This or That?


Simple, not easy

Integration, not balance

Process, not event

Activities, not results

Preparation, not planning

Marathon, not sprint

Wisdom, not knowledge

Influence, not directing

Ambiguity, not certainty

Purpose, not profit

Anything, not everything

We, not me

Collaborate, not control

Why, not what

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Filed under Decision Making, Thinking about thinking

Changing the narrative

Recently I went to Cleveland with an old high school buddy to see John Waite perform at The Music Box Supper Club. It was a great show and terrific venue as well.  He started the show by explaining that he would taking questions between songs which was a pretty cool way to engage the audience and his answer to one of these questions was the genesis of this post.

About midway through the evening someone asked him if we was every going to reunite with The Babys.  (For those of you who do not know about John Waite, he was the leader of The Babys from 1979 until they broke up in 1981.  He then went on to a solo career until 1987 when we became the lead singer for Bad English until the broke up in 1991.) His response to this question was insightful and a way of thinking we all could and should embrace.  He said, “No.  They are in a good place and have another singer and are doing quite well and that is great for them.  I am in a different place and feel like there are other things I am supposed to write songs about.”

As I listened to him sing a few of his more recent songs and thought about what he had said, it struck me that many of us never take the scary step of evolving and becoming something different than we used to be.  I am not sure if it is fear of just laziness…guess it really doesn’t matter.  What also stuck out to me was that the audience really did not want to hear his new stuff…they wanted “the hits”.  Not only are do we have to overcome our own inertia but we also may have to break the gravitational pull of others who don’t really want us to move ahead.

How do you want to change your story?  What new songs do you have to write?  Are you satisfied with playing your old hits or are you ready to try out some new stuff?  I know it’s scary because, quite frankly, it might not be very good and some folks may not like it.  Does that really matter?  It’s called a creative process because it is iterative and takes failure to create something beautiful.  As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. 




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Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition, Uncategorized

It’s a little bit of everything

Lisa, my lovely, creative, and musically adventurous wife,  recently shared the song “A little of bit of everything” by Dawes with me and I have not been able to shake it since I first heard it…something about it would just not leave me alone.  There are 3 distinct stories in the song that provide 3 very different perspectives on what “a little bit of everything” means to different people at different points in their lives and I think that rorschach test quality is what fascinates me.

In my work, I am blessed to build close relationships with folks who are in vastly different seasons of their lives and they can each see things from wildly different perspectives.  This provides me with an expanded perspective as well as I listen to them share their goals and challenges in both their businesses and their lives.  While they are all distinctly different and unique, there is also a sameness in their struggles.

I believe this struggle we all share is embracing that it’s always “a little bit of everything” and that means there is often no one “right” answer or one singular issue to address.  In the first verse of the song a young man is contemplating suicide and when a police sergeant asks him why, his response is:

“Oh, it’s a little bit of everything
It’s the mountains, it’s the fog
It’s the news at six o’clock
It’s the death of my first dog

It’s the angels up above me
It’s the song that they don’t sing
It’s a little bit of everything”

We are all part of various ecosystems in our lives and it is nearly impossible to identify the exact time or action that caused something to happen…be it good or bad.  Our struggle is our need for control in all aspects of our lives.  We all share this fallacy that we can make things happen and if we just focus and work harder, it will happen.  For the record, I believe strongly in planning and preparing as well as being a huge proponent of working hard and dedicating oneself to something you believe in.  What I do not believe in is the mindset that we (any of us) actually control the outcome of anything…unless it is something we are the only person involved in…and that is rare.  Perhaps if we were less focused on the results and more focused on the people, things would work out much better for all of us?

There is only one thing I can attest to and that is I do not have any answers…only questions and I am just fine with that.  I have seen people experience moments of great clarity with the simplest of questions and have been blessed (the fact that I have been blessed 2x in this post does not escape me) to be involved in those conversations.

I will leave you with the lyrics to another song from my youth that has also served as my own personal mission statement…

“Once I thought the truth was gonna set me free
But now I feel the chains of its responsibility
I will not be a puppet I cannot play it safe
I’ll give myself away with a blind and simple faith
I’m just the same as you I just do the best I can
That’s the only answer…for an ordinary man”

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Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition

E + R = O

I am not sure where I first learned this “formula” but I am a fan of Occam’s Razorand believe that anything that helps us simplify our thinking is worth sharing. After reading the following blog posts, I saw a theme developing and the content coalesced on its own from there.

