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How to Dominate the Scary Space of Creativity in the Digital Era

May 22, 2016

We love our online lives. We know all too well how good It feels to click on our familiar apps and websites and hang out with those who like what we like and think what we think.

But there’s a danger lurking in comfortable conformity.

If all we see and hear are those who think and believe just like us, we can leave little room for new ideas and different perspectives.

These are the spaces where creativity stagnates and intolerance grows.

So, is this where our digital journey has led us? And, if so, is this where we truly want to be?

If not–if we are sure we want something better–how do we break free of this comfortable conformity and lean into the scary spaces of creativity and innovation?

Here’s a short video I recently did that tries to answer some of that:



Agree? Disagree? Let’s chat about it. Leave me a comment!



Success, Mindfulness, and the Concealed Costs of Hustle

May 8, 2016

Businessman running

NOTE: On Monday, May 9, 2016 we had an outstanding discussion on Blab to go far more in depth with this same topic.
Here’s the recording of that discussion.
Be sure to check it out!

Success will never be the same again. As technology and social media transform business, entrepreneurs and other business leaders have no choice. They must find new ways of capturing attention, extending their influence and staying ahead of the pack.

At times like this, times of high transition, it’s common to look for new voices and new ways of thinking to help us navigate the uncertain road ahead. For regular viewers of YouTube and other social media platforms, Gary Vaynerchuk is currently one of the most influential of these voices. Despite an irreverent style and rapid-fire, potty-mouth banter, Gary Vee preaches a refreshingly holistic form of social-era evangelism. His message is one based on a razor-sharp understanding of consumer behavior, empathic concern for others and unflinching self-awareness.


The Misreading of Hustle

Yet, even with several best-sellers and near-24/7 media presence, one Vaynerchuk’s key ideas seems to be continually misinterpreted. And not only that: this misinterpretation has taken on almost cult-like status. I’m referring to the idea of “Hustle”.

In his latest book, #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness, Vaynerchuk devotes a whole chapter to the topic of hustle. This is for good reason. As he points out in the introduction, Vaynerchuk frequently finds that many take a superficial approach to this concept, sadly missing his deeper meaning.

Hustle is a passionate commitment working hard to manifest one’s own personal vision of success. But the key to hustle—and this is the part that many so often miss—is that it only has value when integrated with the entire #GaryVee approach. This is a commitment to success based on gratitude, self-awareness, empathy, and putting others’ well-being first.


The Cult of Hustle

A quick search of either Twitter or Instagram for the hashtag #hustle quickly shows that Vaynerchuk’s deeper commitments are all but lost. Instead we see scores of messages reflecting what I call the “Cult of Hustle.”

But the problem here is more than just misrepresentation. It’s misguidance. Instead of championing collaborative empowerment, the Cult of Hustle preaches an outdated message of self-celebrating narcissism.

I know this sounds harsh, but there is good reason. In a recent piece in The Atlantic, researcher Kristin Neff describes our culture’s fixation with self-celebration as the “cure-all in the quest for inflated egos.” But the problem is bigger than just a misguided understanding of self-esteem. When set loose in business, the Cult of Hustle serves up a profound misreading of contemporary business dynamics and the nature of success.

Outdated Heroicism

A close look at the popular notion of hustle reveals an underlying assumption that success is an heroic achievement. In this form of achievement, success comes from working harder, being smarter, and being more shrewd than anyone else. So, to feel worthy and attain the success I envision, many others must end up being “less-than me”.

Within business, this heroic approach to success is the same that helped leaders triumph in the long-gone industrial era. But the heroic leaders of yesterday aren’t going to solve problems in today’s volatile, socially-driven business environment. In today’s complex world, the Cult of Hustle just ain’t gonna cut it.

21st Century Business: A Need for Community

To get a better idea of what will cut it, we should look a bit more closely at the kind of challenges business now faces. Writing in Huffington Post, Ayelet Baron described the unique characteristics of 21st century business and what it now takes to be successful.

The 21st century is about community and open, two-way conversations. We no longer need to yell at people and broadcast to get their attention. People want to engage in conversation and be listened to.  The new breed of leaders respect people and allow for communities to form where they no longer need to be at the head.

