Friday, February 29, 2008

How do you learn?

"When I ask people, 'How do you learn?' most of them know it. But when I ask 'Do you act on this knowledge?' few reply that they do. And yet to act on this knowledge is the key to performance -- or rather not to act on this knowledge is to condemn oneself to nonperformance." Peter Drucker, Know your Strengths and Values

I picked up a book the other day called How to Learn Anything Quickly, by Ricki Linksman. In the book are a couple of assessments that allow the reader to determine their learning style. According to Linksman, there are four types of learners: visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic. Visual learners learn best by seeing printed or graphic images. Auditory learners learn best by listening, or talking. Tactile learners learn best by touching and feeling, sometimes emotionally. Kinesthetic learners use their large muscle groups in learning. There are also people who learn best using a combination of these methods, however often people have one dominant way of learning best. On top of these four styles, Linksman places a second division: left and right brain dominance. She then has eight "superlinks" to learning.

If you read her book, and I recommend it to clearly establish how you learn best, you will find out what your superlink to learning is. I found out that I am a visual learner with a right brain dominance. Now I have something I can work with... I always thought I was a reader rather than a listener, and now I know why. Not only do I prefer to read over listening, but I prefer images to written communication. I like pictures to tell me what I need to know.

According to Linksman's book, as a visual right-brain learner, I "take information in through my eyes and am attuned to images, pictures, graphics, colors, shapes, designs, sizes, and spatial relations.… Only after they grasp the big picture can they focus on its details." Her advice to me is to learn through visual aids with graphic and pictorial content so I can see the big picture. When no graphics are available, I need to convert the spoken or written communication into images in my mind to really grasp the message.

Linkman gives descriptions of each learning style and how to maximize your ability to learn quickly. She also provides insight on how to convey your messages so that everyone can learn it effectively.

When we brainstorm to generate powerful ideas, we use visual, written, spoken words, cards with ideas on them, and we also get up and move around. This helps every person involved, regardless of their learning preference, participate and absorb the materials quickly and well.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Brain Mapping Image

Here is a link to an interesting article on mapping brain connections:

The article in Technology Review talks about the top ten new technologies that will likely make an impact on our world over the next year. This article, about mapping neural circuits, discusses the challenges in mapping mammalian brains. Human brains have 100,000,000,000 neurons!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Online Facilitation Uniquely Challenging

Today's workplace includes new technology and methods that are not yet mastered, such as online meetings. If you have attended an online meeting, you know they are uniquely challenging. Online facilitators always struggle to keep people engaged and often wonder if participants off doing e-mail or surfing the web.

I recently finished managing a successful global project with participants in Canada, Mexico, the US, and China. Here are a few thoughts on what worked, and what didn't:

What worked:
  • I adjusted meeting times for the Chinese so they could be at work while we in North America called from home. We have the infrastructure to do this, they typically do not.

  • I recorded every teleconference. I made the recordings available to every participant and generally available to interested parties within the client company. I used the recording to document meeting minutes, including follow up actions. When memory lapses occurred, and they always do, this became valuable.

  • I posted all documents, schedules, project requirements, photographs, and meeting minutes on a shared folder where everyone could review them at their leisure.

  • We met on a regular schedule, every two weeks. This allowed for progress between meetings. Weekly meetings sometimes are overly burdensome.

What didn't work (watch out)

  • Language barriers existed so it was imperative to follow up every conference call with a written confirmation and to specifically ask for acknowledgement. Key points are dates and specifications. Without concrete agreement, there was ambiguity, and error. Thread specifications seem to be the commonly missed item in China. The take away: demand positive confirmation on every date and every requirement.

  • Even with seemingly overdone written and verbal communication, preconceived notions caused fumbles and stumbles. An example: sample making. If samples are required, get more than the minimum you think you need... try doubling that figure. We made more than we thought we would need and we actually ran out... so err on the side of caution.

Wasted Time

I can tell you what a waste of time most meetings are. I have experience. I listened to countless worthless presentations and thought there must be a better way. I now found a better way and am so happy to be able to share it... Idea Power.

Ideas are like the wind, mostly they just blow by. With our process, it's like putting up a huge wind turbine capturing your team's ideas and turning them into power -- idea power -- power for executive action.

What's your story... the worst meeting you've ever been in? Where was it? What was the purpose? What happened? Why did this meeting happen at all? I will feature the most interesting story in an upcoming post. Thanks!

I have a new course on effective meetings... click here to create a new account and check it out!

Flyer for services offerred

Read this doc on Scribd: Services Available Flyer

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Imperiled Start Up

"Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was in charge of a new plant start up -- a risky assignment since many launches went badly, and this was my first try at it. My responsibility was to take an empty shell of a building and populate it with machines and people, processes and systems, and generate profit.

