Thursday, September 12, 2013

Boredom is a Warning

Voltaire, 1694-1778

Voltaire named Boredom as one of Three Great Evils.  (What were the other two? Read on!)

Most of us have experienced boredom in our life.  Maybe we got dragged to a "boring" museum when we were very young.  Or during a seemingly interminable speech or lecture.   Or in a work situation - the whole job became "boring".

What kinds of outcomes and consequences arise from boredom?  Not usually very positive.
We may excuse boredom in ourselves, but we rarely like to see it in others, especially if the underlying subject is one of concern to us.  We are likely to criticize bored people and tell them to shape up or ship out.

All action occurs in Conversation.  By the same token, all inaction occurs in suspended or missing Conversation.  The behavior of boredom is of reduced or stopped action.  But there is also an attitude alongside.  Few of us enjoy being bored.  Displeasure is usually part of boredom, and this displeasure is projected into the future - "this is only going to get MORE boring!"  

This boredom thing, in conversation design terms, is a Mood. Moods are assessments about the future - part of the assessment is a declaration or assessment about an expected state in the future, and the other part is a declaration of how you feel about that expected state.  A Mood of Wonder is an assessment that you don't know what is exactly going on or what the future holds, but you like that.  Conversely, a Mood of Confusion is the same assessment of the future - don't know what's going on - coupled with displeasure.  

In conversation design terms, Boredom is an assessment in the current focus domain of action that there is nothing more for you to learn or experience that matters.  Usually that assessment is coupled with displeasure.   The key is that Boredom is a product of our own self-conversation.... it is NOT a condition or property of a museum or a lecture or a job.

Being bored is not good for us, and it's not good for those around us.  Whether or not you endorse Voltaire's assessment that boredom is a Great Evil (along with Vice and Need), it's a good idea to recognize boredom and do some conversation redesign to foster more effective action and improve your and others moods.   Conversation Driven Business can help you spot boredom and redesign your and others' conversations to eliminate it.


You can always choose to design your future.  Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation Driven Business(TM) can help you expand and improve your organization's future by designing and optimizing its network of conversations and increasing its conversational competence.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.

Diligently Waiting

How many times have you asked someone who told you he or she would do something what the status is, and the response is, "I'm waiting for X to get back to me on that."  And that makes you feel...

"Diligently Waiting" is a joke characterization I've heard in Sales performance assessment conversations.  We all have experienced it from one end or the other, and all too often this condition is just accepted as one of those "it's what it is" situations. That's the case less often that we hope.   What diligently waiting signifies is a breakdown in a conversation.  In an effective conversation designed to fulfill mutual commitments, there never need be a "diligently waiting" period.  

In an effective conversation for action, the parties negotiate (request-promise-accept) times to complete tasks or answer questions.  We may be said to be waiting for that completion or answer, but the waiting isn't an unbounded condition - we have a committed timeframe for performance.   One of the pushback excuses for failing to negotiate committed timeframes for next steps, particularly when required of a prospective customer, is that it will be offensive and drive the prospect away.   Only if handled unprofessionally.  Almost everyone appreciates that time is valuable to us all, and no one likes to be nagged.  It is only common courtesy and common sense to make timeframe commitments to avoid unnecessary dropouts and pestering periods.   In Sales, if a prospect habitually fails to make or meet time commitments for their actions, it would be wise to review lead scoring and re-evaluate how well qualified the prospect is... and maybe incorporate fulfillment of timeframe commitment into your leadscore.

Making next steps specific and individual helps with mutual timing commitments.  If you lump a number of follow-up actions into a single to-do, it is much more likely that the promising or performing party will miss their committed timeframe.  

Another way to improve time commitment performance is to agree at the beginning of each conversation for action that either party promises to notify the other as soon as they are aware their timeframe commitment is in jeopardy and negotiate a revised committed timeframe. This one practice can ward off many bad surprises by encouraging people not to hide adverse developments in the hope of recovering and delivering on time.