  • In Dorie Clark’s recent article “Why Mindfulness Is The Next Revolution In Marketing”, she makes the point that while there are many things we cannot control, what we can control is how we respond. While the context of this discussion is centered around marketing, it is obviously applicable to anyone’s daily activities.
  • There is also correlation with David Brendel’s blog post “How Philosophy Makes You A Better Leader” in which he expounds on the value of self-reflection in regards to behavior change. Brendel is a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and discusses the actual neuroscience of self-reflection as it pertains to activating the anterior cingulate cortex. The ACC is a critical region of the brain that can “detect discrepancies between the actual and desired states”. So once we begin engaging the ACC, we can identify goals and develop plans to attain them (more or less).
  • In Les McKeown’s post “Why ‘Capacity’ Is The Key to Success in 2015”, he makes the point that “…it’s not the events that will shape your future next year–it’s how your business responds to future events when they occur.”

All of these folks referenced, either explicitly or implicitly, the formula E+R=O (Event + Response = Outcome). Here are some thoughts on why it is so valuable (yet so simple).

  1. Events are going to happen whether we want them to or not. This is where I think we all need to release ourselves from the Fallacy of Control (my own personal theory). No amount of planning or thinking will cause or prevent events from happening in our lives. I am not saying we should adopt a fatalistic attitude but I do believe we should shift our mindset from planning to preparation.
  2. Our “response” is truly the only variable we control (some of us better than others) and our only consistent method to change the outcome. Don’t waste you time & energy (2 extremely valuable resources) lamenting the event .Instead focus on being mindful and controlling your response so it is both positive and productive for you and others. If you are in a leadership role then this is paramount because your reaction to events serves as a model to others so it can be multiplied tenfold or more! In order to leverage this power, you have to engage in triple loop learning which enables us to self-correct “on the fly” because we are objectively aware of our own behavior.
  3. Outcomes are only within our control in the context of our responses so the more we shift the burden or blame to others, the less likely we are going to be able to achieve our goals (personally or corporately). The minute we relinquish our power in the process, we are through. Here is where you find out where your true locus of control rests. The goal is always to have an internal locus of control so that you believe you can impact the world around you. The alternative is that you are acted upon by outside forces beyond your control and that is not a happy place to be.

I will share that while this formula can help you achieve your goals and completely change your attitude, it also comes with a heavy price. I could tell you about it but I think Rocky Balboa says it much better than I ever could.

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Filed under Decision Making, Learning, Looking in the mirror

What Warren, Glen, Johnny, John, Kris can teach us about living

I recently stumbled across this video of Glen Campbell singing “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”.  It highlights his struggle with Alzheimer’s in a very personal way (if you would like to learn more about his farewell tour, watch this short segment done in 2012…very touching as 3 of his children toured – and struggled – right along with him).  I could not get the song out of my head and shared it with Lisa (my wife) who really did not want to watch it due to the emotional content but finally acquiesced.  As we were sitting in our kitchen this evening and she was finishing some emails for work, I was watching the video and kept restarting it to listen to the first again and again.  She stopped what she was doing and asked me why I was felt so connected to the song.  In order to give context to my reply, here are the lyrics…

“I’m still here but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
It never defined who I am
The man that loved you till the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And most of all…
I’m not gonna miss you “

I told her my connection with the song was with the raw emotional power of the lyrics of someone facing the final chapter of his life and his willingness to continue to live his life through his art.  With all the challenges that Alzheimer’s brought, he still went on tour and got up in front of hundreds of people each night knowing that at some point in the evening he would most likely forget any number of things.  Then, in the last months of life, he did the only thing he could…he wrote and recorded music.

There are other artists who have taken similar paths recently.  These include Warren Zevon, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and John Mellencamp.  Not all of them are suffering from a terminal illness but all recorded music about moving through phases in their lives.

