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Chris Murchison

The Art of Listening

November 19, 2014

“Listen first, speak last.” –Peter F. Drucker

Listening is core to our work at HopeLab. Listening is how we understand the needs of customers, the goals of our partners and the passions of our employees. Our success depends on our ability to truly understanding the interests of other – what we call “deep listening.”

We’ve recently turned the mirror on ourselves, inviting Monica Worline, an organizational ethnographer, to listen in on the day-to-day at HopeLab. For the past year, Monica has documented how we engage and connect as colleagues in the workplace and with people outside our organization. Her work is now being developed for publication, offering insight on how organizations support environments of creativity, innovation and compassion.

Inspired by the experience of being heard, a member of our staff who was interviewed by Monica penned a Haiku in honor of her exceptional listening skills. That poem of gratitude recently found its way into this gorgeous piece of original artwork by Sheri Jarvis, which HopeLab presented to Monica. Beautiful, just beautiful! We just had to share.

SheriJarvis


Chris Murchison

7 Tips for Asking Highly Effective Questions

November 4, 2014

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” –Stephen Covey

Business leaders support individuals and help them perform their best. But providing guidance and feedback to others can be challenging. People have shifting interests, concerns, and worries. So as a leader, you cannot support people unless you know what they think and how they feel. And this can only be done by asking meaningful questions and listening deeply.

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Inquiry of this kind does not come naturally to everyone. Like most things in life, it takes practice and effort. The tips below, inspired by the Quaker practice of discernment, can help you hone your skills and become a better leader, in business, at home, or anywhere in between.

1. Powerful questions are simple. Complex inquiry can obscure what is really being asked. Keep it simple.

2. The best mark of a great question is that you cannot predict the answer. If you know the answer to a question you pose, then you are voicing a statement or opinion rather than an open and honest questions.

3. Ask questions that help people name what they already know. If we listen closely and carefully, answers to most questions come from inner experience. Allow space for people to connect to this experience.

4. Ask questions that expand exploration. Your questions should open up and expand inquiry, rather than narrow it down too quickly.

5. Ask questions about perceptions and feelings, not just the issue at hand. Sometimes answers aren’t found in our words but elsewhere in our body, a gut feeling, for example. Ask questions that allow people to connect with this experience.

6. Avoid storytelling or bringing attention to yourself. When listening to others, our heads can get filled with reactions to what a person is saying rather than listening deeply to their words. Stay focused on the other person and their story, not your own. Listen to understand.

7. Make room for silence. Responses to good questions can be like peeling an onion. There may be layer upon layer of answers until something deeply meaningful is revealed at the core. Getting through these layers requires time. Wait. Be patient.

The presence of a great thought partner and listener can be profound and highly influential in a person’s development. When people are truly heard, they feel a deeper sense of belonging, inspiring trust and loyalty and improving engagement and overall work performance. And when employees are engaged and performing at their best, you create the potential for positive impact on your organization’s culture.


Kevin Neilson

The Dark Side of Sympathy

November 3, 2014

If you think reason is the better angel of our nature, think again.

According to Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind, the noblest aspect of human nature is revealed in our sympathetic dealings with others. Sympathy, not reason, is the royal road to overcoming selfish and destructive behaviors. Yet even sympathy has a dark side, as indicated by the title of the book. But before we explore the dangers of sympathy, here’s a quick overview of Haidt’s fascinating work.

The Righteous Mind

In The Righteous Mind, Haidt plumbs the latest in neuroscience, genetics, social psychology, and evolutionary theory to provide an account of how people think and the evolutionary forces that have shaped our thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, he advances three principles of moral psychology:

1. Intuitions come first, strategic reason second

“We don’t reason about moral matters to discover the truth,” says Haidt. “We reason to justify our beliefs.” In the early 90’s, Haidt conducted interviews to probe reactions to the morality of harmless but offensive stories. Thirty eight percent of those he surveyed claimed someone was harmed even though the stories were carefully crafted to exclude harm. He found the people quickly condemned the action in a snap judgment. Haidt construes this as evidence that reasoning often serves intuitions, not the other way round.

2. There’s more to morality than harm and fairness

In the Western world, we’ve embraced an ethic of autonomy, which protects rights and liberty and balances justice for individuals. We tend to think that actions are permissible so long as they don’t harm anyone else. But there are other moral frameworks in the world, as a simple matter of fact.

