Archive for October, 2010

Clutch:Clarity in the Storm of Surprise

October 26, 2010

Long gone are the ebb and flow of predictable events. Today’s dynamic context is more like a series of tsunami waves — without an early warning system.

While we’ve all faced hard choices  under a tight deadline,  the pressure soars when an  unanticipated or even unpredictable change occurs. Personally, it’s   the moment you realize the  serious implications of a life-threatening diagnosis. At work, it shows up when an important internal or external factor generates a serious threat. Perhaps a fraud or corruption that could destroy your entire organization. Some people avoid the circumstance, others “crumble.” Some steer well and help their organization respond.

Frame The Current Reality
Recognizing an unexpected current reality and its implications are crucial for managing and leading effectively. Whether you acknowledge the problem, when and how you respond  can determine the success or failure of your enterprise. Paul Sullivan’s new book, “Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t” tackles this topic.

 Sullivan differentiates  the commonly used expression of “clutch” from an exciting moment in sports that wins the game to “a precisely executed series of plays.” He explains it includes a mental component. And, names five common  traits of people who demonstrate clutch: “focus, discipline, adaptability, being present and a mix of entrepreneurial desire and fear.”  According to Sullivan, avoiding the traps of leaders who choke means taking responsibility for action, no overthinking and no overconfidence when stability resumes.

Getting Past Self
When crises present, there’s no expectation any one leader has mystical visions of the right course of action. But, it is possible to carefully execute processes that guide tough decisions. Too frequently the interplay of politics, ego or pride can distract from the optimal choice. Thinking about your thinking (meta-cognition), might be an important step to take right now. 

 Sullivan (and others) suggest a relative accuracy in framing the problem, a response before opportunity cost becomes overwhelming, and a dispassionate approach are all factors in a recipe for great management. We know many, both non- and for-profits, that have navigated tremendous financial woes as markets change dramatically and much of forecasting fails. Agility is one of the new qualifications for survival.

 The litmus for you and me is a calculated and composed response in a dramatically new context. Anticipate the unexpected and be ready to engage your “clutch.”

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see:

 -The image above is Hiroshige. The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1823-29).

Look for Hay in your Haystack

October 6, 2010

Every day you and your colleagues experience an “infolanche.” Quite simply an avalanche of information pours in to your desk through the phone and computer hour after hour each day.  Skillful navigation of this overload is critical to progress. Digging out is a big job. This deluge creates yet another challenge to managing and leading.

What’s the right information for your attention?

Focus, Focus, Focus

Our resident psychometrician often suggests that clients “look for hay in your haystack.” Before  launching a hurried search begin with careful thought. In a recent preschool literacy evaluation we conducted the standard for performance was a score of 62. One of the exciting programs we assessed scored 58. Did it fail? By the explicit federal standard it did. By any other measure, it was a huge success. How could that be?

Before the literacy intervention, children entering the program were tested by several valid and reliable tools. After a school year of experience with the program, children were tested again. They showed substantial gains, in fact, statistically significant changes in pre-literacy awareness, knowledge and skills. The program was effective but risked discard because a pre-determined value was not secured. Moreover, by analyzing student gains by teacher, it became obvious which teachers had delivered a high quality “dose” with fidelity to program design. This provided the clues on which teacher’s could improve and how they needed to adapt their instruction practice.

Great Questions Matter

Asking great questions is the first most important step sorting your haystack. Great questions guide data navigation towards high value information. Specification of your information needs can focus your data collection, analysis and interpretation.  How you frame your inquiry matters lots. In the preceding example, the right question was: Did the program positively affect literacy skills? It would be an error to “quit early” and simple ask: Did we make the standard score?

Data-driven decisions are the new daily bread. There’s plenty of information to use and confuse  us. The next time you review data, recognize what vital clues it provides for the challenges your organization faces . If you are clear about what questions must be explored, it will help you sort your pile.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see :

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