The Evolution of Leadership

It’s impossible to really understand what things were like a generation ago. We apply our perspective from today and come up with a distorted version of the past. We can’t imagine how leadership worked at the turn of the last century, with authoritative leaders creating a group of employees only slightly removed from slavery. We look at a new generation of workers and wonder why they behave differently than us when we were starting our careers – and fail to recognize that this is both true and untrue at the same time.

It’s time we hopped a ride in the way-back machine to get a better picture of what things used to be like, so we can understand the changes that are happening – and what it means to us.

Safety and Fear

The common thread that we’ll find as we walk through the changes in society, and therefore leadership, is the prevalence of safety and its relationship to fear, both physical and psychological. Human behavior is shaped by fear and safety in large and small ways. When looking from the leadership lens we see that we need to lead in ways that are more aspirational and less authoritarian. Why is that case? As it turns out, there’s a reason that drives this change in leadership styles.

Physical Safety

Our ancestors primarily considered their physical safety. Given their mortality and the struggle for water, food, and shelter, they didn’t have much room to consider how they felt. The introduction of “the pursuit of happiness” to the Declaration of Independence was, at the time, a foreign concept. Most people were locked in the struggle for mere survival, and happiness wasn’t a concept that was worthy of consideration for all but a select few.

The driver when it came to safety was our physical well-being and the well-being of our families – because they were a part of our safety net.

Driving Safety

It’s 1926, and Route 66 is becoming the experience of a lifetime for many travelers. It’s a call to adventure and an opportunity to explore the country in ways that hadn’t been possible before. The road was a continuous stretch from Chicago to California – but it was just that: a stretch. Automobiles had been made practical through Ford’s innovations of mass production, and since 1908, they were an affordable way to travel. Ironically, Ford shut down manufacture of the Model T shortly after Route 66 was completed. (Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Model_T.)

Reliability of the automobile isn’t what it is today. The first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 wasn’t initially a race as much as it was an endurance test. Getting automobiles that could travel 500 miles without breaking down was a challenge. Sure, there was a winner, and the goal was to cross the line with the highest average speed; but of the initial field of 40 cars, only 12 finished. Another 14 still had engines running, but flagged out when they were disqualified – the remaining 14 cars weren’t functional by the end of the race. (Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1911_Indianapolis_500.)

These were the top automobiles of their time, and fewer than a third finished 500 miles. Route 66 was roughly 2,500 miles. Breakdown wasn’t so much of a possibility as a probability. If you did break down, you had a toolbox on board to try to resolve the problems yourself, because, in this world, there weren’t cell phones, and the service stations weren’t close together. You’d also expect to have food and a tent in case you needed to camp out along the route. (Source https://www.historic66.com/.)

It is difficult for us to conceive of a time when traveling was so hazardous and error-prone. Today, we punch in an address in our GPS receiver and wait for turn-by-turn directions to our location. Just a generation ago, we taught map skills to children because it was important to understand how to route ourselves. We expect that cellular signals will reach mobile phones so that, even in the rare case of a problem with our car, we can call someone to help us with a repair, a meal, a room, or directions.

We feel safer in many different directions. We believe that problems happen much less frequently, with lower severity, and we believe that we’re able to recover more rapidly. Few of us keep stable food in our cars today, much less camping equipment or tools in case we need to plan on camping out or repairing the car ourselves.

Food Costs

The truth is that we were able to take risks like traveling the “mother road” of Route 66, because our discretionary income was increasing. Sure, the 1930s were marred by the Great Depression, but there were other factors that were moving towards greater affluence. Consider that, in 1900, the average American family spent approximately 40% of their income on food. By 1950, that number was down to 30%. Today, our cost for food is less than 15% of our income (on average). (Source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/100-years-of-u-s-consumer-spending.pdf.) In the space of 100 years, we freed up 25% of our income.

Reducing the cost of food means that fewer people were at risk of starvation. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still families struggling today to keep enough food available, but the number of families for which this is a problem is substantially lower than it was a century ago. The problem of food safety (enough food) is still an important social issue, but the prevalence of families for whom this is a consistent struggle is decreasing.

House Sizes

Many families took their new-found discretionary income and poured it into their houses. In 1950, the average home size was less than 1,000 feet. By 1973, the size ballooned to about 1,500 square feet. (Source: https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/housing-trends.) From 1973 to 2015, the average size of homes ballooned another 1,000 feet, while the number of people living in each home went down. The net effect was a near doubling of space per person in the space of about 40 years. (Source: http://www.aei.org/publication/new-us-homes-today-are-1000-square-feet-larger-than-in-1973-and-living-space-per-person-has-nearly-doubled/.)

The perceived financial safety transferred to Americans making larger investments in their houses. In 1950, the average house price was $7,354. The average home price today is $236,400. Even adjusted for inflation, the cost of a 1950s home would only be $44,600. That’s nearly a 5-fold increase in the last 70 years. We’re feeling safer about our financial futures and we’re turning homes into castles – almost literally.

Mortality

It may be frustrating to not get to our destination, but it’s more challenging to realize that we’re not going to live to see our grandchildren. In the 1800s, the average life expectancy was 35 years. Today, the life expectancy is around 70 years. In the last 200 years, we’ve doubled the life expectancy of humans across the planet. (Source: https://slides.ourworldindata.org/global-health/#/title-slide.) Measured differently, in 1900, about 2,500 people of every 100,000 would perish each year. Today, that number is approximately 750 people – roughly one-quarter. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data-visualization/mortality-trends/index.htm.) Our fear of death is real – but it is waning because we know that the average lifespan keeps climbing.

Instead of a persistent fear of death and injury, we’ve quelled our hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.

Hyperactive Fear

The landmark study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) taught us that a tumultuous childhood has long-range impacts. (See a wealth of resources about the ACE study at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/index.html.) The primary stress response system is the HPA, and activating it too much causes a predisposition of continued activation. That is, once you create a high degree of fear in a child (or an adult), you’re likely to see them be sensitive to fear in the future. They’ll respond with fear more readily than someone who hasn’t been similarly primed. (See How Children Succeed for more on the impact of the ACE study on children.) It turns out that the clock winds back even into the womb, as David Barker discovered in his research around the fetal origins of adult disease (FOAD). Some adult diseases can be predicted based on the stressors to the mother during pregnancy. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on ACE, HPA, and FOAD.)

