The Braille Monitor                                                                                       June 2003

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Leadership and the Technology of People

by Bob Root

Bob Root
Bob Root

From the Editor: Bob Root identifies himself as a futurist. His company is Orion Learning International, Inc., and he addressed the 2002 NFB convention outlining some of his views about the future of technology for blind people. He also addressed the 2003 Business, Learning, and Superior Training (BLAST) conference in Nashville, Tennessee, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Merchants. He was the keynote speaker on Wednesday morning, April 23. His remarks made quite a stir among delegates, so we are reprinting them here. Certainly the psychology underlying Mr. Root's ideas makes eminent business sense. Here are his remarks:

I would like to thank Kevan and the blind merchants organization for inviting me. It is also an honor to serve as a member of the advisory board for the National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute.

Last year I talked at the convention in Louisville about a product called Scotos. Someone asked me where the name "Scotos" came from. It was the mythological god Thor's dog who, it was said, guided him in the darkness.

Scotos is a device I developed in concept form to look at how current technology can be integrated into a useful tool for the blind. In short, Scotos is a small wearable computer that recognizes visual patterns and speaks those patterns through earphones to the wearer. Simple pattern recognition allows the device to recognize buildings, street signs, groups of people, and other structures needed for navigation. The device also carries with it a cellular tracking technology to enable voice recognition software to map a course to a place the wearer wants to go. Included is a voice-recognition cellular phone for communications. It's an interesting product that I am working hard to make one of the early products developed by the National Federation of the Blind Research and Training Institute incubator.

Yes I am a futurist--a nerd and a geek! My friends say that a short-term plan for me is fifty years. I am not where the rubber meets the road, but where the rubber meets the sky. This means that I can guess at what will exist in fifty years, and no one will be around to refute what I said or even remember it.

The truth is that it is really easy for me to track trends as if they are vectors pointing out into the future. This is a gift that requires listening to great minds in various disciplines of science and boiling down my own vision of the direction we are traveling in. Clearly we are living in pragmatic times. As a futurist I believe I have a responsibility to make the future relevant to those who listen to me speak, to make the future real today.

As a bit of background about me, I did not start my life as a futurist, but I was always focused on the future. I grew up inside traditional corporations with an eye focused on what could be as opposed to what was. The status quo never really interested me. No surprise that, when I was asked to join the emerging PC industry in the early `80's, I jumped at the chance.

This emerging technology was all about futures, and a bunch of us at Apple Computer helped to develop a video in 1986 called The Knowledge Navigator. This video foreshadowed what was to come: wireless computer connections, voice recognition, synthetic human interaction, collective processing, the Internet, information pooling, and on and on. The video, produced and directed by George Lucas, was an impressive dramatization of what could be. Seventeen years later the video is still impressive.

To me The Knowledge Navigator was a road map and a good target for our industry. As a futurist I could see it all in my head without the video. I realized then as I do now that not everyone can see out into the future. In fact the companies that I worked for and the majority of people, including engineers, could not see past the end of the year.

Until 1996 I was a hands-on, turn-around CEO in Silicon Valley's high-tech industry. The growth and stress in this business were enormous, and the need to see the future was mandatory. Profit margins were on the decline, and companies needed to look more at what they were doing to survive.

Yet at the same time the futurists began to look at the concept of technology accelerating so fast that no one could predict what the future would be. Called singularity, it is a point where technology develops so fast that humans and computers become virtually one. Machines begin to out-think humans--or so some people say. These believers are called transhumanists. Our own Ray Kurzweil is a self-described transhumanist with his own set of beliefs around converging technologies.

So what does this have to do with today, here at this moment, and how is it relevant to you as blind merchants? Transhumanists believe that the processes of the human mind will be surpassed by computer processing technology in the next ten years. I agree, when it comes to pure processing power, but there is something else about us humans that will find transhumanists scratching their heads in disbelief. What will confound them is the human power of relationships. This realization strikes at the heart of the transhumanist movement, and it will open an entirely new school of technology.

The Technology of People

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the advisory board meeting for the NFB Research and Training Institute in Baltimore. The fact that I was going to speak to you today came up. No surprise: information about you began to flow. Dr. Maurer, Dr. Zaborowski, and others shared a lot about you and your business. Kevan and your Web site also helped me to understand more about where you are and where you are going. Believe me, there is great appreciation for the work you are doing, and you are icons in the blind independence movement.

As a point of fact, my future focus is in nanotechnology, micromachines, and bio-technology. You can imagine that the more I learned about your businesses and the more information I got, the more I wondered why in the hell was I speaking to you--and for heaven's sake at the opening breakfast.

