Max McKeown

#NOW: A book review

There is a small sliver of time in which everything happens. It’s that narrow bridge between the past and the future called “now”. Now is the only space of time any of us has. Not what was, not what will be, simply now. Every action happens in the now. We can have hope or anxiety about what will be, fondness or depression about what was, but we experience life right now.

What we did yesterday determined where we are today and what we do today creates the path to the tomorrow. Imagine a Venn diagram with two overlapping rings (or just look at the image of the book cover). The one on the left is the past, the right is the future, and the overlapping middle represents Now. Hold on to that image – it’s about to become important.

Behavioral strategist Max McKeown, Ph.D. has written several notable books on innovation, strategy, adaptability, and operating at our potential. It’s no secret I am a big fan of his writing style and ability to apply academic rigor to complex subjects while making them easy to understand and actionable.  Simply put, I was very excited to receive a review copy of his latest book: #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now.

#NOW is a fairly quick read yet thorough and well documented. It pulled me in and carried me along, yet is substantial enough to warrant considerable time thinking about each page and sentence. When I first received the book, I initially meant to read the intro and flip through a few pages, but the next thing I knew, a couple of hours had passed and the pages were filled with sticky flags, highlighter marks, and handwritten notes.

“This book argues that for most people, most of the time, it is better to lean towards action rather than inaction… This is a book about the joy of moving. It is a book about motivation, because motivation means to be moved.” ~ from the introduction

#NOW explores the world from the perspectives of two types of people: Nowists and Thenists. The book is not a critique of the Thenist approach, nor is it a self-indulgent dissertation on the author’s approach to life and how everyone should be like him (gag). Instead, it’s an exploration of the two perspectives, the benefits of the Nowist approach, and how any of us can bring more of being a Nowist into our own lives. More than just a book of fluffy, happy platitudes, the concepts are demonstrated through real life examples, case studies, and research.

“The past is what you can’t change. The future is what you can change. #NOW is where everything changes.” ~ from the introduction

So what is a Nowist? They are change hungry doers who thrive on moving forward. They know what they are moving towards, embrace uncertainty, expect good things to happen, use internal measures of happiness, revel in potential, test themselves, and seek to master new skills. Think back to the Venn diagram I mentioned. Nowists build off the past while moving to the future.

Nowists precrastinate (think about that for a bit) and love to keep things rolling forward. They are active within their own lives and “believe that done is better than perfect.” Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters summed this approach up well when he once said, “I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be bad ass.” He was talking about making authentic music where the unique human imperfections are a strength, but the philosophy applies to living life.

There is an old motocross racing adage that sums up an important part of the Nowist approach: When in doubt, gas it! A healthy dose of throttle does not help in every situation, but it’s amazing how often it will be the saving grace that settles things down and propels you through when the track gets ugly or you lose control. Similarly, the Nowist approach values impulsiveness. Not the reckless, thoughtless, kneejerk impulsiveness of an immature teenager, but the functional impulsivity that comes from analyzing and deciding quickly and then moving forward with full commitment, correcting as you go.

Nowists strive to make decisions that are both accurate and fast. They realize that more time spent on a decision doesn’t necessarily improve accuracy, that moving forward with a good enough decision is better than getting trapped in inaction trying to make a perfect decision. So often, we treat speed and accuracy as mutually exclusive even though they clearly aren’t. It’s just as possible to make a quick, accurate decision as it is to spend a lot of time coming to the wrong decision. Why spend more time than necessary identifying and moving forward with the right solution? Further, action enables us to evaluate and refine our decisions as we go. Movement gives us information that can never be gained from inaction.

“Get moving. Accomplish something small. Do something you enjoy. Embrace what moves you. And start again.” – p. 48

Except… well, often easier said than done. Slow can feel prudent (even when it isn’t) and fast can feel reckless (even when it isn’t). Adding complexity can feel smart (even when it isn’t) and simplifying can feel lazy (even when it isn’t). Overanalyzing and overcomplicating seems like high effort and hard, valuable work (but only when we value the perception of struggle over actual results).

