If you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner this week, did you know that you’re operating in a complex system?
One of my favorite parts of writing Meltdown was connecting it to the everyday.
My coauthor András Tilcsik and I drew the central idea of the book from a Yale sociologist named Charles Perrow. By studying the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown and other large-scale disasters, Perrow and his researchers identified complexity and tight coupling (a lack of slack in the system) as major contributors to systems failures.
András and I extended Perrow’s thought-provoking framework. Our observation was that the world was becoming increasingly complex and interconnected and that the things that made nuclear power plants risky were showing up in lots of other parts of our lives. …
One of the things I’ve had to learn as a consultant and a coach is that my clients mostly want results.
They have a problem that they want to solve: how to create a culture of innovation, say, or how to make their law firm run more smoothly.
My mental model is that they don’t really care how it gets solved (as long as it’s within the bounds of integrity).
In general, they’re not so interested in the fact that my approach is grounded in Gestalt, or machine learning, or whatever. As long as the solution is credible, I could give them a button to push to solve the problem and they’d generally be happy. …
This past week revealed that our democracy works–but barely.
Regular readers know that I spend a lot of time thinking about systems — technology, teams, and organizations.
This week has got me thinking about the American political system writ large.
In 1997, Donella Meadows published an essay called “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.” Though the piece doesn’t focus on politics, it’s a remarkable guide to the current state of our modern political situation.
In it, Meadows, a biophysicist with a PhD from Harvard, lays out the ways that we can influence the systems around us. …
Doesn’t April 21st, 2020 seem like a decade ago?
It does to me. That’s the day that Harvard Business Review published the article I wrote with two Seattle-based physicians on managing the COVID-19 crisis .
The article was about how one hospital system built a sustainable response to a dynamic and evolving crisis.
I had the opportunity to reread the article recently and reconnect with its universal message: whether it’s managing hybrid schooling or helping teams shift their approaches on the fly, things are changing so fast that we need to learn and adapt as quickly as we can. …
I work with a lot of people who are trying to change something in their teams, small firms, or large organizations.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years of doing this work is that there can be a tendency to want to make a big, dramatic, “transformational” change in one fell swoop. To take on a new strategy, for example, or to change the culture of a team.
My observation is that this approach rarely works, regardless of whether you’re a small enterprise (a few lawyers who run a Trusts and Estates firm, say) or a huge, well-resourced company. …
I’ve written a lot in this space about anxiety and uncertainty which, I think, are good things to get comfortable with.
I believe that what is needed to be a successful leader in our modern world is to shift from a stance of knowing to one of curiosity.
I recently interviewed my friend and mentor Roger Martin for an upcoming podcast episode. Roger’s just written a great new book called When More is Not Better about, among other things, how the goal of economic growth has subsumed so many other important aspects of American life.
The central idea of the book is that we need to think in terms of systems— something that I both wholeheartedly agree with and something that, in many ways, Roger helped me see earlier in my career. …
It’s the week of the launch of my new podcast, The Breakdown™ with Chris Clearfield, and I find myself feeling anxious about it.
For me, that anxiety shows up in a couple of ways.
It shows up when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep.
It shows up in my body—back pain, knee pain. Everything feels all akimbo. (This is a good tell for me. …
Now every gambler knows
The secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep.
-“The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers
Q3 of this year turned out to be a lot.
Sometimes I felt overwhelmed (OK, a lot of the time, as regular readers will know). Work, parenting, moving, a pandemic-it adds up!
At work, my team and I tackled projects that felt meaty and satisfying.
I lead some big and interesting enterprise consulting engagements. I strengthened relationships with my coaching clients and invested in professional development to deepen my craft.
Our team experimented with using paid traffic to explore a few different approaches to marketing my coaching work, which my executive assistant Rahne initiated and drove via our Objective and Key Results (OKR) process. This effort allowed us to test different niches. …
How do I know what the next right thing to do is in my business?
That not knowing—it’s an anxiety that many of us feel, particularly those of us who run our own businesses.
In my work as a business consultant and coach, I am asked variations of this question—what’s the next right thing?—all the time:
“How should I empower my team to make better decisions?”
“What should I do to grow my legal practice?”
“How do I work with the kind of clients that I want to?”
These are useful questions, but sometimes they can lead consultants, coaches, and mentors to what writer Michael Bungay Stanier calls the “Advice Trap” (also the name of his new book). …
It’s funny how the internet can give me shots of anxiety as I casually brush against it in my everyday life.
Sometimes these shots come from sources I’ve actively sought out, like the latest news. But anxiety can pop out from unexpected places, too.
A tweet, email, or message I read in what could be a moment of rest will instead stir up thoughts and fears, often in the form of old programs that run in my brain (what coach Jerry Colonna calls “ghosts in the machine”).
For me, “anxiety as a service” is one of the unintended consequences of the always-on technology of our lives. …