Working on the Right Problem

Accountability Books Empathy


Key Point: Learning how to frame the real problem is very difficult. Dr. Bernard Roth is a prominent Stanford engineering professor, co-founder of its famous, and believes the process of design thinking can help everyone form the kind of lifelong habits that solve problems, achieve goals and help make our lives better. It is also an important tool to help us frame up and focus on the REAL issue. If we don’t have that skill, we often keep working on the wrong “problem” and wonder why we’re not getting desired results.  

“We are all capable of reinvention,” says Dr. Roth, who is also the author of the book, “The Achievement Habit.” And design thinking is the premise behind developing reinvention in the form of personal achievement.  

It focuses on five steps, and Roth suggests the first two are most important.

Step 1: “Empathize” — Learn what the real issues are that need to be solved.

Step 2: “Define the actual problem” — A very challenging task to be sure we’re working on the right issue.

Step 3: “Ideate” — Brainstorm, make lists, write down ideas and generate possible solutions.

Step 4: “Build” — A prototype or create a plan.

Step 5: “Test” — The idea and seek feedback from others…

One example Dr. Roth uses to make his point is a person who wants to find a life partner. As part of the empathy step, ask yourself, ‘What would finding a partner or spouse do for me?’ One answer might be that it would bring you companionship. The next step is to reframe the problem: ‘How can I find companionship?’ There are more and easier answers to the new question — you can meet friends online, take classes, join a club, take a group trip, join a running group, get a pet and spend time at the dog park.’ Finding a spouse now becomes simply one of many possible ways to find companionship,’ Dr. Roth says. ‘By changing the question, I have altered my point of view and dramatically expanded the number of possible solutions.’

‘Design thinking on the highest level is a way of reframing the way you look at the world and deal with issues, and the main thing is this idea of empathy,’ Dr. Roth says. ‘If you have tried something and it hasn’t worked, then you’re working on the wrong problem.’”

Character Moves

  1. Learn more about the process of design thinking and how to apply it at work and in your personal life. I strongly suggest reading Roth’s book “The Achievement Habit.
  2. Understanding and learning how to better empathize continues to be an important gateway for progress in both our business and personal lives. Asking the right questions, driven by exploring empathy helps us frame up the right problem. Let’s work on those skills. Do you really know if you’re empathetic with yourself? What questions to you ask yourself? How do you know you’re framing up the right “problem?”

Design Thinking in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I’m all for thinking things through, but these days, the word “empathy” is also a big red flag for me. Sadly, some people can fake being empathetic (usually for their own personal benefit), so you just have to be mindful. Many times, you can overthink things too. When it comes to the real stuff, like Dr. Roth refers to (finding partners and other serious life and work issues), design thinking sounds awesome. But, if a co-worker tries to design-think where to go get lunch, I don’t believe that’s a person I’d enjoy having lunch with anymore. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis.

Purpose Driven Storytelling

Books Purpose Respect


Key Point: Purpose and value driven storytelling are becoming central themes for leading organizations and a necessary practice for all leaders. Why? Storytelling is a prime vehicle for creating a cultural platform that inspires and guides individual and team behavior. Clear, meaningful and compelling purpose in partnership with stated values, fuels performance. 

John Coleman is a coauthor of the book, Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders. In a recent article, he describes inspirational purpose as an urgent call to action. As an example, he refers to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The organization’s purpose is “Finding Cures. Saving Children,” and notes that their website is filled with the stories of the kids they serve

Coleman also notes, “as part of completing purpose, organizations need to declare and live well defined and understood values… So you create a common narrative for the group or organization.” 

A well-advanced organization has all stakeholders telling stories that complete the desired narrative. For commercial institutions like ours, it is most rewarding when customers are fully engaged storytellers… And our website, along with social media become filled with stories that demonstrate how we’ve really made banking work for them! This makes our purpose and values true.

Character Moves: 

  1. What are the purpose and values of your group? How do they personally connect with you, your team, your customers, and other stakeholders? Properly answering these questions takes relentless, thoughtful work that translates into desired action over time. You can start a conversation, but do not think you can complete this at a four-hour team building session.
  1. How do you use stories to inspire, inform, celebrate and improve? This requires an intentional system before it happens unconsciously throughout the company. 
  1. Remember that giving specific, behavioral based recognition is a form of storytelling and perhaps the most effective.