In short, the impacts of stress on children – even before they’re born – have long-term consequences for their ability to control themselves and their long-term health. Walter Mischel and his colleagues showed that the ability to delay gratification has substantial long-term impacts for a child’s life through their “marshmallow test.” (See The Marshmallow Test.) When we reduce the fear that children feel and the stresses placed on them in utero, we can place them in a position of being more able to regulate their own emotions and quiet their fears and desires. As the societal stressors are reduced one by one, we’re literally changing the wiring of our brains and making them more thoughtful and less fear-based.

Psychological Safety

Amy Edmonson is responsible for crystalizing the term “psychological safety” as a representation of how safe members of a team feel about the team itself. In some teams, there is a real belief that they can be themselves – their whole selves – and in other teams there exists a perception that you must only do what is expected of you, and you shouldn’t share your all.

Bodies and Minds

It used to be that people hired the bodies, and the minds were just along for the ride. However, with today’s more taxing requirements for creativity and innovation, it could be said that we hire the minds, and it’s just the body that transports the mind to work – even if that’s just across the hall to the home office.

It’s hard to understand that, before the extreme automation that we’ve developed today, we really did need people performing backbreaking work. It was necessary for people to do many of the jobs that today are handled by robots or other kinds of automation. Today, not everyone even sweeps their floors any longer. A robotic vacuum does scheduled cleanings, makes a map of the places it’s cleaned, and notifies you when it needs its bin emptied or if it’s gotten stuck. It’s no surprise then that the physical aspects of work are no longer key. Today when we lead, we need to do more than just command other people’s bodies where to be. We must inspire them to think in ways that are useful.

Minds Aren’t Easy to Manage

We all love to believe we’re in rational control of our faculties. It’s a convenient lie to believe that we can command ourselves to do things. However, few New Year’s Resolutions are kept: dieters, on average, gain back 107% of the weight they’ve lost. Clearly, our conscious decisions don’t always work.

Drive shares how a small amount of stress – time pressure – can change the degree to which people can be creative about their solutions. Getting the best work out of the people you work with is something that takes a Multiplier, but that guidance isn’t particularly clear about how you lead every day by getting the most out of others.

Making of Managers and Not Leaders

Until the last two decades or so, it was enough to lead by directing, or managing, people. However, this is no longer the case. Today, we must find ways to inspire the hearts and minds of people. This is substantially more challenging than just bossing them around. However, that’s how leadership has evolved.

Offline with OneDrive

Going offline can make you feel like you’re in the dark. When the internet isn’t available (or reliable), it can seem like you’re twiddling your thumbs until you can do something. OneDrive lets you take your files offline, so you can take your work with you, as we explain in this engagement video.

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Book Review-Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed

I’m still in awe. I’m in awe of the organization that was the Lockheed Skunk Works. Ben Rich – who took the helm after Clarence “Kelly” Johnson – mixes personal stories of triumph and frustration into a compelling read in Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed. I’ve made no secret of my love for the SR-71 Blackbird. (See my review of The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird.) However, what I couldn’t fully convey is my appreciation of the organization that created it – and much of the technical wizardry that moved us from late to the game to generations ahead of the competition. What Johnson and Rich accomplished at Skunk Works is simply remarkable by any measure.

Kelly Johnson

The stories of Kelly Johnson are remarkable. He was willing – sometimes too willing – to go toe-to-toe with generals and as quiet as a jet engine about getting what he felt he needed – and only what he needed – to be successful. With credits for the first US Jet fighter, the first super-sonic jet fighter, the U2 Spy plane, and the SR-71 Blackbird, he was the preeminent aerospace engineer and businessman of his era. No one could touch his results – and it’s a good thing, because he needed the results to keep people working with him.

The Skunk Works started without its nickname in a rented circus tent next to a plastics company, whose noxious smell would keep the undedicated but curious away. It was about that time that cartoonist Al Capp named an outdoor still in one of his comics “the Skonk Works.” The cartoon made its way to the tent, and it led to the new name for the secret team working on America’s first jet fighter.

Ben Rich recounts the technical skill of his predecessor and friend. Kelly, it seems, intuitively knew how things would end up. He’d estimate the results of complex calculations that would take Rich or the team hours to do. The world before computers, the calculations were done by hand, and that took time. Armed with his trusty slide rule but rarely bringing it out, Kelly had developed a feel for how things worked. (This is the kind of experience that Gary Klein would discover in fire commanders and other experts. Find out more in Seeing What Others Don’t.)

U-2 (Not the Band)

Before Johnson left the helm in Rich’s capable hands, the U-2 spy plane was already flying. Its advantage as an aerial reconnaissance plane was the fact that it had a service ceiling (maximum flight altitude) of 70,000 feet. None of the airplanes or surface-to-air missiles at the time could reach it at that height. It gave the United States the ability to spy on the activities of Russia with impunity until a fateful day in 1960, when Russia was finally able to down the U-2 piloted by Gary Powers. In the four years since its first flight, the U-2 had revealed the true scope of the Soviet threat and invaluable intelligence on what they were up to.

Shortly after the U-2 entered service, it was clear that it was just a matter of time before the Soviets would be able to shoot it down. It was at that time that the push came from Kelly to create an aircraft with an even higher service ceiling and, more importantly, was much faster. Where the U-2 cruised sub-sonic, the aircraft that would eventually become named the Blackbird would travel at three times the speed of sound.

Rich the Technician

While a substantial portion of Skunk Works is dedicated to his time as a leader of the organization, he had to prove his technical chops, and the place where this really shone was in propulsion. In the end, he was able to create the engines and engine control systems that allowed the Blackbird to fly. They weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, only being 84% fuel efficient – however, that was 10% better than any other design at the time, and it was good enough. The pilots hated the unstarts that happened when the engines stalled, the fuel special to only the Blackbird, and all sorts of the other special requirements, but the engines could maintain Mach 3 at 80,000 feet. It’s something that we’ve never repeated in any other aircraft. (See The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird for more on this amazing aircraft.)

The Age of Stealth

The Blackbird was already a stealthy airplane. Its radar signature was more akin to a Piper Cub than the 140,000-pound, 108-foot behemoth that it was. It was bigger than it looked on radar, but radar could still see it. (Besides, Piper Cubs don’t fly at 80,000 feet!) The next challenge was to make an airplane that was effectively invisible to radar. For that, the Skunk Works got a bit of accidental help from Moscow. Pyotr Ufimtsev, the chief scientist at the Moscow Institute of Radio Engineering, authored a paper titled “Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction.” It held the secrets to stealth with a set of equations that predicted the amount of energy that would be reflected to the source based on the shape of the object.