This is not just feel-good rhetoric. It’s a prescription for the kind of volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous problems today’s entrepreneurs face every day. Problems like these simply will not yield to the old, heroic model of authority and expertise. New thinking—like that offered by Gary Vaynerchuk—is now needed to meet these new challenges.

So if the Cult of Hustle is better suited to a by-gone era of success, what is the alternative? For that, we should talk briefly about mindfulness.



The New Era of Mindful Business

The idea of mindfulness comes from the ancient traditions of Eastern contemplative practices. Mindfulness is a way of seeing the world based on Acceptance, Non-Judgment, Letting Go, Non-Striving, Patience, and Self-Compassion. For centuries mindfulness was more a practice for monks and yogis, but in recent years the concept has gone mainstream–this includes business as well. Forbes, Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, and The World Economic Forum have all recognized mindfulness as an important pathway for cultivating the kind of focus, self-reflection, and emotional intelligence now needed for success.

In the Cult of Hustle, success demands unwavering attention to one’s own skills, needs and self-determined goals. But in business today, success requires something different.

So rather than focusing on personal achievement, the focus turns to quieting the inner chatter and emotional reactions that regulary block our ability to notice the weak signals that often preceed opportunities before they emerge.

But this becomes much harder to do when we are laser-focused on hustling.

Can Social Business Reverse Our Growing Crisis of Innovation?

March 21, 2015

barnraising men

Recently I was talking with a friend who works for a Fortune 500 company. When I asked about social media and collaboration, there was a slight chuckle. “Even if we had time to collaborate” my friend said, “the bosses have no interest in new ideas. All they care about is this insane push for us to hit our numbers.”

I must admit I was not completely shocked. Even with the enthusiastic press and daily chat feeds calling this the ‘new era of social collaboration‘, I knew that a majority of workers remained more like my friend than not. And given the recent data it makes a lot of sense.


America’s Crisis of Innovation

As Steve Denning recently reported, America remains mired in a generations-long innovation crisis. Despite the nation’s rebounding economy and renewed optimism, most American firms simply can’t compete in the global marketplace.

While we might be quick to point the finger at broader economic and political factors, two recent polls suggest that the causes may be much closer to home. In fact, they may be within the workplace itself.


An Epidemic of Disengagement

Data now suggests that a large majority of American workers spend their days in environments that discourage collaboration and creative thinking. While this is especially the case with millennials, a majority of workers of all ages feel discouraged from thinking outside the box and contributing new ideas.

Reporting on a study recently published by the firm MindMatters, Denning notes that

Only 5% of respondents report that workers in innovation programs feel highly motivated to innovate. [And] while more than half the respondents (55%) say that their organizations treat intellectual property as a valuable resource, only one in seven (16%) believed their employers regarded its development as a mission-critical function. (in Forbes)

Add to this a recent Gallup poll finding that more than two-thirds of American workers feel disengaged from their jobs. Here again, we see millennials hit especially hard.

According to Gallup,  over 71% of millennials currently feel disengaged from their work. Gallup reported that

This finding suggests that millennials may not be working in jobs that allow them to use their talents and strengths, thus creating disengagement.


The Gap Between Aspirations vs. Execution

For businesses, these numbers reveal a significant disconnect between organizations’ professed ambitions and their daily execution. While business and political leaders might say they long for the kind of fresh thinking needed to reestablish dominance of global markets, those on the front lines hear quite a different message.

Indeed, many managers seem to be taking page right out of Frederick Taylor’s playbook for Scientific Management by, essentially telling their workers You’re not here to think. You’re here to do!

This leaves us with a question: If social business is ushering us into the next wave in innovation, how can a social mindset help to reverse this epidemic of disengagement?

Pushing Social Even Further

There is little doubt that social technology is a key player in the  future of work.  The current dialogue focusing on social tools and strategies for workplace engagement is an important one. It’s a wellspring of transformation for what business currently is and will become.

Yet if American business is serious about reviving innovation, the conversation needs to go even further. As future-leaning thinkers, we will have to expand our current dialogue and consider an even bolder vision for the potential of a social mindset.

