Freedom Costs | The Opportunity Costs of being Complaint Free

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Wow, What a roller coaster ride!  You never know how much potential a situation has to escalate until you find yourself saying absolutely nothing.  You ever see that angry stormy guy in the office, who looks like he’s one off-the cuff comment from exploding on you? Yeah, that’s the kind of energy I’ve been staving off over the past couple of weeks. And I mean, I’m not above admitting it’s been something I’ve been really wrestling with.  I spent a good portion of the first part of this period in CYA mode.  I didn’t realize how much documentation I really had in my possession but it’s actually enough to disrupt the operations of my entire department (so I’ve been trying to determine what my ethical responsibilities are) since I know that I’ll be asked to complete an exit interview when I leave the organization about my reasons for leaving.

If you were in my position, what would YOU say?

I’m actually waiting for my performance review (which should be coming up in the next month) to address a lot of these issues. This approach was recommended to me by someone who used to work in the HR department, and since things have been tense enough around the office for me to understand that it’s going to come up in my performance review, I’ve already included my intent to discuss it in my self evaluation under the portion where I’m supposed to evaluate the work I did this year as a supervisor.  And when I say I have a LOT of documentation, I mean that I literally have piles of student performance records, anytime I worried that there may be a problem escalating due to conflicting directives, client complaints, etc. I have put it into writing.  I even thought very seriously about creating a histogram outlining the staff behavioral progressions/regressions that compliment their policies and the effectiveness of the boundary constraints under which I’ve been placed. But I’ll probably save that for my memoirs or something, idk…

In the meantime, I’ve been really working on “sharpening the saw,” so to speak so that I understand what my responsibility is in terms of the energy I bring to the space, the boundaries I articulate, taking the steps I need to ask for what I need and document those efforts, going through the necessary final steps before I make a decision about whether or not to go through a formal reporting process, and to what extent, etc.

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sharpen-the-saw

I’ve also had to go through a pretty strict regime of filling out job applications, scheduling play, coordinating restorative meal plans and making myself get back into my workouts (which I’d been blowing off to fill out job applications). Because let’s face it, I’m terrified that I will sabotage the very thing I am working toward (being a happier, healthy person and an effective leader), if I stop taking care of myself.

Then yesterday afternoon, we had a festival in town. I had scheduled the time off from my routine and bam, I had a great time.  The Facebook status I left at 2am read (I know, who uses Facebook anymore):

I couldn’t have prayed for a better evening; incl. randomly running into an old college buddy in the park, hanging out with an old professor he was meeting in town, having a brownie and a milkshake while swapping jokes with these really funny guys I hadn’t seen in awhile, spending time at the bluegrass festival with some of my local artisan friends, getting to see one of our vendors (and friends from one of the local businesses) fire dancing, followed by an impromptu bourbon guitardy at my place that degenerated into hilarious cat whisperer reality tv (upon the recommendation of one of my artisan friends). If today was any indication of the rest of my weekend, then I am truly blessed beyond belief.

And it worked.

I woke up this morning feeling like a whole new person. It’s amazing what a difference it can make when you go out of your way to surround yourself with the people and activities that you love.  I think right now I’m having one of those Bucky Fuller moments where I’m beginning to wonder; how would my life be different if I only surrounded myself with people who inspired me, encouraged me or made me feel valued and loved? Or if when I couldn’t help who I was around that I filtered my attention toward creating the kind of environment where I encouraged other people and made them feel valued? Then I suddenly realized, that’s what I do. It’s what up until recently I have always done.  Except with those who I didn’t feel contributed to that environment, albeit through poor ethics, lack of accountability, whatever.  Which means that I need to re-evaluate how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.

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And I may not say anything to actively discourage them, but my body language has always just shifted to neutral, or if I feel as if I am being asked to do something with questionable ethics, I have been very direct in asking them to clarify the boundary constraints of what they are asking me to do. (e.g. The supervisor who told me not to assign tasks and to email him when his workers are off task, often forgets that he has done this, chooses not to respond under the guise of being too busy, or shrugs things off which he doesn’t believe to be important). So I’ve been pretty wound up lately because things have more or less degenerated in our office, because he, queen bee, and level 6 have opted for the de-constructivist approach to management during the time of year  when we host one of our biggest annual events, and people have begun to notice.  Sales are down, clients are dismissing our lapse in service with the transition in our staff (because half our staff grew so disengaged they just stopped coming in, or just come in whenever they feel like it).  The whole thing has just turned into one giant cluster (literally) of people partying and hanging out around my cubicle.

