My latest Articles

(Thought and Vigor, Fast Company, Talent Culture, Switch and Shift, and more)

  • Personal Mastery: Working With Our Emotions
    As a society, we aren’t good at dealing with emotion in a business context. We tend to view the office as a place to remain calm and rational, and to suppress or exclude our feelings there. But if we don’t at least acknowledge our emotions then we exclude a part of ourselves. This means we miss the opportunity to tap into a great source of drive and motivation. Part of Your Body and Brain When we work, we’re using the complex and interconnected system of our bodies and brains. Emotions aren’t some abstract thing detached from physical reality; they’re an important part of how we function as biological beings. Some examples of the neuroscience behind emotions can help us to understand why they’re so important in the workplace. The sense of satisfaction we feel at completing a task is caused by a release of dopamine. Do well, and your brain rewards you with that chemical kick. On the other side, clinical depression is connected to a shortage of dopamine as well as two other neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. Not dealing with negative emotions can do long term damage to the brain, all but killing its supply of these vital chemicals. In its milder forms this can undercut someone’s motivation. In more extreme forms it can make it impossible for them to work. Trying to set aside emotions clearly won’t help – they are too deeply connected to the chemical workings of our motivations. So what can we do instead? Mastering… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-01-25By Mark Lukens
  • The Productive Way To Manage Your Emotions At Work
    By and large, getting emotional is a bad move. Displaying too much emotion is often seen as unprofessional, disrupting the air of calm rationality that's supposed to reign in most workplaces. But trying to master our emotions in professional settings isn't always the best idea, either. Just ask anyone who's ever worked in one, and they're likely to tell you that offices are never exclusively (or even usually) places governed by sober logic. They probably shouldn't be even if they could. Our feelings play important roles in problem solving, motivation, and other essential cognitive functions that we use at work. So the question should be not about how to suppress our emotions, but how to channel them into productive uses. The Mind-Body Connection You may not think you're using the complex, interconnected systems that link your body with your brain while you're at work—especially if your job involves sitting down in front of a screen and thinking through analytical or creative problems. But emotions aren't abstract things detached from physical reality; they're an important part of how we function as biological beings. Making a habit of suppressing negative emotions can undercut your motivation. The sense of satisfaction we feel at completing a task, for instance, is caused by a release of dopamine, among other neurochemicals. Do well, and your brain rewards you with that chemical kick. On the other hand, clinical depression has been linked to a shortage of dopamine as well as two other neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. Failing… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-01-20By Mark Lukens
  • The Power to Make a Difference: the RFRA and Corporate Social Responsibility
    The recent outcry over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its potential use to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has caused a storm that has drawn businesses into a controversial legal and ethical discussion. It has shown that businesses of any size can act in a socially responsible way, and that doing so, far from harming the bottom line, can do great things for a brand. Stepping Into the Gap It would be hard to identify two more successful and widely recognized brands than Gap and Levi Strauss & Co. When it comes to social responsibility, they have until recently taken quite different paths. Gap has been outspoken on issues such as equal pay, while Levi Strauss has largely avoided the spotlight of social activism. Not any more. Following the enactment of the RFRA, leaders of the two clothing giants came together to condemn the law as ‘legalized discrimination’. They attacked the law, while making clear that their businesses were friendly toward the LGBT community. In an America increasingly polarized between conservative and liberal movements, this might seem like a damaging step for a company’s bottom line, and it shows great responsibility for a large company to step up and make its voice heard. Businesses of All Sizes More courageous, and arguably more important, is the stance taken by small businesses in Indiana. Many of them quickly signed up to a group called Open for Service, in which businesses openly state their support for… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-01-18By Mark Lukens
  • When It’s Important For Companies To Court Controversy
    The outcry last year over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the law's potential use by employers to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers, was hardly the first time businesses have found themselves drawn into cultural and ethical debates. But it was a recent example of the ways corporate responsibility is evolving and gaining in importance for large and small companies alike. For businesses that commit to acting in a socially responsible way, wading into these fights can be far more of an opportunity than a liability. Speaking Up Until recently, Gap and Levi Strauss & Co. have taken quite different paths when it comes to social issues. Gap has been outspoken on issues such as equal pay, while Levi Strauss has remained on the sidelines. That changed last year when the two retailers joined with other major companies in denouncing the Indiana law. In a joint statement shortly after its passage, Gap and Levi's railed against the measure as "legalized discrimination," saying that "discriminatory laws are unquestionably bad for business, but more importantly, they are fundamentally wrong." We want not only a great product, we care about how it was produced and what ideas the company that makes it stands for. In American's deeply polarized political climate, stepping directly into a controversy might seem like either a risky business move or a bit of canny opportunism—and perhaps to some extent it was a bit of both. But leaders at both companies clearly determined that the… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-01-12By Mark Lukens
