Monthly Archives: January 2015

Lots to Learn–Ubuntu!

My Experience With Ubuntu

A few years ago I was introduced to Ubuntu by African refugees I connected with at work. And a new LinkedIn friend who was born in Africa shared his thoughts on Ubuntu. And just today a friend posted a classic Ubuntu story on Facebook.

Sometimes it seems things come together for a reason if you just open your eyes and mind. I was letting Ubuntu collect dust, it’s high time to flip the spotlight back on. We stand to learn a lot from Ubuntu.

A past employer had a good many refugees in the plant including many Africans. When we first started hiring refugees, since I was doing new hire orientations I figured it was a good idea to study up on their customs, norms, and history to be able to better connect with them on a personal level. I feel incredibly richer as a result.

My new Liberian friends got all big-eyed when I wished them Happy Independence Day on July 26th. A musician friend from Uganda had a lot of fun at my expense as I struggled to learn a song in Lugandan so I could sing a harmony part with him. Judging from his laughter, I was probably singing something like “you smell like a water buffalo” before he got me straightened out with phonetics rather than spelling. Wasn’t easy.

The real learning began when one of my Sudanese friends introduced me to ubuntu. We were talking about the importance of teamwork and what it meant to be a real team. He listened intently, then said simply “you are talking about ubuntu. What other way is there?” He was right. Ubuntu is perhaps the purest expression of true community at the cultural norm level, and could be a powerful expression of teamwork in the workplace.

LinkedIn Norman’s Perspective on Ubuntu

The concept of Ubuntu is about
1: one’s conduct both in terms of manners (social etiquette) and ethics (don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do to you) and,
2: a Spiritual worldview.

Ubuntu at its most basic emphasizes brotherly love and neighborliness on the part of an individual. It offers a set of expectations put on an individual on how he/she should treat others and a spiritual worldview that emphasizes the connectedness of individuals to everything that surrounds them including the view that an individual’s action can rebound to affect his/he life for good or for worse. At its extreme, it seeks to emphasize the Africaness of an individual, to get him to stay within that Africaness and not to adopt Western sensibilities.

I interpret it to mean that one should stay humble, should look after the environment and should respect all human beings regardless of age, gender, religion and in return, the world will give you everything you want. I practice it most times, and it appears to work, for me at least. The truth though is that manners can get you very far anywhere in the world.

Archbishop Tutu on Ubuntu

“Ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

“If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children.”    

–Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This is a great resource!



Character-building and Ethics in School: Why Not?

(also posted at LinkedIn Pulse—discussion brewing if you are signed up with LinkedIn)

I’m sitting in a high school classroom right now. On the wall is a large poster that reads ” Signs of Good Character: Responsibility, Citizenship, Trustworthiness, Caring, Respect, Fairness.” At one time these were all operationally defined in detail: what does each mean / what does it look like in action? The initiative went away some time ago—other pressing needs—but the poster remains to remind.

The “Character Counts” program by the Josephsen Institute at one time was much more prevalent in US schools, not so much any more. Ethics and norms have been blown into the ditch by standard test scores (NCLB), and obsession with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum. The rest of the developed and developing world is kicking our US butts in those areas and our ability to compete economically is dwindling. So off to work we go on doing stuff more efficiently. Principles and ethics be damned.

You see the same thing in organizations-“forget that values, ethics, purpose, sense of community stuff! Process improvement, doing stuff, producing and selling things is what keeps the doors open, sonny!” Little to no focus on those things that human beings need, things that will keep the doors open long-term.

If we are serious about developing stronger citizenry and strengthening society, focus on young people before they get jaded by the real world! It’s disturbing that the Bad Guys are so good at recruiting. What are we doing to recruit young people to the good? Surely our vision can be more compelling than theirs?

A LinkedIn pen pal and I have been discussing this on the side, here is a bit from him (thanks Elwood!).
“Ages 8 thru 13, are very strong character-deciding times for the developing mind. In years past there were several strong groups focused on just that. Girl & Boy Scouts started at grade school levels as Cubs & Brownies. Carried past high school, members often went on to participate in the community via ROTC or the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Many of these programs are still around, usually a ghost of their former self. Slowly fading into to the past due to lack of participation for various reasons…scandal, lack of enthusiasm, no promotion, peer pressure from ‘cool era’ kids…”

I was a Cub, Boy Scout, Explorer. “On my honor I will do my duty to God and my country …and always help little old ladies cross the street.” I stopped there because ROTC and active service was not cool in my time and my crowd. And the Junior Chamber was so….well, uncool. I’ve changed my perspective on that, now that I’m too old and they won’t take me.

