Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Item #35: A Celebration of Christmas

Organized religion, most notably Christianity, in Canada continues to suffer declines in adherence and attendance. We are increasingly becoming a people who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious. In 2009, 28% of Canadians cited ‘no religious affiliation’. And estimates say somewhere around only 11% who are of Christian affiliation attend church once a week.

At this time of year however, Canada celebrates Christmas. It is a monumentally important religious event, the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity. But in Canada, while we are not a religious people, we celebrate Christmas in as committed a way as ever before.

Let’s be honest. Undeniably, the Christmas we celebrate is not about the star of Bethlehem, the three wise men or the birth of Christ our saviour.

The Christmas we celebrate in Canada is characterized by: the giving of gifts, socializing with food and alcohol and downtime at home with family and loved ones.

Imagine that. In this day and age, we run from store to store, fill our arms with boxes and bows, and watch our bank accounts run low, in the name of Christmas. Oh… the crass commercial consumerism.

In this day and age, we host friends, neighbours and colleagues, fill their hands with glasses of wine or egg nog, feed them full of canapés, and talk, or maybe dance, in the name of Christmas. Oh… the gluttony, the mindlessness.

In this day and age, we put on the fire, stay in our pajamas, curl up under the blankets, cuddle up to one another, and watch movies, read the newspaper or sleep, maybe even for an entire day, in the name of Christmas. Oh… the sloth, the laziness.

This is the Christmas so many of us celebrate nowadays. This is the Christmas that has been systemically preserved and sanctioned. But why? Why is this so? With the decline of organized religion, what is the reason Christmas even is?

Because we need it. We really need it. We need it more than ever.

Because we are generous beings. We like to show our love. We like to make people smile. And we like to give gifts, in whatever form. We like the protection of having a sanctioned time to give. That’s Christmas.

Because we are social beings. We like to let loose. We like to eat. We like to talk to our friends. They make us laugh. Or understand us best. We like the protection of having a sanctioned time to be social. That’s Christmas.

Because we are loving beings. We need to be able to relax into the comforts of our homes. We need to be able to curl up close to each other. We need to rest, together. We like the protection of having a sanctioned time to be loving. That’s Christmas.

We need Christmas. We really need it. We need it more than ever.

So go ahead everybody. Celebrate Christmas. Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Item #34: Good Learning from a Bad Movie

I watched Eat Pray Love a few weeks ago. It was not a very good movie, though I quite enjoyed the book, but regardless, I can call out three good messages in the movie for further consideration. One is just a good piece of insight and two others are actually little life exercises you might want to try out for yourself.

#1: The Texan Richard talks to Julia Roberts, who has just arrived in India in search of what she refers to as “just a little peace”. His response: “To get to the castle, you have to swim the moat”. He is explaining a basic truth in life in my opinion. In my experience, if you want real accomplishment of any kind: personal maturity, career achievement, inner peace, emotional growth, you’ve got to first expend the energy and battle the monsters along the path. My guess is that the greatest riches await the ones who swim the most treacherous moats.

#2: In a conversation with her New York friend, who had recently had a baby, they discuss what is inside ‘the box under the bed’. For the friend with the new baby, the box under her bed held little items she had collected and saved as she was dreaming of the baby: pieces of patterned fabric, little pieces of baby’s clothing, small toys. Julia Roberts responds that ‘the box under her bed’ contains travel-related images: photos, region guides, maps of faraway places to visit. This ‘box under the bed’ thing may just be an interesting tool to uncover personal insight. What would be contained in ‘the box under your bed’ should you have one? And what does that illuminate about the things that matter to you most?

#3: Finally, while in Rome, some new friends ask Julia Roberts what “her one word would be”. She thinks about “daughter”, “wife”, “girlfriend”, and concludes that none of them fit for her. She proposes “writer” as her word, because in the movie that is her vocation. One of the new Roman friends tells her that is “what she does, not who she is” and therefore not the best choice as ‘her one word’. Prompts me to think this might be another thoughtful thing to consider. What would be your ‘one word’? The one word that is not what you do, but who you are?

Anyway, hope you might have a little fun with these thoughts. And at the very least we know that even a bad movie might yield some good!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Item #33: What Broken Social Scene Teaches About Collaboration

I saw Broken Social Scene in concert recently; it was a private concert and I was one of only about 30 people in attendance. I was up close and personal with the band, and able to closely observe the way they interact with each other: their words, their body language, and their facial expressions.

They are known to be a collaborative band, often referred to as a collective. They bring in new members on a regular basis, and experiment with alternative musical styles. This situation was no different. They had two opera singers on stage with them from the local opera company essentially delivering a rock opera experience.

Broken Social Scene does some things differently. They exhibit behaviours which I believe are hallmarks of Collaboration. And the key thing is that these behaviors all appear to happen fluidly as though it’s just the way it goes on a regular basis.

1) Their actual physical positions occupied on stage change throughout the show. The lead singer moves from middle to side, to back of stage, from song to song. Guitarists move from left stage to right stage. Everyone moves around. There doesn’t appear to be a rigid physical position for each or any band member.
2) There is no hierarchy of role. The lead vocal in one song becomes the back-up vocal in the next song, and vice versa. At one point, the “back-up” singer sang vocal lead and the “lead singer” was not even on stage. The hierarchy of “a lead singer” and “a back-up singer” does not appear to exist. A singer is a singer.
3) New members are always coming in. This is probably a crucial part to nurturing the collaborative culture they have. Bringing in new members fosters the embracing of new perspectives within the group, regularly. But it also would foster that interpersonal culture they seem to have, of working together, abandoning hierarchy and the rigidity of role.
4) Members have the technical skill to play multiple roles. Not only do physical positions occupied move around, not only does hierarchical role move around, but also the members actually technically have the skill and ability to play multiple roles. The guitarist sings vocals, and plays keyboard and jumps on the drum set. And same for other members, who, at best, are able to technically step in and fill different roles in the band, and at the very least, are able to ‘understand’ more deeply roles other than their own primary one.
5) Leadership is actually ‘modeling’ Collaboration. The last observation may actually seem counter to collaboration but I don’t think it is. Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning have “led” the band since its inception. When they are on stage, you may deduce that Kevin has some leadership but you might not pick that up about Brendan. But if you look a little closer, you will see a style with both of them that signals a respectful, even relaxed kind of leadership that isn’t about giving direction, its about setting an example for the qualities of collaboration detailed here. These two model the tenets of collaboration outlined above and hence likely have “led” the band in securing its place as a band with a culture of collaboration at its core.

Implications for Fostering Collaboration in the Workplace:

- Change Physical Position: At work, do you find you often use the same meeting room, sit in a similar position within that meeting room, sit yourself close to the same people, have people come to your office for meetings versus going to theirs? Do you or others gravitate to similar recurring physical places at work? Mix that up. A change in physical position changes perspective, often only in little ways, but it contributes to keeping us open-minded, sharp and fresh in reacting to new situations.
- Erase Hierarchy of Role: This to me is the future of work. Just as a singer is a singer, it’ll be important in work that a writer is a writer. Sure, each writer has different levels of experience and likely different natural areas of strength. But a writer must be a writer. Hierarchy is redundant in this day and age. It slows us down and keeps us working in old, stuck ways. Consider your office workers as a pool of talent, and learn to apply that talent where it’s best suited. That will be the difference between leadership and management. Management needs hierarchy. Leadership doesn’t.
- Bring New Members In: This is such an immediate opportunity for growth of collaboration in the workplace. Bring new members into projects. This will require collaboration within the team while also bringing in new perspectives. Here’s the trick on bringing in new members: Keep the majority of the team consistent, so that the new member is a ‘spice’ in the recipe not the flour. And for this to work, no hierarchy and strong leadership works best.
- Technical Capability across Multiple Roles: Teams might be able to work more collaboratively with members who, while they may be specialists, have a generalist understanding. Collaboration works best when the writer has an understanding of art direction, and the ability to think strategically, is technologically current and has a good client service attitude. While the primary specialty may be in writing, it works better when members have some ability in the functions of the other team members as well.
- Leadership means Fostering Collaboration: And lastly, if collaboration really matters, and is the key to the future of work, then leadership must be about fostering that collaboration. Leadership becomes less about directing, and definitely much less about managing and much more about modeling. Modeling the tenets of good collaboration and building the infrastructure to foster that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Item #32: Measuring Success

I want to talk briefly about ‘Measuring Success’. I'm not going to share much opinion, just going to plant some thoughts and ask some questions.