  • How To Implement Change Without Making Your Employees Hate You
    Employers and employees want fundamentally different things—not just out of the workplace but out of their relationship with one another, too. Most management advice tends to downplay those differences rather than bridge them. But it doesn't have to be that way. Attitudes Toward Change Anyone who's worked to bring change to a team or organization knows the sorts of dangers that differing expectations can bring. Change that's good for a company can be unsettling for the people charged with carrying it out. And fear and uncertainty can cause everything to go sideways. The disparate needs, priorities, and assumptions held by employers and employees are always there, even during times of stability. But what's less commonly recognized is that the disparate needs, priorities, and assumptions held by employers and employees are always there, even during times of stability. It's only the high pressure during times of change that brings them all into the open. Typically, employees want choice, flexibility, and the ability to do their jobs the way they think will work well. Employers want employees to follow best practices and achieve a uniform, predictable level of performance. Employees want safety and security in their jobs. Employers want bigger profits and better results. These desires aren't necessarily incompatible, but when companies just focus on one side (their own), the other gets forgotten. There's no surer way to breed resentment in the ranks and harm your company's culture. The Other Skill Gap Employees and their managers tend to hold different attitudes toward… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-01-05By Mark Lukens
  • How to Transform Your Business Through Small Improvements
    The project manager strides aggressively through the workplace. He has a plan to overhaul this business, a radical transformation that will see everything improve. There will disruption, there will be resentment, there will be uncertainty. But ultimately a better way of working will arise form tearing down the old. This is the image business improvement has gained over the past twenty years. Focusing on big changes, big projects, huge transformations. But as Sir Dave Brailsford has demonstrated in transforming British cycling, vast improvements can be achieved without large projects and the upheaval they bring. A steady stream of marginal improvements can build into big results. How does this work, and how can you apply it? Thinking About Thinking Many inefficiencies come out of bad habits, and once you understand the way the brain works it’s easy to understand why. If a way of working in successful a few times, then the chemical reward your brain originally gave you for succeeding will now become associated with that way of working. You’ll feel good about that process. You’ll fall into a habit, and keeping repeating it whether it’s working or not. It feels like success. Changing big habits is hard. The emotional rewards of stability are far larger, and so are the risks of change. It’s much easier to start change with the small things, where people won’t lose out on much mental buzz from breaking the old habit. A new way of working will quickly develop its own rewards. The improvement… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-01-02By Mark Lukens
  • How To Be More Transparent About Failure
    Recent years have seen senior leaders at huge organizations battling to keep their secrets under wraps. From the US government information released through Wikileaks to the Sony hacking scandal, both data and opinions are increasingly hard to hide. Some information needs to stay secret, but the trend we’re now seeing is toward openness, and toward leaders either embracing this or having it forced upon them. The former is not just more pleasant but more productive, making increased openness one of the most important leadership trends of the next few years. It’s not just about being open to the outside world, but being open with others within your organization. And most important of all is being open about your failures, because the odds are good that someone will reveal them no matter how hard you try to hide. So how can you be more open about failure without losing control? Failures Needn’t Be Problems The most important thing, the foundation on which this openness rests, is recognizing that failures don’t need to be problems. We all face setbacks. Not everything will go our way. But failures aren’t always the disasters they feel like. Data security scandals provide great examples of this. Security breaches at Home Depot and Target led to brief initial dips in both companies’ stock prices, but were followed by huge bounce backs, Home Depot seeing a 21% increase in earnings per share after the failure, and Target its highest recovery in stock price in five years. Work had… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2015-12-23By Mark Lukens
  • Why Your Company’s Huge, Sweeping Overhaul Might Fail