So cue me: I get to be hyper-vigilant guy. I’m just a huge ball of frustrated anger, sitting over in the corner judging how this whole situation is being mismanaged.  At this point I’m not even keeping data anymore, because it would literally take up more time to document than it would to put headphones in, but I can’t ignore it. And this isn’t because I’m being obsessive or anything, literally the higher I crank up my 80s power ballads so I can’t see or hear what is going on while I’m working, the more that signals to queen bee and level 6 that the behavior will go unchecked, so more people gather around our cubicle and it actually attracts quite a bit of attention from our clients and the other department who don’t know I’ve been systematically dis-empowered from being able to correct the behavior.  In all of their eyes, I’m still the one who should be accountable.

And it’s not just in this way, concurrently we had another issue arise in which I published the summer schedule, I knew we had a lot of people heading off on sabbatical this summer, so I didn’t question the scheduling gaps because I assumed that the schedule I received from upper management reflected whatever contracts were negotiated with our vendors for this period.  So when I published our events calendar, I received an email from one of our vendors asking if this meant that we wouldn’t be carrying their product anymore because upper management had never discussed the dissolution of their contract.  And it was very uncomfortable, because the vendor had been with us for a very long time, and was in a cooperative with several of our other vendors. I go to church with the rep for this particular vendor and because of the way this thing was handled, we had not only violated a business contract, but a social contract as well (and we’re in a small town where everyone including myself LOVES this rep, who brings quite a bit of social equity to our services which is one of the reasons why the contract with the vendor has lasted so long).  And even though I know that the vendors are going to hold me accountable for the decision making of the person who neglected their duty, there wasn’t much I could do within the parameters of this ethical grey area.  As frustrating as this whole situation was, I couldn’t acknowledge that the person had wronged her because of the professional ethics associated with this situation (even if it is true). In fact, the only thing that I could do within the boundary constraints I was given, was encourage the vendor to try and get in touch with the senior manager, who I knew would not be accessible and would actively avoid the conversation by saying they were too busy to make a 5 minute phone call, that could have saved us from escalating this very preventable issue. So now the other vendors are also pissed (but the senior level managers aren’t around to take the heat), so here I am, paying the consequences on their behalf.

So this is why things have been a little stormy for me.

 

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A wise woman by the name of Alice Walker once said, “no person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.”

 

But I also know that I have a responsibility to be accountable for the energy I bring to the space, so I’ve been trying to figure out which actions I can take so that I can reassert the boundaries that I need to in order to keep the peace until I can find my next job.  I’ve got about 12 applications completed. And I’ve only applied to organizations that have been very intentional about making it clear that they only want people who value others and who share the same level of commitment that I do to ethics and creating a positive work environment.  So you can imagine I’ve been in my head a lot about what lessons from these experiences I’m going to want to take with me and what kind of energy I want to bring into my interviews.  But also, I’ve had this intense desire to really get my personal life back on track so that I can remember what it’s like to experience that, so that I can easily recognize the organizations that are genuinely good not just in mission but in practice as well.  The organization in which I work now has articulated these great values and commitments toward valuing all people, dignity in labor and so on, but there are no real mechanisms in place for reporting when senior level managers aren’t living up to that.

So our organization has lost a lot of really wonderful people who have just opted to leave and the problem still goes unreported and uncorrected.

But not being able to do ANYTHING I think has created more angst and anxiety than doing the wrong thing I think mostly because I feel as if I do NOTHING that I increase the risk of undermining my own credibility once others perceive that I am contributing to the problem by neglecting what the believe to be my responsibilities. Especially since my workspace is the most visible. So I’ve had to rock the boat a little bit and be more assertive which isn’t making things at work easier, but is allowing me to at the very least keep those boundaries.