If you’re not a natural born Nowist, how do you make the switch? Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us a body at rest stays at rest unless acted upon. Habits and mindet hold us in place. How do you let go of the inertia of inaction?

Although the Nowist approach is contrasted with Thenist, it’s not either or. No matter where we are currently on the spectrum, we can all shift and adopt a more Nowist approach. We can start using the behaviors and mindset and create the joy of possibility and action and creating new in our lives.

Across and throughout 230 pages, #NOW provides the ideas, actions, and tools to make the shift. I fear my summary of the Nowist approach sounds a bit idealist and esoteric. The book is very focused on the practical application of the research behind the ideas.

For me, #NOW provided a fresh perspective on important ideas and served as a much needed reminder and inspiration to keep moving forward, to emphasize action as much as analysis, and seek joy in the process.

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Unshrink (Book Review)

(Note: over the next week or two I’m going to revisit and repost some of my favorite books I’ve reviewed. This one originally appeared on November 27, 2012.) 

 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? ~ Marianne Williamson

 

I cannot tell you that Unshrink is the most important book you’ll read this year. I can tell you that it’s one of the most important books I read this year. It expresses, challenges, and expands thoughts and ideas about unbinding and unleashing humans and business and allowing us to expand and grow beyond our current constraining beliefs.

We are limited. Reduced. Operating so far below our potential because of the myths that we have believed, accepted, and perpetuated. We don’t need to expand our potential, we need to shed the myths that keep us shrunken and small so we can expand into the enormous potential awaiting us. We have the tremendous opportunity (obligation?) to unshrink ourselves, others, business, and the world.

That’s the premise of Unshrink by Max McKeown and Philip Whiteley. First published in 2002, I just came across it this year and have read it twice so far. It’s no secret that I’m an enthusiastic fan of Max McKeown – his books are consistently thought provoking, accessible, practical, and enjoyable to read – and this book is no different. At only 116 pages (133 with notes), Unshrink is also a quick read – assuming you can get through it without filling the margins with notes, which I couldn’t.

Why, though? Why unshrink? At the individual level, it’s painful to see (or be) someone hobbling themselves with the shackles of misguided myths about who they are and who they should be. Us humans are so amazing yet consistently play so small. Our potential is there yet we ignore it, dispute it, deny it.

Now expand that out. Businesses, communities, and countries are made up of individuals. When individuals are constrained below their potential so are the groups they are a part of. Businesses are less competitive and less profitable. Communities are more dysfunctional, less likely to attract newcomers. Countries, fueled by the soundness of communities and commerce, are likewise as restrained, hobbled, and shrunk as the individuals.

We often confuse short term spikes in performance measures with actual sustainable results. We think in terms of all or nothing. If a little of something is good, then an extreme amount must be extremely good. Yet, life consistently shows that few things are all or nothing. There is always a tradeoff based on points of diminishing returns.

The authors focus on replacing seven common, deep-seated myths with guiding principles. The myths are so familiar and entrenched that they are generally unquestioned as common sense. Yet, they are not common sense and rarely stand up to the light of real-world outcomes. The myths may have had truth in them at one time or been useful in a limited capacity, but have become dangerous when pushed to the all or nothing extremes. Better than an unquestioned myth is an adaptable principle.

Without giving too much away, the myth of “you are what you do” becomes the principle “you are what you can become”. It sounds like such a small shift, but is key to unshrinking ourselves. The myth of “work always comes first” is replaced with the real-world observable principle “life always comes first”. Holding to the extremes of the myths shrinks us and keeps us shrunk. The principles enable us to unshrink and expand.

Common management theories are driven by the myth that “organizations are machines.” Under this myth, people become easily and equally replaceable cogs, gears, and parts. Leading with this belief means stripping out our humanness, our individual strengths and weaknesses, our passions, and all the things that make us unique in order to make us conform into parts that really are the same. This comes at tremendous cost at both the individual and organizational level.