This launch depended on implementing some unproven new technology, a red flag. The technology in question was elaborate mechanical tooling which deployed in a CNC machine to cut a precise spherical radius on the ID of a casting. To perform this feat, the CNC equipment loaded the casting, then the tool, in the shape of a cylinder with a slot cut out of the side, was inserted into the casting opening. The tool had an ingenious mechanical device to deploy the cutter from the slot using a spine-like grooved lever. The cutting was done at high speed (turning the tool), and at the end of the cycle, the tool was quickly stopped then the cutter was retracted using spring action, hiding the cutter away in the cylinder again, and the tool was pulled from the casting. Nice Idea!

We got the equipment in and set up. We hired great people. We did a lot of training. All the while, I kept hearing about broken cutters. This was troubling because it was unproven technology and the entire start up depended on success. Not only that, cutters cost over $100 each, so the budget was feeling the pain.

We talked to the experts at the toolmaker. They tried to fix the problem. They kept trying, but to no avail. Finally, after weeks and weeks of trying, it became clear that this start up was in peril.

I ordered autopsies of each broken cutter. We opened up some tools to see what was happening. The engineers were puzzled and befuddled. We were asked to start working on "Plan B," which would cost a lot in capital to retrofit our operation. Then I saw the key.

Each tool that had a broken cutter, when opened up, had several small retracting springs which had toppled in the deceleration. The centrifugal force caused the springs to fall over on their side, laying down and providing no force to retract the cutter.

A big shock-absorber spring, that's what we needed! Once we figured out how to place strong enough spring coaxial with the center line, the decelerating forces were overcome by better engineering. The funny thing was, it took a tremendous effort to convince the inventor of the technology to change it... even though the initial design was failing.

My take-away: be open to new ways of looking at things, especially if we invented something and the old way isn't working. When we invent something we are proud of, great! When improvements to that invention come along, better! Often new ideas come from the most unlikely sources, so have eyes and ears open, and minds prepared to accept the possibility of something better.

Please let me know about a time you saw an inventor learn how to improve their invention from an unlikely source...

For more information on the "imperiled start up":
The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors
Published: February 26, 2008
We can always tell ourselves that it’s good to keep options open, but is it really?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Asheville Tree

This oak tree is over 200 years old and is situated outside my office in Asheville, NC. The intricate branching mirrors the way ideas flow from a central core to the many particular ends.
Interestingly, it also reflects a way that the brain develops by connecting neurons in a branching fashion known as "arborization."

Meeting Facilitation Training

For those looking for meeting facilitation training that is different and better... you can expect to get this kind of response when a meeting is facilitated with our methods (actual feedback following a session):

"Felt more camaraderie, progression. Really moving forward."
"Improved clarity, focus."
"Really enjoyed this today."
"Great that we're on a path moving forward."
"Really going to help us implement things that we talked about but never did."
"This was so productive. We got everyone’s input."
"I'm so grateful to now to move forward and appreciate all your time, effort, and caring."
"Bob and Tolli do an awesome job helping us focus on our problem areas and realizing what we need to do in order for our group to become successful."
"Great process, promotes cooperative visualization and goal setting."
"You guys kept things moving and kept us focused and engaged -- so we could come up with a plan of action that we all agreed on!! Wow!! ... Impressive!"
"Excellent at keeping the group focused. Clear and workable visuals. Accomplished goals and made it fun."
"Loved seeing many ideas trickling down."
"Excellent workshop!"

I have a new online course on effective meetings... click here to create a new account and check it out!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Improving your Vocal Power

How to improve your vocal power

Do you ever listen to yourself on a tape recorder or your voice mail “away message” and go UGH!? We usually don’t like our own voices, do we? But voices are an important asset for each of us. Would you take anyone seriously if they sounded like Bugs Bunny? No

We can’t all sound like a radio announcer, but I am going to tell you how to make the most of the voice you have.

Your voice is important, it conveys your message in multiple ways: as a mode of communicating facts, but also to represent your emotions and credibility. In this presidential campaign year, it is instructive to see just how important voice, and delivery are. It may make the difference in deciding who our next President is. Not only is voice important to these presidential candidates, it also is important to you. You use your voice all the time, on the phone, in job interviews, giving presentations, interacting at work. Having a more powerful voice can mean a lot to you, personally, socially, and financially.

I study leadership and I kept running into many references to the power of voice in leadership. Think of a great leader whom you admire. What does that leader sound like? Powerful, I bet. I’m thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I have a dream” speech. Maybe you’re thinking an FDR fireside chat, or President Kennedy’s voice painting the path to the moon. But how do you work toward sounding like these great leaders?