The problem is, all of this hyper-vigilance and fear based tension is marginally effective and frankly exhausting. I’m hoping that the performance review will give me the opportunity to be direct (albeit minimally confrontational) so that I don’t have to continue doing things that I know are making my work environment increasingly hostile (e.g. pulling my supervisor aside to ask whether he has assignments for the people congregating around my desk and explaining how their presence is hindering my ability to do my work, and yes I would prefer that he provide the directive since he has already established the precedent that the workers no longer have to uphold our organizational policy if it comes from me).  Or having to ask him to resolve the issue with the vendor because he did not seem to understand the  ramifications of his judgment and the effect it had upon the other vendors because he wasn’t the one who had to be here to deal with the consequences. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how composed and professional you are, implying that someone else isn’t pulling their weight is never a fun topic, which is why I generally try to avoid it.  And of course I didn’t state it that way.  I’m much more direct and in these situations I will start with asking for what I need, and then if it’s questioned

do you happen to have task list on hand for these guys?”

…and after it’s kind of shrugged off then I get into the meat of it…

when we spoke, you asked me to do ___ and I have made it a point not to step outside of those boundaries, but the outcome of said policy has resulted in ___ behavior, so if you would like me to continue to operate within those constraints, I am going to need for you to uphold your end of what we discussed.”

…yeah, it’s kind of bitchy, if you’re not used to being in the kind of environment where you have to share accountability… but necessary if you’re in the kind of environment where expectations have yet to be clarified and norms need to be established…

At most I’m met with an eye roll and the problem is then corrected, then I try at the very least to keep things courteous to reinforce the behavior for the rest of the day.  But this is only in extreme cases.  Most of the time I’m much more cooperative than that, mostly because I empowered my workers to take ownership of the policies and to remain accountable to one another using peer influence.  I never thought I’d be witnessing the downside of peer influence. Thankfully, the regression in overall behavior hasn’t occurred significantly in anyone that I’ve directly managed. Unfortunately, many of those workers have made arrangements to transfer out or to go on sabbatical during this transitional period. I don’t blame them. Heck, if I could get away with it, I would too.

So this brings us back to my dilemma, is it more important that I ask the organization to create a better mechanism for reporting or is it more important to focus upon re-evaluating how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.  I don’t know if you had the opportunity to check out the cat video (I can’t believe I’m saying this), but the cat whisperer has some really interesting points that I hadn’t considered.

 

This is where my motivations fall.

documentation

And although I initially viewed my documentation as an opportunity to correct and reinforce positive behaviors, the moment that I stopped doing that, I began acting solely in my own self interest (or CYA mode).

This is where I'd like to be.

This is where I’d like to be.

This is where I’d like to focus my attention. And I can’t do that if my attention is focused upon the behavior of my colleagues, which is hard, because as of late it has been rather disruptive. I’m going to have to find a way to be proactive about bringing constructive and affirmative energy into the space so that I can be a more effective and accountable leader, both personally and professionally.

So I’m not entirely sure what that entails as of late, but I certainly have some really fascinating work ahead of me, esp. if there’s a chance I can find a way to make something positive of this situation or to resolve it effectively.

No Rhyme nor Reason

Click image for brief anecdote.

Click image for brief anecdote.

 

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
Dorothy Thompson

Yesterday I attended a conflict management workshop that I’d signed up for since I didn’t want to squander the opportunity to make use of the professional development resources that my workplace offers.  You know, I’ve booked our venue for that particular facilitator before and our management staff would always make snarky commentary about the fact that the facilitator would book the room to set up for the event on the night before. I eventually was able to steer to conversation back on topic by looking wide-eyed and really uncomfortable and then delicately following up with the comment, “I’m sure he means well…” and then those that encouraged the behavior would start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, the laughter would die down and that would sort of be the end of it.

After attending today’s training session, however, I can see where the extra planning went.  The facilitator did not just read off a bunch of slides to us or or even force us to talk about uncomfortable issues, he really took us through an artfully facilitated experience.  It was so well-executed in fact that I knew about 5 minutes into it that when I got home I was going to more than likely blog about it.

