In this Issue: Readers Write about ZOOM and Being the Crowd
bits of serendipity to inspire and motivate
fuel for your own continuous learning
tips and tricks you can try today
|Climbing Toward Goals||The Myth of Choice||Choice and Empowerment||Who Needs Values?|
January is typically the time we make resolutions for the new year. But before you decide what to do differently in the months to come, consider what influences bear upon the choices you make beginning with the ideas this 99-Word Story.
Mt. Monadnock is located in southwest New Hampshire. At 3,165 ft. it is the most frequently climbed mountain in North America! Fitness hikers, older folks, and families are among its 125,000 annual visitors. At the top, hikers enjoy a panoramic view of all six New England states.
Monadnock has one summit, one goal, for all those people yet there are five trails to reach it. What's important to you: vistas, wildflowers, history, solitude? Choose a path but get to the top!
If we agree on our goal, our values will help us decide the right path.
Myth of Choice
by Kent Greenfield
The dust jacket of Kent Greenfield's book, The Myth of Choice, gives a fair indication of its contents: a lonesome goldfish in a clear bowl surrounded by half a dozen fish hooks. In a world filled with options, this book helps explain why our ability to choose is much more limited than we may think.
Greenfield begins by acknowledging the pervasiveness of and reverence for choice in U.S. society. In our democracy, we have fostered the belief that each person deserves to make their own choices as long as they accept responsibility for those decisions. This fits our notion of the pursuit of happiness as an individual right.
But Greenfield points out the numerous situations when perhaps people should not be held responsible for their decisions. For example, people may decide to stay in their home even though a hurricane is eminent. However, in the case of hurricane Katrina, many people living beside the levies never heard the evacuation notices. Others stayed to care for elderly or disabled family members. Still others had no transportation to leave, no relatives to stay with, and no credit cards to stay in a hotel. Should these people have been held responsible for their decision to stay? Did they even make a decision to stay? Perhaps they were the victims of poverty as well as flooding.
Poverty is just one factor influencing our ability to make good choices. Greenfield also writes about the role of culture, gender expectations, differences of power, economic markets, and the neural anatomy of our brains. Any number of these factors can combine to influence our decision-making in the moment. As a result, we have far less control over our own decisions than we would like to admit. Greenfield points out that we are much more likely to forgive these influences upon ourselves (if we notice them) than we are to forgive the lapses of other people.
Readers will be surprised by the extent to which their own decisions have been based on these many influences as opposed to their own volition. Fortunately, Greenfield ends the book with suggestions about how to strengthen our choice "muscles" - our ability for making good decisions. These suggestions fall into four main areas:
Read The Myth of Choice for a more sympathetic view of why people make unreasonable choices. You'll also gain insight about your own decisions and how to choose better in the future.
The Myth of Choice Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits by Kent Greenfield, Yale University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-300-16950-8
When we lived as a family in Ecuador, my Spanish tutor, Giovanni, was surprised to see how much choice we gave or daughter at a young age. He remarked that Ecuadorian parents would never ask their child what clothes they wanted to wear or what food they wanted to eat. I explained that, in our culture, we expect children to be more independent as young adults so we teach them how to make decisions by giving them choice-making lessons early on. Having the ability to make choices gives one a measure of control.
Yet too much choice is not good either. As the facilitator of a leadership training program in Africa, I asked the participants to plan and organize their graduation celebration. "Make it whatever you want," I had said. I thought this would be a good way for them to practice the leadership skills they had been learning. Immediately, however, they came to me asking for permission for this and that. Where were all the leaders I had been training? I realized I had given them the freedom to choose anything but not the authority, such as budgetary control, to carry out their choices.
When I facilitate a meeting, it is not uncommon for someone to bring up a topic that is not on the agenda. For that person, it can be a pressing issue that should take precedence. It would be easy to let this person's momentum change the purpose and outcome of the meeting. But as the facilitator, it's my responsibility to make sure the group agrees that they want to change the focus of the meeting. To do that, I need to tell people what opportunities will be missed by not following the original agenda. The group needs information to make an intelligent choice.
These examples illustrate that people need more than experience to make good choices. They need the authority, resources, and information to act on their decisions. This is the essence of empowerment. If you are not offering choices, you can stay in control. If you do offer choices but don't share authority, resources, and information, you can still stay in control.
Sometimes you should stay in control because, like my daughter, people are learning to flex their choice muscles. If you are kind, well-meaning, or keep the best interests of others in mind, staying in control might be OK. But the ability to do that depends upon the values you use to back up your own choices.
If you'd like a suggestion about how to identify and order your values, check out Who Needs Values? in the activity section below. When you do, please your reaction!
As the 99-Word Story suggests, the way we reach a destination (or the choices we make to achieve a goal) can be as important as our final endpoint. So the values we hold most strongly should help us make solid choices. Except, as Greenfield points out, sometimes they don't. Here is an activity that can help members of your group both identify their own personal values and reveal some of the factors explained in The Myth of Choice that influence our ability to choose freely.
Who Needs Values?
Goal: Participants will be able to highlight their most important personal values and identify why good intentions may not be enough to act on one's values
Number of Participants: Any size
Materials: One List of Values, five index cards, and a pen for each person
Procedure: Distribute a list of values to each participant and ask them to circle the ten most important ones for them personally. (You can write your own list or use this one provided by Sivasailam "Thiagi" Thiagarajan with thanks and appreciation.) Now ask them to reduce their list to half by marking a star next to the five values that are most important to them. Have them write each of these five values on a separate 3x5 card and mark the back of each card with their initials.