All action occurs in conversation.  Indeterminate waiting, no matter how diligent, signals a breakdown in the action.  Conversation Driven Business can help you spot conversation breakdowns, identify their causes and design and implement more effective conversation behaviors.


You can always choose to design your future.  Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation Driven Business(TM) can help you expand and improve your organization's future by designing and optimizing its network of conversations and increasing its conversational competence.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Source of Credibility

An article in the Daily Mail trumpeted the effectiveness of talking louder to win arguments.  That's not surprising, and if winning arguments is all you are concerned about, stop reading this and GO DO SOME SHOUTING!

The shouting strategy is one way you can win arguments and lose credibility at the same time. Over time, winning arguments the loud way is likely to diminish the potential for collaboration and mutual commitment with others.  This diminishment will show up in lowered assessments others make of your effectiveness in those potential areas of collaboration.

Think about the contrast between people you know who are highly credible to you in specific domains of activity, and those who are least credible.  What distinguishes their conversation?  The most credible are most likely not overbearing and loud.  They don't bluster, threaten or blackmail. We give our highest assessments of credibility freely.  The highly credible are living evidence of the old advice to "walk softly and carry a big stick".  What is the "big stick" of credibility in conversation?

The Assessments

The big stick, the crux of credibility, comes down to how we make and offer assessments in conversation. We make assessments constantly, mostly without much consideration (do you hear a warning buzzer?). Assessments roughly fall into two categories - grounded, and ungrounded.

Here are two assessments made by Ellen, a Receiving Supervisor, talking to her worker John.  Which one is grounded; which one is ungrounded?

"I can't believe what you've done, John.  That handcart is a disaster waiting to happen."

"They way you loaded that handcart is dangerous. The heaviest items are highest up. They taught us in Science in school that raises the center of gravity of the loaded cart, making it more likely to tip over."

Where is the grounding? The key bit Ellen included in her grounded assessment was what we call an Assertion.  An assertion is an independently observable and verifiable fact. Ellen offered an assertion from the domain of physics about the cart's weight distribution and consequences of it.  Many people have had enough school and practical experience to independently observe and verify Ellen's assertion. John could ask around and quickly learn that Ellen's assessment about his cart is shared by competent observers.  How does this affect his assessment of Ellen's credibility in cart-loading?

Ungrounded assessments are what we commonly call opinions.  When Ellen criticizes John's cart-loading competence, she offers nothing to John to help him understand or act on the criticism. He may feel a sting, but he may load the next cart exactly the same way, wondering what was wrong with Ellen that day.  In this scenario, the only way for John to learn is to experience the cart tipping over.  Even though Ellen's ungrounded assessment is correct, does it ever raise John's assessment of her credibility in cart-loading even if the cart does tip over?

Opinions in and of themselves offer no grounding. If someone offers you a choice between two designs and you say "Design A is prettier", no assertion is present.  Your standard for "pretty" may be unique to you; people would assess your assessment as "subjective".  The worst kind of ungrounded assessment is the universal, general one.  Sally says, "John is a bad guy" to Ellen.  If you were Ellen and you heard that, what would your first reaction be?  It could range from "I better be careful around John" to "why do you say John is bad?"  What if Ellen already has ongoing conversations with John in several domains, and all are productive and enjoyable? The surest bet is that Ellen will have a lowered assessment of Sally's competence at character assessment... Sally has diminished her credibility to Ellen in that domain at the least.

Borrowed Assessments (and the Information-empowered Customer)

When you listen for assessments, you will observe that people often invoke authorities in them. Authorities can be government figures, talking heads and commentators, professors, published authors, or well-known personalities.  For example, an acquaintance says you should try a new diet because Oprah recommended it.