It strikes me that there are a number of different possible measures of success in living life:

Optional Success Measure: Material Gain
Many people measure success in life by their accumulation of material goods: a big house, luxury cars, expensive clothes, jewelry, home electronics etc… Success is in having the best, the biggest, the most expensive. Here I think of Donald Trump.

Optional Success Measure: Financial Wealth
Different from above, this is about those who measure success by having the most net worth i.e.: having the highest asset value, or the most money in the bank. These people may live humble lives, materially (inexpensive car, small house etc…), but they have assets in great amount. Here I think of ‘The Millionaire Next Door’.

Optional Success Measure: Incredible Experiences
These are people I know who sacrifice the accumulation of wealth and/ or the acquisition of material items in order to obtain experiences: people who have traveled the world; people who have gone back to school, sometimes multiple times; people who pursue spiritual journeys; people who put priority on culinary experiences, or invest themselves extensively in recreational hobbies. Here I think of one of my good friends, who has visited almost every country on almost every continent of our globe.

Optional Success Measure: A Model Parent
Again, I can think of people I know who put money on the back burner, and make earning level of less importance, in order to be at home more, to spend more time with their kids, to invest more heavily in school or other children’s activities. These people coach, volunteer, tutor, and are generally very deeply involved in their children’s lives. Here I think of many of our neighbourhood community pillars.

Optional Success Measure: A Good Partner
Frankly, I can’t quickly reference very much of this. But I can think of one or two people I’ve known throughout the years who consider their own success in life and as an individual as gauged by the degree to which they were a loving, respectful, supportive and committed partner and to which they were an active part of a loving, respectful, supportive and committed partnership situation. Here, I think of Paolo Coelho, a great writer and vocally devoted partner to his wife.

Optional Success Measure: Professional Achievement
These are the people I know who strive for recognition and advancement in the workplace. It may not be about earning more money, or earning a lot of money, but these people are very committed to their profession and want recognition, appreciation and a sense of forward movement in that profession. For them, it’s not about amount of earnings, but it is about rising through the ranks and achieving a level of recognized authority. Here I think of politicians; these are often not particularly highly paid functions, but they are of some perceived authority.

Optional Success Measure: Creative Expression
I think this an easy one to explain. This is the place where artists and dreamers reside, I think. These are the people who pay little to no heed to financial gain, professional achievement, or the accumulation of wealth. These people not only live to create, often they just have to create to live. What becomes of their creation is often an afterthought or never even conceived of. The list of references here is endless: Leonard Cohen, Van Gogh, Woody Allen.

It’s curious, all these possible optional measures of success. Have I missed any? Do they all in their own way lead to happiness? Result in a satisfaction with life? Are they each objectively good measures of success? Is the most important thing only that it is a personally determined measure of success? What’s your key measure of success? What’s mine?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Item #31: Change. Part 2.

In my last post, I talked about Change. And I predicted there would be a Part 2. In fact, it turns out that I do have reason to continue the Change theme. I've been prompted to think about Change a little differently, and brings me to this post: About When Things Actually Don’t Change.

A Situation:

Let’s look at a common Change situation, one that often occurs in the professional setting. A company's management implements a restructuring, people leave, new people join, departments shift, processes shift, offices move… change, change, change. The immediate associated feelings experienced by remaining employees are generally varied and contradictory.

- Feelings of Hope: Things are happening! Good things may follow!
- Feelings of Fear: Do I like these changes? Will they be good for me? Am I safe?
- Feelings of Uncertainty: What is really going on? I see lots happening, but what does it all really mean?

These Change feelings – the hope, the fear, the uncertainty – can take on positive associations or negative associations depending on the ultimate ‘outcome’ of the Change.

This is where Change lies at its essence, and this is why humans have such difficulty with the notion of Change.

If the company's management restructuring, the influx and outflux of people, the processes and physical location shifts, if all that Change, translates into an outcome that is considered better i.e.: beneficial and improved, then the associations we will have with that experience of Change and the associated feelings will be positive.

If the restructuring, the influx and outflux of people, the processes and physical location shifts, all the change, translates into no discernibly improved outcome, then this is the kind of situation that can paint ‘Change’ with a negative brush. Without a positive outcome, we form negative associations with the feelings of the Change experience; the hope, the fear and the uncertainty, become re-interpreted and experienced as deflation, anxiety and discomfort.

So… What Happens When Change Doesn’t Happen? Feelings that could be potentially become associated with positive experiences become re-interpreted as hallmarks of something negative. If, on the other side of Change, there is no discernible improvement, the result is a reduced expectation that good things will happen in the future, because the anticipation for good things to happen in the past was disappointed.

What’s the lesson around Change? I think there are two lessons.

1. As a company, for example, it’s best to proactively ensure that Change results in beneficial improved outcomes. When making Change, don't commit to the process, commit to the end-game.

2. As a person riding Change, in order to manage Change, and in order to be able to handle future waves of Change-related hope, fear and uncertainty, there is a way to look more philosophically at Change. Because even in the midst of seemingly ‘No Change’, there actually is Change, at a potential and more personal level.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Item #30: Change. Part 1.

I’ve been going through a lot of change lately. And change is always a difficult thing. Humans have a strong reaction to change – it creates uncertainty and turmoil. I’ve learned a few things of late as a result:

I’ve Learned: Rational and Emotional
In the midst of difficult times, it’s easy to let emotional reactions carry us away. Makes sense: they are the significantly stronger part of us. Someone once told me our rational side is like the driver sitting atop the emotional elephant. The driver (rationality) can try to direct things, but when the elephant (emotion) decides something, the driver has no hope of controlling it. Just knowing that is half the battle. I’ve found it useful to sanction the two sides to their own spaces. When the emotional reactions come on, I break them apart and challenge them one by one. Is what I am feeling really true? How likely is it that it is really true? When I challenge myself to really pick apart the nature of my emotional thoughts, it’s easy to see very quickly that they are awry. Other times, I have to simply decide to let the rational win.

Example: My house is for sale. I had a moment of overwhelming emotion to the whole thing. I arrived home one evening, the house lights looked beautiful, the house looked beautiful and all I could think of were the wonderful memories of people and times spent in that house. But I caught myself. And challenged my thinking. I realized that I could re-create that emotional space somewhere else. I realized that the beautiful space doesn’t reside in a structure; it resides in me. And all romantic notions aside, looking to the rational truth, I can’t afford the house anymore. The upkeep and the investment that is required are beyond me, and the house has become an unfortunate burden. That’s the reality. Often it’s important to experience the emotion, then put it aside and let the rational win out.

I’ve Learned: Thoughts are Not Facts
When change is underway, the human condition is predisposed to try to make sense of things, to seek to understand. So we play through all the scenarios in our minds for what might be happening, or what might happen, to try to sort it all out. We tell ourselves the boss is probably thinking x, y and z and that’s why he did that. We decide that the ex must be doing a, b and c and thinking d, e and f. The problem is that we end up drawing all kinds of conclusions based on our own solo evaluations. And we forget that we arrived at those conclusions based only on our thoughts in the first place.

The kicker on this one is that most of the time we are wrong in our evaluations. Most of the time, the boss didn’t do half the things you thought he did, and his thoughts were 180 degrees away from where you thought they were. Ditto on the ex. And yet, you drew conclusions based on inaccuracies. Thoughts are not facts and that’s important to remember in tough times.