    Your project manager strides forcefully through the office. Her plan to overhaul this side of the business has just been approved. There will be radical transformations over the next few months that should see some dramatic improvements. There will be some pushback and probably some resentment. There will definitely be uncertainty. But ultimately a better way of working will arise after clearing out the old stuff. At least, this is the image of business improvement that's gained purchase over the past couple of decades. Disruption sits cheek-by-jowl with innovation as the twin watchwords of forward-thinking companies. There's good reason for that; many of the most transformational ventures and products have arrived swiftly and upended previous ways of doing things. While it's infinitely less attention-getting, a steady stream of marginal improvements still lead to big results. But that's not the that only way important changes happen—or last once they do. Companies can make tremendous improvements without adopting sweepingly ambitious projects and policies. You don't need to upset every apple cart in sight in order to innovate. Instead, and while it's infinitely less attention-getting, a steady stream of marginal improvements can still lead to big results. Thinking About Thinking Many inefficiencies emerge from bad habits, and once you understand the way the brain works it's easy to understand why that is. If a certain way of doing things works a certain number of times, then the chemical reward your brain delivered the first time you succeeded prompts you to do it that… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2015-12-21By Mark Lukens
  • Living your impact
    How much difference did you make today? If you were to step back and look at that work, would you feel like you added real value to the world, or just kept things ticking over? It’s easy to slip into doing the same old thing with your work; to take the safe options rather than rise to the challenge; to follow the aims set out for you by others. Easy but not satisfying, and not the best that you could do for you or for the world around you. Rising to the challenge If you want to make a difference then you need to rise to the challenge, and the first step is identifying a challenge that’s worthwhile. Look for a problem in the world around you, an absence or a failing, something that doesn’t just make you think but that makes you feel like there is a need for change. Tesla Motors have done this with their bold dedication to producing electric cars. They’ve identified a need for more environmentally friendly cars that are enjoyable to drive. They’ve risen to that challenge, driving down the cost of eco conscious living in the face of some huge difficulties. Part of finding your challenge lies in recognizing that business does not exist in a vacuum. It is linked to wider social and environmental issues, and if we don’t support our world and society then it won’t support business. Find a purpose, a way for your business to have an impact, and… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2015-12-16By Mark Lukens
  • How To Be More Transparent About Failure
    Recent years have seen senior leaders at huge organizations battling to keep their secrets under wraps. From Wikileaks to the Sony hacking scandal, data and opinions alike (and much else besides) are getting harder to hide. Rather than fight that, some companies are moving in the opposite direction. Certain information needs to stay secret, but plenty of it doesn't. Transparency is one of the watchwords of modern business—whether companies are having it forced on them or are embracing it voluntarily. Failures don't all need to pose huge problems for companies. We all face setbacks. Not everything will go our way. Nevertheless, there's one dimension to transparency that makes even the most proactively open companies flinch: failure. But while it's understandable that organizations don't always want to publicize their screw-ups, those are often the things they should be transparent about the most. Failures Aren't All Bad Perhaps the most obvious reason why is because someone else will probably reveal your company's failures if you don't do it yourself. But that's far from the only incentive. The truth is that failures don't all need to pose huge problems for companies. We all face setbacks. Not everything will go our way. But failures aren't always the disasters they feel like. For proof, consider some of the latest data security scandals. Breaches at Home Depot and Target led to brief initial dips in both companies' stock prices but were followed by huge bounce-backs, with Home Depot seeing a 21% increase in earnings per share… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2015-12-16By Mark Lukens
  • Reach For Greatness – Developing Development
    Continuous improvement is one of the key phrases of our age, and it applies as much to employees as to processes. We want our staff to keep developing themselves, to take on new skills and refine their existing ones, to absorb the values and priorities of the organization even as those shift over time. But this isn’t easy. Change is scary and people need to be encouraged. So how can we do that? Developing The Meta A stagnant, unchanging approach to development is clearly counter-productive. If employees are told that they should develop, but they don’t see that the organization itself develops, then you are sending out mixed messages which will create resistance. To counter this it isn’t enough to talk about development within the employee development program. You need to engage employees in a meta-analytical conversation, looking at how the development program and the support for it develops. Then take this one step further and apply it to the company as a whole. Get employees’ opinions on what works and what doesn’t in the organization. Engage them in improving it. Create an organization that doesn’t just talk about development but that lives it, where employees can see innovation, improvement and development in every corner of their working lives. Then they can’t help but buy into development. Developing A Space If development of the organization is going to encourage self-development then it has to exist within employees’ control. Thomson Reuters have done a lot of work on this in recent… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-11-02By Mark Lukens
  • Reach For Greatness – Developing Development