Replacing that horrible myth with the more accurate principle that “the organization is a community”. Thinking about it as a community means understanding that our differences can be important and valuable, each person’s contributions are unique, and each member of the community is interdependent with – not separate from – every other member. False rigidity is replaced with organic fluidity. The illusion of control is replaced with the power of influence. Machines are built, but communities are fostered. Machines are static and soon outdated; communities dynamic and ever changing and evolving. Machines break down, yet communities adapt.

There is much more. The authors delve into four other myths and principles aimed at unshrinking ourselves, others, and our businesses. All are worth more time and attention that I can offer here.

This book is for those who see that we operate below our potential, who are discouraged by the artificial separation between people and business, who imagine and hope for better. The authors conclude: We have been brought up to believe that there is always a trade-off or a choice between doing that which is good and that which leads to success. Such an assumption is wrong, and this is a tremendously liberating realization.

Your thoughts?

The Innovation Book: a completely biased unreview

The Innovation Book by Max Mckeown (@maxmckeown) was announced this week. You might know that I’m a big fan of Max’s books and his ability to distill huge concepts down into useful ideas. For me, a review of any of his books could be done as: “Max wrote it? Buy it, read it, use it, love it.” But this book is a bit special to me.

I have a strong interest innovation, but in our over-hyped, over-jargoned, over-#hashtagged world, the word loses meaning. It’s open to mis-interpertation, mis-use, and just plain missing the mark. Too often, we confuse innovation with technology or a direct line to profitability. We think of it as easy and straight-forward and talk about it as though it comes without cost or pain or failure. None of which is true.

The opening line of the first chapter brings some much needed clarity: “Innovation – or practical creativity – is mainly about making new ideas useful.” Practical creativity. Businesses like the results that come from successful innovation, but how many can stomach the process of innovation? It amuses me to think of business leaders telling their teams and divisions, “We need to be more practically creative if we’re going to stay competitive.” It’s true, of course, but creativity is a non-linear process full of starts, stops, failures, break downs, blind alleys, and happy accidents. It requires experimentation, iteration, and comfort with not knowing where things are leading. It means activity, decisions, and actions that may not pay off any time soon – certainly not this quarter – and requires a mindset of investing in the future. It requires giving up the known for unknown and business dogma for business heresy. That leader might as well say, “We need to spend more time and resources experimenting with ideas that might not work if we’re going to stay competitive.”

But we do want innovation, so how do we put practical creativity to good use? The Innovation Book is both guide book and user manual. Across the book’s six parts, it looks at how to increase your own ability to be more innovative, create environments and cultures to lead others to innovation, refine creative ideas into practical usefulness, and avoid the pitfalls that can prevent new ideas from never quite catching on.

The book shows examples of innovation winners – generally uncelebrated people and businesses whose new ideas pushed the world forward in often unglamorous ways. From non-stick cookware to feminine hygiene to medical products to corporate turnarounds, Max shows that innovation is so much more than being the next hot Silicon Valley startup.

On the flipside, we learn from examples of innovation losers – people and businesses at the tops of their games who painfully missed, ignored, or outright rejected changes in their industries they should have been leading. Money, technology, and a name brand don’t always lead to useful ideas, smart decisions, or happy endings.

The final section of the book is a tool kit with a couple dozen innovation models presented to provide guidance, frameworks, and different ways of thinking about and approaching innovation. As much as we humans might crave the One Right Answer and want the Five Point Plan For Guaranteed Success, the models are a useful reminder that there is no single way to approach innovation and no certainty of success. There are many, many approaches to choose from as you explore the unmapped areas of new ideas.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide an unbiased review because, well, I am biased about this book. I gave input on two pre-publication drafts and developed and facilitated a six-session class based on the book while the text was still being revised and updated (I wrote about the experience: here and here). The best review I can give for the book is to share an endorsement I provided for it: Strips big ideas down to their essence, making the complicated understandable and turning the theoretical into real-world practical.

In other words: Max wrote it. Buy it, read it, use it, love it.

lessons from experimenting with innovation

I get sick of hearing about innovation. It’s too buzzwordy; there’s too much noise around it and far too many misconceptions. Yet, wherever an old idea isn’t working, wherever a new idea would work better, we need more innovation. We really need less talk and more action, but telling people to “go be innovative” doesn’t work.