This was the second time that Russia had helped our efforts. Through much misdirection, the CIA had managed to acquire most of the titanium needed for the Blackbird from Russian suppliers when the US supplier couldn’t produce enough.

These advances in stealth technology were easily as important as the advances that the Blackbird brought to aviation. It would take a great deal of risk, immense courage, and determination, but the results would be worth it.

Hopeless Diamond

Armed with a primitive computer and equations, Denys Overholser would come up with the shape that would be called “the Hopeless Diamond.” It looked nothing like something that would fly, and the fellow engineers at the Skunk Works were quick to point that out. However, in the end, the team knew that stealth would be the name of the game, and they reluctantly agreed to make it work – if the predicted radar signatures could be produced.

In test after test, the design met the radar signature goals. From wooden models on poles making it clear that the poles had a higher radar signature to actual flight tests where radar technicians couldn’t find the aircraft at all – even when they were told where to look – the Hopeless Diamond became the aircraft named “Have Blue” and eventually the F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter.

In the end, the stealth work was so effective that the helmet that the pilot wore had a bigger radar signature than the aircraft itself.

Have Blue (F-117)

It was eight years after initial operating capability that the F-117 would prove its worth. It was still an ugly aircraft to most people. Even though Johnson pushed Rich away from the aircraft for some time before finally being convinced, Johnson and the aircraft had something in common. They both delivered results and, in the end, that’s what mattered. It took the Gulf War in 1991 to demonstrate the power of a stealth aircraft with precision bombs.

Until then everyone had to rely on tests and the dead bats in the hangars. That’s right, the bats were running directly into the F-117 and falling dead. The aircraft was difficult to see, even to bats’ echolocation system.

Air Superiority in Baghdad

At the beginning of the war, Baghdad had more protection than Moscow, with some 16,000 missiles and 3,000 antiaircraft emplacements. It was designed to be a fortress. The generals planning for the gulf war had to wonder how long it would take to grind down the air defenses such that the full stage air combat and domination could begin. The planners worried about what the losses of aircraft and personnel would be to acquire the air dominance they needed to win the war. They didn’t have to wait long.

At 3AM local time on January 17, 1991, the power of the F-117 was clear. The first wave of ten F-117 arrived at Baghdad to blind firing of the antiaircraft emplacements. They were blind firing because they knew something was coming, but they couldn’t tell where it was. The second wave of twelve fighters came in an hour later. With the support of a handful of Tomahawk missiles, Iraq was out of the war on the first night. Their communications centers were in rubble, and major strategic targets like power generation were already offline.

Through the entire course of the war not one F-117 aircraft was hit by enemy fire. When you expect to lose 5-10% of your aircraft in the first month, losing none sends a powerful message. The combination of stealth and smart bombs could not only hold their own, they could make it safe for the rest of the air force to fly.

Support

The video of bombs destroying their targets made for great public relations and great television. Small delays might have been required to let the Iraq anti-air defenses to overheat their guns and become vulnerable, but eventually they all did. They all succumbed to the precision bombs that the American public would watch with their evening news. Pilots would brag that commanders could tell them whether they wanted a bomb in the men’s room or the lady’s room, and they’d oblige. Sure, they were confident, but with their success, you couldn’t blame them.

The Challenges of Success

The Skunk Works had done it. They had demonstrated air superiority time and time again. However, this set the stage for some startling losses – not from our enemies overseas but from our own politicians.

It pains me to say that the SR-71 is no longer in operation. It was the victim of politics. Though it was described as too expensive and unnecessary, it filled an operational niche that hasn’t been filled. If you want to get a picture of an enemy position at a specific time of day, you could have it. While satellites provide reconnaissance, they don’t give you the ability to pick the time. You have to wait for the next overpass – and hope that there isn’t a cloud over the one piece of real estate you really care about.

There were other projects that were scuttled because they didn’t seem to make sense. The stealth direction was great, but the move towards unmanned drones continues. Even failed projects like Tagboard, which was designed to use drones to spy on enemies, leave a legacy.

The problem when you build technology so substantially superior to your competitors is that you don’t have anything left to innovate on, so the teams that created such amazing airplanes are forced to look to other ways of keeping in business. The things that make stealth so amazing also don’t help your career if you’re looking for the next star on your lapel. It’s better to command more people and equipment – that you can talk about – than it is to own the program that will allow you to own a war.

Projects like stealthy ships never made it to be a substantial part of the arsenal. Instead of working on the strategically important projects, people at all levels chose projects that would provide some level of advancement while being much more visible. The result is that the operations at the Skunk Works aren’t what they once were. While I’m sure there are classified projects going on at Skunk Works that weren’t discussed in the book, Rich makes an important point that the things that were classified in 1964 probably aren’t worth knowing about in 1994.

The Skunk Works was an amazing place at the time. While I’m sure it’s still great, I can’t help but think that, without challenges to address, it won’t be the same.

Extinguish Burnout Launch!

Terri and I are excited to announce the launch of our brand new website, https://ExtinguishBurnout.com to support our forthcoming book, Extinguish Burnout: A Practical Guide to Prevention and Recovery. While the book doesn’t publish until June 21st, the site and online course are available today.

Burnout is pervasive. As we speak about this topic and ask who has experienced it, nearly every hand goes up. When we ask how many people feel as if they’re actively in burnout during our talk, a sheepish 20% or more of the hands are raised. Burnout isn’t new, but its prevalence is increasing. An estimated 50% of physicians and 30% of nurses are currently experiencing burnout. I first wrote about burnout in 2003, and it’s been a recurring theme over the years as I worked with clients and led teams.

There’s some literature on burnout, but the problem was that it either blamed the individual – that they’re not strong enough – or the organization – that they’re not taking care of their employees. The problem is that neither view resolves the burnout, it just assigns blame.

We set out to identify the key causes for burnout and find strategies for preventing burnout or recovering from it if you’re already stuck in it. We found the answers were hidden in the research. All the clues necessary to find the answers were already available – they were just hard to find through all the misdirection.

The book is roughly 200 pages, with chapters that can be read in 5-10 minutes. The online course has an average module length of 13 minutes. The point was to keep them short and easy to consume if you are already in – or near – burnout.