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits.  Mindmap

One of the major emphases of this session that he wanted us to focus upon was upon understanding how our own personal conflict styles impacted our perception of the way others approached conflict.  So he took us through a Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory and then had us read over and discuss whether we noticed correlations within our behavior when we experienced what he referred to as “storm shifts” in behavior as we watched conflicts escalate.

I scored almost identically under the cooperative conflict style for my primary (calm) and secondary (storming) mechanisms for approaching conflict.  Some of the costs associated with over-using this particular style included

  • fatigue & time loss
  • distraction from more important tasks
  • analysis paralysis
  • exhaustion from fear of “too much processing”

particularly if the person using this framework is unskilled in dealing with conflict.  The benefits, however, include a high potential for increased creativity and personal growth, a better understanding of the situation, the opportunity to build team cohesion and self knowledge.

My particular pattern typically played out the following way: my first reaction to conflict is to tend and directly address the issue at hand to negotiate for the win-win, but if these attempts are rejected I respond to the shock I experience by withdrawing momentarily to gather relevant data and information, so that I can assess it in a calm and methodical way in order to comfortably enter negotiations and resolve them efficiently once things have calmed down.

I might look for relevant details, plans, options, weigh costs, check for policy compliance, and precedents from elsewhere before making that decision, and if the situation requires a directive, I either make it and do the best I can to explain what course of action I’ve taken, who’s involved in that process if they want to appeal and my basis for evidence that led me to the decision.  Occasionally those discussions may take place retroactively, but once I have better information it becomes easy to let the person I’m experiencing conflict with make a decision about how they are going to react to this conflict, what they stand to benefit and what’s at risk should they choose an action that doesn’t reflect everyone’s best interest.

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

What I also learned is that your previous experiences with a particular conflict style (e.g. I associate those who raise their voice or snap at others in order to be dismissive with prior associations in which those who used that style, often people who I cared about very deeply, resurfaced that conflict because of some previous form of conflict they hadn’t resolved previously that left them feeling un-affirmed, hurt and afraid of being abandoned when they encountered that previous conflict… and those patterns of behavior, that imprinting was passed on.  Often large, demonstrative expressions of anger reflect

  • accumulation of resentment due to needs that haven’t been acknowledged or met
  • a fear of being perceived as weak or threatened when approached to engage with someone they haven’t built trust with but have been approached by to engage in conflict
  • resistance out of the belief that one is being denied the right to be validated for simply being themselves
  • inability to articulate of boundaries

According to the book that was recommended to us to supplement the assessment: Style Matters, when dealing with those who have a more in-your-face conflict style or a history of abusing others, my best plan of action is to withdraw to safety but I need to express when I do so a clear intention to return and work on things once things cool off.  Otherwise it will escalate their anxiety and increase the likelihood of the behavior increasing.

Susan Wheelan states that:

“We know from our experience that it is easier to develop trust in another person or in a group if we believe that we can disagree, and we will not be abandoned or hurt for our differences. It is difficult to trust those who deny us the right to be ourselves.”
5 styles

 

Kraybill seemed to believe that a direct correlation existed between the way a person approached a particular conflict style and the importance we placed upon whether we valued our agendas more over our relationships.  I realize now that the emphasis I place upon how important the agenda I’d like to convey definitely determines the approach I display when working through conflict because I absolutely hate the idea of giving up on a relationship, especially if I find the relationship to be important.  But the moment that I realize that the other party places little value upon the relationship, the easier it is for me to divest and redirect my emphasis upon confirming my rationalization (coming up with evidence for whether/why I’m right in case I have to protect myself) rather than placating the other person in order to try and salvage that relationship.

So I suppose in a way, I can be a bit willful myself.  But I think having that self knowledge and understanding which considerations I need to make (e.g.

  • whether the circumstance requires that I place more importance upon the relationship or the issue,
  • the time and energy constraints for addressing the conflict,
  • weighing potential consequences,
  • and alternative approaches to mitigate any damaging effects).

 

We may be able to move forward and to develop more healthy and appropriate avenues for working through workplace conflict.

18 ways to be more positive at work

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Found this on Linkedin today.  Thought I’d include it with some of the coping strategies I keep listed on a post it I have hanging from my computer monitor at my desk.

The Big/Little Bash

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Not an actual picture of me btw, but I did take this photo of a pretty hype friend of mine.

