The Energy Efficiency of Trust & Vulnerability: A Conversation

Editor’s Note: Carl and Deb met at BIF9 and as usually happens a beautiful friendship and collaboration resulted. Their conversations are like jazz….live, interactive, impromptu.  We eavesdrop into one here.

DMS: At BIF, you performed before an audience of over 400 people with two musicians you’d barely met before.  It was fabulous – resulting in BIF’s first encore!  The three of you had a common goal – a great performance.  You had aligned incentives – to create great music and not make fools of yourselves. This got us talking about trust – trusting people because of who they are personally vs. who they are professionally.

CS: Yes, I didn’t need to trust them personally, just professionally. If I’m going to fly, I have to trust the airline to have sane, sober, skilled, alert pilots.  We also need to trust systems.  If I have to go to the ER, perhaps a bad one is better than none.  If the alternative is worse, we might opt for no trust.  How much we need to trust others depends on the context, but also on how much we trust ourselves, our own resources and our ability to understand the context we are in; the more information and/or experience we have, the better we can decide whether or not to trust.  Trust is a tool to assess and manage (reduce and/or increase) risk, depending on the situation.

How much we need to trust others depends on the context, but also on how much we trust ourselves, our own resources and our ability to understand the context we are in

DMS: Trusting someone implies making oneself more vulnerable and finally it seems the world is recognizing that is what it takes to create great leaders.  Trust has big implications on our resources, as you’ve said.  When we don’t trust, we exert a lot of energy to keep up our guard, to continually assess and verify.  This uses a lot of energy and time.  When we trust, we re-allocate that energy and time to getting things done and making an impact.  As we let ourselves be vulnerable, we also leave ourselves more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking which leads to empathy and innovation.

CS: Absolutely.  When we trust, we reduce hassles, bargaining and redundancy.  The more information and/or experience we have, the fewer buffers we need around our decisions and the more we can focus on the scope and achievement of our goals. Being vulnerable is a way to preserve energy.  Basically, we are saying, “I won’t use resources on this because the pain of being vulnerable ‘costs’ less than the cost of NOT applying my resources elsewhere.”  For instance, choosing an instrument (or a profession) is a kind of vulnerability. No instrument can play everything.  To create great music you need an ensemble — a trio, quartet,  basically a team of players with complementary strengths, skills and vulnerabilities and a willingness to listen to each other and a common goal.

When we trust, we re-allocate that energy and time to getting things done and making an impact.  As we let ourselves be vulnerable, we also leave ourselves more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking which leads to empathy and innovation.

DMS: Trust and vulnerability are keys to “Energy Management”. Not to sound too 19th or 20th Century, but trusting is efficient….and effective.  It lets us reallocate our resources to what matters and utilize our skills and those around us to increase effectiveness…impact.  Energy Management raises the issue of perfection. If we are working together, we need to agree on the meaning of ‘done’.  When are we done, what does that look like? And that’s in the eye of the customer/audience.  So we need to understand customers’ needs and how well we can meet those.   We need to recognize that ‘good enough’ can really be good enough.  The Lean Startup movement encourages a Minimal Viable Product (MCP), building what’s critical and leaving the non-critical for a later.  My daughter says, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of accomplishment.” Growing up in Bell Labs, I saw the need to know and control everything hold us back from realizing value.  Your wife’s phrase, “Control is for Beginners” is so a propôs.

CS: Knowing when to stop is key.  Strategic sloppiness is a way to preserve energy.  Don’t line up the boxes, disregard the typo’s, narrow the scope – Simplify!  The use of shared references is a big part of this.  Build on the same shared mental models (e.g., Peter Senge); use the same language (e.g., Hanna McPhee: Design & Science); make sure we hear and see the same thing (reduce buffers around our response); allow for larger margins of error in our response and our acceptance of others. This is especially true when we are working in real-time, where higher perfection slows down the tempo.  We have to eliminate anything that slows us down, which forces choices in real time. Think of when we’ve been on a stage giving a presentation (or running out of a burning building).  If we can´t think of a specific word, we skip it and make something up — we lower the bar as much as we can.  Being live forces us to be flexible, like a nerf ball instead of a steel ball. If we are too hard, we are still vulnerable because we will crack, not bend and flex and live.