We’re honored to have already received a substantial amount of positive feedback about the book and the materials. Some of those comments are available on the home page of the website. If you’re struggling with burnout – or you know someone who is – we’d like to invite you join us at https://ExtinguishBurnout.com, where you can preorder the book for shipment on June 21st (when it publishes) or order the course and start today. If you’re just interested, you can sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll keep you up to date.

Campbell’s Journey

Campbell proposed that each story follows a similar path. From your favorite sci-fi flick to the latest young adult novel, there are observable archetypes that heroes follow in their journeys. But what do these fictional stories have to do with your corporate communications? We’ll explain in this video.

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Book Review-Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Innovation

Creativity seems to have some mystical property to it. It seems like some people are creative and others are not. It’s like someone is born to be an artist, and another person is born to be an accountant. In Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi dispels the notion that creativity is something that you’re born with and begins a journey with us about how creativity might be encouraged or discouraged. Creativity, it seems, is a pretty difficult thing to pin down, because it means different things to different people.

The real story of creativity is (as Csikszentmihalyi explains) “more difficult and strange than overly optimistic accounts have claimed.” Creativity is context-sensitive and sensitive to subtle environmental factors that are hard to detect and, in some cases, even harder to create. We’ve learned that creativity is hard to predict.

On Becoming Creator

When the first creation myths arose, we were primitive apes that could barely survive except through our work with one another, and even then with haltingly high numbers of casualties. However, over time, we’ve taken over the role of creator as we began to shape and control our world.

Our creativity wasn’t a thing when we were struggling for survival, but now that we’ve placed ourselves in the creator role, we feel the need to ensure that we’re always creating.

Catching Creative

Some of the most creative ideas ever thought have been lost to the sands of time. It’s not enough to have a really good idea. Every truly creative thought can only be defined as such once someone has decided that it’s creative. Everett Rogers, in Diffusion of Innovations, explains how an innovation can be spread in a community. He, at the same, time tacitly acknowledges that even a good idea might not diffuse its way into a community without the right conditions.

It takes more than just the next creative idea. It takes a recognition that the idea is creative and useful for it to possibly catch on. Creativity is validated by the domain that it’s creative in. That requires the right mix of different and the same – or at least acceptable.

Defining a Domain

Sometimes, new domains are created by creativity, but, much more frequently, creativity exists inside of a domain. A domain is defined by the symbols and routines that define it. That is, a domain is a set of agreements about how things will operate. There’s a language that is used, a way problems are approached, and a set of rituals.

A domain is the space, and a field is the people in that space. The people in the field understand the domain, including its rules, and choose to operate in it – at least sometimes. By operating in a domain and learning the semantic rules, the field has developed an enhanced schema for the information in the domain. (For more about schemas see Efficiency in Learning.)

A side effect of the enhanced internalized schema for the domain is that it can make it difficult for outsiders to penetrate the domain. Developing the baseline understanding or schema for the domain is difficult, because those in the field have “the curse of knowledge” and cannot – typically – understand what it’s like to not know the field. (See The Art of Explanation for more on “the curse of knowledge.”)

Crossing Boundaries

Creativity often is the crossing of boundaries in domains. Sometimes the boundary is the division between the domain and another domain. Simply leveraging marketing concepts in communication can be creative. So, too, can the person who brings manufacturing insights to creating websites. The point is that the creative person often has experiences beyond the domain and brings those experiences with them as they come back to participate in the domain again.

When we think of Edison, we think of electricity and the lightbulb. Few people recognize that Edison’s experience and expertise expanded well beyond these two simple things. He did substantial investigation into rubber in his later years and even created a failed voting machine in his early life. For the lightbulb, he employed and consulted with dozens of experts on gas lighting, metallurgy, and other topics to intentionally bring together different domains to try to infuse creativity into the very nature of his work. (Find out more in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.)

The Medici family – whether intentionally or unintentionally – did the same thing in Florence. They brought together experts and masters and caused them to interact. (See The Medici Effect for more.) The result was the spawn of the Renaissance period. It was the crossing of boundaries that fueled this period.

The ONE Thing

The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller, suggests that we should focus on only one thing and ignore the rest. Well, actually, you’re encouraged to find one thing in each area of your life – but focus is the key goal. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, encourages focus through the analogy of the fox and the hedgehog. Robert Pozen, in Extreme Productivity, explains how focus can help you get more results – and simultaneously acknowledges that much of his own life has been driven by serendipity – happy accidents.

The road to mastery of a domain seems to be driven by Anders Ericsson’s research on peak performance – as explained in Peak. It encourages the focused, purposeful practice that takes time – though he doesn’t simplify it to the level that Malcolm Gladwell does in Outliers with 10,000 hours. Whether it’s more or less than 10,000 hours, the point is the time investment required. The problem with this is that these kinds of time investments can’t often be made in multiple areas.

The draw of this research and approach is the simplicity of getting good at one thing. However, as the canal conductors learned, sometimes outside forces – like the railroad – can transform or eliminate your industry nearly overnight.

Lean Agility

An often-overlooked aspect of both agile software development and lean manufacturing is in the way that you make decisions. You’re encouraged to make reversable decisions where possible and, when not possible, delay decisions as much as possible. While lean is focused on the elimination of waste, it acknowledges that making decisions – particularly irreversible ones – too early yields more waste. (There’s more about lean in my review of The Heretic’s Guide to Management.)

Agile development is focused differently, towards a better end product, but the results are the same: you’re expected to explore, discover, and make investments that will yield the information necessary to make better decisions. Necessarily when you’re exploring, you’re going to backtrack and find new paths – you’ll be focused on more than one thing.

Creating Confidence

Tom and David Kelley have nurtured creativity in many through their company IDEO, the Stanford d.School (design school), and their books. Creative Confidence focuses on the barriers that prevent us from believing we’re creative – the lies we’ve been told that it’s not a part of us. The Art of Innovation instead focuses on the factors that help creativity (and therefore innovation) to grow. In it, Tom Kelley shares the idea of a Tech Box, which contains a set of random things that may be useful in building a prototype or just sparking an idea. The Tech Box contains a random set of things from many different industries. They’re just interesting objects.

If we want creativity to be driven from inside of us, we can’t drag along a Tech Box with us wherever we go. Instead, we must collect a set of experiences and learnings that we can draw upon as we’re confronted with new, novel, and interesting challenges.