I’ve Learned: Leap vs. Logic
Finally, I’ve also learned that change cannot be conquered. It happens. It’s going to come at you when you least expect it sometimes, and it’s got a momentum all it’s own. In an effort to gain control, we try to plan, we try to organize, we create contingency plans. And this is a healthy approach. It’s responsible. It’s mature. It’s smart. But sometimes, many times, it doesn’t work. Someone once said, ‘in the midst of all our planning, life happens’. That’s not the direct quote, but it’s true. Sometimes you can do all the planning, and rational ‘thinking’ in the world, and you’ll still come up empty-handed for answers. Sometimes, you have to roll with it, see what happens and leap. Logic is a wonderful thing when it works, but it fails us, often. And in those situations, we just have to trust that we can leap, and that we will land.

I called this posting “Change: Part 1” because it’s an ongoing experience and I’m sure there’ll be a “Change: Part 2” posting somewhere down the line. Maybe even a Part 3 and 4 too.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Item # 29: In Defence of Idealism

Daniel Durrant (@ddrrnt) recently blogged about Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals (SEHIs), a breed he seems to have appreciation for, and believes doesn’t exist. Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals are, (sorry to over-simplify and paraphrase), individuals driven to 'understand' and 'overcome' in the workplace. I’m going to explain the role that I believe Idealism plays in the whole mix.

In this world, we have Idealists and we have Realists.

Most people prefer to associate themselves with being a Realist. It signifies a level-headedness, a grounded-ness, a maturity. Realists, it is believed, have a ‘better handle on things’. Realists are more highly regarded, hence nurtured and encouraged, hence there are many many more of them. The vast majority of people are Realists.

Idealists on the other hand routinely buck what seems obvious, easy or rational. By their very nature they shoot for the moon, time and time again, enduringly motivated by the prospect or potential to make great things happen: to achieve an Ideal.

What exactly is an Ideal?

Ideals have gotten a bad rap. People believe that Ideals are called Ideals because they are essentially unattainable. But really, if something is Ideal, then by definition it means that it has met a wide range of criteria in a near perfect state. It means that something has happened to please enough people or situations, to resolve enough needs or to create enough enjoyment that its achievement is deemed to be near perfect i.e.: Ideal.

So why do Ideals need Idealists?

Because Idealists are Super-Empowered, Hopeful Individuals. To be an Idealist means to be eternally hopeful, to unceasingly believe that Ideals are attainable, that there is forever the prospect or potential to make great things happen. To be an Idealist means to be super-empowered because in a world of realists, it is really tough to inspire people of even the possibility of achieving Ideals and even more difficult to bring those Ideals to life.

Daniel Durrant also suggests that the secret within the super-empowered hopeful individual is an ability to rise above fear and anger to embrace and then live understanding. This is critical. Fear and anger are the foundations of realism. Understanding and then hope are the foundations for Idealism.

I call on the Idealists. And the Ideals. Every project has potential to be a great thing. Every person has the potential for greatness within. A relationship can be the canvas for a great future.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Item #28: The Human Revolution

Three things I came across this week lead me to believe that we are sitting on the verge of, or perhaps even in the midst of, a Revolution.

The first thing I noted was the advertising-for-art ‘vandalism’ act that took place in downtown Toronto on Monday, August 23. A group of activists decided to take the advertising engine and its deemed intrusive presence into their own hands, and replace it with what they believe is more valuable in today’s society and to today’s inhabitants of that society: Art. Called the Public Ad Campaign, the initiative is “committed to reclaiming public space from what the campaign contends are illegal advertisers, and filling it with guerilla art.” An article in the Toronto Star notes, “Pedestrians marveled at the pieces of artwork.”

Next I stumbled across an article in the Globe and Mail Business Magazine referencing an interesting new Masters Program offered by the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD): Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation. This course program aims to educate professionals on the kind of human-centered design thinking required to create a socially, emotionally and ecologically supportive and sustainable environment: physically, professionally and culturally (my mouthful, not theirs). The course program strives to educate via the theories, philosophies and practical thinking models that will help individuals create working and community systems that can achieve that kind of balance. This also seemed to signal new priorities for a new society.

And finally, fascinatingly, an article in Now Toronto, titled Nature is Genius, literally jumped off the page and grabbed my attention. The article asserts the importance of understanding and being guided by the principles of what I refer to as ‘Divine Design’. Divine Design is a concept that has enthralled me for years. In my definition, it honors the simple incredible brilliantness of natural biology: the way the human body is built and works, the way the natural plant and animal kingdoms function, adapt and thrive. If you stop and think about it, it’s simply spectacular. Biomimicry is the coined term for the area of study that embraces this, aiming to look to the magic of Divine Design as a source of knowledge for our own societal survival and growth. With the subtitle: “Bring on nature’s design firm”, the article also notes, “In this philosophy, nature is the mentor and model, we are the students.

These three encounters converged for me this week, and pointed to the emergence of a set of new values and priorities for society and its inhabitants today.

We are coming off an extended period, since perhaps the 1850’s, where these have not been the topics of conversation or concern. We're coming off times of assembly lines, labour systems, and mass production, where people have been tools and output has been tangible. We're coming off the Industrial Revolution.

Times have changed. Dramatically. Now is a time of the global village, common wealth, and sustainability, where people are instruments of change and the output is multi-faceted, experiential and idea-oriented.

Now is a time of Human Revolution, and it is in direct contrast to the Industrial Revolution. Where that was a Revolution characterized by machination, intellect, and industry, the Human Revolution is characterized by humanity, emotional, social, and ecological experiences, art and design.

It's very exciting.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Item #27: Life Opportunity Costs

When I was in university, I started out as an Economics major (that changed very quickly, but that’s another story). A concept that intrigued me and has stuck with me since those classes, is that of Opportunity Cost; it’s an economic concept, but, for me, it has always been just as much a life concept.

'Opportunity Cost' technically refers to the actual ‘cost’ of one decision over another. So if you have $1000 and you decide to spend it instead of save it, you lose the interest you would have acquired had you saved it.

Opportunity Costs, however, are not restricted to monetary or financial costs: the real cost of output forgone, lost time, pleasure or any other benefit that provides utility should also be considered opportunity costs. (wikipedia.org)

In my mind, these are the more important (more life, less economics) components of Opportunity Costs: the qualitative ones, the emotional, personal costs.

Here’s how Life Opportunity Costs work:

▪ You have $1000. You can decide to spend it or not. There is an opportunity cost with every decision, worth evaluating.
▪ Let’s say you decide to spend it. Well that’s $1000 gone, money that could’ve been saved. Had it been saved, you would’ve accrued interest. That’s the obvious monetary opportunity cost.
▪ But had you saved it, you might have felt a bit more responsible for having made the restrained choice. Had you saved it, you’d have lived through denying yourself immediate gratification, which may or may not give you a sense of personal satisfaction. Had you saved it, you would’ve had a nest egg in event of emergency need. You might’ve felt an increased sense of life comfort knowing you have that nest egg. This nest egg might have made you feel more liberated in your workplace, a little less constrained by the power of the paycheque. This feeling of liberation might’ve given you more confidence, might’ve helped you take more risks at work. Those risks might have made the difference between careful work and brilliant work. That nest egg might’ve grown to eventually tide you through a period as you made a great big professional leap to something new and wonderful.
▪ The Opportunity Cost of the decision to spend that money is: cost of lost interest, yes, but also, cost of lost potential sense of greater responsibility, cost of lost potential personal growth experience of denying immediate gratification, cost of lost nest egg, cost of lost potential sense of comfort. The cost of behaving differently at work and potentially shaping a different professional path.