I recently wrote about a class I put together around the soon-to-be-published The Innovation Book from Max Mckeown (@maxmckeown). Not only did the class help people in my organization better understand how to bring innovation and creativity into their own jobs, but by playing with class format and location it served as an experiment for me about learning and development.

Over the six session class we held sessions in two common conference rooms and one out-of-the-way board room, hosted a session on WebEx, had a Twitter chat, and met up in a city park. There were pros and cons to each format but board rooms have an oppressive/stuffy/stifling feel, technical difficulties devolved the WebEx session into a slightly more painful than normal conference call, user inexperience with Twitter kept two from participating in the chat, and I didn’t give good directions so two people got lost on the way to the park. Failure, right?

Not a bit, because I learned some important things along the way:

  • People want to experiment. They want to play and try new things. Not everyone, but more than we generally think. They are looking for permission; signs that it’s ok to tinker and tweak.
  • People want to be successful. No one wants to fail and a lot of the fear around change and trying new things is simply fear of failure. So, it’s important to let people know that it’s an experiment and you know that some of it won’t work the first (or second or third) time out. Keep a sense of humor about it and be transparent when it doesn’t work. Then use that to fuel better discussions.
  • People can deal with ambiguity if they aren’t concerned about 100% success right from the start. Remove blame and turn it into a journey where everyone’s in it together and they are more than happy to join in.
  • People confuse innovation with computer magic worked by geniuses with big budgets. No surprise then that they don’t know how to bring innovation into their jobs. But, they are pretty comfortable with figuring out how to make new ideas practical (The Innovation Book’s definition of innovation) or finding new uses for existing ideas.
  • Location matters. A lot. There isn’t a single perfect location and each has its own distinctive feel. I can’t help be wonder what would happen if teams experimented with meeting locations. How might that affect participation, creativity, idea development, information flow, etc.?

It turns out that just talking about innovation isn’t the same as experiencing experimentation. I’d do this class again in a heartbeat and I’d push and twist the formats and locations even further to help participants get even more comfortable with play, change, stretching comfort zones, and stuff just not working out as planned. Innovation is a creative process so it’s not static, it’s not linear, and it’s not formulaic.

So why do we try so hard to pretend otherwise?

(Note: this was originally posted on brocedwards.com)

a walk in the park

Cool crisp morning air. Mist blanketing the river. Lush lawns and trees in full bloom. It felt great being outside, walking around in the large park, watching the world ease into the day. Soon the participants for the class I was leading on innovation would be arriving. Walking along the river I noticed how different my mood and thoughts were than when waiting for meetings and classes in conference rooms and I wondered why, why, why do we tend to always hold meetings indoors, in the same rooms, always sitting down? After all, my best thoughts usually come when I’m outside walking, running, or cycling.

The class itself was simple enough: a one-hour class once a week for six weeks based around a prepublished version of Max Mckeown’s (@maxmckeown) forthcoming The Innovation Book. It’s no secret that Max is one of my favorite business writers and I admire his ability to compress huge ideas into simple sentences and shift abstract theory into real-world practicality. So, little surprise that I jumped at the chance to build a class around his newest book.

I currently work in the banking industry and banking and innovation are almost mutually exclusive terms. Customers tend to prefer their local bank being conservative, safe, and solid, which means that those who do well at the local bank tend to be, well, conservative, safe, and solid. Yet, there is a huge need and desire for being innovative, so this class was a great chance to introduce, clarify, and play with ideas around creativity and innovation.

When I laid out the class, I simply divided it into one session for each of the book sections. I used the book as backbone for the course and then added other articles and video relevant to innovation and the banking industry to further help participants bring the ideas into their daily life. The reading served as pre-work for the class sessions and the sessions focused on discussion and practical application. Pretty straight forward.

Yet, if we were discussing innovation why not use the class itself to demonstrate creativity, experimentation, stretching comfort zones, etc.? I warned the participants from the start that the class itself was an experiment and we played heavily with format and location. That’s where it got interesting.