Purpose driven story telling in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: Hearing stories from an experienced, “been there before” individual is one of the most valuable things a younger employee searches for. A great story stamps itself in the mind of an aspiring learner far better than some PowerPoint. For those of us looking for mentors, we’d gladly climb through thick and thin to earn this information. But, in our ADD-prone world, we just simply don’t have the patience or desire to hear anything that is a jumbled waste of time-consuming dialogue. A great story is priceless. However, a bad story disconnects us and makes us wish everyone shuts up and limits themselves to 140 character Tweets. It’s a blessing when we are privileged to learn from people who know the difference.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

The Humility Code

Abundance Books Personal leadership


Key Point: It is both comforting and daunting to embrace the idea that “character” involves a journey. We have the ability and responsibility to develop our personal character. Based on this premise, David Brooks, the highly regarded New York Times pundit and author, has appropriately entitled his recent book, “The Road to Character.”  The prime ingredient on the bumpy path, according to Brooks, is HUMILITY. Towards the end of this thought provoking book, he summarizes what he calls the “Humility Code.”

The Humility Code:

  1. Human beings seek a life of purpose, meaningfulness, righteousness, virtue and NOT just one of pleasure. Life is essentially a moral drama not a hedonistic one. Holiness is a more noble pursuit than happiness.
  1. The road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature and recognizing we are flawed creatures. We have a tendency to be self-centered and over confident. However, we are not the center of the universe.
  1. Although we are flawed creatures, we are splendidly endowed. We have been granted the capacity to take on the struggle of personal improvement.
  1. In this epic battle against our weaknesses, our greatest virtue is humility. However, we cannot do it alone and nor are we expected to.
  1. Pride blinds us to our weaknesses and makes us think we are better than we are. Pride drives us to prove that we are better than others and makes it hard to be vulnerable before those whose love we need.
  1. It doesn’t matter whether we work for a hedge fund or charity; there are heroes and schmucks in both worlds. The most important thing is our willingness to engage in the struggle for virtue. After attending to the basic necessities of living, this is our central purpose.
  1. Character is built in the course of confronting our own weaknesses. This involves much more than what others can see us do or hear us say. Constant small acts of caring, giving, and considerate, humble thinking creates the trend in our lives that results in habitual self discipline rather than remaining a slave to our weaknesses.
  1. People of character are capable of staying attached to a calling, purpose and people through the long run. The things that lead us astray, like fear, gluttony, and vanity are short run. Elements like courage, honesty, humility, (and I would add, self-accountability, respect, abundance…) take us on the long road. Humility also comes from the freedom in understanding that our commitment to these virtues cannot be completed in a lifetime. 
  1. No one can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. If we are to progress in the confrontation with ourselves, we must be humble enough to put ourselves in a state to receive the affection of others. We have to draw outside of our selves to cope with the forces inside.
  1. Life for all of us is “U” shaped. We advance, retreat and so on. The redemption always comes in the form of “grace.” When admitting our failure, help comes in many different forms. When we recognize that you and I are unconditionally accepted and we accept what is, the path forward and accompanying gratitude usually arrives.
  1. Defeating our weaknesses includes the ability to quiet ourselves….to mute the sound of our own egos . Only by quieting ourselves will we be open to the external forces that are waiting to help us. 
  1. The humble person accepts that experience is a better teacher than pure reason. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Wisdom is knowing how to behave when perfect knowledge is lacking.
  1. If we serve work that is intrinsically compelling and we strive to be excellent at that, we will likely serve both the community and ourselves. This is most often found by looking and understanding what the world is asking of our vocation and us. If we just try to serve ourselves we likely will never be satisfied. If we just try and serve the community, we may wonder if we’re ever appreciated enough. What problem is addressed or value provided by something you intrinsically enjoy? Serve that.
  1. The wise leader is a steward of her or his organization and tries to leave it in better condition than how she or he found it. A sound leader finds the right balance between competing values and goals.
  1. The individual who takes on the personal struggle to become a better human being may not become rich but will become mature. Maturity does not glitter. It is not about becoming better than anyone else or winning. The most important journey, what Brook describes as the “Road to Character,” is about becoming better today than you and I were yesterday.

