Category Archives: informal learning

Innovation: Why We Need to Connect with Each Other

Click on this post to view a short fun video that shows us that the connected mind is where good ideas come from.

Being Influential

Do you have good ideas? Are you sometimes frustrated when they go nowhere? What do you do when you run up against resistance or just can’t seem to get a response?

For problems to get solved, for innovation to occur, for collaboration to grow out of conflict; new ideas and solutions are needed.
And yet, it may be difficult to dislodge the status quo or even get a hearing for a new idea. Organizational decision-making can be complex or unclear. A lack of confidence in yourself, your ideas, or your standing may hold you back.

Alternatively, when you do succeed in making a difference, you feel good, and valued, and that your work is worthwhile. Things may not be perfect where you work but they are moving in a good direction. Influence is a motivator.

Being influential is not merely a result of position power. Influence is a set of skills that can be learned and that need to be honed as you grow in your career. SYNTAX is the result of modeling and distilling the crucial ways of acting and being that create influence. It exists to help people with good ideas get them across and acted upon.

Take something that you would like to have happen in your workplace, an idea you would like considered, a solution you can offer. What are the first thoughts that come to mind? Here are the seeds of your own personal syntax, the kernel of how you organize for influence. Starting from there, SYNTAX helps you bring your contribution to others so that they can get on board, make decisions, and take action.

As a launch pad, answer these questions about your idea.

What do I want to happen?

What will that get me / you / us?

How will we know – what specific evidence will tell us – when this is done?

Outstanding influencers can answer these questions for themselves and for the people they want to reach. Knowing everyone’s intention, motivation, and evidence creates the needed focus for forward motion. This comes from Plan, one of the five SYNTAX skill sets.

When you can answer these three questions for any idea you want to bring forward, your influence is guaranteed to increase. Your ability to influence increases exponentially when you add in the other four skill sets. Your personal syntax becomes supercharged for influence.

We’re here to provide tools and guidance for you to create your unique roadmap with your own personal syntax as a starting point. That’s the purpose of the Messenger, and the purpose of SYNTAX courses, coaching, and consulting.
Join the influential people who have found out how much more of a difference they can make when they put SYNTAX to work for them. And today, enjoy the benefit of asking yourself “the three questions” for something you care about.

What Coaches Bring

Invaluable resources that help you get where you want to go

Some of the most important benefits of coaching may be the least quantifiable. Coaches come from a variety of backgrounds, different types of coach training, many motivations for wanting to help others in this way. Some of the gifts coaches bring are more tangible, some less obvious.
We can’t always put our finger on exactly what made a difference. From the clients’ perspective, it’s the outcome that matters, in whatever way the coach helped them get there.

Some of the gifts coaches offer:

Listening. When the coach listens, the client has a witness. While talking about a situation, the client has an opportunity to sort through what is important and what is just a circular story. Through deep listening, the coach provides a safe space for exploration as well as the sense of being understood, which meets a profound need we all have. Goals that are spoken have added clarity and strength.

Discernment. The coach gets to know you and can offer feedback that is finely tuned to where you are. Discernment comes from experience and intuition. When you don’t see how you are contributing to a negative situation, or holding back, or missing an opportunity, the coach’s discernment calls it to your attention.

Expertise. Many coaches offer specific expertise, such as business, finance, speaking, sports performance, wellness, parenting, relationships, etc. At times a coach may give instruction or direct advice, observe you in action and give feedback, or recommend readings or trainings. While coaching is not the same as teaching, an expert coach can greatly accelerate learning.

Devotion. Coaches are devoted to their clients’ success. They help define and hold the space for people to reach beyond their current level of skill, satisfaction, and accomplishment. When the client loses track or begins to flag, the coach is there to remind and redirect. The coach holds the client in positive esteem while mirroring the hopes and dreams that make the journey worthwhile. Coaches are there consistently while the world swirls around.

Creativity. When you run out of options, call on your coach to help break through to a new level of creativity. Whether as a sounding board, brainstorming partner, or cheering section, the coach helps keep creative juices flowing.

Each coach brings unique qualities and techniques to the process. Working with a coach in any field ensures that you have these resources available to you.

(This article originally appeared in the June newsletter of the Silicon Valley Coach Federation).

Are You Walking Your Talk?

What does it take to live up to our ideals?

We all hold certain theories about how people should behave, from our earliest family teachings to the great new technique we learned in a seminar. How fully do we put our theories into practice? It’s easy to see how others are behaving and not necessarily how we are.

We want to believe that we act according to our values. What happens when someone gives us feedback that they don’t experience that from us?

Often, we deny it, or say we didn’t mean it. Or do we take that feedback and really explore what kept us from acting as we believe we should?

Whether we espouse our theories of behavior to others or simply think them to ourselves, it takes effort and attention to get out of automatic responses and be conscious of what we do. Once conscious, it takes practice and sometimes mentorship or coaching to act consistently according to what we believe.

For example, there are plenty of people who don’t think you should speak negatively about someone behind their back. Even so, it’s easy to find instances where we may be venting our feelings and in the process trashing someone else.

Or we think of ourselves as being open and honest, and then find we are holding back information because we fear others’ reactions.

Or we want to be compassionate and then someone steps on our last nerve and we feel justified as we snap their head off.

At that moment, theory holds no sway. We may or may not even be observers of our own behavior. It’s amazing how much we can delete the aspects of what we do that we would not approve of in someone else.

Some people have a basic life position in which they feel superior – they see themselves as more likely to be responsible and effective than others.

