How To Ask Remarkably Better Questions To Encourage Great Ideas

Guest post from Karin Hurt and David Dye:

You’ve asked your team for their great ideas.

You have an open door.
You’re also committed to MBWA (or in today’s pandemic-constrained world, Management By Clicking Around- MBCA). But if you’re like most leaders in our Courageous Cultures research, you’re still not getting all the great ideas you need. 


Why?

In our research conducted in conjunction with the University of North Colorado, despite all the asking leaders think they’re doing, 49% of employees said the reason they’re not sharing their great ideas (to improve the customer experience, efficiency in a process, or employee engagement) is because no one asked.

Laura’s story

Laura, an IT Vice President at a mid-sized energy company, was excited to spend some time with her teams, hold a few skip level meetings, and see their new system in action. Her team had been holding user-experience calls every week and all the feedback had been positive. She hoped to collect some great stories to share with the CEO about how the new system was making things easier for the customer service reps and, ultimately, for their customers.

Before her first meeting, Laura sat down with a customer service rep and asked the rep “Can you show me your favorite part of the new system?”

The rep attempted to pull up the first screen. But after five minutes they were both still staring at an hourglass and waiting for the page to load. The rep looked apologetically at Laura and said, “I’m sorry to waste your time. This usually takes a while.”

Laura’s jaw dropped. The vendor had promised the new system would be seven times faster – not slower. “Can you show me another page,” she asked.

She sat through another slow load time. She turned to the rep, “Is it always like this?”

“Oh, yeah. We’re used to it at this point, but the system has some other nice features.”

Laura thanked the rep and hurried to a quiet conference room where she could call her team. After ten minutes of testing, they realized that the center’s server didn’t have the capacity to run the new system. Hundreds of reps had been suffering through a ridiculous wait that wasted their time and their customers’ time.

Week after week, supervisors had sat on user experience calls, fully aware of the issue, and hadn’t said a word. No one had ever raised the issue.

After replacing the server and ensuring everything was back on track, Laura went back to the reps on the user experience team and asked why they had never brought this up.

“Well, no one ever asked us about the speed. Our boss told us that we needed to be “change agents” and role model excitement for the new system – no matter what. Under no circumstances were we to be negative. So, we just smiled, sucked it up, and dealt with it.”

Laura’s situation is far too common. The “no one asked” reply might be frustrating, but it is one of the most frequent obstacles to a Courageous Culture.

How to Ask Your Team For Their Great Ideas

If you want your teams great ideas, you need to do more than ask questions. That helps, but it’s not just that you ask. In Courageous Cultures, leaders ask regularly and skillfully. You ask in ways that draw out people’s best thinking, new ideas, and customer-focused solutions. Everyone knows that when you ask, you sincerely want to know and are committed to taking action on what you learn. Three qualities distinguish how leaders ask questions in a Courageous Culture: they are intentional, vulnerable, and action-focused.

Intentional

Cultivating Curiosity starts with intention: you must ask—a lot. Your leaders have to ask more than might seem reasonable. This kind of asking goes way beyond an open-door policy. In fact, most open-door policies are a passive leadership cop-out. “I’m approachable. I have an open door,” puts the responsibility on the team, not the leader. That’s a problem because most of the ideas you need will never walk through your open door. There’s too much friction to overcome: time away from their normal work, not knowing how their manager will respond, or not even realizing they have an idea to share.

Vulnerable

Have you ever watched a leader ask for feedback and then defensively justify their decisions and shoot down objections? When you ask questions that assume something needs to improve, you are more likely to get an honest response.

“What’s one thing that’s ticking off our customers?”

“What’s one policy driving everyone crazy?”

Action-Focused

We’ve sat through strategic planning sessions and focus groups where leaders asked questions and everyone in the room knew that the answers didn’t matter. Sometimes, even when the leaders had good intentions, they lacked the ability or willingness to act on what they heard.

Your employees need to know that you will act on what you learn. Action takes many forms. It might be that you implement the idea, that the feedback informs your decision, that you take it all in and then respond with next steps, or maybe it’s simply releasing the team to take action on their ideas.

Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their

soul. They’re the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm. They’re the award-winning authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let’s Grow Leaders. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

‘Rap Against Dictatorship’ artist arrested in Thailand – Al Jazeera English

Dechathorn is the founder of the group Rap Against Dictatorship, which performed in several anti-government protests in recent weeks [Rap Against Dictatorship Instagram Account]

A Thai rapper – whose anti-military government music has gone viral – has been arrested, according to a group of human rights lawyers, hours after police re-arrested prominent activist Arnon Nampa for his role in a protest calling for reform of the powerful monarchy.

Dechathorn Bamrungmuang was brought to a police station outside the capital Bangkok on Thursday “for documentation”, and is expected to be transferred to Samran Rat central station, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

In a separate social media post, June Sirikan, a TLHR lawyer, wrote that the rap artist was being charged with “sedition and other charges”, after appearing and singing on stage at recent student-led pro-democracy protests.

Dechathorn, also known to his fans as Hockey, is the founder of the group Rap Against Dictatorship, which performed in several anti-government protests in recent weeks.

The group’s single, What My Country’s Got, brought them to fame but triggered threats of legal action for its criticism of the Thai government, which is led by former military officials. They have more than 500,000 followers on the video platform, YouTube, and their songs have attracted more than 100 million views.

Overnight, at least four other activists were arrested, including lawyer Arnon Nampa – the second time he has been arrested this month.

Reform of monarchy

Arnon, 36, has been at the forefront of a movement that has staged protests almost daily in Thailand and was the first to call openly for changes to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s role, breaking a long-standing taboo.

According to reports, Arnon had also been charged with sedition and inciting public unrest, among other offences. He is already facing several other charges.

“The Thai government’s repeated promises to listen to dissenting voices have proven meaningless as the crackdown on pro-democracy activists continues unabated,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Thursday. “The authorities should right their wrong and immediately drop the charges and release Arnon and other detained activists.”

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former leader of the military council that ruled Thailand, rejected activists’ accusations that last year’s election was manipulated to keep him in power, and acknowledged student demands while warning that they should not touch the monarchy.

“There are 67 million Thais,” Prayuth told reporters on Wednesday. “I believe the majority do not agree with the protesters.”

Demonstrators challenging the monarchy say greater democracy is impossible without changes that would limit the king’s constitutional role in a country that has had 13 successful coups since absolute monarchy ended in 1932.

The Royal Palace has not responded to the demands.

Insulting the monarchy can lead to a 15-year jail sentence, but Prayuth has said the king requested that there be no prosecutions under the lese majeste laws for now. Sedition carries a term of up to seven years.

The protest movement drew 10,000 people to the biggest demonstration in years in Bangkok on Sunday. According to their social media, Rap Against Dictatorship artists also attended that event.

Arnon Nampa - Thailand

Lawyer Arnon Nampa, centre, was arrested on Wednesday night, the second time he has been taken into custody by police this month [Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters]

This week, some high school pupils also joined protests that started on university campuses.

Hundreds of Thai high school students rallied at the education ministry on Wednesday and flashed three-fingered “Hunger Games” salutes in support of anti-government protests and to demand more freedom in schools.

Many also wore white ribbons to show their support.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society filed a cybercrime complaint against exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun for creating a Facebook group deemed critical of the monarchy, a spokesman said.

The group, called Royalist Marketplace, has more than one million members.

The ministry said it filed the complaint after Facebook had not acted on its request to shut the group down.

“The ministry’s action is the crudest form of information censorship. It goes against the freedom of expression that we are all entitled to,” Pavin told Reuters news agency.

How to Get Employees to Report Their Covid-19 Risk

Executive Summary

In order to limit the spread of Covid-19 in workplaces, managers must ensure that employees are comfortable disclosing their risk. A potential solution, is to implement “random rotation” policies in the workplace. Random rotation ensures that workers who report exposure maintain plausible deniability vis à vis coworkers and direct managers. An employee being sent home can plausibly argue that he or she was unwillingly randomly-selected. Through this channel, workers concerned that they may be sick can safely ask to temporarily isolate. The cost of random rotation is that some employees will be sent home even if they don’t ask to be. This is a calculated cost. The fact that healthy people can be rotated out of work is the reason it is safe to self-report exposure.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

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As the economy reopens, employers are striving to adopt policies and practices that protect their employees from contracting Covid-19. It’s an especially pressing concern, given that infections continue to surge in many states.