Elwood is right. At one time the Scouts were an ethics-building dynamo that developed excellent young citizens first, outdoors survivalists second. It too has fallen by the wayside along with the influence of education, organized religion and even family. Kids are more likely to get their values system from Sponge Bob and a gang of homeys. How can we bring scouting back, along with the other institutions that at one time were much more focused on developing our youth for the future, not just in doing stuff and making things, but preparation for a real, sustainable future?

Respectfully submitted: we must get serious about going to war to win the hearts and minds of young people before the Bad Guys do, a counter-radicalization effort with legs. There’s nothing more critical to Big Picture long-term sustainability (survival).

We do need some serious band-aids (or a tourniquet…I got my First Aid merit badge and remember my field triage training!). We must address the pressing issues, must resolve or at least find a short-term fix or there won’t be a future for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I’m a root cause kind of guy, but sometimes you just have to put a bucket under the leaky roof until you can make the real repair.

What have you seen for successful character-building / ethics-based courses in schools? Is there another course of action besides squeezing citizenry and ethics into the academic curriculum? “Parenting” is the logical resolution but let’s just pretend that’s not a viable option. What else?

Why Stuff Fails

There’s a recurring theme on several of the various discussion boards I frequent. ISO, Baldrige, six sigma, lean, performance management…all can be valuable operational process enhancers. Still, too many well-intentioned and much-needed initiatives fail badly. They never get the traction needed to climb the long hill toward sustainability.

Then along comes someone hawking culture, values, engagement, mindfulness, well-being, spirituality. Sensible leaders’ eyes glaze over if they haven’t already. Why?

To think about for starters: when you chase two rabbits both will escape.

Experience Shapes Perspective
Most of my career has been in Operations either directly or in a close supporting role, wandering through the maze of JIT, SPC, LeanSigma, 5-S, 6-S, RCCA and a host of others I’ve mercifully forgotten. Last, I’ve designed various control systems and have been a lead assessor for the ISO9001 and Baldrige models. Detailed because it needs to be clear: I’m not all about the soft stuff only.

On the “people” side I am a practitioner of engagement, change theory, the spiritual side of well-being and other human dynamics practices. I’ve been in the trenches for two major culture change initiatives and several lesser skirmishes, and am a regular facilitator of strategy development, alignment and execution, performance / project management, and other processes that impact performance excellence.

This broad experience shaped my perspective. The people background drives my commitment to engagement and leadership, my process lineage compels me to deliver hard results. There is no conflict when you understand you’re chasing only One Rabbit!

Proposed: doing stuff and producing results is less important than how you act while you’re doing it because the how is crucial to long-term sustainability. People and the soft fuzzies they crave are a vital part of the equation and cannot be ignored.

Performance excellence applies to people and process. You cannot improve one without the other. People fix broken processes, no production process in the world is capable of fixing broken people. People are the one differentiator. Technology can be bought but people and culture cannot be replicated. So which takes precedence?

I’ve turned it over, around and upside down again and it still looks the same: people issues, culture, values—soft stuff—are the key enablers of sustainable success for any initiative and for the organization itself. Still, people issues draw the short straw after the obligatory lip service is out of the way. The mantra:
“xyz initiative requires a cultural transformation, winning peoples’ hearts and minds, commitment and visible, genuine support from top leaders”.

It’s not so bad hearing the chant over and over because it’s absolutely true. What is hard to fathom is why ignoring this truth is so common, so predictable. Put simply: you cannot achieve optimal bottom line results without focusing on “people” issues!

Let’s Demystify and Downgrade the Voodoo
I was addicted to science fiction growing up. Now I enjoy studying really ‘out there’ business and social theory. But personal enjoyment has little bearing on what must be done. My mission: take the right approach to integrating the right soft stuff into the mainstream of running a business, by focusing on maximizing performance excellence and producing hard results. It’s a covert operation, which means killing the spotlight shining on engagement and culture, downplaying their significance. Do the right things the right way by leveraging repeatedly validated enablers of engagement. That does not mean preaching the gospel of engagement. If you don’t even utter the “e” word, engagement will come of its own accord and the right culture will grow, if you enable it.