Here’s another way that Life Opportunity Costs work:

• You have a job and you have a dream. You have to decide whether to be happy with the job or chase the dream. There is an opportunity cost with every decision, worth evaluating.
• Let’s say you decide to stay at the job, be thankful for what you have and work hard. You like your job, it pays you well, you know the people, and it’s close to home. You let the dream go in favour of keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground. There doesn’t initially appear to be much opportunity cost here, but there is always an opportunity cost with any decision.
• So even though staying with the job seems like the decision with the least financial opportunity cost, what is the opportunity cost in giving up a dream? Will you be able to happily progress through this life, pleased with your grounded choice? Or will the dream gnaw away at your insides, eventually stripping your face and your step from the smile and the spring that the pursuit of the dream might have inspired? Will the denial of the dream make you cranky and even incompetent in said job with time? Will the things you once thought you could enjoy in life (friends, family, neighbours, sunshine) come to carry with them the tarnish of an abandoned dream? Will it colour your glasses with a grey film that filters over every aspect of your life?

I’m not suggesting any of these outcomes would be the outcome of an evaluation for everyone, or for you. But every decision in life, big or small, has Life Opportunity Costs, worth evaluating.

Think relationships: What’s the opportunity cost of abandoning a relationship i.e.: if I leave it, what is lost? Of sticking with it i.e.: if I stay, what is lost? Think parenting: What’s the opportunity cost of this parenting decision i.e.: if I 'discipline' now, what is the cost? If I don’t 'discipline' now, what is the cost? (*discipline not meant to suggest punitive behaviour, only respectful guidance.)

This is the ‘Life Opportunity Costs Model of Decision-Making’. Let me know if you try it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Item #26: The World Mirror

The other day, someone told me “the world holds a mirror up to us”. It sounded important and profound but I was confused. What did that mean? “The world holds up a mirror to us.”

After obsessively wondering for the last 48 hours, here’s what I think this person meant:

First, I think by “the world”, she actually meant people. People hold mirrors up to us. Many people hold many different mirrors and that all comes together to form the world mirror. In each of those mirrors, and hence the collective mirror is a reflection back to us of the kind of person we are and the value we have.

This led me to wonder specifically about the mirrors that are held up to me in my life:

I have about a dozen colleagues I work with most closely and most regularly at work. They hold mirrors up to me. Mirror #1 through #11: “I value you as a team member because I think you contribute to making our work better.” Mirror #12: “I’m glad you are here because I know the team values you but I’m not sure how I feel about you personally.”

I have a huge family who I spend a lot of time with and think the world of. They hold up mirrors to me. Mirror #1 through #8: “You are fun, funny, and considerate and I love you to pieces.” Mirror #9: “I love you to pieces, especially when you are doing things the way I think they should be done.”

I also have a large group of friends, many who I’ve known for more than 20 years. They hold mirrors up to me as well. Mirror #1 through #15: “You always take a different path, one I never quite understand, and I think you are a bit crazy because of that. But I like you a lot nonetheless.” Mirror #16 through #18: “You are ambitious, a bit wild, and you live life large; I love it, and I love you for doing it.”

Going through this wondering process, I realized two things:

1) It’s true, if we stop and think about it, all the people in our lives do send messages to us about the kind of person we are and the value we have: they do “hold a mirror up to us”. They reflect back their opinion about us, and we hear it, whether we are aware of it or not. We may believe it and internalize or we may not. It may be a good idea to hear it, or it may not.

2) I also found through this wondering that there are remarkably similar reflections often held up by many people, and then possibly a subset group, or subset single person holding up a different reflection.

All told, I think this person’s message to me was indeed important and profound. I think she wanted me to be aware of the fact that the world does holds up a mirror to us and to understand what’s in that reflection. I guess the opportunity then is to evaluate it critically: Which parts of the mirror are real and true? Which parts do I want to accept and embrace and which parts do I want to ignore?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Item #25: How To Be Great

In my industry, there are many people in pursuit of being ‘great’, being ‘rich’, and/ or being ‘famous’. I’m pretty sure it’s not just a factor of my industry; I think it’s a factor of the generation. The ‘15 minutes of fame’; ‘everyone can be a celebrity’ culture and grand wealth of the last decade or so has permeated thinking. I won’t get into my essential conflict around that fact here; if you want my perspective on that, see an earlier post: Item #16: The Tortoise or The Hare.

What I will comment on here is the folly in the thinking that surrounds the desire to be ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ and the consequent errors of the approaches many of the searchers take.

Stated simply, the fundamental problem is that ‘being great’, ‘being rich’, and/ or ‘being famous’ are NOT states that can be pursued. These are NOT goals. We pretend that they are - telling ourselves to visualize our fame or our riches or our greatness – and lulling ourselves into some false belief that the ‘great’, ‘rich’ and ‘famous’ fairies will then come rest on our shoulders, alongside a beautiful dragonfly, flap their magical wings and voila bring everything we ever wanted into our lives.

‘Being great’, ‘being rich’, and/ or ‘being famous’ are not states that can be pursued. They are not goals. They are outcomes. They come as the result of something else.

It is only when something else happens that ‘great’, ‘rich’, and/or ‘famous’ becomes the outcome. Zuckerberg invents the brilliant Facebook and hence he is rich. Meryl Streep wins acting award after acting award and hence is famous. Nelson Mandela stands up for something that matters critically to him and hence he is great.

Zuckerberg wasn’t in search of ‘rich’, he was in search of an innovative technology that would be useful to many of his friends. Streep wasn’t in search of ‘famous’, she was pouring her skill and her heart into something she loved to do. Mandela wasn’t in search of ‘great’; he was in search of taking a personal stand and making an issue known.

Conditions For Being Great

There are however, some conditions that I believe form the basis for the opportunity of being ‘great’, ‘rich’, and/or ‘famous’, not in some orderly way, but I believe in some way, and here they are:

Exceptional Talent: People who achieve ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ have some exceptional talent, however small, however specific – in fact, often small and often very specific. They find that little piece of specificity about their own unique talent and they mine that to it’s fullest, like a dog with a bone.

Exceptional Enjoyment: People who achieve ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ experience exceptional enjoyment through every step of the process. They don’t worry about the outcomes of ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ because they love what they are doing on a day-to-day basis. And frankly, because they love it so much, they end up being even more damn good at it, and amplifying the ‘exceptionally talented’ bucket above.

Hard Work: People who achieve ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ don’t wait for the fairies or the dragonfly to come rest on their shoulder. They work, work, work, hard, not necessarily at the exclusion of a balanced life, but they give 200% to everything they do. The talent is not enough on its own; these people know it’s up to them to make that talent live.

Consistent Commitment: People who achieve ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ commit, stay focused, and keep their head down. They know what they are doing, why they are doing it, they know how it feels inside their own bones and that’s all that matters. Commitment means knowing your own personal path and vision and believing in it. Alone. Yes, I said ‘Alone’.

Altruistic Position: This one might seem surprising where the others may not have. I actually believe that the people who will achieve ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ are more often than not the ones who never had it in mind. In many ways, I believe that ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ is much like happiness – the more you pursue it, the more it eludes you. I believe the best chance to be ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ is to build the conditions above and to do it for yourself and the people you love. Then, with that altruistic intention, ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ might just come land on your shoulder.

Luck: There’s an element of luck in everything. I’m a believer. But I believe luck often comes along just when we need it. We don’t have to pursue the ‘right person at the right time’, or that 'coincidental' opportunity. When your life needs a little luck, it will find you.

Good Karma: Had to say it. Be nice to people. Have a positive, honest, respectful intention behind the things you do. Want to make a meaningful difference in the world, not just your world, but in the world. When I think about it, the people who achieve ‘great’, ‘rich’ and/ or ‘famous’ live this way, don’t they? Maybe a clue.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Item #24: To Connect or Disconnect. That is the Question.

The New York Times published two articles this past week, both related to the issue of technological connectivity. Gary Shteyngart wrote ‘Only Disconnect’ and Laurie Winer wrote ‘Born to Check’, both published on July 9, 2010.

In Gary’s article, he speaks of existential distress at acquiring his ‘iTelephone’, noting how he used to absorb the environment like an artist, and how the device had molded him into a robotic state manipulated by the strings of the wireless world. He celebrates when the network makes connection impossible so that he and his friends can make meaningful contact over the primal event of a meal and some fine scotch in the setting of stars, and trees and chirping birds. I can identify with Gary’s experience.

