told, “We already know what we need to know” or “we did research a few years ago, let’s just use that,” or “sure, but we don’t have the resources right now so check back next quarter.”
These reasons make sense. On the surface.
We all know that getting feedback is key to keeping customers and it’s cheaper to keep a customer than acquire a new one. We’ve heard AG Lafley, P&G’s former CEO, proclaim “the consumer is boss.” We understand that when Steve Jobs said he didn’t do customer research it was because he and his inner circle were the customers they designed for and the rest of us would catch-up.
So we come up with reasons why something else (waiting, referring to old data) is a better option. We decide with our hearts (emotions) and justify with our heads. We give logical reasons – we already know this, we’ve already done this, we can’t do this now – so that we don’t have to confess the emotional reasons – fear, discomfort, insecurity – for refusing to do something that seems like common (business) sense.
How do we overcome these emotional barriers?
How do we overcome the fear and take action?
Here’s what I’m doing:
Remember “Will the Real You Please Stand Up?” the great poem my dad gave me – “If you move with the crowd, you’ll get no further than the crowd. When 40 million people believe in a dumb idea, it’s still a dumb idea. Simply swimming with the tide leaves you nowhere.”
Find my big-girl pants. Put them on.
Take a deep breath
Write down what I want to learn, especially if it scares me
Find someone to help me do the research or, better yet, do it for me so I can avoid the emotion and engage in the insights
Do the research
Listen to and be curious about the results (if I’m defensive, I will not benefit)
Create an action plan and get moving
Honestly, I’m on step 4 and really not looking forward to 5, 6, and 7 but I know that, when this is all done, my business and I will be better off.
At the very least, I will no longer be a hypocrite.
“If you spend a lot of time in your own head, you’re spending time in a bad neighborhood.”
I was deep in a bit of worry and self-doubt when my friend uttered that sentence. Immediately, my mind conjured an image of falling gown building, boarded up doors and windows, overgrown yards, and empty streets (basically downtown Cleveland in the 1980s).
“Man, I do not want to be here!” I said, probably a bit too loudly.
Everyone I know spends a lot of time in their bad neighborhoods. It’s a consequence of the world we live in – more demands, responsibilities, and expectations running into greater uncertainty, fewer options, and weaker safety nets.
There are lots of ways to spruce up our neighborhoods, cultivating a Growth Mindset is one. In his book, Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours, author and executive coach Shirzad Chamine, lays out a powerful framework and action plan to build your Positive Intelligence by increasing your PQ (Positive Intelligence Quotient).
Why Should I Care about Positive Intelligence?
Because research proves that a high PQ creates better results
An analysis of more than 200 different scientific studies, which collectively tested more than 275,000 people, conduced that higher PQ leads to higher salary and greater success in the arenas of work, marriage, health, sociability, friendship, and creativity
Salespeople with higher PQ sell 37% more than their lower-PQ peers
Project teams managed by high-PQ managers perform 31% better
Doctors with a high PQ make accurate diagnoses 19% faster
People who demonstrated high PQ in their 20s (as evidence by journal entries) live, on average, 10 years longer
Chamine defines Positive Intelligence as “an indication of the control you have over your own mind and how well your mind acts in your best interest.” Basically, what kind of neighborhood is your mind.
PQ, your Positive Intelligence Quotient, is “the percentage of your time your mind is acting as your friend rather than your enemy.” It’s expressed on a scale of 0 to 100 and research shows that a PQ of 75 (meaning your mind is your friend, or a good neighborhood, 75% of the time) is a tipping point. “Above it, you are generally being uplifted by the internal dynamics of the mind, below it you are constantly being dragged down by those dynamics.” 80% of teams and individuals score below the tipping point.
How you can increase your PQ
People with high PQs use one or more of the following 3 strategies:
STRATEGY 1 – Weaken your Saboteurs:
Saboteurs, also called Inner Critics, are the voices, beliefs, and assumptions in your head that work against you.
There are 10 and every person has at least two actively chattering away
Judge: The “Master” Saboteur in everyone’s head. It constantly finds faults in you, others, your circumstances, and anything else it can get its hands on.
Avoider: Focuses on the positive and pleasant to avoid dealing with difficult and unpleasant tasks, conflicts, and people.
Controller: Takes charge, seeking to bend people to its will because it believes that the only way to get the best outcomes from people and situations is to control them
Hyper-Achiever: Relies on constant external rewards, recognition, and praise as a way to feel self-respect and self-validation
Hyper-Rational: Focuses on logic and reason as the sole means through which to understand people and situations, often leading to impatience or outright dismissal of anything or person deemed not logical
Hyper-Vigilant: Sees threats in every moment and is constantly on guard and preparing for the worst-case scenario
Pleaser: Seeks to gain acceptance and affection by constantly helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others
Restless: Searches for the next adventure, new thing, or adrenaline rush and distracts from the relationships and work that really matter
Stickler: Needs perfection, order, and organization to such an extent that it makes everyone anxious and uptight
Victim: Gains attention and affection by focusing on internal feelings, especially negatives ones
To weaken your saboteurs, first identify which one is currently active, then recognize the story its telling you (often, the story will seem helpful so this part is tricky), and then either call it out (“oh, it’s you again, making up stories) or thank it (“thank you for trying to keep me safe. I’ve got this.”)
