Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Transfer of Ideas in the Electronic Age

Some years ago I was working on a book that never came to fruition. My wife and I had been trained as workshop facilitators based on the Jane Nelsen's Positive Discipline book and material, and had become good friends with Jane. She proposed collaboratively writing a book on the fundamental similarities between the acts of parenting and managing people--not in the condescending way of treating employees like children, but in the empowering way of treating everyone thoughtfully. We tentatively were calling the book "Home+Work." At the time (early 90's) I was managing some 40 or so employees in my company, but a business downturn left the project and all my notes in a file box in the garage.

I did write an article for Jane's regular newsletter, that she later published on her website, and until I started actively blogging and interviewing last year, was always the first link to come up when doing a search on my name. Since it ranked first, I figured it had been linked to by others, and maybe had actually been read by someone. The article was called, "Working with (Little) People," and it's copied in full below. I'd been doing a lot of business reading on empowering workplaces, and we had regular staff meetings where we either read from or covered business books that often had snappy little ways of visualizing their concepts (Edward DeBono's Six Thinking Hats was a particular favorite). I felt the need with my own staff to create some visual model for trying to help my managers understand the importance of dealing thoughtfully with their employees/co-workers. So I made the poster shown here. It was my way of combining my thoughts about parenting and managing, and the different tools we often use to try and get things done--and what their effects really are. The light bulb, for me, was the imagery of a better way of working with people, of using the "brain" instead of "force," and I remember how exciting it was to discover that describing the effects of light fit so well into my ideas.

OK, so fast forward to the Institute for the Future workshop I recently attended. One of the participants, at some point in that rich, long day, mentioned "working with all the employees in school, teaching them to recognize a light-bulb moment when you are brilliant, warm, and understanding, and the teachers are learning to identify it and helping others to grow." I was live-blogging, so typing away like crazy, and I later got to thinking, could that possibly have come from my article so long ago? Now, I don't know if it actually did, and maybe that's unlikely, but I kind of have a feeling that it might have. Was it a meme that wended its way back to me after so many years, or did someone else come up with a similar idea? Either way, what an amazing thing the web has done for the spreading and growing of ideas.

Now, the story gets slightly more interesting, because I couldn't find the original poster that I'd had printed up so many years ago. So I went to my huge stack of backup CDs, not knowing if they would even still have retained something from 1993. Voila, I found the original Microsoft Publisher document. Or, at least what I assumed was the document, since the current version of Microsoft Publisher said that it couldn't open up its own older file format. I searched the web and found that:

1) Indeed old versions of Publisher documents are frequently only available by finding an old copy of the Publisher program and loading it on your computer (I wonder if that would even work, depending on what version of Windows one is currently using). Talk about a dramatic instance of why proprietary formats are so debilitating. Seems like such a slap in the face to the user that you can't even open up your old documents. This is the old face of technology.

2) The program manager for Microsoft Publisher was actually open enough to leave the full trail on his blog of haranguing comments, some of which pointed me to a free, web-based conversion program that allowed me to convert the old .pub file into a .pdf file. This is the new face of technology.

Here's the original article I wrote. Now I get to put it in my blog. Which seems much more likely to be a great way to save this whole idea and story. :-)

From the Positive Discipline website:

Tools for Working With (Little) People

by Steve Hargadon


I've had the opportunity to hear Jane Nelsen speak twice. Both times I heard her use a quote from Rudolf Dreikurs that has stayed with me: "When Dad lost control of Mom, they both lost control of the children."

The thought intrigued me because, as a business owner, I could easily add the phrase: "...and so did their future employers." Managing workers today is certainly different than it was 40 years ago. Traditional control, although it is still exerted in many workplaces, doesn't work well with a workforce which doesn't experience that kind of control in other areas of their lives. For better or worse (and I think it is better, although it is harder), the employer/employee and manager/worker relationship must be based in mutual respect and benefit. With this in mind, I'd like to share something that we did at my office that was successful, and that came, rather serendipitously, from Jane's material.

I'm sort of an analytical guy (my wife might use less-generous terms), and I tend to look for systems and structures. After hearing Jane speak last year, and having read much of Positive Discipline with my wife, I wanted some way to quantify what I was learning, some system that would help me to parent in a way consistent with what I was reading. I knew that I agreed with Jane's teachings, but I didn't feel successful in putting them into practice. I wanted some kind of chart that I could look at in the heat of the parenting battle that would tell me what to do. And so, for several days, I mulled this over in my mind trying to create some kind of symbolic device that would help me to know what to do.

The "Tools for Working with Little People" shows what I came up with. Basically, it was designed to help me and my wife determine, in the heat of the encounter with one of our children, if we were on the right track. It's pretty simple, and probably very obvious, but it really works for us. We took this chart to Kinko's and had it enlarged to poster size, laminated it, and put it on the refrigerator door. Let me explain it.


When I am unhappy with my children's behavior and am preparing to take action, I ask myself, "What tool am I using?" There are four basic tools that I use. The lowest level is the hammer. The hammer is an instrument of brute force. It "hammers." It pounds. Whatever it makes contact with, it dents or breaks or smashes.

Next are the pliers. They are less damaging than the hammer, but are still a tool of force. Pliers are used to force, bend, or manipulate. They apply pressure and leave their own mark.

Next, and more of a finesse tool than the pliers is the screwdriver. The screwdriver is used to get down inside. It screws and tightens, and can also be used to needle, puncture or deflate. In some ways, although it doesn't damage the surface like the hammer or the pliers, it can be even more destructive.

The best tool, however, is the brain. I used a light bulb to symbolize the tool of thought and reason because light "enlightens." It illuminates, it warms, it develops, it removes darkness and fear, and it creates understanding. It is a tool, but a different kind of tool. It is the source of creative solutions. When we use our brain to solve problems, we are working on a completely different level than when we use tools like a hammer or pliers or a screwdriver. This, to me, is what "positive discipline" is all about.

Although the hammer and pliers and screwdriver work, they don't accomplish long-term goals of growth, self-development, and self-discipline. And so, when spending time with my children, or disciplining them, I ask myself, "What tool am I using?"

After using the poster on our refrigerator for several weeks, and finding it very helpful, it hit me (like a light bulb!) "I can use this at work!" I had one supervisor in particular whose regular tool of choice with his staff was the hammer, and it was causing real problems. So I changed the title to "Tools for Working with People," and went back to Kinko's and had several enlarged copies made. Then I called the staff together and we went over the tools, and discussed the importance of using the right tool in our encounters and communications with each other. We experienced an immediate deference lasting, personality-changing difference.

When choosing a tool to work with people we need to ask, "What lasting effect will this tool have? Do I just want to get the job done, even if the lasting effects are negative? Or, will I choose a tool that is effective to get the job done, and has positive, long-range effects?" For my children, and for my employees, I want to use tools that encourage now and for a lifetime.

Post a Comment