Not in a Person

Creativity isn’t, Csikszentmihalyi explains, “an individual phenomenon.” Instead, it’s the environment that a person finds themselves in, including all the resources and barriers in the system. (If you need a primer on systems, Thinking in Systems is a good place to start.) The Difference pointed out that the diversity of thinking that comes from different backgrounds can sometimes propel groups to greater levels of productivity, creativity, and, ultimately, performance.

The environment itself can create opportunities for the creative person to decide to explore ideas further – or limit their ability to learn and grow in new directions that might be transformative in their domains.

Tension

Boiled down to a single word, creative people are complex. They exhibit characteristics that shouldn’t be compatible. They find ways to exist in the world by holding onto opposite ends of multiple spectrums and experience this without internal conflict. They can be at home in any environment, creative or not, because they can themselves exist across so many different places. The ten key dimensions that Csikszentmihalyi exposes are:

  1. Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.
  2. Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time.
  3. A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.
  4. Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end and a rooted sense of reality at the other.
  5. Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.
  6. Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.
  7. In all cultures, men are brought up to be “masculine” and to disregard and repress those aspects of their temperament that the culture regards as “feminine,” whereas women are expected to do the opposite. Creative individuals, to a certain extent, escape this rigid gender role stereotyping.
  8. Generally, creative people are thought to be rebellious and independent. Yet it is impossible to be creative without having first internalized a domain of culture.
  9. Most creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
  10. Finally, the openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.

Tipping Scales

The question of what makes someone interested in something is a perplexing one. It doesn’t seem like an initial skill in something makes much difference. This is something that Carol Dweck’s work (in Mindset) and Angela Duckworth’s work (in Grit) would agree upon. The initial conditions aren’t nearly as interesting as the desire to work towards being better, but what causes someone to want to do better?

The answer may be found in looking at Judith Rich Harris’ work, No Two Alike. In it, she explains why no two children are alike. Even identical twins don’t always develop an interest in the same things. Sometimes, the advantage that one of the siblings has prevents the other from even trying. There’s a randomization to things and how one child may develop in one direction and the other child in a completely different direction.

Creativity has a similar aspect, it seems. You may develop an interest in a topic when your relative – but not absolute – skill is better. When you start to receive praise, recognition, and results, you’ll invest more and become better skilled. This process begins to feed back upon itself, and the changes can be substantial. Being able to get into and sustain the psychological state of flow can have huge impacts on long-term skill growth. (See Flow and Finding Flow for more on this.)

Inner Strength

There’s an understated theme that runs throughout Creativity. It echoes through the quotes and descriptions of creative people. There’s an inner strength to do what’s right – for them. Somewhere born out of a small advantage and hard work, there has developed an assurance that, in their chosen passion, being themselves and doing what they believe to be right and true is the only way to go.

In the description of E.O. Wilson, there’s a note about his favorite movie, High Noon, followed by, “I don’t mind a shoot-out, and I don’t mind throwing the badge down and walking away.” It’s a statement of confidence and inner strength that the person still retains the responsibility to do what they need to do. This does not, however, eliminate the need for compassion.

Compassion

Csikszentmihalyi explains, “Creative individuals are often considered odd—or even arrogant, selfish, and ruthless.” However, as was explained in the tension section above, there are often great tensions inside of creative folks. Sometimes, other people can’t quite figure out how these tensions can be resolved inside of someone else. Like looking at one of Escher’s works that looks fine in two dimensions but could never exist in the real world, they have trouble making the care and concern that a creative person often feels for his fellow man make sense.

Compassion is simply the awareness of the suffering of another and the desire to alleviate it. I’ve written about compassion repeatedly, but perhaps the best way to understand it better is to contrast it with related, but different, words as explained in Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism.

Creative people often become wrapped up in their awareness of the plight of humanity and the suffering of others and seek to leave their indelible mark on society by changing some corner of the world. They do this with a passion for the change and a detachment from whether they’ll ever accomplish the goal or not.

Detachment

To many members of the Western world, detachment is a bad thing. We’ve been conditioned that secure attachment is a good thing. However, our attachment to outcomes – particularly outcomes that we don’t control – is challenging. It leads us down a road of suffering, because we’re constantly shaken by the impermanence of life. Buddhists are taught that it’s attachment to our impermanent world that causes the cycle of reincarnation and suffering. (You can find a longer discussion of detachment in my review of Resilient.)

Creative people are able to stay compassionate about their world and detached enough to recognize that they won’t always succeed in alleviating the suffering of others – but that’s not the point. The point is that they should try. Maybe the thing that you should do is try to be a bit more Creative, whether you’re successful or not.

The Psychology of Recognizing and Rewarding Children

There are as many ways to raise children as there are grains of sand on the beach. Each child is an individual, and each situation is different. Despite these differences, we can apply what we’ve learned from psychology and neurology to inform our opinions about what our parents did right and what they did wrong – so we can make our choices about how we’re going to try to raise our children.

The practical implications of the challenges face parents every day. Should I say yes to that sweet request for some candy before dinner? Where’s the line between helping and enabling, and which side of the line does the act of bringing their forgotten homework to school fall? How does any parent navigate the difficult waters of supporting their children and giving them the right amount of struggle and consequences?

The answers aren’t easy, but there are paths towards less struggle and more success.

Participation Trophies

It’s painful to not win. It’s difficult to accept that we didn’t win. We didn’t get the slot or the trophy. It’s a natural extension, then, to want to – as both a parent and a leader of children – reward participation. After all, didn’t Woody Allen say that 80% of life is just showing up? Shouldn’t we reward that? According to the research, no.

If everyone is going to get a trophy in the end, then why should I even try? Intrinsic motivation is a powerful force for getting things done, but it’s too easy to disturb. By providing everyone with the same or similarly-valued reward, there’s no drive to perform well, to study and strive. It turns out, if we make the decision that everyone gets the same result, we destroy intrinsic motivation. (Learn more in Drive.)

Consider that communism failed not just because of corruption but because of the lack of drive resulting from removing the incentive to do better. If your performance doesn’t impact what you’re going to get, why try?

In raising our children, we should strive to show them results from their hard work – so they’ll want to do more hard work. We don’t want to reward just showing up when our children didn’t really put their all into it.

The Need for Struggle in the Animal Kingdom

It’s an act of kindness to help a chick out of its shell as it struggles to break free from the bonds that protected it for its first few days of life. After all, the shell is now holding back the chick from experiencing the broader world. There’s a problem with this act of kindness, however. In many cases, it dooms the chick to death. The reasons given for the “poor outcomes” (the convenient euphemism for death that is often used) are varied, from failure to allow the chick to properly separate from the egg, to not enough time to absorb nutritional materials, to not developing strong enough muscles. Whatever the cause, interfering with the process of the chick hatching has relatively universal poor outcomes.