Statue of Liberty

In an ethic of community, moral concerns center on duty, hierarchy, respect, and patriotism. Here people are viewed as members of a group, not as separate individual people. Tribes, groups and families are worthy of moral regard, independently of what a person thinks or feels.

In an ethic of divinity, central moral concepts include sin, sanctity and purity. People are seen in relationship to God, gods, or something supreme that’s worthy of worship. In this worldview, moral concerns focus on the need to protect the “divine” dimension of life.

Now if you’re like me, you’re at home in an ethic of autonomy. But before you shrug off the moral language of community and divinity, ask yourself, “Is it OK for a brother and sister to have consensual yet 100% protected sex?” Or, “Is it OK to use a dead chicken for sexual gratification?”

Well, is it?

Like Haidt says, there’s more to morality than harm and fairness.

3. Morality binds and blinds

Morality has a light and a dark side. On the one hand, morality enables people to get along within a group.

“When I say that human nature is selfish,” Haidt explains, “I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our own interests, in competition with our peers. When I say that human nature is also groupish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups. We are not saint, but we are sometimes good team players.”

Blind

On the other hand, morality, in enabling us to overcome selfishness and form cohesive groups, creates a new problem, namely, out-group tension and conflict.

“Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship. But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by moralistic strife.”

Beyond the righteous mind

One of the finest aspects of Haidt’s work is that he suggests a path forward, a way for us to accept the brute facts of in-group and out-group dynamics, while identifying areas where interventions, both technological and educational, can help minimize the effects of our moral blind spots.

One such area of focus is emotion regulation. Because human nature is an emotional elephant with a rational rider, building social and emotional intelligence can help people recognize, understand, and shift how they’re showing up in the world, how they’re acting and behaving.

Elephant&Rider

Another area of focus is the cultivation of belongingness. By promoting authentic social connections, emotions and thoughts are nudged in positive, healthy directions. This in turn impacts belief and action further downstream, in this case, yielding greater sympathy and compassionate behavior.

Lastly, in education, it’s important that we’re honest about the limitations of individuals to reason their way to truth or moral decency on their own. This isn’t something that can be done in isolation. Social and emotional learning programs can help people empathetically relate to one another, enabling them to bridge group divides—social, racial, religious, and political.


Kevin Neilson

Bullying Is More Complex Than You Think

October 6, 2014

We often view bullying as an interpersonal phenomenon. It’s something that happens between two kids. One kid bullies another kid, or maybe even several other kids. But peer aggression goes beyond the bully and the bullied.

sticks and stones

In Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Emily Bazelon offers a highly nuanced view of the social and behavioral context of bullying. Emphasis here is on context. Rather than focusing on just kids and their parents, Bazelon also examines law, technology, school administration, and the responsibilities of peers who witness acts of peer aggression.

Tough questions, no easy answers

In addition to addressing the larger context of bullying, Bazelon poses challenging questions:

“One of the lessons of this book is that kids often bully because they stand to gain by it, in terms of social status. Maybe they’re after a laugh from another kid they want to impress, or induction into a clique; maybe they want to publicly distance themselves from a friend they sense is now seen as a loser. How can families and schools dismantle that kind of informal reward system? How do you convince kids that they can do well by doing good?”

These are difficult questions, especially when considered against the backdrop of real-world school environments and our status-conscious popular culture.

The healing power of friendship

friends

When we confront the complexities of bullying, it’s easy to forget that there are small ways for us to make a big impact in a person’s life. One of the best aspects of Bazelon’s book is the reminder of the enduring power of friendship. Even a simple act of kindness can be protective against the effects of bullying:

“In one important survey, high school students who’d been bullied were asked to describe the best thing another student had done to help them, and victims consistently mentioned peers who’d called them at home or spent time with them after they’d been mocked. One thirteen-year-old wrote of a friend who didn’t desert her, ‘It made me feel more confident that I would be able to keep being myself and not let this ruin my life.’”

Bystanders are often reluctant to intervene in a bullying situation. They fear injury or reprisal. But there are easy and “cheap” ways, in terms of social currency, for them to offer support and kindness to a peer without putting themselves at risk. Something as simple as sending a text message or checking in with someone at school or even after school can be very helpful to a peer who’s hurting.

Is technology to blame?