If you were to take the time to click on each of these links and watch & listen to “Keep Me In Your Heart”, “Closer To The Bone”, “Hurt”, and “Troubled Man”, I believe you would understand what I am about to share with you.  While all of them were at different stages in their lives and face dramatically different challenges, the following are 3 lessons about life for all of us:

  • Continually re-invent yourself BUT never abandon who you are
    • This is not as paradoxical as it sounds.  Sometimes our biggest downfall is success. The more successful we are, the more we think we have it all figured out.  The more we think we have it figured out, the less likely we are to learn and grow. Do you see the problem?  We need to continually push ourselves to grow but these should be variations on a theme.  We don’t change the core of who we are, we grow as we reflect on our experiences and relationships adding layers of understanding and wisdom.
  • Be passionately transparent
    • Connection is everything and you cannot connect if you are not willing to open up.  Don’t give measured responses or match the level of transparency of others.  Be vulnerable and aware that others are vulnerable as well.  All you have to do is what Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” video to know what I am talking about.  It is painfully apparent in that video that he has many things he would have changed if he could have.  I believe this comes with age because the older you get, the less likely you are to care about what other’s think because you know, in the end, Dr. Seuss was right…“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  • F*#% the critics
    • Don’t seek success.  Write, speak, cook, sing, talk, build, lead, paint, draw, sell, (or any other verb you wish to insert) in the manner if which you believe in regardless of the commercial feasibility.  You start going down that road, you won’t like what you become.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to what Aaron Lewis has to say about it.

It is certainly not easy to do these things.  You run the risk of failure and disappointment every day.  That said, embrace opportunities to create the experiences that will be on your video when you write your own version of these songs.  As Kris said in “Closer To The Bone”, “…Ain’t you getting better, running out of time.”

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Filed under Real Life, The Human Condition

Bold, Courageous humility

Pastor Steve Bush started his sermon this morning talking about humility that is bold and courageous.  Those 3 words stuck with me and connected to some other thoughts that had been bouncing around in my head recently.  Chief among those was this C.S. Lewis quote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”.  I have to admit this is counter-intuitive to folks in my generation as I grew up in the ’80’s and it was all about us!  Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that self-interest is a great driver for our economy a la Adam Smith and Gordon Gekko. There is a definitely something to be said for pursuing what you love and never working a day in your life but I also think there is a dark side to that point of view as well.

There is a slippery slope when we begin to allow ourselves the latitude to value only those things we think are “fun” or “worth our efforts”.  I think this is why so many people fail to quote Smith accurately and omit the word “rational” from self interest in that context.  Smith, as most thinkers were in that day, was sort of a polymath, and most do not realize that his first few works were focused on ethics and charity, not purely economics.  He saw that we are all connected and that, essentially, “a rising tides raises all boats”.  There is much more we can glean from Smith but, alas, that is for another day.

Initially it is hard to reconcile bold, courageous, and humility all in the same sentence because they don’t really “fit” together.

Bold – necessitating courage and daring; challenging

Courageous – the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

Humility – not proud or arrogant; modest

Can a person be humble, yet bold and courageous?  I think it is quite possible…they KEY is what drives the person to act!  If the person is driven to action for the benefit of others, then we would see someone exhibiting a bold and courageous humility.  There is a long list of people who would fit this description.  (People like, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi,  & Dietrich Bonhoeffer just to name a few.)  People who act for the greater good sometimes without regard for their own safety.

So does this mean that us regular folks could not also act with a bold and courageous humility?  I think we can but I also think it takes breaking out of the “me” mindset that is supported and touted by western society!  I am not talking about denouncing anything or swearing off money. Simply examining our motivators when it comes to our actions and ensuring that we are acting from the core of who we are and not just thinking about “what’s in it for me” all of the time.  The great college basksetball coach John Wooden‘s leadership philosophy was cited in this article by Michael Lee Stallard which focused on the following 3 components:

  1. Caring for the people you lead.
  2. Teaching and developing their character and competence
  3. Maintaining the attitude that a life not lived for others is a life not lived.

I think you would agree that someone who focused on these 3 things would clearly exhibit bold, courageous humility.  It would be bold and courageous because society would not necessarily view this as “right” because we are all about what we want and how things look…we are very concerned about the “optics”.  We need the right house, the right car, the right salary, the right “stuff”. Unfortunately we are concerned much more with the “what” than the “how” and that is my point.  Leaders (and anyone who influences someone else is a leader) must focus more on the “how”.  The end does not justify the means.  We cannot continue to pursue goals regardless of the cost.  I would argue that if we select the “right ” goals, they always present us with the right “how”.

