What’s your story?

Stories are a natural way to explain who you are and what you need; and your story helps others connect with you and provide support.  In exchange, other people’s stories help you understand what they need and decide if you can help them out.  So stories are a great source of connections between people.

As such, you should take great care in sharing your stories and spend time reflecting about them. If you go around saying everything is fine, you are not likely to get a lot of support from others because they’ll assume you don’t need anything.  On the other hand, if you are always saying everything is all messed up and you are overwhelmed, it’s like “the boy who cried wolf,” and you will not get much help because people assume their efforts won’t really make a difference for you.

Your story should have gradually more specific versions

Your story should have gradually more specific versions

Before you lump this post into the “it’s all about me” category of pop culture, consider this:  it’s pretty selfish to assume that others will know your story without you offering it.  We all know hundreds of people, and keeping track of all of their stories is a complex task.  You can make it easier on others by having your own story worked out and sharing it appropriately. And you have to listen and respond to others or you will be seen as a taker, not a partner.

Knowing and sharing your story is not the same as bragging about yourself, this is more about being interesting.  I love this blog post by russell davies, where he suggests, to be interesting, be interested.

To get your story together, start by answering a few simple questions:

  • What are you doing now and how is it going for you?
  • What have you done in the past, and how did it help form you?
  • What lessons have you learned along the way?
  • What do you want to be doing next?  And next after that?
  • What are your hopes for your life and the world around you?

Think of your story as a nautilus shell with the whole shell being a high level version of you and each compartment being a gradually more specific situational version of you.

Even if you are not sure how to answer one or more of these questions, that tells a lot about who you are and what kind of support you need from others.

Share the answers to these questions in small bits and weave them through your conversations with others… few people really want to hear a long monologue.

Pay attention to how your story comes across to others.  Are you always overwhelmed, or frustrated, or stressed out?  Over time, people will perceive your self-talk as your personal brand.  Be careful that it represents the real you.

An authentic story makes it easier for others to work with and around you, and produces a lot of serendipitous goodness that helps you along your way.

Free advice for GM…er Penske #4

We’re moving downstream of the GM break-up so this post is obviously not going to help GM explicitly, so listen up folks at Penske!  This is about how to imagine SATURN as a (really) different kind of car company.  The brand heritage points us in this direction, but the operations history never quite got there.  While establishing itself as a new car brand, the most significant difference in their approach to running the company was the creation of a new dealer network from scratch, and calling it a retail network to indicate a stronger belief in customer service as a competitive advantage.

Using the organization ecosystem model from the first post in this series, I would place Saturn in the “independent” corner and really push the envelope on how to design, build, and market a car using an open source model, borrowed from the software industry.  As you know this model has produced some amazing products like the browser Firefox from Mozilla.

In fact, some of these ideas are already in rough formation.  From Wikipedia I’ve learned that Penske will not be buying the GM factories and will eventually have other car companies build cars sold as Saturns. At this point, GM will build the Aura, Vue, and Outlook for Penske for two years. To replace GM as the brand’s manufacturer, Penske is in discussions with several global automakers, including Renault Samsung Motors of Korea.

Pit Crews have focus and pride

Pit Crews have focus and pride

What if they really push for something different and create an open source project for each model?  With the Penske passion for cars and the SATURN commitment to customer service, it’s not hard to imagine a really cool hometown facility that attracts car nuts with prototype vehicles, computer workshops, and a heavy dose of car culture.  Rather than staffing these “stores” with sales people, SATURN could staff them with car designers and engineers that help guide the process and manage the inputs via the open source process.  Interested players could be organized in “pit crews” who develop relationships with each other over time and work on specific elements of the car prototype.  Perhaps stores could work in regional “car craft” networks that involve small scale manufacturing and parts suppliers in the creation of regionally specific models.

Once the prototypes are in final form and are on the road being tested, contracts with larger manufacturing companies could be established to put the vehicles into limited production.  The viral connection to each model would be a grassroots sales force that would bring back the days of localized automotive pride, only it would be distributed throughout the country instead of centered on Detroit.

Which animal are you?

Are all animals hierarchical by nature?  Are humans? Bob Sutton posted a great topic comparing managers to baboons.  And of course the easy inclusion of the Office character Michael Scott shows the ubiquity of our “dominant mindset” thinking about organizations.  It is clearly the case that most organizations we know are hierarchical.

Some of you may know about biomimicry and how it can inspire great design. I read the Starfish and the Spider and had a few chats with Ori Brafman awhile back and it got me really interested in the idea of organizations as animals. With animals there are thousands of strategies for “survival of the fittest” and many of them don’t involve hierarchy.  So couldn’t there be many types of organizations that don’t involve hierarchy?  What advantages would the organization have if it was built from a different fundamental structure?

The real lesson from biomimicry here, is that animal adaptations come from interacting with the environment.  That is, they are not internally developed as a strategy, but they are externally evolved based on the forces around them.  So given the business environment you are in, what animal could inspire your organization design so you could succeed better?

By the way, this is not like adopting a mascot because it’s cool or cuddly, it’s about understanding the different mechanisms that help animals function and thrive and (wait for it, a big word is coming..) making isomorphic design choices for your organization.

Here’s a design device that provides three ideas to stretch your thinking about systems, tools, processes, and behaviors, using three animals for inspiration:

Animal Inspirations for OD