Laurie discusses the current times of connectivity, from an evolutionary, intellectual perspective, concluding (with the supportive influence of a media and technology writer) that technology brings change, and we accommodate; actually, that in fact, we benefit.

I’m seeing this ‘Connectivity’ issue pop-up more frequently. Is ‘Constant Connectivity’ going to invade our lives and turn us into an army of reactive robots? Or will we reach a boiling point, revolt and shun connectivity?

I suspect neither. I suspect ‘Connectivity’ will challenge us and we will respond. Just like so many other shifts in our human history.

Remember ‘Work-from-Home’?

For just a moment, let’s remember back to the mid-1990s. The ‘work-from-home’ phenomenon was emerging. Workers would negotiate approval to ‘work-from-home’, in some capacity, be it one day a week or full-time. Connectivity via networking and mobile technology devices made this possible: laptops, intranets, cell phones, email, conference calling.

I recall the co-occurring ‘work-from-home’ angst too: fear that it would bring with it a state of ‘always on’. It came true. With this technology came greater demands on time; we had 6:00 am conference calls because suddenly we could link nationally or internationally, so we did. But what also came with this technology was greater flexibility.

Now, I’ll generalize and say that the ‘work-from-home’ phenomenon is all but dead – at least in the formal sense. Now, we all* ‘work-from-home’: sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes late at night, sometimes midday too. But we also attend our kid’s ‘step-up to grade 1’ graduation, we also enjoy working sessions in a park or on a restaurant patio, and we review materials late at night from the comfort of our homes rather than the walls of our work. We figured it out, and now mobile working is a part of every day, for most people*. We are always on, yes, but we can also control when we are off to a degree we couldn’t pre-1995-ish.

The Future -- with Connectivity.

As technology continues to infiltrate our lives, we will become increasingly accessible; the demands of connection, people and work, will become more prolific. But we’ll adapt, just like we’ve always done.

- ‘Work time’ and ‘personal time’ will evolve so we will each personally and hence collectively redefine those concepts.

- We’ll work differently. Perhaps the walls of ‘the office’ will fall. I suspect this is likely. Workspaces will become more ad-hoc, more spontaneous, more pop-up. The pub, the coffee shop, the park. Already I see restaurants building conference style rooms for private groups – to facilitate working lunches/ dinners/ etc… Perhaps ‘the home’ will step in to fill some of this need. The back deck, the rec room, the front porch. I suspect this is also likely.

- We’ll communicate differently. Perhaps we’ll come to have more value for text, email and other non-voice forms of communication because they provide some personal distance and facilitate some moderated level of connection. Personal face-time kinds of communication will be for the more intimate, more connected, more relationship-driven tasks like creative ideation, client presentations, group team building. We’ll be more intentional about our use of face-time.

- ‘Connected’ spaces and ‘Dis-Connected’ spaces will cease to exist in any physical form, so we’ll create them ourselves.

- We’ll carve out personal ‘spaces’. My child’s spring concert = turn of the mobile device. My husband is talking to me about something very important to him = turn off the mobile device. The sky is just the right shade of red = capture that with a camera, or just with the camera of the eye. And those personal spaces will take different forms for each of us.

- We’ll carve out work ‘spaces’ too. We’ll wake up an extra hour early to use our most productive time to set goals for the day or make progress on a creative project. Lunch may become a working time; where many will continue to head out for the midday snack, others may hunker down for an hour or so of uninterrupted work.

The future will look different with the impacts and influences of technology and its facilitated connectivity. But it will force us not to divide work and personal so much, which is a good thing, because our work is a huge part of our person.

* Note: I do realize I am commenting more accurately about the experience of the white collar North American professional worker.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Item #23: Ries and Trout Just Played Out

Those of you in marketing are likely familiar with the many writings of Ries and Trout: Marketing Warfare, The 21 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Positioning, Focus. If you aren’t, go read them. They’re brilliant.

40 years after they wrote them, we just witnessed their principles play out perfectly in the automotive space. Trout and Ries believe that:

- Marketing is war, with the battle being waged in the minds of consumers;
- That good positioning requires focus (ideally to stand for one thing);
- Consumers map brands perceptually on spaces in their minds;
- Once that focused space in the territory of the consumer’s mind is owned, is it very difficult to shake it i.e.: perceptions persist.

Let’s look at what has happened in the world of automotive over the last few months:

- The Quality space in the minds of consumers belonged to Toyota. First and foremost, this was the most tightly connected brand to the perceptual space in the minds of consumers with regards to automotive quality in North America. But, there’s been a shake-up. Toyota with its recall has been tossed off the perceptual Quality podium.
- That space on the Quality podium, hence, became vacant in the minds of consumers, leaving an opportunity for someone to claim (or re-claim) it. The one who was most poised to take that position (after Toyota) was the one with the latent, pre-existing potential associations to Quality. And that was Ford. We still remember, “At Ford, Quality is Job 1.” The perceptual credentials were there. No other competitive car company had that latent clear association ready to be mined. General Motors, no. Subaru, no (Adventure). Mazda, no (fun). Honda, no (performance). Only Ford had strong quality associations in the perceptual set of the minds of consumers.

Cut to this headline and short excerpt:

Ford climbs to top in quality while Toyota plunges in annual study
Jun 18, 2010

Surging Ford has moved into top spot in quality among non-luxury automakers while Toyota plunged after years of stellar performances, according to a key industry study.

The annual J.D. Power and Associates study of initial quality showed Thursday that Ford’s emphasis in recent years on building better autos is paying off again after it posted the least amount of defects per model for the first time in 24 years.
Ford, whose fortunes have jumped in the last year, improved to fifth from eighth spot overall behind four luxury auto makers but Toyota tumbled from seventh to 21th place,

“The blue oval is becoming synonymous with high quality,” said Bennie Fowler, Ford’s vice-president responsible for quality and new model launches.

The study, which automakers and consumers watch closely, measures the responses of 82,000 U.S. motorists in a 128-question survey on the quality of their new vehicles after 90 days of ownership between February and May.

So, as far as I conclude, the greatly admired Ries and Trout just played out. This is consumer perception at work. This is the battle in the mind of the consumer. And in this case, Ford won it; Ford conquered the territory.

Just in case: I hope there aren’t any lingering skeptics out there who might really believe that rational, factual, or functional quality changed for Ford that fast (from Toyota recall to now) in the minds of that many consumers to have rational experience effect this outcome. No way.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Item #22: The Ant

He was big and black and climbing in a directly upward path on a brightly painted white fence. Behind him was the stone floor and ahead of him were the knots in the wood, the top of the painted fence, and the foliage of the overhanging trees.

The ant is a worker, known for his persistent ethic, and his strength.

He could have stayed below, travelled the flat path of the stone floor, muddled about looking for scraps of something. But down there he would risk being trampled and likely only ever find the same as any other insect might find. The dangers on the ground are much greater and the potential fruits of the search more ordinary. Instead he chooses the upward climb, because up high above it all is where he might find the extraordinary, a little something out of reach to the other insects who choose the flat easy travels on the ground.

Who knows what is so interesting about the climb, or what he might find at the top of the fence, or inside the leaves and branches of the trees above. No idea. But I like his style. That little big ant.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Item #21: On Mistakes

I’ve had the recent pleasure of having to deal with the fact that I made a mistake. I know it sounds crazy to say it like that, but I have a morbid fear of making mistakes. And when I make one, I panic. Here’s why my mindset about making mistakes needs perspective (in case there is anyone out there who struggles with the same):

Truth 1: We Make Mistakes.

Obviously, the most important thing to say is that given that we are human beings and not machines, we make mistakes. We mis-compute, we ignore important information because of emotion, and we sometimes lose focus; we make mistakes. We all, often, make little mistakes, and sometimes we make big mistakes. And if that isn’t happening, then we probably are living in a cautious, restrained place, dotting our every ‘i’ and crossing our every ‘t’ to avoid mistakes. While this living may perhaps be a place of making fewer mistakes, I can’t imagine it is a place of liberated thinking or behaviour. So, if you’re going to be a free, fully functioning human, taking risks, then you are going to make mistakes.