 

“One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your attention.” — Jim Rohn

So I must be doing something right ; ) but it appears that I’ve also still got a long way to go.  So in previous posts I mentioned a need I had to reconcile my new role after raising concerns that one of my workers had been promoted without any of the other eligible candidates being offered an opportunity for an interview.

I previously settled upon making a resolution to take a step back (appropriately so, I believe) to allow the new supervisor to embrace her new role (without generating any misguided suspicions that I might attempt to sabotage) her new position.

I maintained that stance for about 2 weeks just to de-escalate the situation.  But I noticed that with the supervisor that my apparent disengagement seemed to create a fair amount of tension, and I noted definite improvements in her engagement levels with the other workers, as she stepped in to try and prove that she could be more empathetic and more understanding than I could be when they approached me hoping I could help them address some of their concerns and issues.  And I simply explained that with the evolution of the new roles, I didn’t have the information but to check with their supervisor who might be able to provide them with better information.

But I did begin to notice a pattern of disengagement begin to set in. After I spent the first week or so finding other work spaces to complete my tasks, or meeting with vendors, or prospective clients, there was a tension that definitely existed from not being informed or included.

Concurrently the tensions also began to mount earlier this week as I began the pilot of our big/little mentorship program.  We had a few people ask what the purpose of the program which was;

to bridge the leadership gap between our inexperienced workers and senior level leaders by creating mentorship opportunities for our lower level workers so that they can begin to learn the magnitude of the responsibility of mentorship early and begin to cultivate the attributes they would need to be more effective leaders, in a safe, experiential, nurturing controlled learning environment.

And it was communicated to everyone we polled when we were trying to gauge potential interest that the program was voluntary, anyone could opt out at any time, and would not be a formal program due to the variance in desired level of participation.  And most workers expressed excitement about it; many even expressed preferences for who they would like to be partnered with.

I shot this. :)

I shot this. 🙂

So this week we started assigning “bigs” and “littles.”  We only had two conflict (ish) moments with two workers classified as “littles” wished to be claimed by more than one of our “big” participants, but the matter was quickly resolved by explaining the situation to the “bigs” and asking the “littles” for their top preference.

I did discuss the idea prior to launch with the incoming head supervisor after she expressed some apprehension about the program because she was concerned some might not be interested and she didn’t want to force participation.  But once she found out that the program would actually benefit her by providing participants an opportunity to go to one another for guidance and assistance, rather than flood her phone and inbox with messages (as it had done inconveniently so with the incumbent who held her position), she expressed that she thought it was a good idea.

Then today I was approached by our building manager, asking me to explain more about the program because he’d received a complaint about the initiative.

Someone had expressed to him that we shouldn’t have the program

…out of concern that people might be forced to participate in the initiative.  It was the incumbent.  He didn’t have to tell me who it was.  I already knew, because the incumbent had already expressed those concerns to me and I had already expressed to this person that the program was voluntary and that anyone who did not want to participate simply had to express that they wanted to opt out, which is why we were discussing whether workers would even be interested prior to launching the program, and what we’d like the outcomes of the program to be so that they could be flexible but still provide maximum benefit.

The person also expressed later criticisms about one of the big/little pairings because the mentorship arrangement would be across genders. I knew that the worker felt personally responsible for the “little” and even though I reassured the incumbent that the deliberation had taken longer to consider been made and that since the incumbent would be devoting so much time to the upstart that we didn’t want to neglect the needs of the “little” since she had expressed interest in the program, I reassigned the “little” to the incumbent since they had a natural affinity for one another and I acknowledged that it could foster a meaningful relationship.

The little was “thrilled.” That’s probably an understatement.  When I mentioned that one of the first assignments would be for the “bigs” and “littles” to assign nicknames to one another, her response was “OhmyGOD that’s so awesome.  We could be big A___ and little A___!” Although it was probably more of one very rapid run on sentence.

*of course names and images have been omitted to protect the identity of the people involved or mentioned

I took this.

I took this.

