Dr. Seidman is also CEO & co-founder of Cerebyte, which gives organizations the ability and the confidence to dramatically improve their performance. Their pioneering technology, based on the latest science of how we think and learn, enables them to quickly capture top performers' "secret sauce" and raise the performance of everyone else to that same high level. Their solution has been adopted by companies such as Intel, Jack in the Box, American Family Insurance, Nike to name a few.
Aligning with the latest research in positive deviance, fair process, neuroscience and mass customization, their solution makes it possible to quickly capture your top performers' expert knowledge, approach and values, and then systematically help everyone else apply them in theit work.
And he is the co-author of Strategy to Action in 10 Days: Creating High Performance Organizations.
Strategy to Action provides a groundbreaking approach that quickly infuses any organization with the skills, attitudes, behaviors and culture vital to extraordinary performance. This practical, step-by-step approach guides readers to create a highly predicable, scalable and engaging environment that will have everyone in the organization performing like a superstar.
After reading it, understanding his principles and his methodology and as important the science behind it...I would have to agree:
This practical, step-by-step approach guides readers to create a highly predicable, scalable and engaging environment that will have everyone in the organization performing like a superstar.
You can listen to our conversation here.
You can read Part One of our conversation here.
I do have a couple of questions. Let’s look closer at this concept of positive deviants. I love that concept. Most people don’t consider deviants in a positive manner. You turn that whole concept on its head. And if I’m hearing you right, the concept of positive deviants and the proven methodology for unleashing it in an organization allows your clients to consistently and efficiently obtain the secret sauce of the experts, the stars, in their organization.
Now, first off I believe you. But at this point, it's a faith-based endorsement.
The hurdle is the idea that...I'm a basketball fan, from NC no less. So the idea is that you have a proven methodology to consistently and efficiently obtain the 'secret sauce' of Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan and his greatness. You’re going to be able to distill it and share it and then instill it in everyone around them. Is that understanding correct?
That is correct, yes.
Let me expand on that a little bit. For professions like basketball where there are true physical limitations...I mean I was a high school basketball player. I’m 6-3. I dreamed of the NBA. But I wasn’t big enough and I wasn’t fast enough. So regardless of my mental skills and my mindset, I wasn’t going to make it.
But, having said that, what we’ll find is that Michael Jordan brings a different mental model of the game, to the game. Like what we were talking about with the other positive deviants. What we would find, if we ran him through our process, is that he literally conceives of basketball differently. He conceives of mastery, he conceives of what he’s doing differently. He conceives the underlying principles differently.
And in our process we can figure out what his mental model is and what he did to build his mastery. And, by getting other people to embrace through the motivational part, and eventually we’ll get to how you sustain it and how you touch thousands of people at once with this, once you have people basically framed correctly, in other words thinking about it correctly, the ability to master things just soars.
And so for Michael Jordan we can find that he literally conceives of the game differently.
Making parallel...Phil Jackson and some of the work he did. John Wooden, some of the works he did, literally talked about how they framed the game differently than other coaches.
Beautiful. That’s a great explanation. Thank you.
Again, I love it. But the cynical part of me can see a lot of political infighting and jealousy being a barrier to employees embracing this idea. Their territory.
I’m a star and you’re not. I’ve got all sorts of perks and privileges, you don’t.
Either the stars may not want others to shine or the others may be too disengaged to want to shine.
How does your methodology overcome that?
I’m sorry. I think there’s two different components or parts to this.
The first one is:
How do you have positive deviants in a highly politicized organization?
And secondly, well, maybe 3 parts:
How do you get the positive deviants to willingly participate?
How do you the other participants to willingly participate?
So, the first question is, and we get this question a lot:
“We’re a highly fragmented organization. We’re kinda dysfunctional; we’re having all of these struggles. How do you, are their positive deviants here?
Pretty much all organizations have positive deviants? We’ve never found one organization that had none.