Truth 2: Some Mistakes ARE a Big Deal.

Not all mistakes matter that much. If you forget to order coffee for the meeting, well, we’ll get by just fine. If you miss a zero (on the end) of a work estimate, and then do the work, well that might be a big deal. So be it. It’s true. Some mistakes are a big deal, and some cause big problems. When mistakes happen, the ideal situation is to have an accepting, collaborative team, client, boss, family, friend, who will jump in and help right the situation. The best of those (bosses, friends, clients) understand that humans make mistakes, sometimes big ones, and work with you empathetically to right it.

Truth 3: Even Big Mistakes don’t make you a Big Mistake.

Even if you make a big mistake, it doesn’t mean you are a big mistake. The greatest challenge when mistakes happen is not to generalize the mistake you made to suggest that you are incompetent, incapable, a “mistake-maker”. ‘Making’ a mistake is different from ‘being’ a mistake. And sometimes that is very hard to hang onto when you are in the midst of having made a mistake. Sometimes a mistake is an opportunity to teach you something and make you better at what you are doing, and other times a mistake is to teach you that you are doing the wrong thing and it is time for change. Either way, mistakes are a lesson, in being human.

What to do when you’ve made a mistake?

Accept it. Don’t try to talk around the mistake, internally to yourself, or externally with excuses to others.

Address it. Be straight-forward, clear and upfront. This is what has happened and this is why it happened.

Evaluate it. Stop to understand for yourself what led to the error, and determine what could be done to avoid it in the future.

Integrate it. Bring your new learning into everything you do from that point forward.

What not to do when you've made a mistake?

Berate yourself.

Generalize the mistake to yourself personally.

Lose your self-confidence.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Item #20: The Rule is Still 100% Percent

Below is the very first Guest Post on Curated, and the 'guest' of honour is no less than my very own Dad, Stuart McCulloch. Hope you enjoy.

The Rule is Still 100% Percent

It has been predicted that approximately 90 percent of all corporate dollars in the future will be spent on people.

It is predictions like this that add to the already present concerns for improved employee productivity. These concerns have elicited responses from the pundits of motivational theory from the experts on time management and a large number of other individuals and organizations who have all directed their attentions to improving employee attitudes, work patterns, and inevitably performance and productivity.

The effort suggests that employee productivity can, in fact, be increased. If this is so, then the present day worker cannot be applying himself fully to a one hundred percent effort.

What standards of employee performance should we expect? It appears that there are an increasing number of elements in the work force who are bent on maximizing their rewards and benefits for a minimal amount of a day’s work. Hopefully our standards of performance have not eroded to the point that mediocrity can be considered acceptable.

Perhaps we have failed to educate today’s graduates to realize that the school grading scheme changes within the work environment. Whereas a “C” grade was considered passable in the educational environment, nothing less than an “A” or 100 percent can be acceptable in the workplace. For example, it would be inappropriate for a truck driver to tell his boss that he successfully avoided 80% of other trucks on the road. How confident would we be in the care of a doctor who only aimed for an 80% survival rate for patients he had operated on?

The grading scheme is the same today as it was years ago and if anything, the performance level we should now demand of ourselves is probably higher. The truck driver has to contend with more crowded road conditions and faster speeds and is faced with an ever-reducing tolerance for errors on the road. The power of our computer systems that support physicians in the operating room can produce far-reaching and sometimes catastrophic results from a small programming error.

In today’s business we have to demand 100%. The goal is not impossible. In school, with the proper application of self to the work required, an “A” or 100% was possible. How many times, however, did we apply ourselves and how hard did we try?

It is easily recognizable that if the astronauts are not 100% accurate, they would miss the earth on their return from space. How hard are we all trying to achieve 100%?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Item #19: The Language of Fear

It’s yet another beautiful day in Toronto...but the power of the iPad means I can suntan and write at the same time. The only opportunity for improvement would be if I could have my painted toes buried in sand with water lapping at my feet...but hey I'll take what I can get!

Either way I am prompted today to talk about ‘The Language of Fear’. The lurking menace of fear disguises itself in many ways. I'm going to share four common disguises I hear along with their translated meaning. This should help you to be on the lookout for fears masquerading ways.

Fear in disguise #1: "Okay, let's be realistic here.”

What these words really mean: "I'm afraid to shoot for the moon in this given situation. I might not be able to reach the heights everyone is hoping for so let me just bring down the expectation level in general and ask everyone to be realistic.” To realistic, I say screw that. Shoot for the moon, be idealist and see what happens. In the words of Leo Burnett: If you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one but you won't end up with a handful of mud either.

Fear in disguise #2: "We don't have enough information.”

What these words really mean: "I don't have enough confidence yet to move ahead; what I really want is to delay, to give myself more time for that confidence to spontaneously appear." I’m not suggesting information doesn’t matter, and that at times it’s not true that we don’t have enough information, but often these words are fear masquerading and we need to be on the lookout for that. All the information in the world will not matter when confidence is the issue. Confidence comes from biting the bullet and giving it a go. Confidence comes from starting and then determining what additionally is needed, or desired. Confidence comes from action, not information.

Fear in disguise #3: "We just need to be careful that we don't end up looking stupid."

These just might be my most disliked fear words. Because basically, being careful to not look stupid is just about the surest way to be stupid. If you put the restraining brakes on right at the outset, you can be pretty damn sure you will be firing on half your potential cylinders, that you won’t really every take a shot at anything big. Here’s how I think the whole stupid thing plays out: about 15% of the time, you’ll deliver something that didn’t meet expectations and that’s going to happen whether you are worried about looking stupid or not; 80% of the time, you’ll deliver up to expectations and you’ll feel as though you did a good job and that’s going to happen whether you are worried about looking stupid or not. But here’s where stupid matters; about 5% of the time, some idea you had because you took a risk and weren’t worried about looking stupid will land, and the outcome will be great. It’s in that 5% that the magic happens. But see 5% isn’t a big percentage, and that 5% is only ever possible if you forget about looking stupid. 5% is a small percentage to screw around with. I say forget about stupid.

Fear in disguise #4: "This is going to be just like every other time."

These words may be the worst fear words of all. What they really mean is: “I've been here before. I've tried this before and it didn't work. Since it didn’t go anywhere then, I've already thrown in the towel and resigned myself to believing that I will not be able to create a different outcome this time.” It says that everything that is to come will mimic that which has already been. And this is the worst form of fear. Because this kind of fear is personal, rooted in the individual and can have pervasive long lasting results. This isn’t fear about a situation; this is a fear belief system. Which is more powerful. To these fear words, I say ‘this time might very well be different’. Anything can change; in fact it almost always does.

Fear is real. And it’s not all bad. In fact, fear serves an important purpose. Mostly, that purpose is to alert us to things that are really important to us. Frankly, if we really didn't care, we wouldn't need to have fear disguises. But fear that doesn't know its place is damaging. Damaging to the work we produce, to morale, to confidence, to futures and when fear becomes an epidemic malaise, to the culture of our societies. Learn to recognize the language of fear and banish it in favour of action, confidence, and optimism. Because action, confidence and optimism can beat fear any day. I’ve seen it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Item #18: The Magic of Vision

I can’t write much today because it’s soooooo beautiful outside; I need to be out there for every minute I can get!

But a Quick Stop on Vision.

I consider myself to be a person with Vision. Vision powers my life and my work. Vision for me isn’t weird and spiritual and other-worldly. Vision for me is very real. I recognize the makings of Vision because three things cue me to it a) a thought, idea or pressing belief inside me appears and makes itself known, b) this thought, idea or belief doesn’t go away, doesn’t lessen in intensity and c) often this thought, idea or belief grows stronger, more entrenched, more textured with time.