We did two sessions in convenient conference rooms, one in a conference room in an out of the way location, one on WebEx, one as a Twitter chat, and one in a city park. From this I learned, re-learned, and confirmed changing location changes how we think and interact.

WebEx. This was a challenge to myself. I hate webinars and most online training. My attention span is too short and I get bored and just don’t pay attention. Yet, our employees are spread out over a three-hour footprint and the logistics of simply getting people together for meetings or training can be near impossible. My previous experiences as a participant on WebEx (GoTo meetings, etc.) weren’t positive, but I wanted to see if we could make it useful. The results were mixed. Some had technical problems and it completely lost the conversational feel, yet it did save travel time. Would I do it again? Maybe.

Twitter chat. I’d never seen a class done as a Twitter chat so I was excited to try it out. Banks in general don’t do social media well and NO ONE in the class was familiar with Twitter. A few had accounts but didn’t use them. The rest were starting from scratch. I provided some basic information to get started and asked them to play with it enough to be able to participate. I emphasized that it wasn’t about loving Twitter, it was simply about trying something new. One couldn’t figure it out at all (despite being very familiar with Facebook), two had issues because their privacy settings prevented anyone from seeing their responses, and the rest had a great time. Max was even able to join in on the class. Given the technical difficulties I can’t call it a resounding success, BUT the experience created a ton of discussion in the next class about experimentation, technology, customer experience and learning curves, etc.

Outdoors. It was surprising how much my mood and thinking changed by walking around outside. I heartily encourage doing this at every opportunity, particularly when trying to brainstorm and generate new ideas. Can’t do outside? Great, find a way to walk inside, change locations, or just hold the meeting in a room you never normally use. Do something – anything – different.

Next Time

If I did the class again, I’d play even more heavily with format and location. I’m not convinced that WebEx, Twitter, or a city park are the best places to hold every class or meeting BUT location served a fantastic role in demonstrating experimentation, taking risks, failing and learning, and giving little nudges (and shoves) toward the edges of people’s comfort zones.

Which is the whole point.

(note: this was originally posted at brocedwards.com)

new ideas wanted, creativity not allowed

Good and bad is rarely as black and white as movies depict. Simple distinctions make for easy storytelling, but miss the sloppymessines of humanity. Strengths and weakness are rarely opposites – it’s not one or the other, but one with the other.

I recall reading a sci-fi book as a teenager where humans had crated enormous self-contained and mobile cities – rolling fortresses. For protection and law and order, the computers controlling the cities had been programmed to expel undesirables. Convicted criminals were expelled first, then those with criminal tendencies, then those who might be commit crimes under the right circumstances (say, stealing bread to feed their starving children), then… Soon the cities were empty of all people.

Life is mostly grey, rarely black and white, and insisting on clear divisions carries consequences. The other day, Max Mckeown (@maxmckeown) noted this on twitter, saying: Removing troublemakers may also squeeze out idea creators… There is a lot in that simple sentence. The line between troublemaker and creator is blurry at best. Under the right circumstances creators are often considered troublemakers – they ask questions (sometimes very inconvenient questions), reject the status quo, suggest other solutions, ignore politics and power base, have little regard for tradition and legacy, etc. They can be a real thorn in the sides of those who like things just so and it would be easy to expel the useful with the counterproductive.

It’s a brilliant and important reminder that us humans don’t all fit into neat shinyhappy boxes and our strengths can come at a cost. In his book Dangerous Ideas, Alf Rehn (@alfrehn) noted that many companies say they want creativity and innovation, but they really don’t. Sure, they want the benefits of designing the next hit product, but they aren’t prepared to deal with the idiosyncrasies of creative people. It’s as though “creativity” is viewed as a skill that can be produced on demand and then put away when not needed rather than a completely different perspective and thinking process.

I suspect that often, leaders are excited about bringing really creative, innovative, daring, visionary people on board. Early on, they produce some really great ideas so we ignore their quirks, but after a while their eccentricities and unwillingness to be confined to the neat and tidy “employee” box stops being cute and starts to hurt their careers. So the leaders who were so excited about having creative, idea generators on board are soon expelling them. Or the creative folks get tired of rigid walls and move on. Either way, the company is left more dogmatic, less creative, less innovative, with fewer and fewer ideas. They now offer more of the same with nothing to distinguish them from the competition.

