February 2006 Insight Newsletter

Ideas and Information

Occasionally it’s nice to stop worrying about information overload and how to keep up and simply enjoy with amazement and interest the flood of new ideas that continually wash over us. The past month illustrates the startling mix we’re exposed to. I’ve added links at the end for those who might want to explore any of these further.

Daily Activity Links In New Insights

We may not pay attention immediately, but ideas can seep into our consciousness and link up when least expected. At a recent presentation, I introduced my primary principle –that balance is essential to leadership and success in everything we do – both physical and mental. I always point out that effective balance is not static. For instance, it’s easier to stay balanced on a bicycle when it’s moving.

For speeches I keep my eyes open for interesting illustrations of key ideas and mention them when I think to. An example of something I’d read in passing popped to mind. An experiment compared physical balance while walking for both elderly and young subjects. They were fitted with shoe insoles that held three slightly vibrating pads under the balls and heels of each foot. Walking balance for elderly subjects significantly improved with the insoles (for young subjects less so as they were already quite steady).

It seems we slowly lose ability in our feet to feel feedback from the surfaces we walk on. The mildly vibrating pads stimulate sensitivity and make it possible for the elderly to once again walk more steadily. (Good to know for those of us not getting younger.)

And there’s a second idea, linked to the importance of balance: lack of ability to absorb feedback seriously affects balance and overall performance. In this case the slight vibration or movement helps physical balance – the main reason I’d mentioned it initially – but it does so through feedback, which happens to be another of the five key skills I point to in developing leadership or any kind of effectiveness.

The secondary point is perhaps even more powerful. Paying attention to feedback is an area where many senior leaders start to fail just as the elderly slowly lose physical ability in their feet. Executives not only begin to believe they’re right on most things (and so discount feedback from others), but subordinates begin to fear telling the boss what’s wrong. Employees actively withhold information for fear of being the messenger who gets shot. Slowly, but surely executives get cut off from critical information unless they actively seek it out and make it OK for people to be honest.

Once again I was struck by just how pervasive the five principles are in every activity we undertake, mental, physical or emotional. Finding balance depends on feedback, on habits we build of staying positive and open in spite of how challenging the feedback may be… and on our ability to see new connections – ideas that hold amazing new possibilities instead of seeing only difficulties.

We gain by appreciating that we can never know exactly how new ideas will suddenly appear, but they most surely will.

New Ideas Grow in Every Area

The Toronto Complexity “Fractal,” our Complexity idea group, organized a startling visit to the new downtown MaRS research facility built on the grounds of Toronto General Hospital (part of the University Health Network). It will eventually include three linked high-rise research facilities that connect underground via the corner subway station diagonally across to the University of Toronto’s two new buildings for Pharmacy/Research and Molecular Cell Research (next to their Medical Sciences complex). Across the street to the north is the Frederick Banting building (inventor of insulin), due to be revitalized for more research. Altogether these are surrounded by six hospital and rehab facilities within a couple of square blocks, all participating in or conducting research.

The MaRS building was envisioned only a couple of years ago by some major Toronto business people who formed a private non-profit organization rather than wade through government and university red tape. It already, before being completed, houses some 35 major research operations, including most of the major drug companies who have researchers working in side-by-side labs along with two major hospital research units that have half a dozen or more floors each, all in specially equipped labs. The floors and pipe channels are specially reinforced and constructed so that labs can be rented by organizations in single, double or larger units to purse all sorts of research in a spot where scientists and technologists can rub shoulders at lunch in the food court while having their patents filed at law firms who’ve rented space in the building.

Most similar research facilities in the US and elsewhere are located in far-flung suburbs, often a considerable distance from the universities, lawyers or companies they share interests with. This development is a spectacular attempt to put everyone in contact as much as it is to provide modern facilities. Both in private sector cooperation and as a public/private partnership in funding and payback it’s also a great experiment.

If Canada is to excel and re-develop its place as a world-influencing power in our information driven societies, it can only be through the growth and development of ideas and our ability to advance causes at every level. We’ve long been a politically thoughtful force far beyond our economic size through the UN, through our stands on world issues and as an example of a society that continues to work well while increasingly diversifying. There’s a sense we’d begun to lose some of our influence of late. It’s a busy world intellectually. We have to share ideas and expand on them to keep ahead. Each and every contributor makes a difference at whatever level.

Every Idea Counts

As an update for those who’ve been following the saga of my article rebutting Fast Company’s attack on HR managers, here’s a related update. The current version is now posted elsewhere on my web site: here. I’ve sent it to a couple of HR organizations and will do a shorter version for others, but first I sent it to FC to see if they’d publish it. I got a refusal in about 10 days from author, deputy editor Keith Hammonds in which he said it was too late (?!), but ended by saying he hoped we’d meet someday to continue the debate in person. What a great idea!

After talking it over with some senior HR people at the big annual HR conference here a couple of weeks ago I emailed Keith to say people here would love to see such a debate in public at a venue like next year’s conference. He immediately accepted. We’re in the process of requesting time on next year’s agenda for a super-session (3000 people attended this year). Win, lose or draw, think of the potential for ideas that can spill out from this.

There’s only one way to develop ideas to solve problems – face them, pursue them, rattle them, and seek out people with interesting similar or opposing views willing to do the same! Who knows what we have yet to learn?

URL’s for Information

Rather than just one article on balance for the elderly, one can see how quickly, via Google, it and other media spread the information: http://tinyurl.com/azsq5. The research itself appeared in Lancet about two years ago. In the case of MaRS there are articles from the hospital view: http://tinyurl.com/9utns as well as about the organization itself: http://www.marsdd.com/. While we each make the contributions we can it’s great to know that others are banding together to do the same.

©Dave Crisp 2006