Ideally, employees would proactively report that they, or someone in their immediate environment, is experiencing early symptoms as soon as they suspect they may have been exposed. However, employees may not want to reveal that they are a contagion risk. In spite of CDC and WHO guidelines on reducing stigma, reports of discrimination against Covid-19 survivors and frontline workers abound. This makes suppressing outbreaks early very challenging. It also means that as employers plan re-entry — or manage existing in-person workforces — they must ensure that employees are comfortable disclosing risk.

We have researched how safety violations and sexual harassment get reported in garment factories, as well as the effectiveness of different reporting protocols in generating actionable data. We believe that the lessons learned from those high-stakes contexts can help to ensure that workers to report potential Covid-19 exposure in a timely manner.

One approach is to implement “random rotation” policies in the workplace. In this scenario, all workers are regularly surveyed about their Covid-19 exposure and symptoms. Based on survey responses, a minimum share of employees, say between 5 and 10%, is systematically rotated out of the workplace for a week. Employees rotated out include all employees reporting Covid-19 exposure as well as a randomly selected group of employees who do not. At the end of the week, returning employees are tested for symptoms. Symptomatic or Covid-19-positive employees receive appropriate medical care.

Random rotation ensures that workers who report exposure maintain plausible deniability vis-à-vis coworkers and direct managers. An employee being sent home can plausibly argue that his or her selection truly was random. Thus workers concerned that they may be sick can safely ask to temporarily isolate. The cost of random rotation is that some employees will be sent home even if they don’t ask to be. This is a calculated cost. The fact that healthy people can be rotated out of work is why it’s safe to self-report exposure.

The methods described here can be used to elicit sensitive information beyond Covid-19 exposure. Mental health issues, burn out, and harassment are major threats to employee well-being that often go unreported because of fear of stigma. All of them have been made worse by the pandemic, confinement, and job insecurity. Investing in survey methods that ensure plausible deniability can help get information out and target support to the people who need it.

A Tested Methodology

Random rotation builds on “randomized response” survey methods that have been used by social scientists to collect sensitive data for decades. The key idea is plausible deniability. Surveys must be designed so that any sensitive answer can be attributed to random shocks in the survey procedure. This allows respondents to plausibly deny having submitted a sensitive answer regardless of the recorded response.

For instance, a researcher seeking to estimate illicit drug use among athletes may give survey respondents a deck of cards bearing different questions: 20 cards ask the question “Do you use performance-enhancing drugs?” and 10 cards say “There is no question. Just answer YES.” Each athlete shuffles the deck and privately draws a card. If an athlete answers “YES,” the researcher cannot infer whether the athlete uses drugs or is complying with the survey protocol.

While using randomized response in organizational settings is a more recent idea, research shows that these techniques can significantly increase truthful reporting. And laboratory evidence shows that plausible deniability improves whistleblowing, even under threat of retaliation. Outside of social science research, protecting sources is a familiar concern for military and law enforcement agencies. Part of the value of random “cordon and search” counter-insurgency operations used in Afghanistan and Iraq is that they allow military forces to act on information while protecting their sources.

How to Implement Random Rotation

HR departments can implement random rotation themselves, but it may be easier to contract with survey firms to collect workers’ self-reports and develop a list for HR that doesn’t disclose individual responses. It’s essential that a minimum share of the workforce be sent home in order to protect the identities of potentially-exposed employees. A plausible starting point would be to decide initially to rotate between 5 and 10% of the workforce, to survey workers on whether they feel comfortable enough to report exposure, and then to adjust the percentage depending on responses.