Are assessments referencing authorities grounded?  Not unless the reference includes the grounding offered by the authority!  In scientific journals, references matter because they point to the underlying research findings of the authority being cited.  Not so much in our day-to-day conversation. For that hot new diet, I might want to know some underlying facts, like what% of people get what kind of results, dependent on what variables and with what side-effects.  Oprah is a likable personality, but... I'll check back with you after I've checked it out.

Referencing an authority's ungrounded assessment is just spray-painting your own ungrounded assessment with a better source "Brand".  People who borrow ungrounded assessments in their arguments can enjoy a certain elevated credibility with others - until they are questioned about their underlying grounding by a careful listener.  Borrowing assessments may seem like a free pass, but like speeding, if you do it all the time, you are likely to be stopped one day and written up for a big ticket. There are no shortcuts to sustainable credibility.

It's interesting how "mass marketing" traditionally leaned so heavily on spokespeople to build brand. Next time you see a spokesperson ad, see if it offers any grounding or simply the reassurance of the known figure. If ungrounded, that ad is just a highly polished case of a borrowed ungrounded assessment.  The effectiveness of that old tactic is on the downswing as more people have access to information they can use to ground their own assessments.  This phenomenon is at the heart of the "age of the informed buyer." Sellers, pay heed. Ground your claims. Well.

To reiterate, the crux of credibility is how we form and offer assessments in conversation.

The criteria for a credible assessment are:

1) Locate the assessment - declare the domain.  Avoid general, universal assessments!

2) Ground the assessment.  Effective grounding is directly relevant to the concern/s we are addressing.  If the concern is for physical safety, offer grounding specific to that, not a sidetrack on aesthetics.  Effective grounding enriches conversation enabling new possibilities and more effective actions in the future, respecting the concerns of the participants.

Can credibility be that simple? Yes, just don't confuse credibility with trust. I guarantee you will be amazed as you listen to conversations and the assessments offered in them, and gain a new approach to designing better outcomes in your conversations both personal and professional.


You can always choose to design your future.  Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation Driven Business(TM) can help you expand and improve your organization's future by designing its network of conversations and increasing its conversational competence.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top-Down Performance Initiatives and Promise Chaos

Brobingnagian top-down designs left a lot to be desired.

Many of us, especially coming from Engineering and MBA backgrounds, are entrenched in a management science paradigm that says operational data should flow up for analysis, then improvement initiatives should be designed by senior management and implemented down through the organization. Aided and abetted by the information technology industry, this has been business' mantra for decades.  The results have not been particularly laudatory and the prognosis is worse.  Initiatives come, a temporary bump in some aspect of performance occurs, then performance either plateaus or regresses, even in seemingly unrelated measures. There are a variety of breakdowns underneath these failures, one of the biggest being something I call Promise Chaos.

Promise Chaos

We all are motivated by our concerns to take action.   If our child is sick, we take her to the doctor. If we want to develop new skills we find teachers and undergo education.  In order to take care of our concerns, we routinely make and fulfill promises to ourselves and others.  In our personal lives, we may have relative autonomy in promise-making and fulfillment.  Even so, we can often feel like we are trying to fulfill more promises simultaneously than we are able.  We get stressed out, and we may drop the ball on a promise, adding to someone else's stress and doing no favors to our reputation.

At work, we are also motivated by an array of concerns - satisfy our customers, win new business, reduce the cost of doing business, and stay safe from internal politics.  Unlike our personal lives, our work lives are characterized as roles within a complex network of conversations.   We typically have very limited autonomy over our promise-making. Even as we continually fulfill promises already made, our customers, bosses and executive teams make added requests bringing forth new promises and consequent demand for fulfillment by us.