For example, the first time I really remember being in touch with this sense of vision was when I was 30 years old. A small ten-room hotel had come up for sale in my hometown, on the main street of the downtown heritage district. I went to go look at it on a whim. The minute I walked in and saw the dilapidated ‘business’, I had a vision. I could see it plain and clear: a bright, airy, modern, boutique-style full service Inn located in the sophisticated shopping and dining centre of my home town. I was so certain immediately that I could turn around that neglected space and make it something magical. I bought it and poured everything I could into it; my vision never weakened or faltered during the entire time of its operation. It was nominated for Best Hotel in that town three years after I bought it.

I’ve been in touch with this sense of vision many other times since then, mostly in my work, through projects where I could see opportunity and just knew where it could go. I’ve found if I believe in a vision and then believe equally in my ability to achieve it, magic happens, and the vision gets realized.

My latest vision is loftier and more long-term but it is equally powerful and equally enduring, and I am quite certain that it will come true. And I am clearer about where I most want to be doing it, and who I want around me while I do it. The pieces aren’t in place and may not be in place for awhile, and frankly the vision may shift along the way. But I have the vision; the thought, idea, belief has been planted.

The magic of vision.

Having this vision, as with any vision, is a source of inspiration and purpose. This vision is satisfying and energizing. Placing my focus on it, believing in it, and visualizing my path towards it is happy-making, every day.

A vision doesn’t have to be big. You can have a vision for how you want your home to feel. For the kind of co-worker you want to be. For the kind of creations you’d most like to put out into the world. For the kind of family you want to build. For yourself as a social being. For the kind of partner you want to be. For the kind of fashion that is your style. For the type of music that is your own.

A vision can be small. In fact, some of the strongest are. But the important thing is to find these uniquely personal visions, to trust them, to believe in them and to follow them, every day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Item #17: "Bloom Where You’re Planted."

This was the title of my dear friend Jen Thompson's latest blog post*. She was referring to her latest spring outdoor planter creation but I saw metaphor. And she thus inspired this post.

See… in this headline I heard a huge message. One that transfers to work and life. It spoke an unassailable truth in an incredibly succinct way.

We bloom wherever we are rooted and where we achieve ‘plantedness’. (Planted-ness is of course an invented word for lack of a better alternative: note to add to dictionary).

If there is a lesson in here, a lesson for work and life, then let's break it down. First we must decide where we are or will be planted. Then we must get planted. And then with attention, we will bloom.

So where are you currently, or where can you be ‘Planted’?

In order to achieve ‘Bloom’, it is first required to determine where you currently are ‘Planted’, or where you could be ‘Planted’. Where is your certainty? Where does your purest most natural source of happiness lie? This is where you can build your stability. This is where you can lay your roots. The place your potential for personal greatness lies. This is the fundamental starting position for ‘Bloom’.

My sister, for example, does many things well and derives enjoyment from many sources. But there is one place she doesn’t question herself, one thing that is sure to make her happy, where she is never bored, AND, importantly (likely not coincidentally), a place where she excels. My sister is an incredible cook. Her original and surprising creations always look fantastic on the plate, and taste even better. She has not yet entirely planted herself in her cooking, but she will. And when she does, there is where she will bloom.

Once you have determined the where, what does it take to get ‘Planted’?

Having uncovered ‘the where’ of getting planted, the next step is to get ‘Planted’. In other words, to take all the energy, ambition and passion that lives within and to direct it towards ‘Planted-ness’. To focus. To commit. To invest. To bury those roots as securely as possible and to protect their placement. This means trusting ‘the where’ you have chosen and nurturing it’s growth no matter what. This is to figuratively feed and water the soil. Interestingly, the word ‘soil’ is only one letter away from the word ‘soul’.

And finally, what happens then when you ultimately ‘Bloom Where You’re Planted’?

For that I turn to the far more eloquent words of Longfellow:

These in flowers and men are more than seeming;
Workings are they of the self-same powers,
Which the Poet, in no idle dreaming,
Seeth in himself and in the flowers.

In all places, then, and in all seasons,
Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us, by most persuasive reasons,
How akin they are to human things.

And with childlike, credulous affection
We behold their tender buds expand;
Emblems of our own great resurrection,
Emblems of the bright and better land.

(* http://themimicoproject.wordpress.com/ plus a Photo Credit to Jennifer Thompson)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Item #16: The Tortoise or The Hare

Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare:

Once upon a time there was a hare who, boasting how he could run faster than anyone else, was forever teasing tortoise for his slowness. Then one day, the irate tortoise answered back: "Who do you think you are? There's no denying you're swift, but even you can be beaten!" The hare squealed with laughter.*

The hare challenged the tortoise to a race. Along the way, the hare decided to stop, have a quick nap, stop and have some breakfast, and then have yet another snooze. And as we know, the hare ended up losing the race to the tortoise.

This moral of this fable - ‘slow and steady wins the race’ - has been interpreted too literally. Aesop was actually sharing a more deeply faceted message - about character:

Matter-of-fact, if it were truly only a question of speed to create success, there is absolutely no way the tortoise would have beat the hare. The moral of the story actually concerns the character of the hare: ‘arrogance often leads to failure**’. The hare’s character was actually the most dangerous combination of all: boastful and careless.

The Tortoise and the Hare in our Modern Society:

I look around at times and I find that a ’15 seconds of fame’ mentality has seeped into every corner of our space. We obsess over ‘the next big thing’, the ‘latest trends’, the 'newest technology'. And as people, we strive to ‘grow our list of social connections’, we work desperately to associate ourselves with ‘the influentials’ and to be seen in ‘the right places’, with ‘the right people’. This sounds an awful lot like the Hare to me.

The Hare in our Modern Society:

Let’s have a look at the Hare mentality in the social media space, for one example. Social media has become the buzzword of the decade, and phrases like “everything is social” are tossed around freely. Suddenly we have ‘social media experts’. With regards to technology, isn’t it more likely that ‘everything is in beta’; and if that’s true, can there really be any ‘experts’ in social media? (I hope we don’t have any mobile or cloud computing ‘experts’ yet.)

This is not said to denigrate anyone; there is no question that there are some individuals with substantially more knowledge, experience and expertise with regard to social media, mobile media and cloud computing that others, but there’s no need for the label or the attitude we culturally load into the word ‘expert’ (i.e.: Hare).

On Being a Hare or a Tortoise:

Culturally and individually, we should be wary of looking so lovingly to the character of the ‘Hare’ as we lose sight of and devalue the admirable (and productive) character of the Tortoise. Unnecessarily, we hear the word ‘expert’, and well we just want to associate with it because (return to above), "this is a ‘right person’, an ‘influential’, who might be the key to ‘the next big thing’ and might get me closer to those ’15 seconds of fame’'. It’s a dangerous circle of cultural character decline. And its important because it shapes the world we are creating; here’s why:

World-View of the Hare:

- The earth is spinning uncontrollably on an axis, innovation is rampant, change is constant, and the days are racing by. We need to rush, panic and worry, stay on top of things, know as many (preferably ‘the right’) people as possible, sell ourselves aggressively and hope beyond hope that we can ‘make something of ourselves’ to ‘make our mark’ and ‘get noticed’.

- This is the world of ‘social connections’, of ‘influential’, of ‘fame’, of ‘experts’, of running around like a chicken with your head cut off, probably not really accomplishing very much of any lasting value, and building no soul-nurturing foundations along the journey.

World-View of the Tortoise:

- The earth is one great big ecosystem that started millions of years ago and will be here millions of years from now. By definition, this is a world that requires long-term thinking, and even more importantly long-term commitment; a world that requires respect for all the somebodies that inhabit it, a focus on the big picture. We are each of us only one little tiny piece of a much bigger thing. Let me re-state that: We are each one little tiny but super important piece of that. As a collective of individuals, we are creating something, a universe of values.

- This is not a world of ‘what can I do for me today, how can I meet the next right person and champion the next big thing to get me my 15 seconds of fame.’ This is a world of ‘knowledge’, ‘progress’, ‘energy’, ‘vision’, ‘‘relationships’, ‘commitment’, and inclusiveness’. This is a world that says how can I harness the things that are the best in me, how can I attach myself to them passionately, how can I exercise those things in a public space to make a meaningful mark on this world and contribute to history in my own little tiny but super-important way.