An important complement of random rotation is a paid sick-leave or work-from-home program that limits the potential financial losses from being rotated out of the workplace (the Families First Act subsidizes sick leave polices for small and medium enterprises). This is especially important for economically vulnerable employees. If managers are concerned that employees are abusing the system and systematically asking to be rotated out, the number of leaves per worker could be kept to 2 or 3 per half-year. Finally, random rotation is more useful when employees are knowledgeable  about their contagion risk. For this reason, organizations should encourage employees to participate in contact tracing programs.

Is Random Rotation Right for Your Organization?

Whether random rotation is right for your organization depends on its ease of implementation and the magnitude of health benefits it brings. Random rotation is particularly easy to implement in workplaces that are not functioning at full capacity or have work-from-home programs. In these cases, the opportunity cost of sending a healthy employee home is low. In addition, implementing a random rotation policy expresses a commitment to public health that may help employees manage their re-entry anxiety.

Further Reading

Potential health benefits are high if employees are at high risk of Covid-19 exposure or if employees are economically vulnerable. Meatpacking plants are a good example. Close working conditions and cold temperatures facilitate contagion. Economically vulnerable workers, aware of high unemployment rates, may fear losing their job if they bring up potential illness.

Ultimately, it may be appropriate to tailor random rotation policies to individual work units. Economically vulnerable frontline employees may need a higher minimum rate of rotation to feel comfortable reporting they are a contagion risk. Companies that are interested in applying these policies can find implementation resources here.

If our content helps you to contend with coronavirus and other challenges, please consider subscribing to HBR. A subscription purchase is the best way to support the creation of these resources.

Why Do Your Employees Resist New Tech?

Executive Summary

Due to several barriers, tech adoption at an organizational level is often slow or even nonexistent. Why is true tech adoption so difficult to achieve? Based on the authors’ experience working on these issues, they see five key actions business leaders can take to create a culture that will help drive better, more effective tech adoption: 1) incentivize technology use, 2) invest in infrastructure, 3) make reskilling and learning part of the plan, 4) don’t make it piecemeal, 5) and understand how governments and policy are involved.

Erik Dreyer/Getty Images

While the use and application of technology has become near ubiquitous around the world, the actual adoption of new and emerging technologies across most organizations continues to be less than optimal. Due to several barriers, tech adoption at an organizational level is often slow or even nonexistent. This keeps old legacy systems alive and hinders an organization from achieving its full potential efficiently. This lag in adoption has long been a concern for companies but now, amid a pandemic, it’s a crisis.

As businesses have been compelled to re-evaluate their business models either in part or in whole, many have adopted technology to counter difficult market conditions — making externally facing changes, such as revamping their online presence to stem slumps in revenue, or internal ones, such as automating payroll functions or using an enterprise-wide tool to keep tab of workflows to enable their teams to work effectively and productively from home.

This process of rapid transformation is being aided by technology companies, whose business models often start with getting their products into the hands of as many users as possible. Most technology innovators believe in the “democratization of technology” — making technology platforms available for free or only a nominal fee — and letting  user adoption play a major role in how those products and innovations are developed. For example, with the sudden need for more online education tools, the plethora of products that Google alone offers has allowed for quick adoption and adaptation among schools and institutes and will surely inform the company’s product roadmap.

Despite this flurry of activity, we still find that technology adoption is often too slow and the lasting effects are unclear. Why is true tech adoption so difficult to achieve?

While the coronavirus has changed a lot about business, research that preceded the virus can help shed some light on this question: Published last fall and based on interviews with750 executives across Australia, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom, the United States, and India, a survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit identified challenges including: employee skills, lack of senior management awareness, lack of remote working opportunities, organizational culture, issues of complexity, cost and risk, and inadequate infrastructure. Plus, older, larger companies are often constrained by the presence of legacy systems and legacy approaches to innovation and problem-solving.

Costs, complexity, and skills are all valid barriers, of course, but without the right organizational culture supporting technology — especially in the age of a pandemic — investments in training or specific tools could wither on the vine. That’s why we see organizational culture as area of particular focus for companies looking to adapt to new technologies in coming months.

Based on our experience working on these issues, we see five key levers to help business leaders create a culture that will help drive better, more effective tech adoption.