Troubles can manifest when our promise-fulfillment load is at or near our self-assessed maximum capacity.     What happens when we are pushed beyond maximum capacity?  Either we find a way to increase our capacity, or we triage our promise fulfillment - some promises get renegotiated, deferred or forgotten.  Most empathetic people do not feel good about themselves in this position, and the negative mood that can result can diminish promise fulfillment capacity.  That's not a good feedback loop.  Articles on corporate stress and burnout suggest that maximum capacity may be the norm... meaning any equilibrium in our promise-fulfillment is precarious at best.  When an individual or team is extended beyond their promise fulfillment capacity, their performance declines and/or becomes erratic, jeopardizing the enterprise's well-being.  This is Promise Chaos.

Management Science and Top-Down Initiatives

To generate a top-down initiative, executive leadership interprets data coming from operations and designs initiatives to improve the enterprise's results.  That's the simple part.  Unfortunately, humans do not live as purely Cartesian Beings.  We need to remember that all human action occurs in conversations for possibilities and action.  We are fundamentally Linguistic Beings.  From a Linguistic Being perspective, executive leadership teams are stewards of the enterprise's entire conversation network and all of the promises and promise fulfillment in it.  That is a huge responsibility, though never articulated on executive position descriptions. There are few organizations where leadership is even conscious of this critical responsibility.

The executive role in an enterprise features a superficial abundance of autonomy over promise fulfillment. After all, executives design initiatives and delegate them for execution.   The executive follows up, but is not personally impacted by the promise fulfillment demands created their initiatives.  This can create a false sense of organizational promise fulfillment capacity.  After all, how do you (do you?) keep track of all the promises being fulfilled by all of your reporting structure?  Do you have any objective measure of how near to capacity the background level of promise fulfillment is?  Or are you relying on opinions from your senior managers along the lines of "of course my group can handle this new project."

When top-down initiatives roll downhill into operations, contributors and unit managers may be heavily impacted by incremental promise fulfillment demands - enough to tip them into Promise Chaos, a turbulent condition where "something has to give".  Promise Chaos can exist within a person individually, but bigger consequences arise when Promise Chaos manifests in many interconnected people at once.   As each person deals with their own Promise Chaos, the possibility of mis-coordination expands.  Suzy keeps fulfilling an old Promise A and defers fulfillment of the New Initiative's promise X.  But Brad does just the opposite... the net result can be a serious degradation in the fulfillment of both promises. Old equilibria in the enterprise's promise fulfillment are disturbed or blown up.

Breakdowns in Trust and Alienation -  Enterprise Disease

Occasionally, a new top-down initiative will be mandated that customer-facing contributor and unit manager staff recognize as directly harmful to customer satisfaction.  They are faced with a lose-lose choice of hurting customer relations or failing to comply with management's direction.  Worse, if top-down initiatives misfire repeatedly, contributors and unit managers become generally distrustful of executive leadership... "they don't have a clue what really goes on around here!"  New initiatives are met with cynicism and fail earlier and earlier.  The end result of growing distrust is alienation and a perverse organizational mentality resembling the game "Whack-a-Mole."    Employees and customers suffer.  Eventually, so do shareholders.

The Bottom-Up Prescription

Contributors and unit managers have the best basis for understanding and delivering to customer needs and desires.  Notably successful organizations like Toyota are based on bottom-up opportunity identification, design by experiment and a concise set of fundamental and consistent operating practices. The senior executive role is transformed from omniscient conductor to steward, champion and coach/enabler of these practices.   Leading practitioners like Dr. John Kenagy with his Adaptive Design methodology have proven repeatedly that the bottom-up approach consistently and dramatically outperforms it's top-down counterpart, with particularly compelling contrasts seen in complex, chaotic environments like hospitals.  Combining Adaptive bottom-up tools with the "molecular" instruments of Conversation-Driven Business focuses the enterprise on its highest value work and provides the entire team with the ability to anticipate, identify and correct fundamental breakdowns including Promise Chaos.


You can always choose to design your future.  Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation Driven Business(TM) can help you anticipate, identify and correct fundamental breakdowns like Promise Chaos, sustainably increasing your enterprise's effectiveness and measurable results.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Moods are the Stage for all Conversation

"Raoul is very up-beat."