Of course, chicks are not children. One might reason that nature made an exception, and it’s normally a good thing to help animals (and children) out of their struggles. The look into the reptile world doesn’t add much hope to this idea. Consider coming across sea turtles hatching on the beach. It seems tragic that the baby sea turtles struggle to find their way to the sea. Shouldn’t you help them? The simple answer is, again, no. Sea turtles have a sophisticated magnetic orientation system that needs to develop. Interfering with their process of getting to the sea as babies somehow disturbs the development of this system. (I’ve not found any coherent explanation of exactly why this is the case.) The result is that the “helped” sea turtles will end up dying as they swim in circles. Their location system doesn’t work, so they can’t figure out where they are – or how to get to where they need to be. (Whether you accept this story or not, stay well clear of sea turtles. They’re a protected species and you should not interfere with them, because the law says you shouldn’t.)

Struggle in Humans

I understand skepticism. I can hear the voice saying that this may be appropriate for the rest of the animal kingdom, but surely it’s not the same for children. To combat this thought, we head to a nursery school associated with Stanford University and the work of Walter Mischel. The experiment wasn’t particularly profound. Tell the children you’re going to walk out of the room while a tempting treat sits in the center of the table. If they leave the treat until you come back, they’ll get that treat plus another. The experiment was designed to test how long the children would wait before consuming the treat.

It wasn’t until years later when the children were enrolled in school and in their careers that the real value of the experiment began to appear. The children who were able to wait until the researcher returned had measurably better lives across several scales. How is it that a simple test about how long someone could wait for a treat could have such profound consequences to their lives?

It seems that the ability to delay gratification is a keystone skill. This skill can be applied to a variety of life situations and improve their outcomes. If this is an important skill, how can we teach it to our children? Would you believe we need to make them struggle – and succeed with it? That’s the central message of The Marshmallow Test – so named because marshmallows were one of the sugary treats that his team offered to the children.

By creating opportunities for children to try to delay gratification – and succeed – we improve their ability not just in delaying gratification but in life as well.

Willpower

The kind of self-control and delayed gratification that some children in Mischel’s experiment were able to demonstrate might also be called willpower. That is, the ability of their wills to overcome their desires. It turns out that willpower is an exhaustible resource, and it’s intensely taxing to the brain. Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength make the point that willpower is like a muscle in many ways.

Exercising literally tears down our muscles until they’re incapable of doing the things that they’d normally do. After a day of squats, walking up the stairs might be replaced with an embarrassing but necessary crawl. However, what we know about muscles is that they repair and rebuild themselves in a way that leaves them stronger. Nassim Nicholas Taleb would say that muscles are Antifragile. That is, the struggle and setbacks make the muscles stronger. Taleb is clear in his warnings that systems need challenges to increase their strength.

Willpower is like muscles in that the more you exercise it, the more capacity you build. It’s not that you ever get past the fact that it has limits. However, with work, you can build your capacity to the point where you rarely see the edge of your capacity.

When we deprive our children of the kinds of challenges that they need to develop their self-control, self-restraint, and willpower, we are necessarily limiting their potential.

The Story of Struggle

If you’re not yet convinced that our children need struggle, let me tell you another story. This story is the story of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s the life’s work of Joseph Campbell, as he researched the hero stories and myths from cultures across the globe. In the end, Campbell discovered an underlying pattern in every hero story. It wasn’t the ability to fly, or magical powers, or strength, or any of the expected results. The pattern was one of struggle, as the hero started from their ordinary world and were compelled to face a challenge. Every hero struggled. Every hero was transformed into their future state through this struggle.

Without the struggle, there was no hero. There was only some lost person who didn’t know their path or their capabilities. The struggle and transformation take two dimensions: the outer dimension and the inner dimension. If you’ve seen the Star Wars movie series, you’ll recognize the struggle and transformation of Luke Skywalker as he wrestles with who he is.

I’m not suggesting that your child needs to be a hero in the classic, mythical sense, but the same forces forge the character of children as create heroes. If we deprive our children of struggle, we make it harder to find themselves.

It’s a Matter of Mindset

I was about eight or ten years old when I stumbled onto a secret of mazes. I loved them. I’d solve books of them. I wasn’t particularly good at them, I just enjoyed them. One day I accidentally solved a maze backwards and I discovered it was so much easier than trying to solve the maze from the front. Over time, I realized that mazes are designed to present their challenges to those approaching from the start. The traps aren’t designed for those coming at the problem from the end to the beginning.

Consider a major problem of a truck stuck under an overpass on a busy road. The traffic is snarled, and experts in the structural engineering of the bridge are brought in to evaluate if would be possible to raise the bridge. The manufacturer of the truck is called to engage the truck’s engineers and see if there is a way to reduce the height without destroying the structure of the truck. In the end, a child stuck in the traffic snarl wonders why they don’t let the air out of the tires. The way we think about problems shapes the kind of solutions we can consider. In Drive, Daniel Pink explains how “functional fixedness” prevents us from seeing things in ways other than the way they are initially framed or we expect.

Our children can become stuck, too. They can believe that they’re good at math or writing or art – or whatever we’ve told them they’re good at. The problem is that this just isn’t so – at least from the perspective of being fixed in time. If they’re good at something and invest more time in purposeful practice, they’ll get better. If they leave the skill alone, it will atrophy. We as humans aren’t really born with skills that make us talented. We may have subtle interests or advantages that cause us to invest more attention, and the compounding of this upward spiral of improvement makes it seem like people have some inborn talent.

Carol Dweck explains in Mindset that we should avoid fixed mindset – thinking that someone is good or bad or something – and instead replace it with a growth mindset, which recognizes that anything that we will become better at anything we work at. This aligns with the work of Anders Ericsson as explained in Peak. It turns out that purposeful practice makes us better. Steven Kotler explains in The Rise of Superman that we’ve all got the potential to do something “superhuman” if we’re willing to work at it enough.

Overcorrection and Opponent Processes

Sometimes the ways that we find greatness is through struggle. Einstein was no “Einstein” in school. He struggled. He ascribes his prominence not to his gifted talents but rather to his persistence. Somehow, in his struggle, he found a way to overcorrect and become very, very good at what he did. In psychological terms, this is called “opponent processes,” and it describes what happens when we apply a pressure on someone.