Character Moves:

  1. Reflecting on Brooks’ 15 elements of his Humility Code is probably daunting enough. The good news in all this, of course, is that we are all flawed and what Brooks describes as perpetual “stumblers.” The beauty and meaning in life is in the stumbling and becoming more graceful as we travel the character road.
  1. The paradox seems to involve taking ourselves out of being the center of everything while being much more personably accountable for being very centered. It is not all about us and yet at the same time, it is. 

Humility in The Triangle


One Millennial View: My profession has me immersed in the entertainment industry, writing stories about some of the most lucky, hand-picked, successful, and financially rich individuals on the planet. I see people become jaded over celebrity success constantly. A lot of people die a little inside when they comprehend the fact Kim Kardashian can lay in her mansion and be paid far more than a teacher’s annual salary to Tweet out 140 characters mentioning product placement for a company that will award her five or six figures, but it’s reality. Now, what some celebrities do understand is the power of humility. Take a lesson from Jurassic World’s Chris Pratt, arguably the most sought after newcomer in Hollywood. He’s all about humility, not taking himself too seriously, and his career is being championed because of it. One is cringed at, the other celebrated, but at the end of the day, Pratt’s living conditions aren’t too shabby either.

 – Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Find the Bright Spots!

Books Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: Today, more than ever, an essential leadership competence is the ability to advance an organization’s culture. As the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” So what strategies can leaders deploy to “up shift” culture? Harnessing the power of “Bright Spots,” is one impactful and perhaps under-utilized strategy for driving rapid, sustainable cultural improvement. Chip Heath, the Stanford based organization consultant, researcher and author recently spoke to 700 hundred of our leaders. Check out his book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. He told the following story: 

“In 1990, Jerry Sternin, author of Power of Positive Deviance, was sent by Save the Children to fight severe malnutrition in rural communities of Vietnam. The Vietnamese foreign minister, having seen many such ‘do-gooder’ missions in the past, gave him just six months to make a difference. Sternin was well versed in the academic literature on the complex systemic causes of malnutrition – poor sanitation, poverty, lack of education, etc. He considered such information “T.B.U.” – “True But Useless.” There was no way a strategy focused on changing these deeply rooted issues could see results in six months.

Instead, Sternin used an approach that he would later call positive deviance. He traveled to villages and met with the foremost experts on feeding children: Groups of village mothers. He asked them whether there were any very poor families whose children were bigger and healthier than the typical child, even though their families had only the same resources available to all. Hearing that the answer was ‘yes,’ Sternin and villagers set out to discover what the mothers of the healthiest children were doing differently.

They found that the mothers of the healthiest children were indeed doing things differently. First, they were feeding their children smaller portions of food, more often during the day. Second, they were taking brine shrimp from the rice paddies and greens from sweet potatoes grown in their gardens and adding these to their daily soups or rice dishes. They were doing this even though most people avoided these foods, which were stigmatized as ‘low class.’ And third, when serving their children, they were ladling from the bottom of the pot, making sure the kids got the shrimp and greens that had settled during cooking.

Sternin called these families ‘bright spots’ – observable exceptions recognized by their peers as producing results above the norm with only the same kinds of resources available to others. In less than a month, he and the mothers had discovered local practices that were effective, realistic and sustainable. He helped mothers in other villages to study their local bright spots and replicate their behavior. Critical to the success of this process was recognizing that sustainable solutions are already in use, and could be locally sourced by local people. Sternin helped the ‘bright spot’ mothers in numerous villages train others in the most effective practices for their communities. At the end of six months, 65 percent of the children in the villages where Sternin worked were better nourished.”