For many years I chased all of the wrong things for the wrong reasons…in fact I am not sure I even had a reason.  I was used to “winning”, and that was the only objective.  I convinced myself that thinking about what job I wanted and being self-fulfilled would somehow trickle down and be better for my family as well…what a joke!  Several years ago I had an epiphany and that was there were only two jobs on this earth that God had put me here to do and those were to be a husband to my wife and a father to my children.  As Lewis said, “don’t think less of yourself, think of yourself less”.  The funny thing is that this brought me freedom because I was now focused outwardly and things became much clearer to me.  I no longer agonized about what other’s thought because I was thinking about what was best for those I cared about and when that was the goal, the decisions flowed effortlessly.

The best closing I can offer is this link to a TED talk by Coach Wooden on his thoughts on the difference between winning and success.  He was 90 years old at the time it was recorded and his clarity is amazing.  It is a testimony to a life spent focused on refining his vision and pursuing it relentlessly…we should all be so lucky!

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Filed under Leadership, The Human Condition

Thoughts on embracing “the wilderness”

I recently read “5 Counter-intuitive Habits of Truly Authentic Leaders”, by Maseena Ziegler and #4 on her list, “”They use their time in the wilderness well”, really hit home with me.  It is safe to say that all “wilderness” metaphors are derived from the story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt and spending 40 years wandering in the wilderness before being allowed into the Promised Land.  What follows are my synaptic connections with “being the wilderness”.

  • For me, being in the wilderness is all about change and no one covers this better than William Bridges in his seminal work, “Getting them Through the Wilderness (A Leader’s Guide to Change”.  Using the story of Moses, he provides an actual workbook for the people side of change as well as examples and ideas of addressing these challenges.  The connection with Ziegler’s article is Bridges’ “neutral zone”.  This is what he refers to as the space between the letting go of the old and beginning the new and it is not a place people normally want to occupy for very long.  It is uncomfortable and ambiguous and these are things we do not like.  We seek homeostasis which is when a system is constant and predictable.  As a rule, people do not like when things are in a state of flux.  There is no better example of this than going on a road trip with kids (and some adults) and being constantly asked,”Are we there yet?”  The downside to this desire is that creativity, growth, and change happen in the wilderness so if we avoid the wilderness, we avoid these opportunities (which is why it made the list of “counter-intuitive habits”).  This is also seen in another model called the “j-curve”.  Here we see that when we want to change something (policies, processes, or learn new skills) we will normally see a decrease in output in the short term while these changes are incorporated in the system and then we will see increased output and greater levels of success.  The problem is that most people expect instant gratification and we are not wired to accept any type of dip in performance. When it comes to this, we just have to remember that we cannot go from mountaintop to mountaintop without going down into the valley.
  • We can also find insights and thought provoking works on the wilderness from American poet William Stafford in his work “Traveling Through The Dark”.  In this poem Stafford relates the anguished story of hitting a doe with his car and determining the deer was pregnant but still makes the decision to push the carcass (unborn fawn and all) into the river below as was common practice on this dangerous road.  The final two lines of the poem are, “I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,   then pushed her over the edge into the river.”  In the wilderness, we are often faced with heartbreaking decisions that not only impact of us but others as well.  The reality is that when these situations happen, a person has to make the decision and live with the results. This is where Jeremy Bentham and utilitarianism are brought into play and we see that it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice the few so that the many survive.  This philosophy was also championed in modern pop culture by Mr. Spock in The Wrath of Kahn.
  • Robert Frost also provides insights into the need for the wilderness in his poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.  This very simple yet powerful poem shows the innate “need for time to reflect” engaged in battle with “the need to work”.  The final stanza beautifully summarizes the human condition, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,  And miles to go before I sleep.” I believe we all have the pull within us when we are in our own version of “the woods” seeking solace from our respective “promises”.

Regardless of context, we all need “the wilderness” in our lives in both a metaphoric and real way.  In order to grow, we need quiet time to disconnect and reflect on our lives.  If we are constantly doing, we are not thinking and we need to think (don’t take my word for it, check out Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory).  In order to do this we need to disengage from the “do more” mentality and stop measuring success by how many things we check off the list.  As Einstein was credited with saying, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”.
We have to fight the need for psychological comfort and seek the wilderness on our terms or we may be thrust into it by someone else.  We can never rest and think we have reached our home and the wilderness cannot be held at bay because it will find its way into our lives.

There is perhaps no better way to conclude this trip down the rabbit hole than with quotes from both Friedrich Nietzsche and Joseph Campbell

“Being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!”  (Nietzsche)

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” (Campbell)

Here’s to hoping you are never the same again!


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Filed under Real Life, The Human Condition