"Suze is depressed."

"An optimist sees a glass half-full, a pessimist sees it half-empty."

These assessments are about Mood, the stage for all conversation.  Suppose you want your business development team to meet to come up with new approaches to building position in a new market.  But last week, the BusDev team and Sales lost a long-fought competition for what would have been the Company's biggest win and key reference to date.  And two weeks ago, the well-liked VP of BusDev announced her departure, which has given rise to uncertainty and squabbling in the department and through the Company.   The meeting happened, but magic didn't.   It wasn't just due to overwork or the agony of defeat.  Your team is experienced and they've dealt with adversity before.

The magic stayed away from the party because the team's mood blocked their conversation for new possibilities.  Designing new possibilities requires a positive mood like Ambition.  Without a conducive mood, the team's time was wasted at the meeting, and the poor meeting might have even worsened the prevailing negative mood.

Dr. Fernando Flores, who greatly advanced the conversation about human life as linguistic beings, says that moods are assessments of the future.  If I am Ambitious, I embody two key assessments 1) that I like what's happening and 2) I believe I can do something about it.  Ambition supports our desire to design new possibilities and actions for the future.  Conversely, if I am in a mood of Resignation, I embody the assessments 1) that I do not like what is happening, and 2) I do not believe there is anything I can do about it.  If I bring Resignation into a conversation to design new possibilities with someone, I am going to extinguish any sense of play and openness that can help bring forth new possibilities.

As important as Mood is in enabling and disabling effective conversation, many of us accept our own moods, the moods of others and our teams as givens and attempt to soldier on around them.  Hey, Wait! Moods are not permanent, and they don't have to spill over from one domain to another!  We do not need to have a mood of Resignation or even Acceptance about moods!  Our assessments of the future are not sealed; they can be open to further conversation.  If we agree that our assessments about the future can be re-evaluated and changed, we can be open to designing our own and others' moods to better help us address our mutual concerns.  You can always choose to be an active designer of your future.


Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation Driven Business(TM) can help you design mood for yourself and others to support conversations that take care of our concerns.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Trust - Our Future Depends on It

Who have you trusted today?  Who trusted you?  What is at stake in each situation?  When was the last time you did business with someone you did not trust?

We all have a gut sense of how essential trust is to daily living and creating a desirable future. Most of use are somewhat predisposed, at least in some domains of activity, to give others a chance, in effect loaning them some of our trust that we expect they will earn or repay.  If this was not true, human history would have developed more slowly than it has.  On the other hand we feel a duty to caution; we've all probably been burned by extending too much "trust credit".

When we are in a buyer role, our typical primary concern is to avoid being burned.  We want to know "everything" about what is being offered and about who is offering it before we sign on a dotted line. When we are sellers, we tend to be too optimistic about prospects becoming buyers, and to underestimate the breadth and depth of the concerns they are taking care of. We tend to assume that prospective buyers trust us more than they do.

Before people can collaborate on anything, there has to be sufficient mutual trust.  How can we assess the level and nature of trust?  What can we do to contribute to building a trust foundation for mutual commitment?  How can we avoid damaging or diminishing that foundation?

It can help to break down what trust is in terms of conversation.  When we trust someone, what we are doing is 1) declaring a particular domain of human action, for example, financial planning, 2) assessing the sincerity of the other person, and 3) assessing the competence of the other person in the specified domain.  If Erik wants to be my financial planner, I need to assess him to be both sincere (he does what he says he will do) and competent (he can demonstrate a level of mastery considered to be competent by any objective observer familiar with the field of financial planning.)   You are probably saying, "sure, everybody already does that," but the fact is that most of us make ungrounded, unsupported assessments of either/both sincerity and competence.  We may accept our neighbor George's opinion that "Erik is a great guy", and we may assume that the plaques on the wall in Erik's office attest to and ensure our finances will be in prudent hands.  If we are talking serious money, are those assessments prudent?  Not at all.  Erik may be a great guy to George, but their relationship may be limited to both showing up at the driving range at the same time and sharing a beer afterward.  How does that evidence sincerity or competence?   Similarly, Erik's plaques may be impressive, but how have his current customers' finances fared under his guidance? Compared to what?