Character Moves: 

  1. Look for Bright Spots in your team/organization. And then leverage insight you get from them. It is often the fastest, most meaningful way to drive RESULTS. Sometimes it may seem too simple or obvious. Be humble enough to embrace the simplicity. 
  2. In a previous blog, I talked about the importance of extinguishing Dim Spots. However, avoid becoming seduced into exclusively doing so. People who are unwilling or incapable of changing their behavior to contribute to the “up shift” of the “new” culture DO need to leave. Yet, indulging in what could be perceived as a cultural “witch hunt” will likely slow down a meaningful cultural change and be less productive than effectively leveraging the best of Bright Spots.
  3. Invite peers to help discover who and where Bright Spots are and use stories to describe their behavior and results. As the Bright Spots connect and flourish, the momentum will help Dim Spots either switch on or fizzle out. 

Bright Spots in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: The nice thing about being a Millennial (and therefore, lower on most totem poles), is we’re really only looking for Bright Spots. That’s all I want to have mentor me, or really want to pay attention to. I simply don’t care about Dim Spots. For two reasons: 1. Unless they adversely affect MY personal work, it’s a distraction to even let them bother me. 2. We’re not that far removed from the “tattle tale” days, in theory, so it’s still their job to notice it on their own or someone more important probably will. That said, I’m all for Millennial teamwork too, so, if there’s a Dim Spot colleague you notice who can make a quick improvement, go ahead and give em’ a positive, quiet nudge… (Emphasis on quiet: Direct Message, Gchat, catch them in the hall or break room, whatever). But, you don’t need to call out his or her screw up across the office in front of all superiors to hear. If that’s your style, then yeah, that Dim Spot will probably become a lot brighter, and maybe even bright enough to burn you later.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

‘Moody Bitches’

Accountability Books Well-being


Key Point: MBThe title of this blog refers to a book recently written by Julie Holland M.D. The book opens up with: “Women today are overworked and exhausted.” One of the book’s most popular chapters is reportedly: “You. Need. Downtime.”

I think it’s fair to say that someone could write a book with the title “Crabby Bastards” focusing on men, and from what I’m sensing, in the world of work, it could also start with: “Men today are overworked and exhausted.” I also believe one of the most popular chapters of this fictitious book could be: “You. Need. Downtime.”

In a very short period of time, perhaps less than a decade, we have seen a violent increase in personal demands in work/life in the western world. Concepts like “time management,” “work/life balance,” “separating work from home,” “two week annual summer vacations,” “nine to five,” are frankly not very relevant or helpful. And we know that change, which of course is a constant, will only continue to speed up.

Perhaps what’s just as important will be the severity of changes. And institutions are not likely to help us with stress relief. Workplaces will be more 24/7, technology will not slow down, competition will not decrease, and legislation (like more statutory holiday time) is not likely to occur. Obviously there will be NO more time available and statements like, “I don’t have time,” will become more unacceptable and even considered “lame.” We all have the same amount of time and the point is whether we choose to make time available or not. Productivity and creating happiness will be exclusively ours. And this is a wonderful thing. Personal autonomy and control are vital for personal freedom, and the basis for mental and emotional wellness. I’m not foolish enough to say that we will have the total freedom to choose what, when and how we work. However, I am sure we will be able to choose our perspective better, and it will be up to us to personally determine and decide whether we want to be “overworked and exhausted.” 

Character Moves:

1. Learn how to refuel… Daily… Perhaps hourly. Few of us are able to be effective at managing our exhausted levels (energy) by refueling just on weekends, days off, and vacations. Yes, those breaks remain important. But what is every bit as important is to learn techniques to help refuel all the time. Science is showing us the way. The reason we’re seeing people at work drinking more water, eating healthier, doing daily mediation, applying centering/breathing techniques, taking walking meetings, even having naps at work, etc. is not just trendy “hippy” type stuff. It’s because we need to refuel or we will fail. Think of a pit stop during any race… Take poor pit stops, and you lose. Recommendation: Read Peter Bregman’s Four Seconds.

2. Invest more in personal relationships. Perhaps the most important energy investment and creation comes from being around people we care for, and who deeply care for us. This may be so obvious. However in the stress inducing environment we live in, the tendency might be to become more reclusive and alone, hanging out more with a pet and Facebook. We need each other. Counterintuitively, perhaps but the more we give to each other, the less exhausted and overwhelmed we feel. For a guy who likes to come home, work out in front of Netflix, and avoid connecting as much as I need… Well I must get off the couch and love more.