(Part two, Sustainability in Initiatives outlines a process of integrating rather than alienating)

Engagement is not the high-performance motor that will win the race. Engagement is simply an additive for the fuel that makes the vehicle go down the road faster and longer. Essential, yes: without the right additives the motor will gunk up, bog down and eventually seize up altogether. And you’ll get terrible mileage along the way.

It makes such sound business sense and it’s been validated so many times over the past twenty years that it should be impossible to ignore. But the engagement industry’s approach isn’t conducive to earning mainstream acceptance; we’re guilty of making engagement inaccessible. It shouldn’t be surprising that leaders are paralyzed—we’re sticking pins into their dolls.

Physician, Heal Thyself!
I can say this because I was one of the guilty ones hawking my brand of silver bullet, expecting clients to learn a new language, new tools, new techniques even if the client was already doing basically the same thing by a different name and process and achieving similar outcomes. Demanding that clients become something they’re not.

I was introducing noise into the system, and resistance should have been expected. That’s OK, while we’re at it let’s learn about change management….ka-CHING!

Integrate, don’t alienate! Unless things are really beyond repair, why re-create wheels? Simply check the pressure, re-balance, align, rotate. Don’t buy a whole new set of tires. Lean and six sigma tools and techniques can be seamlessly integrated into nearly any operation. ISO and Baldrige are both highly adaptable and they do not require full implementation. They can be a supplement to counter a specific vitamin deficiency, an exercise regimen to address a specific weakness or train for a specific event.

Still, we’re too often guilty of jumping straight to a heart transplant and we risk losing the patient on the table. Or they elect not to have that scariest of all surgeries and grab onto whatever quality of life they may have left without any intervention.

A Lesson to Learn From Spirituality. I read a beautiful article by a bonafide swami who insisted that yoga was the One True Path to spirituality. I’m not a scholar, but I am an avid student. I feel we collectively need a higher level of spirituality, in some form.

One discussion responder stated that yoga has been linked to demon worship. Not that he believed it, he was just making a valid observation. Perception is reality.

When spirituality or a derivative is linked to a formal practice and especially to religious doctrine, it’s bound to take potshots from purists of another belief system. Intolerance is our heritage dating back to the Inquisition and beyond. The really “out there” fringe cries “demon worship, heresy, eternal damnation!” Look at the current situation—at the fanatics who are terrifying disruptors of global peace and social well being.

I highly respect devoted practitioners of any religion, of any discipline like yoga until they try to drag me down the “my way or the highway” path. What level of “spirituality”? What form of “enlightenment”? What’s wrong with my beliefs? If you don’t like them can’t you just stick to yours? Whatever works for you is great by me, we can co-exist.

Numerous best practices can help individuals discover their own path to spirituality and enlightenment. It’s too individual to assign specifics and labels or prescribe a cookie cutter course of action. Best practices are not exclusive to one discipline or belief system.

The reason for this spirituality sidetrack: any initiative can suffer from the same issues. Think about it, and read the Spirituality section again with that perspective.

(It’s dangerous for me to take this position, because I’m leaving myself wide open to attack by a whole lot of fringe purists from several religions at once. But maybe we can talk about it before we blow each other up)

Citizenry and Charlie, Spirituality and Soccer

This post was driven into existence by the various communities where I hang out. Two parallel discussions split into four overnight while I wasn’t looking, discussions fueled by our highly emotional connection to recent events. I’m compelled to pull a few highlights and offer my 2 cents worth, which ain’t worth a dime, right?

These discussions are interrelated:

  • What are we to do was triggered by I am Charlie.
  • Why do they radicalize has been an ongoing discussion since ISIS / ISIL came along.
  • What is “spirituality” and other meaning-of-life discussions have been around longer than me, and sometimes I feel pretty old.
  • What is “spiritual community” was started by a long-time personal friend on Facebook. It began as a faith-based community discussion, but Charlie elevated it to a global “universal peace” level…which is where we need to be.

Why Are Radicals Able to Radicalize?
Recruiting and retention are priority sustainability issues for any company competing to sell their services and beliefs. Terrorism is big business, and R & R are survival issues: they need high visibility in the marketplace to compete with others for employees. ISIL has gone Hollywood: an amazing social media campaign, slick productions that highlight a huge amount of pride in their a highly marketable elevated level of barbarism. They are all-around sharp businessmen.