When we are in a selling role, most of the burden of establishing trust is on us.  The buyer has no obligation to make a commitment to us.  It's ours to prove or lose.  So how can we best earn the prospective buyer's trust?   We need to provide the buyer with ample grounding to arrive at positive assessments of sincerity and competence.  This can require more time than some sellers want to work through.  Trust development is one of the reasons that "sales cycles" for substantial buying commitments are usually measured in months and not hours or days.   We are by nature "recurrence engines", that is to say that if it has been sunny for the previous three days most of us will bet on sun again today.   The sincerity assessment usually requires multiple tests and validations including reference checking, over a period of time. And in the meantime, the buyer's competence assessment can get labored in fact comparisons between competing offers or trials.

While buyer-seller trust-building is ongoing, it only takes small slips to derail the relationship. No matter how small the promise a seller makes ("I'll get our customer at ABC corp's email to you tomorrow") it is essential that the promise be fulfilled completely. One little broken promise can undo a whole chain of successes.  When you lose sales, be sure that you are losing them due to competence assessments and not sincerity assessments. Customers know that products and services change over time, so even if you do not have the winning combination today, you may have it next year (especially if your customer is sincere with you and you listen well).  But customers harden when they detect insincerity from you or your company - "the tiger doesn't change his stripes".  


Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation Driven Business(TM) can help you master the assessment and development of trust in your network of conversations, accelerating sales cycles and win rates as well as transforming the effectiveness of internal collaboration and coordination.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Discomfort and Learning

For those of you who are raising or have raised children, you know what a tremendous educational gift you receive by being able to experience young life as a close observer and supporter.   Teaching offers a similar gift.

One of the many profound things we got to share as our first child grew was his transformation from relatively still blanket-bound being into into a walking, running experiencer.  Our son's desire to have freedom of movement was very strong.  He struggled to find ways to liberate himself from the surface he happened to be on.  His frustration was intense.  He tried everything he could to win his freedom, and his persistence paid off early. His grandpa got him a roll-around walker when he was about 8 months old, his favorite thing in life.  It gave him the experience of mobility and further increased his already-burning desire for complete freedom of movement.

He tried and tried.  His experiments included pain, but pain didn't matter to him.  At nine months, he climbed out of his crib in the middle of the night and fell onto a hardwood floor. We rushed in, fearful, but what we found was the widest smile sitting up you could imagine. Similarly, as he mastered getting up and moving, he didn't waste time on walking when he could RUN.  He fell a lot, and hard.  And usually he was laughing and smiling after taking the fall.

Our son's transformation to freedom of mobility is a powerful illustration of the process of learning. There must be a desire to change your universe of possibilities.  You experience discomfort and frustration.  Teachers appear.  Experiments are attempted and there are failures and more frustration and discomfort.  Finally there is a breakthrough and the world is changed forever.

I have been advised that "all learning comes from discomfort"... a corollary that learning, in the sense of mastering something, requires doing.  Reflecting on my life showed me the truth of that.  If this makes sense, then the next step is to see that discomfort can be a great indicator of a learning in progress.   Frustration can also be used as a directional signal for ways to assist and progress that learning.

If you are uncomfortable and frustrated with an aspect of your business, you can always choose to design the learning that is needed.  Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation-Driven Business(TM) framework can help you reach your a-hah breakthrough moments sooner.


Strategic Venture Consulting's Conversation Driven Business(TM) practice can help you transform discomfort and frustration into breakthroughs and mastery.

(c) 2013 Strategic Venture Consulting / Robert Kimball all rights reserved.