Incentivize technology use. Building such a culture requires different types of approaches across industries, but a time-tested strategy is to incentivize technology use. Monetary benefits or fresh solutions to hard problems can usher in behavioral changes when managed properly. The same way periodic appraisals determine staff competence, the ambit of employee reviews can be widened to include technology adoption scores. For example, office teams and teachers in several countries are already using gamification apps such as Kahoot to appraise or evaluate staff and students.

The vast majority of people readily embrace technology in their personal lives — whether in the form of smart phones, smart watches, or apps that are used for personal finance to personal fitness (and everything in between). They make life simpler, more convenient, and more efficient. Apart from generating much needed statistics, a lot of these technologies actually save time and analyze patterns in our day-to-day lives. This suggests that people simply need the right incentives from their workplaces or from governments, should they be employed in the public sector.

Invest in the infrastructure. If the use of technology is going to be cumbersome, its uptake is going to be disappointing too. Another requisite for creating a culture of technology adoption lies in making the infrastructure around it — including IT networks and systems, software, processes, and practices — supportive and user friendly. Without both investment and a thoughtful execution plan for new technologies, it is difficult to convince employees of the benefits of adopting new technologies. While this can be a hard sell from a budget perspective, having a point of view on the opportunity cost the business faces from cumbersome, outdated technologies offered without the right support systems may help make the case.

Make reskilling and learning part of the plan. On similar lines, education and reskilling go a long way in enabling the right kind of culture. It’s telling that one McKinsey global study found that 87% of executives were either already experiencing or expecting skill gaps in their workforce within the next couple of years. But rather than thrusting new technologies upon employees, organizations should provide them with the right training and support to better use and adopt those tools. This can look very different depending on your industry, but a good question to start with is the relevance of the individual in the evolving nature of work.

Don’t make it piecemeal. Organizations must have a long-term strategy toward the creation of a culture that encourages and embraces technology adoption. A piecemeal approach to tech adoption and implementation may feel like short-term progress, but will not lead to the creation of a digitally-focused mindset, and it will not result in a clean departure from legacy systems or attitudes.

Understand how governments and policy are involved. Governments also play a role in fostering and encouraging a culture of tech adoption. The right kind of culture often percolates from the highest authority creating a conducive environment for technology to thrive. They lay the legal groundwork and build the ecosystems that attract tech entrepreneurs, who in turn, drive innovation. Be it Silicon Valley or Singapore, public policy has a role to play in getting the ball rolling on new technologies and ways to create stronger research and knowledge sharing.

With heightened concerns over data flows across borders, governments will have to work closely with private players to ensure that both sovereign and economic interests are safeguarded. And some small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are being incentivized by their governments to digitalize faster. A prime example is Singapore, where the government is incentivizing SMEs to go digital — this is part of the stimulus packages announced by the government to support businesses combat the economic impacts of Covid-19.

Technology has the potential to build positive culture and purpose. It will, without doubt, further organizational potential. But technology, culture, and purpose will need to become better integrated if we want to build enduring and sustainable organizations and societies of the future.

Are You Brave Enough to Be The Most Powerful You?

Content – 8

Freshness – 8.5

Usefulness – 8

8.2

A personal and professional coaching program in a book.  Ideal for women going through a life transition as well as dads, husbands and male leaders seeking to support the women in their lives

the most powerful you book kathy caprino

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When The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss by Kathy Caprino showed up on my doorstep I thought “Hmm, who wouldn’t want to be their most powerful self?!  When I turned the book over and started reading more about what was inside, I realized this book wasn’t for everyone.

“The Most Powerful You” was written by a professional woman, for professional women.  While I’m sure author, Kathy Caprino started writing this book way before the 2020 pandemic started, the timing of its release and the inward journey she proposes seems like just what today’s women might be looking for.

The Cycle of How Women Perceive and Are Perceived

While “The Most Powerful You” would love to have the distinction of changing the way women are perceived, this isn’t really the goal of the book.

Caprino recognizes that you can’t expect or try to change others, you have to change yourself first.  And this is really the core mission of the book; to help women discover and accept their own power and then be brave enough to use it to achieve their dreams.

How women are perceived is really a function of this dance between women and the defining people in their lives; family, bosses, spouses, etc.