The key to coaching and mentoring is finding the place where struggles can be created in ways that cause the opponent processes to kick in. We endure a short-term pain to accomplish the long-term goal of gradually improving. In too many cases, we’re unwilling to allow our children to experience pain and too quick to reward them on the other side.

This attempt to provide them some struggle can break down, however, if they don’t feel safe.

Psychological Safety

There’s something special about some rats. Some of them were licked and groomed just a bit more by their mothers – just enough to change the way they responded to the world. As Paul Tough explains in How Children Succeed, the research showed that the rat pups were more adventuresome and appeared to be less stressed.

Children, in order to learn from their stresses and not be crippled by them, need to understand that they are safe. Failure isn’t just an option, it’s a certainty. When children know that failure is OK if they try again, they learn that they can learn – and that changes them permanently. Any change in a person is hard; just ask someone who works with addicts.

Motivational Interviewing

It was an odd collection of folks. Some well-meaning church people, a few addiction recovery folks that work with teens, and some parents concerned that their children, if not yet addicted to anything, seem to be slipping away from them. The children have reached the critical teenage years, and their conflict with their parents is growing.

The traditional ways of thinking about the problem don’t work, according to one of the addiction counselors. He suggests a book called Motivational Interviewing. The short version is to create space for the addict to question their own situation and outcomes and ponder how things might be different. The set of techniques and approaches build psychological safety with the addict, which is a key issue – if not the key issue – with helping an addict understand the damage they’re doing to their lives.

Somewhere deep inside, the addict realizes the painful outcomes they’re creating, and at least a part of them wants to change. That piece needs a chance to surface and expose what the addict already knows with the rest of the consciousness. Motivational Interviewing helps to build the skills necessary to create the psychological safety to change – or attempt change. It does this, in part, by recognizing the value of individuals and helping to even the scales of psychological value.

Psychological Value

Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues discovered that humans are more focused on negatives than positives. As he relates in Thinking, Fast and Slow, losing $100 is more impactful than a $100 windfall. Understanding this allows people who care to counter the ego’s defenses that want to not admit that you are a slave to something – which is what addiction is. By helping the addict learn how to dwell in the negative outcomes, the scales become a bit more balanced or even shifted, hopefully to help the recovering teen.

Not an Addict

You may be saying that your child isn’t an addict. I hope that’s true. However, the same factors that drive addiction are present in weaker forms in the rest of our lives. We can’t wait to have the new car, so we buy it on credit. We want to get the grade without doing the work, so we cheat the system. Your child isn’t a bad child, but they may be getting caught up in bad patterns. To counter that, we need to accept a few basic principles:

  • Pain and struggle are necessary – It’s not nice to have, but it’s a necessity to grow up properly.
  • Delayed gratification is critical – As a keystone skill, it makes so many other things possible. Where you can, it should be taught and coached into children.
  • Mindset – Children must know that their results are most strongly influenced by the work they put into things.
  • Psychological Safety – Failure is essential and so is trying again. Children must know it’s OK to fail.
  • Psychological Value – Children must be able to see their intrinsic value and understand how to leverage the pain of poor choices to make better choices next time.

If they can get these, then they’re headed down the right path.

Flagging Famous Files

As nice as it is to have collaboration with your peers, it sometimes means the files you use get moved around or relocated entirely. There’s a way to flag your favorite files and make them famous (or, at least, first) in this engagement video.

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Book Review-Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization

Why is change so hard? Whether we’re trying to change a culture, a team, or ourselves, change is hard. The core answer from Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization is that change is hard precisely because it’s designed to be hard. We’ve developed a resistance or an immunity to change to protect ourselves from unnecessary, too frequent, or too extreme changes. The result is a natural immunity to change. While this serves us well in most circumstances, some of the most difficult challenges in our lives are changes we want to make, desperately need to make, and for which our immunity has activated to prevent our best efforts to change.

Should I Change or Should I Die?

It seems like an easy answer: we should change. However, as Change or Die points out, 90% of cardiac patients don’t make the recommended lifestyle changes even after a heart attack. Criminal recidivism rates exceed 67.5% in just three years. Even after their freedom has been taken away, criminals don’t change their behaviors. The question becomes why is this? What is it that allows someone to put themselves in danger of death when their stated goals are to live?

The answer lies in the contradiction between the stated goals and the hidden, conflicting goals that are only exposed through our behaviors. We can identify our goals, our desired behaviors, and ultimately what the unstated goals are that drive those behaviors. Typically underlying these conflicting and unstated goals are big, hidden assumptions about the way that the world works.

Defining Goals

Each year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Six weeks later, very few people are still working towards their resolution. They’ve made a rational decision about what they want – but they’re not doing it. The most common resolution is to lose weight. The health benefits in a nation of predominantly overweight and clinically obese people are obvious. No one is confused that there are long-term health issues that are substantially influenced by being overweight. The research around this isn’t changing.

What does change are the hidden goals that can’t be articulated. You can chalk the problem up to a Rider-Elephant-Path problem, where the rider makes a rational decision, but the emotional elephant isn’t going to do that. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for more on this model.) You could say that it’s just too hard – but the relative challenges of weight loss are well known. It’s even well known that most people fail in the long term, returning to weights that are 107% of where they started. There’s a hidden goal of protecting our self-image of the person we see ourselves as – and not changing it even if ostensibly we have a goal to change.

Mental Models

There are different ways that we see the world, and, in the context of Immunity to Change, the belief is that there are three progressive ways that we see and experience the world:

  • Socialized Mind – Here, there’s a clear recognition that it’s necessary to be a team player and work with others. Direction and orientation largely come from outside of oneself.
  • Self-Authoring Mind – Self-direction and the desire to direct others arrives as problem solving and independent thinking emerge. Direction is largely internal.
  • Self-Transforming Mind – The inherent contradictions that troubled the self-authoring mind are accepted. The realization appears that we all live interdependent lives.

This set of mental models is like how Steven Covey explains the maturity from dependence to independence and, finally, to interdependence in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. However, there’s a twist to the self-transforming mind. In addition to the awareness of interdependence, it’s also capable of looking at the filters in place and evaluating them. Said differently, a self-transforming mind need not just look through their perceptual filters; a self-transforming mind can directly examine and evaluate the filters. I mentioned this in my review of Resilient, how you can evaluate what’s happening without becoming a part of it.