Next, use your own words to provide a rationale for people to give up their value cards one by one. Do not tell them at the beginning that they will need to hand over some of their cards. Say something like the following:
"In order to improve the living standards for all of us our civic leaders have established the Values Security Unit to make sure everyone is acting with their own highest principles in mind. The VSU monitors all your values to insure you are living to the highest standards. Unfortunately, the VSU is under severe budgetary restrictions. As a result, the VSU is unable to monitor all your values. You will have to give up one of your values at this time. Please look at your cards and be prepared to hand me one value that you think you can do without. You will no longer have access to this value."
Collect one card from each person. When finished, prepare to take another value card:
"The Values Security Unit is thanks you for sacrificing one of your values so that it can continue its important work. Unfortunately, funding conditions are still tight and we will have to ask you to give up another value so that we can continue the same level of service. Please review your cards and select one that you think you can live without. Be prepared to hand me another card with a value that you will no longer use in your life."
Collect a second card from each person then continue:
"The Values Security Unit is impressed with the values you have given up and we are grateful for your willingness to help us in our efforts during these difficult times. However, we just received the latest quarterly report and I am sorry to say there will need to be another 15% cut to our budget. That means you'll have to select one of your values and give me that card. You will not have access to this value in your life any more."
Collect a third card from each person. Some people will have difficulty choosing a card to give up. Be calm but persistent in your need to have a card. Then continue:
"I realize this has been difficult for many of you but fortunately, you still have two treasured values to help you live your life. Of course, having these values will be critical as you make choices in the future. Unfortunately, the VSU is still under extremely difficult budgetary restrictions. You will have to give us one more value. Please look at your two remaining cards, keep the one that is most important to you and give the other one to me."
Collect a fourth card from everyone. Expect to hear some complaining and resistance as people try to figure out which card to give you. Some people may refuse to give you a card but be politely insistent that they comply. If you cannot get a card from someone, make a mental note to ask that person to share some of their thinking about this when the group has its discussion.
"Well, I know this has been difficult for all of you but I am glad that at least you each have one solid value that you believe in and that can guide your actions in all aspects of your daily living. The Values Security Unit is very grateful for your willingness to help our work in these difficult financial times. And our financial situation continues to worsen. That is why the VSU would like you to take a good look at the one value you have left and think about how important it is for you. Then, I need to ask you to (pause for dramatic effect) hold onto that value card and keep it safe. The VSU will not be asking you to give up that value."
Announce the end of the activity and transition to a discussion of what happened, what people learned, and how they can apply their new insights to their work or other aspects of their life. After the discussion, you can offer to return the value cards you collected during the game to anyone who wants their own.
- What did you feel as you gradually lost your values? How did your thoughts and feelings change as the game progressed?
- How did you feel toward the Values Security Unit or the facilitator?
- How did you choose which values to give away?
- How did you justify in your own mind giving up values one by one?
- What were some of the factors that made it difficult to resist giving up your values? (Authority of the VSU and the facilitator, peer pressure, social pressure to conform, etc.)
- What was your final, most important value? (Ask for a few examples.) How accurate was this activity as a way to prioritize your values?
- What did you learn about your own values and holding values in general?
- What interesting things did you notice other people saying or doing?
- If we played this game again, what might you do differently?
- Are their times you have to give up or compromise your values in real life? What other situations is this game similar to?
- If this were a metaphor, what might it symbolize in your work setting?
- Knowing what you know now, how might you react when your values are threatened or questioned in your work environment?
- What factors make it difficult to stick to your values in the world of work?
- What is the relationship between knowing your values and making choices?
- One time during this activity, one person would not give up more than two values - even though everyone knew it was a game. How would you explain this person's actions? Look at the values you circled on your List of Values.
- How do your five top values fit together and complement one another? Give an example of how they are manifest in your life. How do they create something together that could not be predicted by looking at them individually? How do they fit with the "larger picture" of your role as a leader?
- How do your dearest values fit with being a leader within your job position?
- What are the challenges to acting upon your values in your position? "
- How would your leadership be different if you acted upon your values with even more intention than you do now?
- What would an organization be like that encouraged people to live up to their values? What would a leader be like?
A Response to ZOOM in the November 2011 Issue:
I really enjoyed your article on ZOOM. Of all the activities in my treasure chest for team building, ZOOM is in my top 3. After years of facilitating ZOOM, I am still amazed by the variety of experiences and outcomes of my participants.
To me, the most crucial page is the one you had ---- the stamp with the perforated edges! What you see (OR don't see) and/or how you share that with others determines the whole flow.
There are so many lessons to be learned from this one activity. You mentioned several important ones. My favorite debrief centers around a topic you did not mention: Are you a big picture person or a detailed person? How a participant engages in this activity reveals that answer.
If you are bored, quiet, express minimal verbal contributions, don't look beyond the 2 people next to you, and can't wait for this activity to be over with --- you are a detail person.
If you looked up at other people across the room, asked questions to others, wanted clarity from others, made suggestions, attempted to move folks, and spoke up so that others could hear ---- you are a big picture person.
My participants love discovering which they were by reflecting back on their involvement. It really makes for a juicy discussion!
-- Larry Lipman, Atlanta
A Response to Being the Crowd in the December 2011 Issue:
Another way to keep from "Being the Crowd"
Our pool at Florida Presbyterian Homes is small. Often the people coming to swim are too many for the pool. We just take turns. Those who wait have a fun discussion. Some read or play a board game. Everyone from retirees to Corporate America needs time to "Smell the Roses," or as I tell my niece, "Smell the Breezes." (the literal translation of Shem elNessim, the name for the celebration of spring in Egypt).
Americans are in such a hurry and stressed. Do I still think that way after 13 years of retirement? Yep!
-- Dottie Cushman, Lakeland, FL
If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.
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