    Continuous improvement is one of the key phrases of our age, and it applies as much to employees as to processes. We want our staff to keep developing themselves, to take on new skills and refine their existing ones, to absorb the values and priorities of the organization even as those shift over time. But this isn’t easy. Change is scary and people need to be encouraged. So how can we do that? Developing The Meta A stagnant, unchanging approach to development is clearly counter-productive. If employees are told that they should develop, but they don’t see that the organization itself develops, then you are sending out mixed messages which will create resistance. To counter this it isn’t enough to talk about development within the employee development program. You need to engage employees in a meta-analytical conversation, looking at how the development program and the support for it develops. Then take this one step further and apply it to the company as a whole. Get employees’ opinions on what works and what doesn’t in the organization. Engage them in improving it. Create an organization that doesn’t just talk about development but that lives it, where employees can see innovation, improvement and development in every corner of their working lives. Then they can’t help but buy into development. Developing A Space If development of the organization is going to encourage self-development then it has to exist within employees’ control. Thomson Reuters have done a lot of work on this in recent… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-11-02By Mark Lukens
  • Four Ways You’re Getting Accountability Wrong
    Accountability is important to any enterprise. If no-one is held responsible, then there’s no way of judging success and failure. But it means different things to different people, and if misused can lead to chaos and stress. So how can you get accountability right? Understand Why Accountability Matters To do anything right, you first need to be aware of why you are doing it. Accountability matters because without it no-one can be held responsible for what they do. It’s a way of recognizing and encouraging successes, and of identifying and tackling failures. It’s important that there’s accountability within the business, but also that the business is held accountable. And of course it is important that you act upon it. Limiting the Negative Accountability easily becomes associated with the negative. After all, people avoid being held accountable when things have gone wrong. But one of the major causes of this imbalance toward the negative is also a reason why it is dangerous. Negativity bias is a psychological phenomenon that leads to negative events having a larger impact on humans than the positive. Without a concerted effort to look on the bright side of events, the darker ones will become our center of emotional gravity. While it’s a particular problem for depressives, it’s also a factor in the psychology of perfectly healthy people. In accountability, negativity bias means that we are more likely to pay attention to and express the things that others have done wrong, and that on hearing our feedback… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2015-11-02By Mark Lukens
  • How To Tap Into The Neuroscience Of Winning
    Success feels good. It's why hitting ambitious targets can be so satisfying and the reason we celebrate after wrapping up big projects. It's also the source of the excitement around super-competitive businesses like stock market trading. Understanding the neuroscience behind this feeling—how it happens and what it can help us achieve—is a great place to start when it comes to getting the most out of motivation. The Dopamine Rush Though we sometimes feel the effects of succeeding throughout our bodies, the key to understanding winning lies in the brain. When we succeed at something, our brains release chemical rewards, the most important of which is the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical best known for the role it plays in addiction and drug use. Despite this association, dopamine is a natural part of how our brains function, producing the sensation of pleasure whenever you taste coffee or chocolate, or when you achieve a big win. The dopamine response isn't just a short-term thing. Our brains remember what it feels like. So it's no surprise that dopamine is strongly connected to motivation, driving us to repeat the behaviors that create that rush, even when we aren't experiencing it. In other words, the dopamine response isn't just a short-term thing. Our brains remember what it feels like, and we're driven as a result to seek it out again and again. The Feedback Loop This is something that computer games have been particularly good at tapping into. Whether you're spending hours exploring the world of… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2015-10-29By Mark Lukens
  • Professional Development: Never Stop Learning to Learn
    It has been said that you should never stop learning, and that’s good advice. If there was ever a case for applying the lesson to the lesson then this is it: professional development. Because, not only should you never stop learning, but you should never stop learning new approaches to the way that you learn. Learning Outside Your Comfort Zone In Purple Cow, Seth Godin pointed out the benefits for marketers and designers of learning something from each other’s skill sets. By sending marketers on a design course and designers on a marketing course, companies can make sure that the different teams can understand each other’s processes and work better together. Designers who understand some marketing can ensure that their product is fit for the market. Marketers who understand some design can better sell the benefits and innovations of the products they represent. But as a person looking to learn you can go beyond this. Look for courses that will help you to develop new skills, attitudes and behaviors, that will energize and provide fresh ideas, whatever field the training comes from. Maybe you could take a history course, so that you understand how markets and society develop over time. By gaining historical perspective on your business you can better predict its future by understanding its past. Maybe you’ve always been curious about engineering, and the way that it combines technical skills with leaps of the imagination. By following that interest you can learn to twine those different ways of… Read more
    Source: Talent CulturePublished on 2015-10-27By Mark Lukens