Types of Challenges

What if all challenges could be broken down into just two categories? One category of challenges is technical. That is, once you know the solution, you can use it every time to solve the same problem. It’s simple cause and effect, problem and solution. In this model, you need only know what the solution is and execute it to solve the problem.

The second kind of challenge is an adaptive challenge. The challenge is constantly adapting and changing as you try to solve it. This is what might also be called a “wicked problem” by Horst Rittel. (See Dialogue Mapping for more.) Behavior change lives in this space where not all the components are known – or even can be known. The process for changing behavior through Immunity to Change is one that seeks to illuminate the dark places of tacit knowledge and beliefs and seeks to make them more explicit. (See Lost Knowledge for the distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge.)

Illuminating the Hidden Commitments

Our immunity to change comes from our deep-seated and hidden expectations, perspectives, and commitments that keep us trapped in where we are and what we believe despite our conscious desires to change. We want to be better as a leader but can’t let go of tasks that others could do quicker and better than us, because we need to feel like we’re “hands on” and are really contributing value.

The problem is often that we’ve not had a chance to really understand ourselves. We spend our time rushing from one thing to another, barely pausing to consider whether what we’re doing is what we want to be doing or is consistent with the way that we see ourselves. (See How to Be Yourself for more on this.) In our dealing with other people, our lack of understanding of ourselves shows itself. In my reviews of Dialogue, I wrote about the inner game of dialogue. I spoke about how our internal views and perspectives leak out everywhere, even in our attempts to dialogue with one another.

X-Ray

Immunity to Change focuses on the idea of an X-RAY that has four columns, which provide a view of why the conflict exists and why it’s not a simple technical fix to resolve the issue. The columns are:

  1. Visible Commitment – What is the commitment that the person wants to make in their world?
  2. Doing/Not Doing Instead – What are the behaviors that are currently in operation instead of the desired behaviors?
  3. Hidden Competing Commitments – What are the invisible commitments that are preventing success? Whether these are about the commitment itself or about the perceived identity of the person, what is preventing success?
  4. Big Assumptions – What are the assumptions that drive the hidden commitment? What are the perspectives that sustain the hidden commitment?

An Everyone Culture, a book I’ve previously reviewed by Robert Kegan that was published after Immunity to Change, adds one additional bit to column 3. That is a worry box. It’s what you’re worried about – as a prompt to help you better articulate what is holding you back. If you can walk through these four columns and get clear the idea is that you’ll know how to change.

One Big Thing

Sometimes, when people begin a journey of growth, they become overwhelmed with the opportunities for improvement. It’s important to recognize that we don’t have to grow or change in every area all at once. The reality is that most people’s success is inhibited by one or two key skills You don’t have to be great at them, you need only to reach a level of minimum competency.

In The ONE Thing, Gary Keller tries to lead us to focusing on just one thing but, in doing so, acknowledges that we may need to have one thing in multiple areas of our lives. The goal is not to drive that one thing – in each area – to the point of being excellent. All that is necessary is that we reach competency.

In fact, Benjamin Franklin, who was famous for many things including his productivity, tried to push himself sequentially to develop a set of virtues. He found each time he focused on another virtue, one of the ones he believed he had mastered faltered. (See Primal Leadership.)

We cannot be best in everything, but we can sequentially try to improve ourselves. Though we may experience periodic setbacks – like Franklin – in the end, we’ll find that, if we just work on one thing at a time, just to the level of competency, we’ll keep improving ourselves, and we may even find that we like ourselves.

I Like Me

If we’re really good at continuously challenging our immunity to change, and we continue to work on our ability to change – to overcome our Immunity to Change – we may just find that we like ourselves. It could even be enough to say that you have no regrets – because you like the person you are, and everything you’ve done has led you up to this point.

Cinco de Mayo aka World Hand Hygiene Day

Happy Cinco de Mayo! May your hands be washed well frequently and help prevent the spread of infection. I know this is not the typical toast to go with the annual Margarita splurging day that celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla is 1862. I promise the intent of my toast is pure and full of hope for your good health.

The 5th of May is not only Cinco de Mayo it is also World Hand Hygiene Day. It is possible that World Hand Hygiene Day may never be as eagerly or widely celebrated as the Cinco de Mayo. It is likely that the simple act of cleaning your hands at the appropriate times will save more lives and prevent more infections than any other action we can take. The battle against pathogens and the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria is literally in our hands.

When we look at the data it is apparent that there is reason to celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day and take a stand to stop the spread of infection.

Let’s look at a bit of data related to hand hygiene:

  • A large percentage of foodborne diseases are spread by hands that were not cleansed well
  • Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%
  • Up to 80% of common infections are spread by hands
  • 10% of people do not wash their hands at all after going to the toilet
  • Only 1 in 20 people wash their hands appropriately after going to the toilet
  • In the United States, some healthcare providers clean their hands less than 50% of the times they should
    • These healthcare providers may need to clean their hands 100 times per 12-hour shift
  • According to UNICEF, one in every four childhood deaths, approximately 1.4 million globally, result from diarrhea and pneumonia. Handwashing with soap and water could reduce the death rates from these diseases up to 65% (Sam Stevens, Clean the World Foundation).

Effective hand hygiene takes less than 20 seconds and is truly an action that saves lives and changes the world. We spend millions of dollars looking for ways to keep humans safe from infection. The first line of defense is found in appropriate hand hygiene. Doing the right thing takes a small time commitment combined with the awareness of when it is important to perform hand hygiene.

There are very specific times when washing your hands is imperative:

  • After going to the toilet
  • Before eating or preparing food
  • Before and after taking care of someone who is ill
  • Before and after treating a cut or injury
  • After changing diapers
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching animals, their food or waste
  • After touching garbage

There are five simple steps to washing your hands:

  1. Wet your hands
  2. Lather your hands with soap
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse your hands
  5. Dry your hands

If soap and water is not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. It is important to remember that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. When using alcohol-based hand sanitizer be sure to follow these steps:

  1. Apply the product
  2. Rub your hands together
  3. Rub the product all over your hands and fingers until they are dry

Researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented. Think about that, if it was your loved one that was still alive because we all washed our hands. We can’t live forever, but we shouldn’t die because someone didn’t wash their hands. Each time you wash your hands you could be saving a life, what could be more important than that. May you wash your hands well and frequently and have a very healthy Cinco de Mayo.

#HandHygiene #HealthForAll