There are three main parts to improving your voice.
First, it’s getting the best sound, which includes the right pitch, tone, and inflection. Vocal pitch is simply the frequency of the sound you make with your voice, similar to the wavelength. We’ve all heard the term high pitch – you know what I mean then. The way to find your best pitch is to hum, adjusting the pitch, until you feel a vibration around your eyes. Go ahead, start humming, and notice the area around the nasal cavity behind your eyes for a vibration. When it sort of tickles, you’ve found your optimal pitch, whether it’s hi or low, that’s where you want your speaking voice to be. (As a side note, Abraham Lincoln was a high-pitched speaker -- so go with what you have, not what you think you should sound like.) Also remember when it comes to optimizing the sound of your voice, use inflection, and add feeling to your words. You can create a warm, friendly and comfortable sounding voice, if you feel that way, and to feel that way, create warm comfortable images for yourself. To change your tone of voice, picture or feel the emotion you wish to convey, and it will come out expressed in your voce.

Next, it is important to vary the pattern in your speech. You can do this by changing the speed from fast to slow, changing rhythm, and adjusting the placement of your voice. Practice doing that: go back to your pitch you found before, where you felt it in your face... now work on imagining your chest as the source, touch your diaphragm, below your sternum, and see if you can feel the sound there. Next, imagine that the sound is radiating from your diaphragm, up to your face, then imagine that sound emitting from the top of your head. This is how you can really project your voice and create an authoritative voice.

The last step is doing what you are likely to least enjoy: listening to your own voice. Pick one day a week, say Monday, and make a point of recording yourself and evaluating your own voice. Is it pitched well? Are you varying tone and inflection so you don’t sound monotonous? Are you able to adjust tempo and rhythm to make your voice interesting, and are you placing your voice optimally? I promise, if you take the time to practice, you will be pleased at the improvements.

Now you have learned something important about yourself: what your vocal pitch is, how to avoid a monotone, and how to project your voice to emit power and emotion. Now you have notes: I’ve included notes from of this blog, and a vocal warm-up you can use to increase the power of your voice – and you can use the warm-up before that next big speech you give. Remember, while you can apply this tonight, only by practicing will you fully develop your voice to maximize your vocal power.

Vocal Warm-up instructions: find your pitch, with rhythm and inflection, say the following phrases while projecting your voice from your diaphragm though your facial mask.

Eat each green pea. Aim straight at the game. Ed said get ready.
It is in Italy. I tried my kite. Oaks grow slowly.
Father was calm as he threw the bomb on the dock.
An awed audience applauded Claude.
Go slow Joe, you're stepping on my toe.
Sauce makes the goose more succulent.
Up the bluff, Bud runs with the cup of love.
Red led men to the heifer that fell in the dell.
Maimed animals may become mean.
It's time to buy a nice limeade for a dime.
Oil soils doilies.
Flip a coin, Roy, you have a choice of oysters or poi.
Sheep shears should be sharp.
At her leisure, she used rouge to camouflage her features.
There's your cue, the curfew is due.
It was the student's duty to deliver the Tuesday newspaper.
He feels keen as he schemes and dreams.
Much of the flood comes under the hutch.
Boots and shoes lose newness soon.
Ruth was rude to the youthful recruit.
Vivid, livid, vivifying. Vivid experiences were lived vicariously.
Oddly, the ominous octopus remained calm.
The pod will rot if left on the rock.
Look, you could put your foot on the hood and push.
Nat nailed the new sign on the door of the diner.
Dale's dad died in the stampede for gold.
Thoughtful thinkers think things through.
Engineer Ethelbert wrecked the express at the end of Elm Street.

Why is the sound of my voice important?
Your voice conveys your message in multiple ways, in the facts and in feelings perceived by your audience as heard in your voice.

What is vocal pitch?
Pitch is the frequency of sound waves your voice makes. You can vary the frequency, or pitch, from high to low, but there is an optimal pitch for your voice.

How do I find my natural, or optimal, pitch?
Find your natural pitch by humming, changing the sound up and down until you feel your facial mask, the area around your sinuses and behind your eyes, vibrating. This is the most natural pitch for your voice and where you should target your speaking voice.

How do I keep my voice interesting to listen to?
By varying patterns in your voice, you will keep your voice interesting to listen to. Natural ways to vary vocal patterns are to change tone and inflection. You can also adjust patterns in your voice, like the tempo, rhythm, and placement of your voice.

How can I control my tone of voice?
One way to change your tone of voice is to imagine the emotion you wish to express, either in an image, a sound or voice you’ve heard, or an action that represents the emotion. By embodying that feeling, your voice will express it in the tone you desire. Some tones of voice you may wish to express include courageous, authoritative, passionate, respectful, compassionate, or joyful.

What do I need to do to improve my voice, to get the most out of it?
You can improve the power of your voice by practicing at least weekly, listening to your voice, and working on improving the pitch, tone, inflection, tempo, rhythm, and placement of your voice.
Vocal Power Course
A course based on this outline is under development. Please provide feedback letting me know what you want more of, less of, etc. Best, Bob