Bazelon takes a pretty harsh view of technology, in particular of social networking platforms like Facebook. She quotes the late researcher Clifford Nass:

“Face-to-face contact is the best way to learn to read other peoples’ emotions. It’s how kids learn empathy. So it’s as if the in-person socializing is the healthy food, and Facebook is the empty calories. It’s like junk food, and the more of it kids have, the less time they may have for the healthy stuff.”

Bazelon argues that Facebook should be doing more to combat cyberbullying. Fortunately, in the past couples of year, Facebook has been doing some thoughtful work on this issue, partnering with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. They’re testing their ideas here, and I encourage you to take a look.

stones

When it comes to bullying, there are no simple answers or magic bullets, but Bazelon’s work provides an important service. By clarifying the social and behavioral complexities of bullying, she orients parents, educators, and technologists to the landscape of relevant issues, putting them in better position to find and explore solutions to this vexing issue.


pchristen

Overcoming the Enemy Within

September 22, 2014

Every life is a story, and every story has a hero. In The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, the hero is your genius, a special unique talent that belongs to you alone. But like all good stories, your genius has a rival, someone who seeks to undermine your creativity and highest aspirations. Guess what? You are this rival. You are your own biggest obstacle, your own worst foe.

Fight the tide of resistance

Fearless discipline: fight the tide of Resistance. © HopeLab

Resistance isn’t futile

In his book, Pressfield explores the ways we sabotage ourselves, undermining our creativity and our highest purpose through procrastination, rationalization, fear of failure, a lack of humility, a lack of discipline, and other self-inflicted wounds. Pressfield labels this “Resistance,” his all-encompassing term for the “inside” game we play against ourselves when confronted with life’s challenges.

Because we are the source of our own Resistance, we’re also the key to overcoming Resistance and staying focused on our most important work in the world.

“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives,” writes Pressfield. “There never was a moment and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the table on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

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One of the things I admire most in Pressfield’s book is the reminder that it’s within our control to shift our attention from white noise and petty concerns and refocus on our highest purpose in life. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to summon this strength of will. But the power of choice is always there, just waiting to be made, and there’s great reassurance in that.

Resistance and community

In addition to control and purpose, Pressfield identifies the role of social connection in the struggle against Resistance.

“If you find yourself criticizing others,” he says, “you are probably doing it out of Resistance…. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all of the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.”

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Although Pressfield discusses Resistance at an individual level, I also believe that Resistance can affect entire groups. For instance, a leader—a CEO, a politician, an educator, a parent, and so on—whose struggle with Resistance leads to poor decision-making and actions can result in widespread cruelty and unnecessary suffering. This is one of the reasons why I’m so interested in developing tools and practices that help leaders stay on purpose and engaged with curiosity and compassion in their work.

Liar, liar

If there were only one thing to know about Resistance, it’s this—Resistance does everything in its power to foul you up and keep you from your work.

“It will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole,” according to Pressfiled. “Resistance is protean. It will assume any form if that’s what it takes to deceive you… If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

Ritual and Routine

To combat this persistent foe, Pressfield urges us to focus on routine, discipline, and avoiding unnecessary drama in one’s life. I often find myself thinking about Pressfield’s advice in protecting my own highest aspirations. Even simple tasks, like folding the laundry and making the bed in the morning, help create a sense of order and place.

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His advice has also helped me prioritize daily exercise, which is so critical for my health and well-being. These small actions matter. They contribute to a spirit of discipline and control that helps me manage my energy and focus on my most important goals in life.


guest

Advice from a Mother Whose Son Had Cancer

September 17, 2014

Every month is a good month for gratitude. ChildhoodCancerAwareness

But Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September is an especially good time to celebrate and honor the courage of others. Those of us who have fought cancer ourselves and with loved ones stand on the shoulders of those who have fought cancer before us. Your fight inspires us to continue. We are grateful to you. Thank you.

In addition to expressing my gratitude, I’d like to share some advice drawn from my own experience with my son’s cancer, in the spirit of warmth and encouragement.

Practical tips in the fight against cancer

Don’t do Internet searches late at night. Things look scarier when you’re alone and tired.

Simplify your life to reduce stress. As you try to balance medical appointments with family time, choose activities that are close to home so transportation is easier.

Keep a bag full of activities (for your child and for yourself) in the emergency overnight bag—you never know how long the hospital stay will last.

Ask friends and neighbors for help. Often people are afraid of being intrusive. Communicate your needs clearly so others can determine how best to meet them.

Ask everyone to wash or sanitize their hands and wear a mask (if they’re sick) around your child.