STRATEGY 2 – Strengthen your Sage:
The Sage perspective is essentially the opposite of the Judge. Whereas the Judge finds everything that is (or could be wrong), the Sage accepts every single thing as a gift or opportunity.
OK, I know this sounds like some new-age woo, especially in the midst of COVID-19 and its impact on every single thing in our lives. Chamine’s C-Suite clients are skeptical of this too, which is why he teaches them the Three Gifts technique – write down the horrible thing then write down 3 ways it could turn out to be a gift or opportunity at some point in the future.
You can strengthen your Sage by using one (or more) of its 5 powers:
Empathize: When strong feelings are involved and emotional reserves are running low, picture yourself, or the person or situation causing problems, as a small child and interact with it
Explore: When the situation is complex or you want more information before making a decision, pretend to be a fascinated anthropologist and seek out info by asking questions
Innovate: When the usual answers aren’t working, adopt an innovator’s mentality greet ideas with “yes….and….”
Navigate: When faced with multiple options, “flash forward” and imagine yourself at some point in the distant future after having taken each path and consider how you feel in that future place
Activate: When your Saboteurs are in control, preempt them by writing down everything they could say and recognize, respond, and thank it.
STRATEGY 3 – Strengthen your PQ brain
Your PQ brain is comprised of the middle prefrontal cortex, the right brain, the mirror neuron system, the ACC, and the Insular Cortex (these last three areas control your empathy reaction).
Strengthening your PQ brain is as “simple” as focusing all of your attention on your physical body and/or the experience of at least one of your 5 senses, for at least 10 seconds 100 separate times per day for 21 straight days
Yes, 100 times per days sounds like a lot, so Chamine offers some tip:
During Daily routines, for example when you’re brushing your teeth, focus on the feeling of the toothbrush against your gums
While working out
Before or when you’re eating
As you listen to music
When you’re playing sports (including e-sports)
Being with friends and family
The data proves that Positive Intelligence has a real and tangible impact on your performance at work, in your relationships, and in life. This book contains a variety of case stories to show the power of Positive Intelligence in action. Even better, it offers an easy to understand framework and totally do-able approach to make Positive Intelligence work for you.
To learn more about Positive Intelligence, visit Shirzad Chamine’s site here.
Innovation doesn’t start with an idea. It starts with a problem. Sometimes those problems are easy to observe and understand but, more often, those problems are multi-layered and nuanced. As a result, you need a multi-layered and nuanced approach to understanding them.
You need to have EPIC Conversations.
EPIC stands for Empathy, Perspective, Insights, and Connection. As my clients have experienced, conversations rooted in these elements consistently produce unexpected, actionable, and impactful insights capable of getting to the root of a problem and shining a light on the path to a solution (and meaningful business results).
EMPATHY for the people with whom you’re talking
According to Brene Brown, empathy is connecting to the emotion another person is experiencing without requiring us to have experienced the same situation.”
For example, I have a friend who struggles to stay focused and deliver on deadlines. I can empathize with her because, while I have no problem focusing or delivering on deadlines, I know what it’s like to struggle with something that other people think is easy.
Take the time to connect with people’s emotions, to understand not just what they’re feeling but also why they’re feeling that way and to connect with the experiences in your life and work that led you to feel that way, too.
See things from their PERSPECTIVE:
When we’re working on something – a project, a product, even a task – it gets a great deal of our time, attention, and energy. But it can lead us to over-estimate how important the work is to others.
Instead, ask people about the topic you’re interested in AND all the topics and activities around it. Take the time to understand where the things you care about fall into your customers’ priority list
For example, when I worked on developing and launching Swiffer, all I thought about was cleaning floors. One day, we had to decide whether to source the hair for the dirt that would be used in product demos from people, yaks, or wigs. We obsessed over this decision, debating which hair would “resonate” the most with consumers. Turns out, consumers didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing the hair in the demo dirt, they only cared that it was picked up immediately by Swiffer.
Be open to INSIGHTS
Most people use conversations to get confirmation that their ideas and recommendations are good ones. They’ll spend time explaining and convincing and very little time listening. And they definitely don’t like surprises.
This is wrong. The most successful and impactful conversations as those in which you are surprised, in which you get an unexpected piece of information and has an insight, an “a-ha!” moment.
Years ago, while conducting research with people who self-identified as environmentalists, my team spoke with a woman who had the most sustainable house I’d ever seen. Everything was reused, recycled, or composted and they generated most of their own power. But, in the garage was a huge yellow HUM-V. It would have been easy to dismiss it as an anomaly, until we asked about the contradiction and she explained that the reason she owned a HUM-V was the same reason she and her family lived such a sustainable lifestyle: her highest priority was keeping her kids safe. At home, that meant doing everything possible to help the planet, but on the roads, that meant driving around in a tank.