Remember the timeless advice: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

3 favorite short videos: truth, innovation, 21st Century worklives

Thought I’d do something quick and fun on a Saturday morning. Being able to communicate big thoughts in a short time is very difficult to do, but powerful. Below are three of my favorite short videos that quickly serve up big ideas. Enjoy.

The first is from Joe Gerstandt (@joegerstandt) on Why Profanity Kicks @ss. It’s not really about using swearing words, more about bringing truth, passion, and authenticity into our jobs and lives (but, yeah, there’s some swearing words in it). Time to BBQ those sacred cows in the company.

Next is Max McKeown (@maxmckeown) and his brilliantly short Why Does Innovation Stop?

Wrapping it up is a song about modern worklife from Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) called Livable Lives.

Thanks for the inspiration!

unshrink (book review)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? ~ Marianne Williamson

 

I cannot tell you that Unshrink is the most important book you’ll read this year. I can tell you that it’s one of the most important books I read this year. It expresses, challenges, and expands thoughts and ideas about unbinding and unleashing humans and business and allowing us to expand and grow beyond our current constraining beliefs.

We are limited. Reduced. Operating so far below our potential because of the myths that we have believed, accepted, and perpetuated. We don’t need to expand our potential, we need to shed the myths that keep us shrunken and small so we can expand into the enormous potential awaiting us. We have the tremendous opportunity (obligation?) to unshrink ourselves, others, business, and the world.

That’s the premise of Unshrink by Max McKeown and Philip Whiteley. First published in 2002, I just came across it this year and have read it twice so far. It’s no secret that I’m an enthusiastic fan of Max McKeown – his books are consistently thought provoking, accessible, practical, and enjoyable to read – and this book is no different. At only 116 pages (133 with notes), Unshrink is also a quick read – assuming you can get through it without filling the margins with notes, which I couldn’t.

Why, though? Why unshrink? At the individual level, it’s painful to see (or be) someone hobbling themselves with the shackles of misguided myths about who they are and who they should be. Us humans are so amazing yet consistently play so small. Our potential is there yet we ignore it, dispute it, deny it.

Now expand that out. Businesses, communities, and countries are made up of individuals. When individuals are constrained below their potential so are the groups they are a part of. Businesses are less competitive and less profitable. Communities are more dysfunctional, less likely to attract newcomers. Countries, fueled by the soundness of communities and commerce, are likewise as restrained, hobbled, and shrunk as the individuals.

We often confuse short term spikes in performance measures with actual sustainable results. We think in terms of all or nothing. If a little of something is good, then an extreme amount must be extremely good. Yet, life consistently shows that few things are all or nothing. There is always a tradeoff based on points of diminishing returns.

The authors focus on replacing seven common, deep-seated myths with guiding principles. The myths are so familiar and entrenched that they are generally unquestioned as common sense. Yet, they are not common sense and rarely stand up to the light of real-world outcomes. The myths may have had truth in them at one time or been useful in a limited capacity, but have become dangerous when pushed to the all or nothing extremes. Better than an unquestioned myth is an adaptable principle.

Without giving too much away, the myth of “you are what you do” becomes the principle “you are what you can become”. It sounds like such a small shift, but is key to unshrinking ourselves. The myth of “work always comes first” is replaced with the real-world observable principle “life always comes first”. Holding to the extremes of the myths shrinks us and keeps us shrunk. The principles enable us to unshrink and expand.

Common management theories are driven by the myth that “organizations are machines.” Under this myth, people become easily and equally replaceable cogs, gears, and parts. Leading with this belief means stripping out our humanness, our individual strengths and weaknesses, our passions, and all the things that make us unique in order to make us conform into parts that really are the same. This comes at tremendous cost at both the individual and organizational level.