Friends of families in the fight, be proactive. Set-up play-dates. Keep them short and make sure your kids are healthy. Help shop for groceries, prepare meals, and run the household smoothly. It takes a village to help a child fight cancer.

Caregivers, take time to care for yourselves in order to be effective. Your health is important, too!

If tomorrow looks daunting, focus on the hour, then the one after that.

What I’ve learned on our journey

Fighting cancer has taught me that every day is a gift. Every smile is a gem. Tucking everyone in bed under the same roof is a joy. Weekends with nothing to do are good. Children with cancer just want to be “normal” and “normal” is great. We don’t have to be extraordinary. We can be content with simple pleasures.

We’re all “mother bears” protecting our young: Every parent whose child has cancer thinks that their kid is the most courageous person they know, and every parent is absolutely right!

Liz Poux is a mom of three with a Biology degree from Yale and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Her son Nico is a leukemia cancer survivor. Drawing on her own experience, Liz is writing a book about the challenges of caring for a child with cancer. When she isn’t advocating for bone marrow donations or supporting families in their fight against cancer, Liz loves woodworking and making beautiful furniture.


Kevin Neilson

HopeLab Wants Your Vote for SXSW

August 27, 2014

Each year in mid-March a pilgrimage to Austin, TX takes place. Film buffs, music enthusiasts, and technologists convene at SXSX to explore the latest trends in art and technology. Because we’re a pilgrim at heart, HopeLab wants to go, so we can share our vision of the power of technology to help us thrive. But we need your help. We need your vote. Interested? We hope so! Take a look at our proposed panels. And vote your way to a happier and healthier world.

Beyond BFFs: Tapping Into the Power of Texting to Promote Empathy   

BFFs

Janxin Leu, Ph.D., Director of Product Innovation at HopeLab, explores the development of new SMS tools designed to help build empathy for others, even beyond our friends, family and colleagues. >>More

Resilience Through Tech: Designing to Help People Flourish 

ResilienceThroughTechJanxin Leu and Fred Dillon, Director of Product Development at HopeLab, share the research and development strategies we’re pioneering at HopeLab to create mobile apps that foster resilience. >>More

Re-Humanizing Work: Creating Workplaces Where People and Businesses Flourish

ReHumanizingWork

Chris Murchison, VP of Staff Development & Culture, explores how one Silicon Valley company is re-humanizing the workplace by adopting tools and practices that any organization can use. >>More

Gaming for Good: Using Games to Create Change

 Games4Good

Fred Dillon and other panelists explore the power of gaming to educate, motivate, and even improve health and wellbeing, with a special emphasis on case studies. >>More

We hope to see you at SXSW!


Chris Murchison

Does Your Job Make You A Better Person?

August 12, 2014

We tend to think of our professional lives as distinct from our personal ones.

Outside the office, we may be cooks or gardeners, coaches, dancers or photographers. Whatever we care deeply about happens outside of the office, away from our desk and colleagues, after hours and with people that matter most to us. We compartmentalize, keeping work separate from life and aiming to keep them “balanced.”

WorkLife

But the distinction between professional and personal cheats us. It assumes there’s one “you” who shows up for work and another one who shows up at home or on the weekend, in the real world. This assumption robs us of being whole and fully human in both contexts, a loss to our co-workers and our family and friends.

Engaging the whole person

In a Deliberately Developmental Organization (a term recently coined by authors on the Harvard Business Review blog), one of the most important strategic goals is to tap the potential of the whole person, her hopes and fears, her strengths and weaknesses. It’s a belief that work can be a place where your full potential can be realized and where you can also become a better person, not just earn money to pay the bills.

We take the goal of deliberate development seriously at HopeLab.

It starts in the interview process, where we go beyond job experience and competencies to learn what motivates candidates and inspires them. Questions in the interview might include, “What are you passionate about?” “What makes you laugh out loud?” Or “What activities do you lose yourself in?” Answers to these questions say a lot about potential fit as well as areas where a new employee might contribute in broader ways to our mission and culture.

We also focus on deliberate development by creating supervision and performance management practices that support the whole person. In addition to encouraging regular check-ins, we’ve moved away from the annual performance review. Instead we have an annual conversation, where supervisors and supervisees reflect on achievements and challenges, and prioritize meaningful activities for the year ahead, and have an authentic conversation that sparks honesty and clarity.