Caprino seeks to help outwardly successful women who feel stuck either in their careers or their lives and are ready for breakthrough transformation.

Caprino’s coaching and counseling process is simple. She takes you through a series of client stories that outline perception, frame the circumstances and then she guides you through a process of reframing.

Reflecting on a Personal Journey

To get the full benefit of the book, it helps to understand a little about its author, Kathy Caprino.

Kathy is the President of Kathy Caprino, LLC, a premier career coaching and executive consulting firm offering career and leadership development programs for women.   A former corporate Vice President, she is also a trained marriage and family therapist, seasoned executive coach and Senior Forbes contributor. She is also a TEDx and keynote speaker and top national media source on women’s issues, careers, and leadership.

The 7 Power Gaps That Get in the Way of Success

Over the course of her work, Caprino identified 7 “Power Gaps”.  These Power Gaps are prevalent among women — especially women entrepreneurs.

The seven power gaps are:

  1. Not recognizing your special talents. (Brave Sight)
  2. Communicating from fear and not strength. (Brave Speak)
  3. Reluctance to ask for what you deserve. (Brave Ask)
  4. Isolating from influential support. (Brave Connection)
  5. Acquiescing instead of saying stop to mistreatment. (Brave Challenge)
  6. Losing sight of your thrilling dream. (Brave Service)
  7. Allowing past drama to shape and define you. (Brave Healing)

In her research, Caprino discovered that 98 percent of respondents revealed that they were facing at least one of the seven power gaps.  75 percent said they were experiencing three or more gaps at the same time.

In Powerful You Caprino seeks to guide readers through the process of closing these gaps, coming to terms with the events and behaviors that are limiting your life experience and unleashing your most powerful self.

Is Powerful You for “Women Only”?

In short, The Most Powerful You is written for women entrepreneurs and professionals.  But that doesn’t mean that men shouldn’t read it,

There’s no lock on the book and nothing will stop you from cracking it open.  In fact, the men who are interested enough in reading this book will get a deep understanding of what their colleagues, wifes and daughters are dealing with daily.

So, I’m going to take a guess and say that most men will not enjoy this. But the ones who are brave enough (see what I did there?) to venture inside its pages will be rewarded handsomely.

I played a game with myself and read sections of the book as myself (a woman) and then pretending to be a man.

That was an interesting experience.

Take this excerpt from the chapter entitled “Reluctance to Ask for What You Deserve and Want”:

Caprino shares the story of Janine, a woman who had done the work to transform her life from being a marketing executive to a coach.  After years of working with “Brave” (the program behind this book), she reported the following:

I had to let go of thinking:

  • I have to be perfect to be worthy.
  • I must put everyone first to be a good girl.
  • Success comes easily to others not me.
  • I must continuously prove my worth.
  • People will see my worth through my hard work.

I had to accept:

  • People aren’t mind readers: I have to speak up for what I want.
  • The more evidence we offer about what we deliver, the more acceptance by others is possible.
  • You teach people how to treat you
  • Feeling comfortable is not a prerequisite for asking for what you want

ME: YES!  OMG! This is me.  I do this all the time (except expecting people to be mind readers.  But this is me for sure.

ME PRETENDING TO BE A MAN: WHAT?  No one is perfect. You have to go and get what you want.  I’m totally worthy. As for evidence — I’m not sure about that one. Decisions are often emotional and when I am confident, people just go with it.  People will believe what you tell them.

So, Are You Ready For Transformation?

Only you know the answer to this question.  I found this book an uncomfortable and somewhat confronting read.  The stories Caprino shared sometimes hit too close to home. And, when I stopped to reflect on her lessons of “bravery” and closing the gaps I could feel myself pulling away from the conversation.

Am I ready for this conversation.  Maybe not all at once, but I can see all the different ways that I can slowly begin integrating these practices into my live.

I did learn one thing from The Most Powerful You: I am the creator of my experience. While  can look to systems and structures upon which to place blame, the only one who can change my experience is me.

Now it’s your turn.  Are you brave enough to close the gaps that are keeping you from being your most powerful you?