CONNECTwith the person you’re speaking with
It’s tempting to jump right into the conversation, to ask the questions that brought you together. But that’s like proposing on the first date – you’re not going to get the answer(s) you want.
The best conversations aren’t information transactions, they’re trust building exercises. Take time to get to know each other. Make small talk, talk about the traffic and the weather, share a bit about yourself and ask about them. Throughout the conversation, share a bit about yourself, commiserate over shared frustrations, and laugh at silly stories.
By sharing a bit about yourself, the person you’re talking to will share a bit of themselves, they’ll feel comfortable admitting to things that might not make sense, and to the feelings and rationalizations that drive their behaviors.
EPIC Conversations can happen with anyone anywhere from customers in focus group rooms to employees in conference rooms. You don’t need an executive mandate to have one, so have one today and let me know how it goes!
Originally published on February 10, 2020 on Forbes.com
My Mom was a nursery-school teacher. It was more than her profession, it was her gift. Long after my sister and I were grown and out of the house, my mom chose to spend her days with 4-year olds, teaching them everything from the ABCs to how to use the WC.
Like all moms, she was an innovator. She was constantly creating something different that had impact. Admittedly, sometimes “different” was just weird and “impact” wasn’t always ideal, but it’s only just recently that I’ve realized how much my mom (probably accidentally) role-modeled the traits of a world-class innovator.
The genius of stealth prototyping
In an effort to save a bit of money, I spent the summer before business school living with my parents. One day, while folding the laundry (it took less than 20 minutes!), I found one of my Dad’s white athletic tube socks. But it wasn’t like the other white athletic tube socks. This one had three circles drawn on the bottom of it in what appeared to be black Sharpie.
“Mom, what’s up with this sock?”
“Oh, I needed a ghost puppet for school so I just used one of your dad’s socks.”
When my dad got home from work, I showed him the sock and asked if he had noticed the black circles on the foot. He had not.
Let me be very clear about what happened here:
In OCTOBER, my mom needed a ghost puppet for a Halloween lesson at nursery school
In OCTOBER, she took ONE of my dad’s socks and drew a “face” on it. Then, after using it as a puppet, threw it in the wash, refolded it with its mate, and put it back in my dad’s sock drawer
In JULY, my dad put on a pair of white tube socks (probably to go golfing) without realizing that one of them had a face on it
Proof that if you use what you’ve got to do what you need to do, management will be none the wiser.
The infectious nature of optimism
My Mom was raised by a Marine and while she went easier on us on a day-to-day basis, her standards were Marine-high when it came to weekend chores and Spring Cleaning. For example, when my sister’s boyfriend (now husband) came to visit for the first time, my Mom had me spend several hours laying on my stomach with a pair of tiny sewing scissors, trimming the entry-way rug to ensure all of its fibers were exactly the same length.
Every Saturday when we were growing up, immediately after rattling off a long list of chores to a chorus of groans and eye rolls, Mom would reassure us that “If we all work together, it will only take 20 minutes.”
We always knew it would take infinitely longer than 20 minutes. There is no way four people can clean an entire house up to Marine code standards in 20 minutes. It’s simply not possible. But despite this fact, we always hoped that this time, this time, it would only take 20 minutes.
It never took only 20 minutes. Never. But we always hoped it would.
The life-changing power of empathy
Children were drawn to my Mom. She was like the Pied Piper. Whenever we were in public, children would gravitate to her, walk beside her, wave to her. She connected with them in a way that defied explanation. So, when she passed away suddenly, it was not surprising that there were nearly as many children at her wake as there were adults.
But it was one little girl who passed on to me my mom’s final lesson.
As my dad, sister, and I shook hands, hugged, and thanked people for coming, I noticed a young girl, maybe 6 or 8 years old, standing along a wall sobbing uncontrollably. In a week filled with inconsolable people, she was the most inconsolable I’d seen. So I stepped out of line to talk to her.
I knelt in front of her and asked what was wrong (yes, it’s a stupid question but cut me some slack, I definitely did not inherit my mom’s “good with kids” gene).
“Your mom changed my life. When I was in her class, I didn’t have any friends and my parents were going to pull me out of school. But your mom heard me singing one day and she came over to sing with me. We sang together every day after that. She gave me to confidence to talk to the other kids. And now I’m still in school and I have friends and I even sing in the choir.”
My mom couldn’t sing. She was a terrible singer and she knew it (side note: I did inherit my mom’s “can’t carry a tune in a bucket” gene). But she saw a little girl in need of a friend so instead of worrying about how silly she would sound, she joined that little girl in singing a song. And, in doing so, changed a little girl’s life.
To all the Moms in my life and all the Moms in yours, Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for all that you have done for us and taught us. You are many many things, brilliant world-class innovation OGs is just one.