The way you find them is you ask a very simple question of the management team for a particular function like store management or chip design or restaurant management or emergency room case management for co-morbidity conditions. These are ones we’ve dealt with already. You could say:
“ Who are the people in your organization who consistently and systematically outperform others, who you really respect for their ability to be great in their functions. “
And this notion of respect, turns out, to transcend politics. It transcends metrics. It transcends all sorts of other stuff.
Positive deviants are great at metrics. Positive deviants have figured out a way to cope with the politics of an organization and still be successful.
If I can I can give you a concrete example. So, we’re working with big-box retail organization. And one of the problems that happens is there’s a real disconnect with corporate marketing and what was actually in the stores. What would happen is the Sunday flyers would come out advertising their specials. And very often the stores didn’t have the stock. And people would come in and would say:
“ Well, this special is on discount. “
You wouldn’t be able to fulfill that expectation. You would have this constant conflict about how to actually satisfy the customer in this way.
So, most of the store managers were fairly passive. They’d say:
“Oh, well, we’ll give you credit when you come in.”
The positive deviant store managers would read the flyers, they would call up through an informal network the people handling the distribution and supply. And they would get that shipped to them. They would basically find a backdoor into the system to satisfy their customers.
Now, the smarter companies we’d work with would say:
“That’s a systemic breakdown. Let’s go fix that systemic breakdown.”
Quite a number of companies go and improve their business processes because they respond to the positive deviants’ approach and recommendations. Not all do. But the positive deviants consistently find a way to transcend those kinds of conditions.
So, does that respond to your first question?
Yeah, it’s great.
Now, the second part of the question is:
“How do you get them to participate?”
Particularly in a knowledge management world people will say:
“You can never get the experts to share their knowledge.”
And we never, ever, have that problem.
And you can say:
“ Why not?"
Positive deviants can sort of function in a different way. And we’ll say to them:
“How much of your time do you spend doing something that isn’t very interesting or very energetic for you?”
And they’ll say:
“About 80% of our time.”
" How do you like that? "
" Um, not so great. "
" What do you do with the other 20% of the time?"
They’ll literally say:
We do the fun things. We invent this. We do this and do that.
" If you had the chance to literally switch those situations around, would you be willing to do that? "
And they say:
" Yeah. Yeah."
And we’ll say:
“ We’re going to invite you to a Wisdom Discovery Session.”
And the language is very precise.
We’re you’re going to spend 3 days talking with the few people who are your peers in defining what greatness is in your function.
So, listen to the way this is defined. The few people who are your peers defining what greatness is.
What do you think their next question is:
Are you kidding?
Why would you say they would ask that?
Well, because they must be thinking this is so incredible, the opportunity, this is always what I’ve always wanted to do, so I have to ask you:
Are you kidding?
Yeah, ok. So you want to guess what the next question is?
No. Yes, but ...
The next question is:
" Who are my peers?"
And it turns out that positive deviants have almost these mythical qualities. When we were working with a fast-food chain where 1400 restaurants organized into 11 regions. We asked the regional managers to name a dozen positive deviant restaurant and district managers. Turns out they named the same managers across the country even if they weren’t in the same region.
It tends to transcend this geographical limitation; it’s like there’s really, true, hotshots.
We asked them to name their peers and they said:
“Oh, I’d like to meet them.”
And then it turns out they can’t help themselves. They immediately talk about their image of what greatness means to them.
" Here’s what I mean to say you’re great."
And we have to say:
Hold off on that. We’re going to do this with your peers.”
They become highly energized.
What’s interesting is that the positive deviants generally are pretty humble people. They are successful in organizations. They’re well-compensated; they’re recognized. They don’t really have a lot of these ego issues. They’re wonderful to work with.
Them being experts in sharing their knowledge, they love it. The discovery process itself is based on them being coaches. A certified professional comes in and says:
“ We are your disciple. We are intelligent, competent, motivated. We are completely motivated to doing this job right. But we don’t know a thing about it. Will you positive deviants coach us on how to do it right?”