And as similar reactions came from other “littles” who relayed how much fun or how much cooler they thought their “bigs” were once they had spent a little time getting to talk with them (as in the case with the social butterfly and outgoing Air Force aspirant we’d paired with the anti-social kid in the corner who built functional crossbows out of pencils and rubber bands who wanted to join the Marine Corp and went home and built fully functional combat gear every weekend) I noticed the incumbent begin to act more withdrawn.

And the few of those who had already expressed that they wouldn’t be interested in the program or would be minimally invested were either kept off the list completely or paired with someone who’d expressed a similar level of commitment. And those who were on the fence seemed content to learn that they had the flexibility to choose their own level of participation.

We did get some eye rolls from the building manager, however, before today’s discussion (mostly because he isn’t a huge fan of any of the practices derived from the Greek system).  But after I reiterated that it was explained to all participants that the program wouldn’t be formal and that the intent of the program was to provide them with opportunities to build the soft skills they’d need to become better mentors and supervisors since we were going to have SOOO many people in leadership roles next year and our predecessors hadn’t really provided any leadership development options (‘m not quite willing to throw out the baby with the bath water just yet, as I think that the biggest lesson our younger workers can learn is how to respond in healthy ways whenever they find themselves unexpectedly in conflict since that wasn’t being modeled well by our top leadership).

I did request that he encourage those with criticisms of the program to come and speak with me in person, or at the very least remind them that at any time they can express to me that they would not like to participate and that they would always have that option.  I wanted to follow up with the reminder that they are all supposed to be adults, but felt that albeit true that it was probably wise that I left that omission.  So he agreed to allow the program to continue and that he would keep his ears and eyes open.

In the meantime, my “little” and I; I only landed one because she requested to have me specifically, are planning a little spirit quest of sorts.  Since neither of us expressed a preference for a nickname (I did give her that option), and we both like to run the trails (although I’m not familiar enough with “big coaster” to run out there without another person), she’s agreed to spend an afternoon out there more or less goofing off and creating some shenanigans on our quest to create a narrative about how we got our names so that we can create our own story.

I’m actually extremely lucky as far as “littles” go, because mine’s pretty, rad and popular, but she’s still uninhibited enough to get weird and nerdy.

She’s even got her boyfriend excited about participating and the plan isn’t really even formed.  We hadn’t even fully explained to him what the spirit quest was when he belted out, “does this mean I get to use a sword?!”

I took this.

I took this.

When I came home this evening, I did want to confirm whether my concerns that the attempts to disband the program might have been initiated by the incumbent because there was something I’d contributed, or not contributed in the early stages that I could have one differently. But after skimming through some articles about workplace envy [trust me, it’s a real thing] and remedies for it I learned:

Workplace Sabotage Fueled by Envy, Unleashed by Disengagement & Incidents of workplace sabotage spread if not addressed by managers

But I was also pleased to learn that:

“Smart managers, of course, try to avoid these dynamics by spreading around the opportunities, giving people a range of assignments, and basing recognition on measurable accomplishments.”

And I do feel as if this initiative could be really effective at accomplishing some of those goals, even though it may seem at a glance to be frivolous and unnecessary (at least to those who don’t understand the value of play and trust building simulations and the impact it has upon stimulating dopamine receptors as workers

  • cultivate a sense of belonging,
  • intentionally create small acts of kindness,
  • provide recognition for these gestures and these acts of kindness
  • coach, confide and encourage one another during times of stress or conflict,
  • discover confidence and gratitude as they build their proficiency in some of these areas
  • create positive associations and bond with one another through these multi-sensory experiences

I do, however, really like the idea of being able to choose how I respond to this –and if the initiative is successful– then I’d like to feel proud of the way we’ve worked around this barrier, and that we rose to the occasion as the authors and heroes of this story.

So I don’t know what the outcomes of all of this will be, but I am really looking forward to gathering some good metrics on growth of engagement since we have such a variable level of interest, to provide good research controls. Plus, my “little” and I discussed possibilities this afternoon of inviting other bigs/littles out for pac-mixers, pranks, competitions and other outings. If Derek Sivers is correct about his theory regarding how to grow a movement, perhaps this initiative to provide fun and fellowship will prove to be a glowing testimony and replication of his work on the rapid growth of cultural shifts spurred by grassroots engagement.