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Making it in an AND world

Making it in an AND world
By Peter Stonefield, PhD

Jack F. Product Manager, Sun Microsystems described his current challenge this way. “I used to be able to keep my head down and focus on my product and proprietary technologies in US markets. No more! Now I must do that and think globally about end-to-end solutions embracing open technologies. Where solutions used to be simple and easy to put together they are now complex, difficult and very expensive to support. I used to deal primarily with my own engineering group, finance, operations, a few suppliers, sales and outbound marketing. Now I work with all those plus several other groups including alliance partners and service. Most of my focus and energy used to be devoted to the product launch. Now, I must do the research, formulate strategy, define the product, synchronize development with partners, launch and end the life of products, all in less than three years.

My three biggest challenges? Getting and keeping alignment around a shared vision across all those boundaries, driving for results with out escalating every issue, reacting quickly to competitive moves and keeping up with the knowledge.”

We are in the most innovative and integrative period in history. Everything seems to be converging at warp speed. Digital technologies, communications technologies, biotechnologies and nano or molecular technologies are integrating-creating unparalleled opportunities for further innovation in every facet of life. New products and services are emerging, connecting, converging and evolving into more and more complete and complex solutions. Organizations, products and services swarm around opportunities and become shape shifting “virtual corporations”. Increasingly, individuals are confronted with blurred organizational boundaries and responsibilities, explosions of new knowledge, staggering increases in complexity and rapid change. Where results used to depend primarily on your effectiveness within a specialization or technology, now you must be effective there and at the interface with multiple domains. Success now depends on specialized knowledge, contextual knowledge and knowledge of other domains. Since no one can be sufficiently expert in all these areas, accessing and leveraging the knowledge of others is crucial.

You need to be both “Specialist” and “Generalist”, effective as an individual contributor, knowledge Seeker, knowledge Source and Collaborative Leader. Work well in situations that are concrete, technical or black and white and in big picture situations full of ambiguities, contradictions and complexity. All of which, takes different mindsets.

Job stability and predictability are no longer reasonable assumptions. You can no longer rely on past experience alone. No one can tell you exactly what to do in the novel environments you will find yourself in. There are no exact role models, detailed road maps or blueprints. It's an AND world and you must co-evolve with it. The only long term sustainable competitive advantage is to become personally agile -- adaptive and effective across a broad spectrum of people, boundaries and situations.

Much has been written about how to lead and navigate in uncertain, turbulent times. We are instructed to find our passion and follow it. Develop collaborative skills. Be flexible. Learn how to learn. Learn how to unlearn. Think differently. Do these seven things, practice these twelve steps. Hold these five values. Know thyself. Build on your strengths. Downplay or ignore your weaknesses. The list grows daily. From this advice, the solution to an AND world seems to be more ANDs—longer “do better” lists.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with most of the advice. But the systems engineer in me thinks these advisors are getting lost in the trees and not seeing the critical leverage point. The problem with much of the advice is that people are creatures of habit who behave more or less automatically. For example, passion is crucial. But, people are often the least flexible about what they are most passionate about. People over identify with what they are passionate about. When obstacles emerge they get reactive, defensive and less effective. Finally, passion unaligned with a larger purpose can be counter-productive.

For example, the keep your head down mindset of the ”Doer” keeps them from occasionally looking up to see and maintain alignment with strategic changes. “Mr. Right” can’t be wrong, no matter what the facts show. A “Commander” may want to listen, but can’t pause long enough for others to feel understood. A “Problem Solver” can’t stop the impulse to tell others what and how to do things, even when their intention is to develop other people’s problem solving skills. A “Quick Thinker” continues to be impatient and dismissive with those who can’t keep up; even though it alienates the very people whose help and support they need to be successful. An “Amiable” can’t tell it like it is because someone may get upset with them. We all have habitual behavioral patterns that override our conscious control. The central issue is how do we become more agile and adaptive when we can’t regulate our old habitual ways of thinking and doing?

Passionate Detachment

So you guessed it, I’m going to add one more AND to the list. However, this is a Meta AND, a leverage point, one that enables easier execution of other ANDs. Practice ‘passionate detachment’.

Passion, guided by purpose, provides the energy, commitment and persistence to leap and make things happen in the face of obstacles. But, passion also creates blind spots and unproductive conflict. Detachment gives you the perspective and self control to more objectively understand situations, make better decisions and take more effective and acceptable actions. But, detachment can lead to disinterest and appear as indifference.