And, they love it. They can’t NOT coach you.
And so, at the end of 3 days of them having coached you in how to be great. And it all jells very very tightly.
Now. That’s a great answer.
And the vision of possibilities with what you’re describing and what I’ve seen are so very exciting!
But then I come back and go but the Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing and economies of scale and cost-cutting are all worshipped for their ability to eliminate deviation and reinforce the 80% of the work that is routine and boring. That’s why there’s 80% of it.
How have you helped organizations take the positive deviants in their midst and overcome their predisposition for routine, constancy and even boring?
Yeah. Great question.
We’ve had the good fortune to do a number of lean programs and one or two six sigma programs and some of that actually comes back to a, I would believe, a misunderstanding of what Deming was talking about with the Toyota prodction system. We had the good fortune to work with a man who is very elderly right now who worked with Deming and was at Toyota and understood what was meant by these things.
The key thing he always said was:
In the US, Six Sigma and Lean got kinda reduced to a transactional approach. It was about eliminating deviation. It was about eliminating waste. And the transformational aspects, literally thinking of your culture differently, which was what drove Toyota, were largely lost.
The main thing that was lost was this emotional quality that Toyota had a fanatical commitment to quality. And it was the fanatical commitment to social good, if you will, that drove all the other processes rather than the other processes we Americans kinda glommed onto: the other types of analytic processes and the removal of deviations.
But, let’s take this notion of removing deviants. The underlying issue is you do that because deviations create waste. But, you have to step back and ask the question:
“Waste relative to what goal? And over what time period? "
When you start to ask the question What constitutes efficiency? you had people who were in Lean and Six Sigma doing this analysis without actually knowing what they were trying to get efficient at doing. It was this very sorta narrow tactical view.
And when you step back and say:
" Ok. Look. This stuff is mentioned in Six Sigma and Lean but it’s not emphasized. It’s the analytic tools that are emphasized. "
If you step back and say:
What is the greater social good? What is the purpose you are trying to achieve?
And if you ask the Positive Deviants how they are going to achieved these things you find they are vastly more efficient than Lean and Six Sigma because they have honed all their behaviors to specifically and directly support the social good. So, in a sense they do eliminate deviance but they eliminate it by grounding it very specifically to this purpose.
And when we do Lean implementations and Six Sigman programs, we actually start with the notion of:
“ Purpose relative to what? "
So, for example, we did a Lean program that was doing new product planning which was basically how to take new products coming out of a manufacturing environment and basically blast them out to the market in different kind of ways.
Turns out the Positive Deviants, they’d done a bunch of Lean things before we got there. And they’d eliminated a bunch of things that the Positive Deviants were doing; they didn’t know about Positive Deviance at the time. And they’re having all these downstream problems. Months later things were cropping up that didn’t seem to fit the model.
Well, then when we came in we taught the Positive Deviance model. Turns out the Positive Deviants would do something, let’s say 6 months before launch that because of their experience set up say a customer environment, a distributor environment, even some things in manufacturing that showed up some elongated period of time downstream. So, when you start to think about these kinds of behaviors you still get enormous efficiencies but you get them more completely grounded to the social good.
And what you find out is you don’t have to do have the stuff that is in Lean or Six Sigma. And you actually end up with a more motivated, more effective, system.
That’s probably more of an answer than you thought you were going to get.
No. No. I am smiling and nodding my head. And if I was in church I’d be raising my hand up and shouting:
I always knew there was something in the Lean and Six Sigma acolytes as wonderful as they are and as much value as they brought to American industry that they had lost something somewhere in the translation. A process for constant improvement had now become a source for creating barriers to innovation and change. What you explained there just outlined it beautifully.
Turns out the Positive Deviants are the ones creating a disproportionate amount of innovation within an organization.