Which do you choose? Who are you? A Tortoise or a Hare?

(Sources: *http://childhoodreading.com/Arthur_Rackham/Tortoise_and_the_Hare.html; **http://haqqmisra.wordpress.com/ - Reflections, Ideas and Dreams)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Item #15: Seven Women I Want on Twitter

Recently I clicked on a Twitter link to a blog post, by I don’t remember who, titled: 13 People We Want on Twitter Right Away. I can’t recall who the 13 were although I do know that Tiger Woods was on there along with some other sports guys. I don’t recall a single woman being on the list, which is fine, BUT… it did prompt me to think also about who I really want on Twitter, and they happen to all be women (might be a little bit of a bias I know). I hope you’ll find though that I’ve identified seven super interesting, diverse, successful women with unique and valuable perspectives.

1. Linda Hirshman is a retired distinguished professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at Brandeis University. She holds a law degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in philosophy. In 2006, Hirshman released Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World. In Get to Work, Hirshman lays responsibility on the women of the world to work, to contribute to the public world, to be a force in the economy and to preserve the right for future generations of women to participate in society. She is controversial, smart and fascinating.

2. Camille Paglia is widely known as a challenging feminist, but Paglia has been a Professor at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania since 1984 and is a highly regarded philosophical art authority. She is vocal in her preference for “a curriculum grounded in comparative religion, art history and the literary canon, with a greater emphasis on facts in the teaching of history”. She has expressed concern for the impact of technology and new media on art education. She is a challenging intellect whose passionate commitment to art is unwavering.

3. Laurene Powell is a name that may be unfamiliar, but will instead bring recognition as Mrs. Steve Jobs. She’s on my list because I want to hear from one of those “great women behind every great man”. Powell-Jobs holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, a B.S. in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Stanford. Powell-Jobs worked for Merrill Lynch Asset Management and spent three years at Goldman Sachs as a fixed-income-trading strategist. Currently, her board affiliations include: Board of Directors: Teach for America; Global Fund for Women; KQED (PBS); EdVoice; New America Foundation; Stanford Schools Corporation; New Schools Venture Fund; and Advisory Board, Stanford Graduate School of Business.

4. Pema Chödrön is a fully ordained Buddhist nun and resident teacher of Gampo Abbey, a monastery in rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. Committed to bringing Buddhist teachings to everyday lives since 1974, Chödrön is the author of many best-selling books including: Uncomfortable with Uncertainty, Start Where You Are, and The Places that Scare You. Her philosophy is enlightening, liberating, strengthening and for many simply life-saving.

5. Meryl Streep. Has there ever been as important a time as now to hear from Meryl? In her prime at the age of 61, she is a model to women the world over, actor or not. She’s earned 16 Academy Award Nominations, 25 Globe Globe Award Nominations, plus Emmy Awards, SAG Awards and even Grammy Awards. She holds a B.A. from Vassar, a Masters of Fine Arts from Yale and an Honourary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Princeton. Practically widowed at 29 years old (she lost her fiancé to cancer), Streep went on to marry sculptor Don Gummer and have four children; they have been married now for 32 years.

6. Anna Wintour. It’s timely with the recent personality-revealing release of the documentary, The September Issue, and the hyping profile of fashion in general that we should hear more from the Queen of American Vogue. Having dropped out of school at 16, but with the helping hands that come with a privileged upbringing, Wintour rose through the ranks of fashion journalism and has been editor-in-chief of American Vogue since 1988. While an unquestionably powerful woman, she is widely regarded as terse, unrelenting and emotionally distant.

7. Cynthia Carroll is a relatively unknown name that shouldn’t be. Carroll served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Primary Metal Group at Alcan, out of Montreal, Canada, and is currently the chief executive officer of Anglo American PLC, a London, UK mining company, which, among other things, is the world's largest platinum producer. She is one of only three female Chief Executives of FTSE 100 companies. In 2008, she was ranked by Forbes magazine as the fifth most powerful woman in the world. Talk about operating successfully in a ‘man’s world’; this is a mind I’d love a window into.

Source: wikipedia.org

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Item #14: The Aeron Chair

Herman Miller, Inc is the company responsible for the release of the Aeron Chair, their best selling chair ever, and a great success by many measures. The Aeron chair is featured in the permanent collection of design museums across the globe, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It has been reviewed and discussed for its design merit the world over including being written about in detail by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink.

I reference the story of the development of the Aeron Chair because is a wonderful example of research done well and research used well.

Let’s start with the words of Max Depree, chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, Inc:

We are a research-driven product company. We are not a market-driven company. It means that we intend, through the honest examination of our environment and our work and our problems, to meet the unmet needs of our users with problem-solving design and development. From Leadership is an Art by Max Depree.

Aeron chair co-designers Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick believed that millions of office workers were sitting in chairs built based on fundamentally flawed design principles, and so they set out to redesign the everyday office chair.

The research process to evaluate the viability of this new chair design for the consumer marketplace was a challenge. Test groups said they despised the Aeron Chair. They thought it was ugly, and uncomfortable.

Comfort scores from testers came in way below acceptable levels. The engineers and designers at Herman Miller knew that the chair they'd made was the most ergonomic office chair ever built in America. “It had been researched, re-researched, designed and designed again, re-drawn, fussed over, and tested to the nth degree time and again; every piece of factual and evidence-based information they had pointed to the chair as one of the most comfortable ever made. One of the most supportive ever made. Assuredly the most ergonomic ever made.”

Turns out, the testers were only getting a limited amount of time with the chair, about half a day. Soon the team at Herman Miller began to understand that this wasn't enough. The test groups were given longer periods of time with the chair and sure enough, comfort test scores came up.

And the design was considered ugly. “The Aeron chair was constructed from pellicle, a high tech mesh, as well as rigid plastics. You could see through it. Most armrests are attached to the seat of the chair, but with the Aeron they're attached to the back. Most chairs form a joint hinge between seat and back, but the Aeron has a highly engineered system that allows each plane to move independently of the other.”

No matter what they did, the Aeron Chair was only scoring an average of about 6 when it came to looks. If the company was going to release this chair, they would have to do it with the full knowledge that people thought it was ugly.

In the end, Herman Miller stood by the chair, released it and the rest is history.

So how is this evidence of research done well?

It was rigorous research that fed the design innovation that got Stumpf, Chadwick and Herman Miller the most comfortable, supportive and ergonomic office chair ever made. It was adjustment of the time period testers spent with the chair, to be more in line with actual usage realities, which got them to the comfort evaluations that they needed in order to have assurance of a functionally capable product.

And it was this research also that got them an accurate evaluation for the aesthetics of the chair. In fact, modern day reviewers have referred to the Aeron Chair as: “an ugly miracle grounded in empiricism.” “The Aeron’s true value wasn’t its texture, shape or sizing. It was a triumph for empiricism over aestheticism, proof that beauty is illusory in the case of tools. Because that’s what a work chair is: a tool to keep you comfortable, safe and supported – not seduced.” “The Aeron doesn’t have a pretty face, but like an intelligent mind it projects beauty,” says Don Chadwick, co-designer of the Aeron chair.

And how is this evidence of research used well?

Herman Miller knew when to let vision guide a decision. It didn’t allow the tester ratings with regard to the subjective concept of aesthetic appeal guide its decision to release the chair. It trusted the vision of proven designers and was rewarded by making history.

So, what happened here?

Well, consumer behaviour is not predictable. Consumers buy ugly stuff all the time; think PT Cruiser, or The Ugly Doll. What research can never dictate, what vision must decide, is how people might behave. This chair was a success because a specific group of people was drawn to it and by lending their discerning approval influenced many more in order to make it a blockbuster.

Sources: Creative Review magazine, April 2008, The Aeron Chair by Daniel West; Leadership is an Art by Max Depree; Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.