When you converge passion and detachment you get the upside of both without the downsides. A mindset emerges in which passionate commitment and objective detachment oscillate. You can momentarily pause your passion and at the same time remain passionately committed to your intention. Breeding the energy, drive and persistence of passion with the objectivity and flexibility of detachment enables you to adapt your strategy to changing situations and remain aligned with purpose. Think about it as recombining psychological DNA or psychological sex.

With ‘passionate detachment’, “Mr. Right” can be passionate about coming up with the right answer and detached enough to include the ideas of others. The “Quick Thinker” can be quick and patient enough to let others contribute. The “Problem Solver” can pause the impulse to tell others how to do things, and enlarge the problem to include developing other people’s problem solving skills. The “Individual Contributor” can function individually and as a collaborative leader.

But, that’s not all. ‘Passionate detachment’ facilitates the emergence of new adaptive “success strategies” with mindsets that complement your existing strengths. Take the case of Joe M. a Senior Staff engineer for a major computer company. Joe was focused and passionate about improving system reliability. He was recognized for his extraordinary technical skills and his ability to deliver results. When faced with obstacles, he intellectually and passionately overpowered anything in his path. His metaphorical image of his style was a fire breathing “Tyrannosaurus Rex” flaming anything in his path. As the “T REX”, he demanded more of himself and others, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. His “T REX’s” mantra, “There is always a way to get it done.”

A few years ago, Joe came face to face with the new AND world. New strategic partners and technologies, and other organizational changes introduced new complexities and challenges to his work. Joe’s success depended much more on his ability to engage engineers throughout the company as well as from partnering organizations to follow his technical lead. As Joe quickly discovered, the engineers and managers of these other groups often had different priorities. Joe’s fire breathing “T REX” was burning bridges as quickly as they were built. As Joe’s “T REX” put it, “I have no time for idiotic politics and little patience with engineers who can’t grasp high level technical analysis.”

Practicing ‘passionate detachment’ changed everything. He could step back from his “T REX” and consider alternative strategies without losing his passionate commitment to deliver results. With a little coaching, he began appreciating the support he did get. He also began to spend more of his time sensing the challenges and priorities of other groups and relating his proposals to their challenges. “At first the focus on understanding other people’s world and creating a shared vision felt awkward and foreign-not like me. It felt like a “Deer” in the woods constantly aware of its surroundings. My impatient “T REX” flamed it at first. However, as other groups started to show more interest and began to invite my participation, my “T REX” became more manageable.”

With ‘passionate detachment’ Joe now has the passion of the “T REX” and the sensitive mindset and quickness of the “Deer.” A few months later, people started to experience Joe differently. They began to respect and appreciate the drive of his “T REX.” Some were even drawn to it. In effect, Joe bred the “T REX” and the “Deer” to create a new, more adaptive species, the “Endeering-T REX.” The “Endeering-T REX” identification became the platform for his new roles as “Collaborative Leader” and “Thought Leader.” Passionate detachment can turn you into a stem cell that can grow in any direction, yet you remain in control of the direction and degree of change.

With ‘passionate detachment’ the mindsets of the “Specialist,” “Generalist,” “Collaborative Leader,” “T REX,” “Deer,” “Commander” and any other emergent AND can live in your tool kit of complementary situational “success strategies.”

In today’s AND world, success is driven by how agile, resourceful and adaptive you are. Your capacity to show up in any situation, accurately sense and effectively respond. In biology there is a Law of Requisite Behavior. It states that cells that organize themselves with the greatest range of effective behavioral responses will not only have the greatest chance of survival, but will lead the other cells. ‘Passionate detachment’ increases your range of effective responses.

Peter Stonefield, BSEE, MA, PhD. www.slgllc.com is President of Stonefield Learning Group, consultant, psychologist, speaker and the author of numerous articles. Doctor Stonefield was an electronic engineer, marketing director and sales executive for the Bunker-Ramo Corporation.

He has successfully completed over 150 consulting engagements, created more than 20 different training and development programs and coached over 100 executives for organizations like Apple Computer, Baxter Laboratories, Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, US Government, PPG, SBC and Sun Microsystems. He has facilitated the development of 10 knowledge leveraging "Communities of Practice" in engineering and marketing organizations. He was the principal consultant to the winner of the President's Quality Award for Managing Change.

He recently drafted a computing vision for Sun Microsystems. His is currently launching Agile Communications™- a breakthrough interpersonal communications system and leadership development program promising -- "Effectiveness-Anytime, Any Place, and any Situation"™ .

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