Lastly, at HopeLab we recognize that how we work with others is also a rich opportunity for deliberate development. We’ve experimented with Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and other tools to help us become more aware of personality types and work styles. One of my favorite practices at HopeLab is our use of staff development funds. Although this money is spent in different ways—on life coaching, physical training, or photography classes, to name a few—they all have one thing in common: igniting a sense of purpose and meaning in staff. Employees return to the office with a renewed excitement that infuses their work and interactions with others.

All of these efforts help create a workplace that supports deliberate development. The result? A workforce that is open to growth, strives to excel, and has increasing capacity to meet your organization’s mission.


Chris Murchison

Can Business Be a Force for Good?

July 24, 2014

Negative business practices earn splashy headlines, e.g., Enron, AIG, and others. But I’ve always believed that business can be a force for good, both for the individuals that make up the organization and society at large.

In May, the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School hosted the first annual Positive Business Conference, drawing over 350 scholars, business executives, HR leaders, and others to hear about research, stories and practices in successful and positive businesses across the globe.

RossBiz

“We develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world,” states Allison Davis-Blake, the Dean of the Business School. “We can solve our most complex challenges by empowering those who believe that business can, and should, be a force for good.”

The power of positive organizations

According to conference organizers, positive business is built on three foundations, (1) creating positive value in the world, (2) creating great workplaces, and (3) being a good neighbor in your community and to the planet. Participants at the conference were introduced to scholarship and practice in all three domains, everything from responsible supply chain management to positive accounting to building high-quality connections in workplace communities.

As a longtime believer in the necessity of building positive workplaces, I found that the conference was an incredible opportunity to better understand different organizational aspects that must work together to support a system that creates positive value in the world.

I was impressed by executives who shared stories about how they’re revamping employee rewards systems, crafting unique programs to support disadvantaged community members, catalyzing innovations to support environmental sustainability, and more.  I was also inspired by faculty whose research shows so beautifully the impact of positive business practices today.

Weeks after the conference, one particular quote stands out to me. “It’s not just about culture, it’s about changing the world,” says Dan Hendrix, CEO of Interface. His comment is a great reminder that positive workplaces tap the full potential of people and that an engaged workforce enables an organization to achieve its mission and make a positive impact in the world.


DanHendrix

For any leader who wants to learn about culture and business impact, I highly encourage you to attend next year’s conference.

I will definitely be there.


Fred Dillon

How a Sense of Empowerment Can Improve Health

July 14, 2014

When bad things happen to us, we often feel powerless to change them. Our sense of control is threatened by the circumstances of the world around us. Conversely, experiences that give us a sense of control – that help us see how we can affect our circumstances – tap into our psychological resilience and even support our physical health. Can we design technologies that bolster our sense of control in life? And what would that look like?

empowermentHere’s one example. Imagine you’re a kid diagnosed with cancer. You likely feel very little control over what’s happening inside your body. You may even question your ability to fight your disease. At HopeLab, we asked ourselves, how might we give kids with cancer a greater sense of control and support their belief that they could do what it takes to fight cancer and win? Those questions led to our Re-Mission game projects.

In Re-Mission and Re-Mission 2, we’ve made an invisible enemy – cancer – visible and given kids the power to fight back at their disease. Through game play, kids can blast away cancer cells, battle infections, and manage side effects associated with cancer and cancer treatments. The games don’t cure cancer, but they do boost kids’ self-efficacy and give them a sense of greater control. And that sense of control can translate into healthier behavior and measureable biological outcomes.

In a randomized clinical trial, young cancer patients who played Re-Mission stuck to their medications more consistently. Cancer patients who played the game had a greater sense of self-efficacy, or belief that they could influence their own cancer outcomes. And they were more motivated to beat their cancer by sticking to their prescribed meds. In fact, a follow-up Stanford neuroimaging study showed that the part of the brain that reflects motivation lit up in kids who played the game, more than in kids who were just watching the game. The study also demonstrated that the interactive nature of game play was key in delivering that sense of motivation. So it’s not surprising that the kids with cancer who play Re-Mission games feel a greater sense of control, which makes them more likely to take their medications and improve their chances for full recovery.

These kinds of results can be replicated beyond cancer, in any scenario where a healthy sense of control might bolster resilience in the face of adversity. This suggests an opportunity space for developers and designers. There are plenty of apps that help you gain control over your pill schedule or track your weight loss – but what apps have you seen that help you gain a sense of control over your destiny.

What might those apps look like?