I started to wonder if I was nuts. Moreover, I started to wonder if Kevan was nuts. That mantra became an obsession as I wondered what angle I could take that would provide you with some usable tools in your businesses and at the same time sound like a futurist.

It hit me this past week as I walked around my hometown of Annapolis, Maryland. I watched as people gathered around the city dock to enjoy the sun and relate to each other. I watched as old friends interacted and new acquaintances were made. I saw relationships build around common interests as the energy and the size of the crowd grew.

From a technology futurist's perspective there was no linearity or formula. It was at the least a complex equation. The topic became clear. I would talk to you on tools and techniques of human relationships that would help you to build your businesses at new and unprecedented levels--impressive, huh?

 As a turnaround specialist I realized quickly that you must turn the people around before you can turn a business around, that people must believe in something before they can succeed, and that people's relationship to their customers is the primary reason businesses are successful. So I did not turn to my futurist books to develop this talk. I dusted off a manuscript of a book I have been writing for the last ten years. It can probably never be published because the world of leadership is so dynamic. Its title is Leadership and the Technology of People.

The opening lines of my book go like this:

"People first work for the money, then a leader. They only excel when they have a common cause!" The book continues, "The tools of the technology of people are not processes, ideas, or machines; they are the soft skills of rapport, trust, support, and conflict resolution--human relationships! The power of trust, the power of voice, the power of rapport, the power of feeling, the power of a shared cause, and the power of passion are the technology of people. Master the technology of people and you master business. Master the technology of people and your business flows like a river with a force that is unsurpassed."

Among the many tools available in the technology of people, I struggled to find a single tool that you can embrace that will inspire you and your people to build a better relationship with your customers, a tool that comes naturally to humans as they interact with each other. Yet it is a skill that must be practiced to be mastered. The one single technology of people that propels human relationships is an intangible word. It is rapport. Master rapport and you and your people will master the technology of people.

Rapport is both art and science. To master the art of rapport, you must first understand the science of it. Believe it or not, there is a massive movement in the scientific community to try to understand the human art of rapport. It is not in the technology headlines because its study is the study of human behavior, not machines. Like it or not, our society has grown to be about things more than people. Some of us look forward to the day when our society returns to a time when we are all about people. This technology of people is called neuro-linguistic programming or NLP for short.

Many years ago some of us recognized that for computers to be more human, we must understand the technology of people. A guy named Marvin Minsky undertook to develop an optical computer that acted like, thought like, and behaved like humans. While at the MIT Media Lab, he connected with two researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz--one a computer scientist and the other a psychologist. Drs. Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed a theory that rapport was based on human interaction around getting and receiving information in "preferences" based on the five senses. Their technology was and is called NLP. Again, NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming. Neuro for the brain, linguistic for the words we use, and programming for the patterns we establish in our communications.

They first discovered that people take about seven seconds to start forming an opinion of people they meet. Bandler and Grinder recognized that people who had a preference for receiving visual-based information befriended and were in rapport with those people who expressed themselves visually. The same is true for people who prefer auditory, kinesthetic (feeling), gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell). They further noted that each of the preferences had a corresponding eye movement and that the words people use are accurate clues to determine their communication preferences.

In their study they initially worked on visual, auditory, and kinesthetic preferences or channels of communication. They noted that visual people look up and use visual words to recount experiences. Auditory people look right and left--sort of at the ears--and use words that relate to sound. Kinesthetic (feeling) people look down and right, use feeling words, and are very tactile, touching things and people.

The words people use to ask for information from others are equally telling. Visual people use phrases like show me, picture this, draw me a picture, or I see what you are saying. Auditory people say things like sounds familiar, tell me, that resonates with me, or that rings a bell. Kinesthetic people say things like stay in touch, start from scratch, or walk me through it. People that are gustatory and olfactory weigh in by saying give me a taste of what is next, or something smells fishy to me. In fact, of the general population, 45 percent are kinesthetic, 37 percent are visual, and 8 percent are auditory. I find it interesting that as business people we tend to suppress the feelings of people in favor of data--what they hear or what they see.

The fact is that we all express ourselves in the channels through which we prefer to receive information and meaning. Always, always, always, these expressions are communicated relating to one of the senses.

A significant breakthrough by the NLP scientific community was recognizing that relationships could be won or lost merely by responding to people in their preferences or not. This was chronicled in a recent best-selling book titled How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less, by Nicholas Boothman. It is a story of a professional fashion photographer who used NLP to get his subjects to be at ease faster so that he could get better pictures of them that were more natural in a shorter period of time. Instead of taking hours, he was able to get what he needed in a few minutes.