We wrote an article in an IT journals titled: Positive Deviants Rule. And, what you find is that a tremendous amount of innovation comes from the positive deviants. So, if you just go listen to your Positive Deviants you can adjust this ratio. It’s a resource that already exists; it’s already being paid-for. You can get these enormous performance improvements and it really doesn’t cost too much at all.
Now, we’re coming back to the cost thing. But let me back up with one more thing on the resistant corporate culture. Those companies who are fortunate to have those very efficient routines created with black belt experts. The other companies, their leaders and managers and Positive Deviants are often too busy putting out the daily or hourly fire.
How have you helped organizations step back and begin to embrace the Positive Deviants and their role after they’ve had the Wisdom Discover workshop?
How do you get them to internalize it, sustain it, under the daily pressures?
First of all, there’s a property in the Positive Deviants that helps with that. That is Positive Deviants ground to the sense of social purpose. And it really doesn’t change with the circumstance around them. They all have a set of underlying principles about how to think about their environment correctly, that don’t change much; they’re incredibly robust. By the way, there’s some great neuroscience research done with special forces soldiers compared to regular soldiers right in this domain about why are special forces soldiers so good regardless of the combat. It’s because they literally think differently.
This can be applied and shows up in the Positive Deviants. So, part of the Positive Deviants ability is this profound stability. So when new things come in, when transactional pressures get really severe, they actually ground more in the fundamentals and less in the sorta short-term transactional fires.
And again we wrote an article about this published in the OD Practitioner journal called Transformational Leadership in a Transactional World. And it’s exactly this issue.
So, how do you then get organizations to actually change when they’re getting just slammed to get more short-term? Total quality, the Lean stuff, is driving more short-term metrics. Many of them are missing the cultural values where you have stock market analysts looking for these short term profits. And all these pressures to be short-term and transactional.
And yet at the same time markets are changing around people. Competitors are evolving if you’re in a global environment. You better be looking over your shoulder at China and India because they are incredibly dynamic places.
So, how do you do that?
It comes back to the neuroscience again and the Positive Deviants. You say to the Positive Deviants:
“You’ve always had these conditions and these issues. What were the set of experiences you had that caused you to become a Positive Deviant, that allowed you to process all this information? “
And they’ll list all these real-world things. They’ll say
- I had this mentor.
- I had this awful project that I had to deal with.
- I went to this course.
They’ll list these things.
And we’ll ask:
" Well, how did you put it all together? "
And they’ll say:
" I kinda sorta synthesized it naturally. "
Turns out the neuroscience research on learning has produced this fundamental notion that neurons that fire together, wire together. The notion that whenever you learn something from birth to the time you die your brain changes by neurons firing together and becoming more and more densely packed. And long-term sustained learning is packing these things so tightly that they become densely structured.
So, in the face of transactional pressures, how then do you get people to become good at something else when all the reinforcement is for something else.
These neurons that fire together, wire together, give us the key. Because what causes them to wire together permanently is repetitive practice in very realistic personal kinda ways. You don’t put people in a training class and give them a bunch of powerpoint slides. You give them short exercises. Typically they are about an hour a week. They talk about it and they practice it with the support group.
But, the practice is actually doing something in their job but with a new consciousness. You can’t actually separate the practicing from the doing the job.
It’s this long-time migration that occurs. And that’s why it occurs over some months. The initial impact literally occurs in minutes or hours. You start to see some initial change in the first 10 days. That’s in the title of the book. There’s a conflicting trough at about 6 weeks. And at about 8 weeks you start to see people internalizing the new behavior. And at a typical program, at about 6 months these transactional people have without them even knowing it converted from being completely transactional to transformational in the new mode and then back to transactional in the do mode.
And it’s this very very subtle process of little drip method of a little bit of practice on a little -bit related idea, a little bit of mental repitition, realistic, personal every single week
I’m loving everything you’re telling me here, if only because there’s no powerpoint in this training method.
We always say:
We’re a power-point free zone.
Part Three of this conversation will be published Saturday, September 3, 2011.