DMS: We can’t minimize the need to be effective.  So much of the 20th century’s focus on efficiency over effectiveness ended up being inefficient!  If the outcome didn’t meet customers’ need, who cares how efficiently it was made?  Efficient systems are great at dealing with complicated things – things that have many parts and sequences, but they fall flat dealing with complex systems, which is most of world today. At BIF8, Brandon Barnett gave a great story about the difference between complicated and complex. Effective solutions to wicked problems rarely come about through efficient and linear thinking.  It’s usually messy… and increasingly effective.

CS: The Industrial Revolution was based on achieving efficiency by scale through replication – a frozen goal in a static context.  This led to managing people and machines as one and the same — striving for uniformity/conformity, precision, low deviance, repetition, predictability and static, strict standards.  Things could be complicated but not complex (because they were static and not interconnected).  Now, easy, repetitive tasks are being de-bundled and out-sourced or automated which speeds things up, from months to weeks to minutes. Add to this that more and more interfaces are standardized and subjected to competition (per Clay Christensen) and we are seeing an emerging alphabet — components that can be assembled in endless combinations as manifestations of unique ideas.  As the ability to replicate something has become more of a commodity, we are increasingly seeing that complex interactions are the way to create ‘value from difference’ (as opposed to ‘value from sameness’).  But again, the complex interactions require judgment, intuition, data, timing and experience.  Technology does not do much in a complex interaction (per McKinsey´s articles on interaction).

Trusting is efficient and effective.  It lets us reallocate our resources to what matters and utilize our skills and those around us to increase effectiveness

DMS: Which is why ‘soft-skills’ are so critical in our complex world.  The ability to look at things from many different perspectives, to discover, uncover, understand and empathize is critical.  While everyone says the Millennials are forcing businesses to focus on meaning and purpose for work (outcomes) instead of just money and profit (outputs), I think we’ve always wanted this, just haven’t vocalized them for a variety of reasons. This brings us full circle back to trust and vulnerability.  When we have a common goal of WHY we want to do something, we are better able to trust.

CS: That’s why complex interaction workers are the fastest growing and the best paid part of the labor force.  The Jazzcode governs how we can improve the effectiveness of these workers.  When we never do the same thing or have the same conversation twice, it becomes much more important to figure out why and what we do than how we do it (process, which is a given).  Personal leadership and character become more important.  As work moves from executing scripts to interactive conversations, the need for active listening and presence in the moment is increasing.  We have to challenge the industrial culture in our work places to enable people to have better interactions. Only then can we get the true potential for original ideas and real collaboration.  It is in the give and take of a conversation, which is needed in complexity, that understanding happens.  Just like playing jazz.

DMS: And, just like jazz, the conversation continues…

 

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Image credit: ingaclemens / 123RF Stock Photo

Carl Størmer is a public speaker, corporate trainer and recording artist working through his own firm, Jazzcode AS. Before founding JazzCode he was the head marketing at Norwegian Airshuttle, one of Europe’s largest low-cost carriers which he helped take public. He was also the executive vice president and co-founder of StudentUniverse Inc., the leading U.S. online student travel agency. Carl has also worked as a senior strategy consultant for IBM Global Services, a data analyst on Wall Street in New York, and continuously as a professional jazz musician in New York and Norway. Deborah Mills-Scofield is a partner at Glengary LLC, an early stage venture capital firm in Cleveland, OH, and an innovation and strategy consultant. Her patent from AT&T Bell Labs was one of the highest-revenue generating patents ever for AT&T & Lucent.

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