Coupling & Crosstalk: Avoiding Ruts and Nuts!

ruts-canstockphoto9368594_450x300Coupling & Crosstalk is my column in the MEPTEC Report. This column appears in the Fall 2016 edition on page 8.

Electronic coupling is the transfer of energy from one circuit or medium to another. Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes not (crosstalk). I hope that this column, by mixing technology and general observations, is thought provoking and “couples” with your thinking. Most of the time I will stick to technology but occasional crosstalk diversions may deliver a message closer to home.

Avoiding Ruts and Nuts!

We just completed a fantastic trans-Canadian family road trip! The highlights included Glacier National Park in Montana along with Banff & Jasper National Parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The trip provided the right amount of “disconnecting” both physically, (or should I say wirelessly?), and mentally. During this time I observed a number of ruts of the repetitious, not the sexual or pothole, variety, and was reminded how easy it is to become “stuck in a rut”. Understanding how to identify ruts can help make meaningful personal and professional improvements.

Coaches and consultants provide a fresh set of eyes to look at processes and procedures at home or work. Sometimes staff is consumed with activities “just because” or enforcing rules since “that is how we’ve always done something.” It is the fresh or outsider perspective that allows one to see a rut for what it is really is – repetition that is not productive or useful. These “ruts” creep into everything including personal habits, government procedures, and business processes. And business process ruts occur at all levels from the simplest transaction to corporate planning and governance. Do you really need to collect and analyze that data every month if no one will act upon it?

I find traveling with my family forces me to step out of my daily routines. Not only are the logistics of a family road trip different than my typical business trip – especially when traveling by car versus air – the style of travel is different since our priorities are different. It is about the journey and not just the destination – just one of the many reasons parents dislike hearing “Are we there yet?” from their children.

This change in routine, along with being “disconnected”, provided me with the perspective to directly observe the rut of being addicted to our digital “smart” devices. Throughout our trip, I saw plenty of people paying more attention to their screens than the people or nature that surrounded them. The remoteness of our destinations provided many places without any connectivity which thankfully reduced this trend. However, it was all the more pronounced – or at least glaringly obvious – when we returned to “civilization” for dinner at the end of the day…

Within many cities we saw youths and adults feeding a brand new digital addiction: Pokémon Go. Since Pokémon Go is played outside in public it is hard to tell if the magnitude of the addiction is greater or simply more visible. It was astonishing to see the number of people so deeply engaged to the point of being oblivious in something just released a month ago.

Another change was in our news sources. During this trip, our news came from what our friends shared on Facebook and the occasional access to local media. Did you know that Canada has an Olympic team? And there are many talented athletes that we Americans have never heard of? We saw many more heats on Canadian television with athletes performing at their peak but unlikely to end up on the podium than we normally do.

Even the tone of the Presidential election coverage shifted somewhat as we moved away from the “deep blue” Democratic bubble of Silicon Valley to Republican leaning Montana. The Canadian press is “having a field day” mixed with shocked disbelief as they report on the circus this election has become. This reminded us of the danger of assuming that everyone shares the same values and thought processes as we do.

At the other extreme, there is a “herd mentality” occurring on Facebook. Political items posted on Facebook are having zero impact on changing the opinions of others who have decided on a candidate let alone those of undecided voters. In fact, several friends have declared a moratorium on posting political items on their timelines and others have actively de-friended or blocked those with opposing views.

Facebook is currently serving as an echo chamber for many by reinforcing their existing political views. Since friends typically share similar views and values, there is definitely self-selection bias. The echo and bias are clearly reinforcing people’s choice of candidate. If Facebook is your only “news” source, you are woefully under informed (perhaps like one of the candidates?).

Similar to group think and self-reinforcing opinions in our personal lives, the same challenges can be present in the corporate world. One of the biggest dangers is when employees are blinded to reality by their organization’s own marketing and positioning.

So, have you spotted some ruts that you would like to avoid? These can be eliminated through honest conscious change. However, one needs to be cautious of constant change which can be a “rut” itself. I am reminded of the stories of my spouse’s “fiddle-footed” Canadian ancestors who were prone to relocating themselves. They moved multiple times at the drop of a hat sometimes leaving immediate family members behind. I like to think that their movements were to improve their situation and not simply change for change’s sake.

Sometimes business change is driven by the lack of focus or the desire to avoid accountability. And some leaders, under pressure to produce results, fail to allow changes to “settle in” and take root, preventing the desired improvement. Organizations that have constant change also run the risk of employees dismissing the latest change as the “initiative du jour”. Just like the proper perspective and experience to identify ruts, a fresh set of eyes can set the pace for successful change.

This is what I learned on our road trip! Even though we did not see any huckleberry-addicted Canadian Moose rutting, we hope that our teenagers gained a greater appreciation for the grandeur of nature during their summer break.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments directly. Please contact me to discuss your thoughts or if I can be of any assistance.

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