When Thinking Transforms into Learning
Momentum in manufacturing happens if the marketing "stars" align and the bullwhip effect has been tamed.
For those folks unfamiliar with bullwhipping, imagine the complexities of obtaining the raw materials for a jewelry manufacturing process, client backlogs from demand, wholesaler management and inventory distribution, and retail sales. Now, imagine that the upsurge in demand keeps growing and forces the manufacturer to "catch up" as work increases by two and three-fold as Olympic demand lights up more sales. What a whipping effect!
I recall when Saybrook professor Doug Walton introduced the "bullwhip" effect to my doctoral systems class as if it were yesterday. The game of "catching up" is a systems theory game germane to proving why organizational complexity is indeed a reality to any organization.
On a Monday evening four months ago, I returned from facilitating the company retreat for Alex and Ani, a business that produces energy jewelry. Alex and Ani is actually a (+) Energy company developing a lifestyle brand around this concept. This inaugural event had more than touches of humanistic leadership, cultural intelligence lessons, and collaborative teaming touches. It embedded the courage to create and self-express in art workshops, "appreciation circles," and film screenings. The positive-feeling tone was set and the shift towards interdependence was clear and it's still fresh in my mind.
In a line of business such as jewelry making via (+) Energy, the bullwhip effect can promote confusion and contention in organizational life ultimately leading to an emotional bullwhipping too. Emotions can run lean before rushing to highs and even overflowing as the amount of work varies hindering organizational productivity. We all know that people responding to their emotions frantically can whip us all.
In The Power of Framing, Gail Fairhurst discussed how "emotional contagions” making the statement that negative “contagious emotions” create toxic work worlds. On the flip side, by framing or re-framing events with positive language, we can create a workplaces filled with folks exemplifying not only what positive emotions can sound like, but what they also feel like in organizational life. I like this alternative.
Learning to be responsable at work, however, requires formalization of such a stance. Alex and Ani has opted to support the human side of the enterprise. By creating a corporate university supporting learning journeys, courses, and workshops to enlighten self-awareness en route to organizational transformation and collective consciousness, Alex and Ani Founder Carolyn Rafaelian and CEO Giovanni Feroce have added humanity to the work equation. After all, we all know that to be Y-O-U at work in the 21st century requires some educational moments; it simply does not come so easily.
I just completed two sequential cohorts teaching the PLUS core training program now required for all Alex and Ani organizational members. The PLUS Course ensures emotions and communications are clear and clean. PLUS has four modules: P =Positivity, Attitude, & Emotional Intelligence, L = Language Use, U=Understanding, and S= The Synthesizing Mind. Can you imagine an organizational caring to ensure positivity happens by making such (+) Thinking convert to a learning reality for its members?
Not every company leads a "charmed life," like the folks at Alex and Ani, nor does every company necessarily have a manufacturing facility to creatively engage team members when launching retreat-like events, nor do they stake the claim that people matter by building a corporate university and housing it in a downtown building worthy of such a cause. What every organization does have, however, is creativity, and courage.
Converting courage to a system of supporting learning is the key though. Alex and Ani’s corporate university proves to be such an example of courage converted.
As human beings, getting to “love” and “service” as guiding principles takes complete engagement, total commitment. By studying creativity, courage, collaboration, and cultural consciousness as key themes, along with dialogue, identity’s role in work life, and rethinking retail encounters, the human side of Alex and Ani is being realized birthing story after story of positive energy internally fueling the production of a product, a brand, that is pure.
You see, life is complicated enough without manufacturing complexities or emotional ones, but that is life-it’s complex. To add to that complexity, we live in a hypercompetitive world rough with added pitfalls. By focusing on the power of the collective formally and adding individual learning programs to encourage transformative thinking at work, the mission of loving one another along the way and honoring during each conversation can happen for Alex and Ani team members. After all, those "humans" that create the positive charges inside the organization actually infuse the supply chain indirectly so that their mission can be actualized. Abraham Maslow would be proud.
The charm I wear around my neck daily is not only a "been there-done that" artifact signifying my retreat experience. It will undoubtedly serve as a reminder that it takes effort and focus at times to ensure ONE+ is lived out in daily practices as the President of Alex and Ani University Professional Development LLC.
The Alex and Ani Core PLUS learning journey may be a course, but full engagement of the material is a daily choice I am witnessing Alex and Ani (+) folks make. From my perspective I have been blessed to receive feedback from the organization-learning happening live from front row seats as the President of this corporate university.
Not all corporate universities take the time to plan how organizational systems and systems thinking with a dose of humanistic studies can be parlayed into special transformation programs. I am both appreciative and honored, but mostly spreading the word lately with more enthusiasm because what you see and feel with this organization is actually what you get, then some. But, (+) Thinking requires (+) work.
Whether you are inspired to learn more about this emerging international organization or spark learning in your workplace, be sure to know and respect that learning journeys should be difference-makers today. And, if learning at work is ever offered to you, engage it with vigor and care. As an adult learner such opportunities can in fact be not just organizational difference-makers but life difference-makers that ignite self-reflection and unsuspecting personal transformation.