For instance, can we push the idea of “social” further to envision management practices more open to uncertainty and the risk-laden terrain of creative thinking? If so, we may open a doorway to collaborative cultures more welcoming to risk, uncertainty and new thinking.


The Risk of Looking Deeper

But there is an important caveat: any meaningful conversation about opportunities must also consider the forces impeding them. In some cases this means coming face to face with issues perhaps considered too delicate to discuss. For example, for managers this will likely mean examining the deeper reasons why they treat innovation and change more like threats than as opportunities.

I’ll explore some of these deeper reasons myself in the next piece. But for now I hope to hear some of your thoughts on pushing the social mindset, expanding creative thinking, and exploring the barriers to innovation.


The Collapse of Expertise and Rise of Collaborative Sensemaking

March 11, 2015


If organizations are going to thrive in turbulent times, they must surrender many of their most cherished assumptions and start leveraging the power of collaborative knowledge. But this won’t be easy as most continue to believe in the same top-down knowledge management strategies common to the machine age.

In the social era, the power of collaboration is key and collaborative knowledge generation–or sensemaking–is essential for staying competitive amidst the messy, complex challenges that define our hyper-connected universe.

But there’s a glitch: paying workers to collaboratively solve problems and cultivate ideas flies right in the face of traditional management thinking and its belief that the only valid source of knowledge is authoritative expertise. So, clearly, a new understanding about knowledge and the role of expertise is needed.

Traditional Management: In Authoritative Knowledge We Trust

Sociologist Bridget Jordan has observed that “The power of authoritative knowledge is not that it is correct, but that it counts.” How true!

Jordan’s point hits home on several fronts: First, it speaks directly to management’s long-standing use of expertise to justify its own authoritative management style.  This is embodied in the belief that for every challenge there is only “one best way” to address it. This helps explain why authority is automatically bestowed upon the appointed “experts” assumed to know the “one best way”.

Jordan’s point also illustrates the false dichotomy organizations still foster between managers whose job it is to think and workers who are only there to do. This manager/worker split can be traced to the very origins of management thinking. It was a key premise that Frederick Taylor, the founding father of modern management, used in his theory of scientific management. So it’s not surprising that, even today, we still hear managers lament that their people “just don’t get the big picture!”

Integrating Expertise With Sensemaking

But I also want to avoid the risk of going to the other extreme and declaring that expertise has no value and needs to be banished. Collaborative sensemaking is crucial; yet it needs to be tempered and integrated with the broader perspective and enduring insight afforded by more rigorous and tested thought. In this way expertise becomes as an important but equal component of a dynamic and evolving sensemaking landscape.

Suggestions For Introducing More Collaborative Strategies

So what can managers do, and what about the role of leadership?

Peter Morville has said that those in positions of authority should see themselves as “decision making architects”.  This implies using positional power smartly–not to control others, but instead to create cultures and contexts in which mutually-empowering decision-making becomes the norm.

For those looking  to make a start on this journey, here are three suggestions:

  1. Look for pockets of resistance: If you know of departments or programs continually complaining that “management is out of touch”, they may be right! This may be a good place to start introducing more integrative knowledge practices.
  2. Change your story: Narratives are powerful tools for transformation; you may want to revise your own message about the power of expertise vs. workforce input. A more inclusive message valuing integrative knowledge validates workers’ knowledge and opens the door for more social sensemaking strategies.
  3. Create outlets for collaborative sensemaking to take place: Venues will differ based on the organizations’ size and type of work. But still be sure to seek out ways to incorporate social technologies for unlocking collaborative potential.

 A Deeper Awareness of Social 

As we move deeper into the often-awkward shift from industrial heroicism to social interdependence, organizations of all kinds must look closely at what it means to be “social”. Social is more than a buzzword, and it’s more than having a company Twitter account. At its center a social mindset is about a more dynamic and integrative way of seeing the world.

For organizations commited to thriving in this new era, social must be at the heart of their worldview–how its culture and leadership understands reality and their role in it. Nothing better reflects this understanding than how those in authority–day in, day out–balance their commitment between expertise and the creative processes of collaborative sensemaking.

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