Bandler and Grinder further studied the science by seeing if they could control a situation by matching and mirroring people's communication style. Their results were remarkable and began an entirely new study of human behavior and communication. As Bandler, Grinder, and other NLP master practitioners' work advanced, they began to apply the techniques to practical applications like sales and customer service. The concept was simple: build rapport with a customer, and sales happen more quickly and more frequently. A good example of this early on was SONY retail stores division. Using NLP, an instructor taught retail sales people to recognize whether a customer was visual, auditory, or kinesthetic before reframing their communications. As the story goes, a man walked into the SONY store on Fifth Avenue in New York. . . . The results speak for themselves. They found a 20 percent increase in overall sales with the majority of increases coming in higher-margin products. Also their customer service calls decreased, and those calls they did receive were more cordial.

Another example is that one of our NLP master practitioners was asked to work with the Hilton hotel chain to recognize people's preferences before check-in to get them the best rooms. Visual people were given rooms with a view. Auditory people were given rooms away from the elevator and ice machine and were quiet. Kinesthetic people were given rooms emphasizing all the comforts, were shown the thermostat, and were invited to sit on the bed and to feel the soft pillows. The results--happier customers who return to the Hilton hotel because they sensed that they were receiving something special--service customized to their preferences.

NLP also recognizes that communications and meaning are expressed by the words we use, our tone of voice, and our body language. In fact the science recognizes that only 7 percent of meaning is communicated through words, 38 percent through tone of voice, and 55 percent through body language.

For the total experience to be well rounded--NLP master expert companies like Walt Disney make sure that their parks smell good and have a wide range of foods and styles. As an example, Disney sprays 100 gallons of orange oil a day into the air around the parks and has more varied restaurants per square foot than any other public service institution. On top of that, the customer's experience is highly visual, auditory, and very kinesthetic (not to mention olfactory and gustatory).

Perhaps the most powerful tool of NLP, which only the greatest masters of the art employ, is turning judgment into curiosity. These masters suspend the human behavior of making up stuff about people in seven seconds or less and devote their imaginations and intentions to developing curiosity about the people they meet. NLP carries with it a series of presuppositions that, if you believe these are true at some level, will enable you to engage, build, and maintain rapport.

So just listen to the following list and try it on for size between you and your employees, you and your customers, and your employees and your customers. These presuppositions are a useful foundation for creating rapport among individuals and within organizations. When you act as if these are true, you begin to notice more opportunities for win-win results in your interactions with others and more positive talk about yourself:

1. Behind every behavior is a positive intention on the part of the person exhibiting the behavior.

2. The map is not the territory. People respond to their map or interpretation of reality, not to reality itself. Effective positive communication is about understanding and changing maps, which in turn can change perceptions of reality.

3. Anything can be accomplished when we break the task down into small enough chunks to be manageable for the individual or system.

4. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Everything is a learning opportunity to find out what works and what doesn't.

5. People already have all the resources they need. A positive, supportive, trusting environment teaches how to access these resources at an appropriate time and place.

6. Every behavior is useful in some context.

7. Model excellence. If one person can do something, it is possible to discover the components and strategies needed to achieve that result and teach it to anyone else.

8. The messenger never rests until the message is delivered.

9. The meaning of your communication is the response you get. Effective communication is about creating an experience in the listener or reader. The result is the resonance we elicit--and may not necessarily match what we intended to communicate.

10. Communication is redundant. We are always sending messages in all three major sensory modalities. Building a rapport is about checking for congruence in these messages.

11. Choice is better than no choice.

12. People always make the best choice available to them at the time. Often there are better choices that haven't been thought of or learned yet. Wisdom is about discovering more effective choices and how to change to more useful or desirable actions and beliefs.

13. If what you are doing isn't working, do anything else.

Couple these presuppositions with a common cause, and business grows. Having a common cause with your employees and your customers coupled with rapport is both art and science. Understanding and creating a common cause is the first step in building rapport with your employees and your customers.

I like to describe a common cause as a shared passion of people working together and knowing that their cause can never be achieved, that perfection is something everyone should strive for even though knowing it cannot be achieved. Rapport between you and your employees, between you and your customers, and between your employees and your customers will result in more sales, more margin, and lower costs. It is an art and a science that can be learned, should be taught, and is the single most important key to human relationships.

The power of rapport, the power of trust, the power of support, the power of results all come from respecting an individual's communication style and reframing your own to build rapport, trust, and relationships.

Some futurists see this as the age of singularity, where technology accelerates so fast that we cannot predict the future. As a futurist I believe we are just realizing human potentiality, and we are entering the age of relationships, where technology takes a back seat to people, an era in which we honor rapport, trust, and support as the technology of people.

So for the next few days listen to everyone with new ears. See if you can understand what is being said. Does it ring true with you, and can you get a feel for their meaning?

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