R (refuel) and R (relationships) in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: We seem to have the understanding that work is pervasive and something like that annual “two week vacation” is a myth we saw in a movie from the ’80’s. To me, that’s ok. Instead, the focus has changed to being completely passionate about what I do, who I work for, and what I’m contributing to. Sure, we all need our down time, but when people explain that they “love their jobs” and truly mean it, how much of a perfect “vacation” does that sound like? Let’s all aim for that. 

– Garrett 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Stay left of your BUT!!

Accountability Books Courage


Key Point: It is important for us to be thoughtful and aware of our self-talk.  Most of us spend an awful lot of time talking to ourselves. Yet we may not appreciate how our self-talk creates vivid images that evoke feelings, which often powerfully translate into self-fulfilling behavior and performance. You’ve likely heard the story about golfer’s who negative self-talk… “Geez, I’m likely going to shank this shot.” And of course, the body is happy to comply. Somehow if one says, “don’t bonk,” our action somehow forgets the “don’t” part.  On the other hand, we know that visualizing an outcome we desire can result in remarkable performance. Audience griping musicians, gold medal winning athletes, life saving surgeons and others often visualize the preferred ending before starting their “performance.” 

Dr. Peter Jensen is an internationally recognized authority on high performance. Since completing his Ph.D. in sports psychology, he has attended seven Olympic games as a member of the Canadian Olympic team and has worked with more than 40 medal-winning athletes and coaches. He is the author of The Inside Edge, which offers advice on improving personal and organizational performance under pressure. Recently Peter posted a white paper that included five things we can do to move the stories we tell ourselves from hindering to helpful. Here are Dr. Jensen’s recommendations: 

“1. Challenge what you believe.

American sociologist Louis Wirth said that the ‘single most important thing you need to know about yourself is what assumptions are you operating on that you never question?’

2. Reframe your inner dialogue.

Consciously work to make your self-talk more ‘action oriented’. Self- talk oriented around ‘what else can go wrong’ or ‘now what?’ is less helpful than seeing a problem for what it is, a puzzle to be solved. The truth is that we all have a long history of solving the problems put in front of us and dealing with change. A quick level- headed look back at how we felt about other changes when they were first introduced and where we are now in relation to them demonstrates that we are very good at this but don’t have to go through it with the same angst we did last time.

3. Breathe!

When you find that your inner stories or choice of words are creating stress or pressure, follow your mother’s advice, step back, take a few deep breaths, and move to a more appropriate mindset.

4. Stay left of your ‘but.’

A hockey coach I know encourages his players to ‘stay left of your ‘but.’ What he means by this is on those occasions where you are telling yourself a story such as, ‘I know I should be 
more patient with her but…” Simply stay left of your but and do what you need to do.

5. Question your self-talk.

Finally, spend some time asking yourself questions about what you’re saying to yourself. ‘Where did this come from? Is it helpful? Do I have to, want to, think like this?’”

Character Moves: 

  1. Start with no. 5. Become much more aware of your self-talk. How do you talk to yourself? What are you saying? Why? Is that how you would talk to your most loved ones?
  2. Really try staying to the “left of your but.” Watch and listen to others (to learn rather than judge). Once people cross over to the right side of the “but,” we often forget what was on the left. The same thing happens inside our heads, hearts and hands. Stay to the left!! 

Staying left in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: You’ll hear phrases like “fake it till you make it,” “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and “you can’t win if you don’t play.” Part of me loves advice like this, it fires me up and motivates. On the other hand, it can also be frustrating because guess what? It demands risk, it’s not easy, and it’s all action-oriented that dares you to “just go for it.” If you notice, it also encourages you to disregard the “but.” When it comes to significant issues like our employment, the absence of a “safety net” in these situations can evoke hesitation… At its worst, it can cause us to stand still. The next time my inner monologue is second guessing itself, I want to remember I’ve gotten this far, so perhaps I can jump more often… At the very least, keep marching forward.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis