The Curious Case Of Tools v. Behaviors


Tools can be great. But if we want them to actually make our lives better, our tools must always be balanced with the behaviors required to use them.

Let me explain.

Give me a bunch of great construction-worthy tools — hammers, nails, drills, tablesaws, etc. — and I won’t be able to do much other than look like a guy who just spent a fortune at Lowe’s. Give these tools to my dad, on the other hand, and he can build you a house.

If I don’t know what to do with a hammer, the fact that I have one doesn’t help me build anything of value.

Apple knows this, and it’s why almost half of their retail store environment is devoted to stuff that loses money — but teaches you how to use their tools. The back half of every Apple Store is called the Family Room, and the only thing that happens back there is technical support and training. Both of these things cost Apple (lots of) money in the short term. But they know that if they can educate people about how their tools can make life easier — and then give them the behaviors to take advantage of this fact — they’ll become loyalists.

Tools mean nothing if we don’t know what to do with them.

Our organizational tools are the same. In our companies, we give people lots of tools — surveys, assessments, development plans, etc. — but then spend dreadfully little time teaching people the new behaviors which allow them to use these things properly. Many times we don’t teach them anything at all.

Put another way…

We give them a hammer and wonder why they can’t build a house.

We give them a MacBook Pro and wonder why they can’t edit a film.

How ridiculous is this?


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The Downside Of Diversity


In life and in our organizations we often talk about the inherent value of diversity. While this is true — diversity does have great value — the reality is that having diversity and taking advantage of the benefits of diversity are two very different things.

You’ve probably noticed this, too. We might talk (a lot) about why diversity is great, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually leveraging the power of the diversity around us.

Also, to be clear, I’m not just talking about the “affirmative action” kind of diversity where we balance things like races and genders, but ALL kinda of diversity — diversity of thought, diversity of strengths, diversity of passion, etc.

The biggest downside to diversity, of course, is that it’s so damn hard. It’s not easy for us to “get out” of ourselves,” to see from someone else’s perspective or to step into someone else’s slippers. This is really, really difficult, in fact.

The other downside to diversity is that it’s kind of slow. It takes time for us to understand other perspectives and other viewpoints, because they’re so foreign to us. For example, if I see through the lens of being very flexible/adaptable (i.e. this is one of my inherent and enduring personality traits), it’s incredibly hard for me to understand why people would want to stand their ground in dogmatic ways. The good news is that with practice we can get better, and faster, at trying other people’s shoes on, but it’s never going to feel completely natural to us — it’s just not where we stand.

Recently, Dan Pink had Marcus Buckingham on his show Office Hours. The whole interview is worth listening to, but the part around diversity really stood out to me. Somewhere after the halfway point, Marcus comments on how diversity doesn’t always benefit teams; that sometimes, the homogeneous teams win. His two very current examples were the executive team of Facebook and the Barcelona soccer team — both groups that are incredibly slanted towards a particular set of strengths… and are clearly winning because of, not in spite of, that fact.

This idea is probably worth more discussion, but here’s my lesson for today:

If I’m not willing to spend the time learning how to take advantage of the diversity around me, it might be better for me to just hire a bunch of people just like me. It’d certainly be faster and easier.*


*At least until our team gets hit with something completely out of left field. Because of our imbalance and blind spots, we simply won’t be able to see these things coming.


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The Peak vs. The Path


In our companies we push for “peak performance.” This makes perfect sense, because want and need individuals to perform their best at work, whatever that may look like in their particular role.

But oftentimes, we get so obsessed with the “peak” that we forget about the “path.” We focus so much attention on the climbingthat we neglect to put in enough time to find the best trail up the mountain. We create a list of what we think greatness looks like (many businesses call this list “competencies”) and we demand everyone measure up. We want excellence, so we begin crying out like a prophet in the wilderness — preaching about best practices and “world-class” performance, but often not giving our people the right tools to actually achieve those things.

We’ve forgotten about the path.

The thing about a path, though, is that every person’s path is a little different.

I grew up in South Dakota, a place that is virtually guaranteed a snowstorm every winter. After the snow would blanket the ground in its soft white fabric, I remember going out the next morning to try to follow my dad’s footprints in the snow. When there’s a lot of snow on the ground, it’s much easier to put your feet into someone else’s steps — they’ve already blazed the trail and packed down the frost. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t make my path line up perfectly with his; my shoe size is different, my stride is different. As much as I’d try to copy his steps, I’d never get it exactly right.

It’s like this in our companies, too. My path is never exactly yours, even if I try to follow right behind you.

This means we need individualized pathways for the people in our businesses. Unfortunately, however, our organizations aren’t designed for infinitely unique pathways. They’re built to homogenize and same-ify everything.

We’ll never get to greatness this way.

Peak performance can never be divorced from the path of the person trying to achieve it.

If you were a basketball coach, you wouldn’t train a point guard as a center. If you were an orchestra conductor, you wouldn’t have the first chair violinist brush up on her trumpet skills to make her a more “well-rounded performer.”

Why do we do this in business?

If we want to reach more peaks, we need to create more paths. We need an organizational system which allows us to build as many unique paths as we have people — it’s the only way we’ll really get to the top of the hill.


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