Some think they do OK – most of the time, meeting their expectations and not being overly critical of themselves or others.

Some people assume they are falling short, and will find evidence to support their self-criticism.

No matter whether we believe in our superiority, adequacy, or inadequacy, the gap between our intentions and our actions may be equally large.

In fact, when we hold ourselves as superior, it may be harder for us to take in feedback that we aren’t living up to expectations. In this life position we may blunder on even more than someone who assumes they always need to do better.

Once we have recognized that it’s a continual process, not a one-time deal, to bring our intentions into practice, we can set up the internal and external support that we need. Then we are walking our talk more than we are in the common state of denial.

Awareness and willingness to take feedback and work on it are more important than having a perfect shining record that we have to defend.

A Space for Learning
To live up to our ideals, we need

permission for ourselves to make mistakes and to be aware of them,
permission for others to give us feedback,
and opportunities to try out new behaviors.

We also need unconditional support, i.e. to remind ourselves that we are OK and not damaged goods that have to be hidden or fixed.

Whatever our life positions (and tendencies to ask for help or not), a coach can accelerate our learning by helping us with that support, permission, and practice. And playfulness as well.

Acceptance without Complacency

A life paradox is that when we accept something in ourselves or others, it’s easier to change than if we continue to resist and criticize.

Thus a kind of moebius-strip thinking is required: we learn new ideas and hold certain values about how to be in the world, spoken aloud or to ourselves. We have to recognize the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

We need to make changes while accepting ourselves as we are.
That last part, accepting ourselves as we are, may be the bridge to walking our talk. It may also be the most challenging.

(Read this issue of the Syntax Messenger here.)

How Curious Are You?

The quality of curiosity may be our most valuable hidden asset.

What Curiosity Does For Us

With curiosity, we are open to learning more than “the right answer.”

We get unstuck. We go places that give us new perspectives. We ask questions that open unseen possibilities. We bring our attention to other people and experiences. We test our imagination in concrete reality. We find things in reality that we could never have imagined. And even better, we feel good and have fun when we are being curious.

As Jay Cross (author of the wonderful book Informal Learning) blogs, “A study of some 3,000 creative executives, conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University and the INSEAD business school, found that what linked all of these Steve Jobs-types, perhaps more than anything else, was their curiosity and willingness to question—‘the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children,’according to Hal Gregersen, one of the authors of the study.”

Cross also notes that Einstein said if he had an hour to come up with a solution on which his life depended, he would spend the first fifty-five minutes figuring out the right question to ask.

Real curiosity pushes the boundaries, thinks a lot of “what-if” questions, and actively exercises creativity. Creative thinking exercises, from provocateurs such as Edward DeBono (see Lateral Thinking), help find new things about which to be curious.

Last week, after a radio interview; I reflected on how Hollis, the interviewer, had successfully brought out many aspects of how Syntax helps people have good relationships. She asked very simple questions, with curiosity. It was easy for me to follow her lead. It’s a well-honed skill demonstrated by the best TV interviewers. Charlie Rose’s curiosity mines his guests’ knowledge and opinions, resulting in a depth of understanding that shallow questions don’t offer.

Being curious is an asset in both work and personal relationships, motivating us to be truly interested in the other person’s perspective. If we could just be curious when there’s a breakdown, instead of mad or confused, we would find many good pathways to resolution.

What Keeps Us From Being Curious?

Since this quality is so valuable and enjoyable, what dampens our curiosity?

In part, our cultural beliefs and practices. Another part is our fear of being embarrassed when we take risks.

Kids naturally ask a lot of questions. Parents and teachers can break down under the barrage and discourage the questions. Adults do this most when they are uncomfortable with the subject of the child’s curiosity. This can shut down kids’ curiosity across the board.

Plus, we are flooded with stimuli and information in today’s plugged-in world, and sometimes it is hard to stay curious. We have a kind of learning fatigue. Hence we may need to renew our curiosity on a regular basis, by engaging in play and rest and unstructured time. Fortunately, curiosity seems to be an endlessly renewable resource.

Leaders or experts may not want to show curiosity, especially at work, since they feel obligated to provide answers. After all, wasn’t that why they were hired?

Curiosity may appear naïve or childlike, making people feel vulnerable. It’s exactly this kind of authenticity that brings forth a willingness to risk being open. Both organizational and technical leadership are well served by valuing curiosity and demonstrating it at every available occasion.
Share Your Curiosity

Sharing curiosity leverages it in several ways. One is to provoke others to question their assumptions and come up with new approaches.
Creating a culture of questioning increases innovation. Recent research shows a trend in science toward citing team research more often than individual research, an indicator that collaborative innovation may be more productive than working alone.

That poor cat killed by curiosity lives on today, warning us against taking risks and following our noses, so to speak. For whatever reasons, societies and organizations have wanted to pull people back to the cultural center and keep them off the fringes.

Perhaps they do this for the same reasons that I worry when my curious cat, Charcoal, starts climbing a tree. The first time he did that, he didn’t know what he was doing and got stuck way up high in a rather dangerous situation. The cool thing is that he seems to have learned. Exploration leads to experience and he has gotten smarter about trees.

We can extend that same expectation to humans – that curiosity leads to learning, which we then – hopefully – apply.

So the bigger risk is in not being curious – in staying walled inside old patterns or routines. Rather than being childish, it is an ability to be child-like.

How do you encourage yourself and others to be curious? Think some playful thoughts and ask unusual questions. You may open unexpected doors to success – and whatever comes of it, you will have a good time!