Replacing that horrible myth with the more accurate principle that “the organization is a community”. Thinking about it as a community means understanding that our differences can be important and valuable, each person’s contributions are unique, and each member of the community is interdependent with – not separate from – every other member. False rigidity is replaced with organic fluidity. The illusion of control is replaced with the power of influence. Machines are built, but communities are fostered. Machines are static and soon outdated; communities dynamic and ever changing and evolving. Machines break down, yet communities adapt.

There is much more. The authors delve into four other myths and principles aimed at unshrinking ourselves, others, and our businesses. All are worth more time and attention that I can offer here.

This book is for those who see that we operate below our potential, who are discouraged by the artificial separation between people and business, who imagine and hope for better. The authors conclude: We have been brought up to believe that there is always a trade-off or a choice between doing that which is good and that which leads to success. Such an assumption is wrong, and this is a tremendously liberating realization.

Your thoughts?

 

Stability is a dangerous illusion: a brief review of “Adaptability” by Max McKeown

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory. ~ W. Edwards Deming

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~ Eric Hoffer

Change.

Everyone talks about it, many fear it, but what do you do with it? The newness and novelty of change can be exciting or the uncertainty can be crippling. The faster and bigger the change, the more crucial our ability to adapt. Those individuals, companies, and even nations, who have long-term success are those who can successfully adapt from where the world was to where it’s going. Yesterday’s success strategy is tomorrow’s failure if the world moves on without us.

Adaptation is vital, but how do we adapt? How do we make the leap from doing what we know has worked in the past to what we think might work in the future? Big questions. Max McKeown (@maxmckeown) offers insights, rules, and steps for successful adaptation in his book Adaptability: The art of winning in an age of uncertainty.

He states, “Adaptability is the most important of human characteristics…. All failure is a failure to adapt. All success is successful adaptation.” (emphasis added). Think about that for a while: all failure, from the fall of nations to your cousin’s ugly divorce to giving up on your goal fit back in your old size is failure to adapt. Failure to change and adjust and evolve our strategies and actions.

Yet, just adapting is not enough. It is completely possible to adapt and still fail. The right solution at the wrong time for the wrong situation isn’t of much use, never mind the wrong solution. Likewise, just succeeding may not be enough either. Max identifies four possible outcomes of any situation, based on how well we adapt to that specific situation: collapsing (this is bad), surviving /coping (better, but not necessarily pleasant), thriving (what we often aim for), and transcending (game changing good).

Max’s focus, as stated in the introduction, is on winning. “Not just winning by playing the same rules, but playing better. And not just winning where there has to be a loser. My interest is in understanding more about how social groups can move beyond the existing rules to find games that allow more people to win more often.” I love this concept: why survive when you can thrive and why thrive when you can transcend?

So often our focus is just on getting by, getting through, putting the change behind us and returning to the way things were. Imagine what we could do if we elevated our game and consciously approached adaptation as an opportunity to radically expand the playing field; to get beyond the silly zero-sum games where someone has to lose in order for us to win; to create the rising tide that raises all ships?

To help us shift our approach to thriving and transcending, Max identifies 17 rules for successful adaption grouped into three steps. Everything is discussed with examples from an incredible variety of topics, some ancient, some still developing even as the book was published. He looks at adaptability through the lens of  Formula One racing, ants, the publishing industry, orange juice, Mini Coopers, NFL, Easter Island, Netflix, Starbucks, an Italian village, a women’s movement in Liberia, video games, Spiderman the Musical, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, baseball, the Occupy movement, Lego, Tata Motors, and more. Through it all, the ideas, rules, and strategies presented are relevant to everyone seeking to adapt better and play bigger.

I am a big fan of Max’s writing style. He consistently makes the complicated simple, the difficult understandable, the philosophical real-world relevant, and the seemingly ordinary brilliant. He has an easy to read approach, but it took me a while to get through the book because I found myself spending time highlighting, underlining, making notes in the margins, and staring off into space contemplating the ideas presented. Good, good stuff.

Adaptation is never easy. It requires letting go of the known, changing our perception, and jumping into uncertainty. Max shows us some ways to make the leap in the right direction.

Note: In the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, you should know I received a free review copy from the publisher. You might have too if you’d been paying attention when they offered them on Twitter.    🙂