Charlie was skillfully orchestrated to achieve maximum media exposure for AQAP (the Yemen subsidiary) before the martyrs allowed themselves to be dispatched to their eternal reward (“21 Virginians”?). If they would have died on-the-spot they would have been given much less coverage.

Boko Haram beat the Charlie gang’s entry into this week’s carnage competition by a few days, but for some reason their PR campaign was delayed. Word is getting out a week later that they slaughtered hundreds or thousands in Nigeria last weekend. Minimal headlines, minimal outrage because AQAP’s Charlie campaign grabbed high visibility and hogged the spotlight. The competition is heating up so fast that the Taliban massacre of all those young men and their teachers in Pakistan is already ancient history. And of course Gaza is still Gaza, always will be…so attack the capability to recruit and retain.

Call It What It Is…then kill the spotlight!
Last night, a CNN analyst proposed not giving any coverage, the media not doing any deep analysis, not acknowledging the madness beyond calling it what it is—a barbaric crime committed by deranged lunatics. Eliminate the PR, the glorification, the recruiting value. Then go out and get ’em and (after due process, added grudgingly) put them in some dark, smelly, sinfully nasty place…a hell on earth where they are absolutely forgotten. Sorry Amnesty International, stopping short of capital punishment the punishment must fit the crime.

Can you imagine our media and the political and academic experts showing restraint? But what would be the result? Now, even with the condemnations, “bad” press and negative analyses, we’re still glorifying the events and the perpetrators with our endless obsession. Even bad attention is better than no attention.

The Essence of “Community”
Community is centered around inclusion, and it must be inclusion of all. Like it or not we’re global. We all have a lot more neighbors than we used to. We must get to know all our neighbors and try our damnedest to get along with each other. But hey, it’s a two-way street that must be traveled by radicals and conservatives alike. Is humanity capable?

Issue #1 is in the way of Solution #1: we can’t even begin to master the baby steps of awareness and tolerance. How can we ever expect to attain full-blown understanding of and true appreciation for the beliefs of others, whatever those beliefs may be? That is what we desperately need because the alternative pushes us closer to the Eve of self-destruction…
       “You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace.
        Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.”

Fifty years after MLK, Montgomery, Nashville, Selma et al the US is focused on “hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe”. How in the world can we address the same basic issues on a global basis?

One of the online discussions devolved into testiness among obviously intelligent but overly passionate responders due to misunderstanding and differences of opinions. It only took three days and sixty responses to break down. And that’s an online discussion!

True Believers, Especially Leaders: Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Integrity!
Slaughter in the name of God? Which God? Those committing inhuman acts are not true representatives of their religion. Islam is peace and love, and has far fewer differences / much more in common with Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, you-name-it. Even agnostics and atheists share universal human values that radicals refuse to embrace.

The bad element of Islam is allegedly a vastly outnumbered but highly vocal minority. Why are they not forcefully denounced by the mainstream? Late last night I saw a top Hezbollah cleric publicly state that these acts are bad for Islam! I know I didn’t dream that, but a google search this morning turned up absolutely nothing! Why do we filter out what really needs to be emphasized? Media: find your Voice and reclaim your integrity!

Where are the senior leaders of Muslim countries, where are the top religious clerics? Where is their Voice? The message behind your silence is deafening. Outside influences cannot resolve these internal issues. Find Your Voice, take back your beliefs and values!

Root Cause: Why Do They Radicalize?
We’ve faced the same thing for years with the origins of gang culture. People need to belong to something bigger than “me”; we need a sense of community with a strong foundation of values, norms, ethics, beliefs. If there is no compelling “good” alternative, the “bad” will continue to be embraced.

As long as Muslim youth feel alienated, as long as they cannot see a compelling vision and hear a legitimate Calling they can believe in, as long as they cannot get membership into a better gang they will embrace the alternative. When there is a void, something will fill it.

Legitimate religions of the world, leaders of legitimate governments (DANGER…oxymoron alert!) step up the recruiting and retention efforts. The bad guys are kicking our collective ass!

Last, ISIS / ISIL is throwing big bucks around and the competition (us) can’t match their starting wage / benefits package. There are socio-economic issues to address too. Leaders…a little help?