Often duplicated, never replicated

sitting-on-rocks-talking

A few weeks ago I was watching an episode of “Parts Unknown” (Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food show on CNN) where he was visiting Japan with Chef Masa Takayama and I was introduced to the concept of “ichi-go ichi-e” that describes a cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people. The term is often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.” As I read more about this, I was struck by the implications of this in our lives.

Admittedly, I am probably more interested and/or attuned to this as a Vistage Chair because my entire professional life is based upon meetings with both groups and individuals. Then, it occurred to me that everyone’s lives are really an ongoing series of both professional and personal interactions regardless of your chosen profession. It is at that point the concept truly takes on weight & raises the following questions:

  • Don’t we have to admit that each interaction we have with another human being is absolutely and truly unique because, although you might meet with them again in the future, you will both only be the people you are at that moment so that meeting can never happen the same way again?
  • Don’t we have the responsibility to uncover and discuss the state of mind (if only briefly) of all attendees at these meetings and determine if there are meaningful conversations that could happen that would benefit some or all of the attendees?
  • Isn’t there an inherent opportunity to then abolish “small talk” because we don’t want to waste time “talking around things that don’t matter” because we could then focus on “talking about things that matter”?
  • How will this impact both the number of meetings you are willing to have as well as the time you set aside for each meeting you schedule? If each meeting truly was an opportunity to intentionally engage at a meaningful level, what would your criteria be? How would you communicate that to others? How would you prepare?

I will conclude with a few more open-ended questions that are actually not rhetorical in nature because I would like for your to answer them for yourself. If your answers are positive in nature, then would you be willing to give it a try?

  • Would this be meaningful to you?
  • Would it meaningful to others?
  • Would these meetings build up or tear down walls & barriers?
  • Would you walk away energized or drained?

About 2,500 years ago Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its the not the same river and he is not the same man.” We cannot slow time down nor do I believe we should try. We can, however, embrace the opportunities that the passage of time presents to us and that is the ability to learn & change. The real challenge becomes providing others with the space and safety to do the same.

I believe Mother Teresa summed it up best with the following, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Answering what & why

WARNING:  There are no “answers” in this post and my only goal in sharing these thoughts was to cause you to ask yourself meaningful questions.  If you would prefer not to do that, then do not read any further.

I believe that when we enter into the “2nd half” of our lives, we entertain different questions because time becomes real and there is a sense of mortality we cannot escape. We begin to think more deeply about legacy because we want our lives to have meant something and would like to believe we did something meaningful that will live on when we are gone.

This leads to a change in how we perceive the world around us and our reticular activating system provides us with the means to accomplish this…”When you set your intent, you are marrying your subconscious mind with your conscious will to make something happen. It is like you are sending your Reticular Activating System a message that you are “expecting” the event to happen, and there is absolutely no room for uncertainty.” Essentially, we begin to see/experience what we look for and/or expect.  This works in all seasons of our lives but now it is especially poignant because we’re looking for meaning and meaning we will find.  We begin to question “why” much more often and have an urge to understand people and their actions…which is not a peaceful practice.

Since others will often frustrate or confuse us, we then turn inward and ask ourselves these challenging questions.  We want to better understand ourselves because that might help us understand others?  I recently began working with a coach (Jim Vaive) in the realm of emotional intelligence and one my homework assignments was the creation of my “noble goal”.  I have to admit that I really liked the sound of that but it has not been easy to write down.  When I visited 6seconds, I found this snippet of insight which really crystallized it for me…“Live as if your choices send ripples beyond your lifetime.”  Full disclosure, this resonated with me because it sounds like the great scene from “The Gladiator”, where Maximus tells his troops that “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”  Think of the impact this might have on our actions each day if we truly lived in this manner.  Imagine the impact it would have on others.  Imagine how hard it is to capture this in one sentence!

As a recovering philosophy student (27 years in the real world and counting) this also took be right back to Immanuel Kant and his thoughts on the categorical imperative…which is not a fun place to go.  Kantian philosophy would tell us that we should “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  I was fond of torturing my kids with this and can’t tell how many times I lectured them with no thought of Matthew 7:3…“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?”  Actually, there might be quite the circular argument with that entire discussion because in lecturing them on the categorical imperative I was actually exemplifying a poor example to be repeated “in perpetuum” but that is a thought for another day.

I would like to provide you with 3 “resources” if you are interested and they are…

I would suggest you start with Sean Rowe because he will stir the most visceral reaction in you and reach you in your heart and soul instead of your head as you can see by the following lyrics…

“My friends I believe we are at the wrong fight
And I cannot read what I did not write
I’ve been to His house, but the master is gone
But I’d like to leave something behind

There is a beast who has taken my brain
You can put me to bed but you can’t feel my pain
When the machine has taken the soul from the man
It’s time to leave something behind”

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking

Act like a child…please!

I was reading The Power of  a Good Question (a great post by Leo Bottary) today and it serves as the jumping off point for what follows.  Leo provided great practical insight as to the “how” of this process as well as an example of what can come from it.  I am going to take a more personal approach and share what I believe we have to embrace in order for our default to be asking questions instead of giving answers.

How many times have you told your kids (or been told yourself) to “grow up”?  Well, when it comes to being a great questioner, the reality is that we need to maintain some of that childlike wonderment about the world around us.  In “A More Beautiful Question”,  Warren Berger points out that a typical preschooler asks about 300 questions each day but once they reach middle-school age, they ask very few.

questiondropoffchart6-16

This is referred to a neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal)  and you can read “Today we can’t afford to become adults” by Joichi Ito if you would like to find out why it matters.

If we were to maintain this childlike ability maybe we could also avoid what Robert Burton describes as the “certainty epidemic”.  This is also known as the certainty bias which finds its roots in our genetics as we are hardwired to avoid uncertainty because it triggers a “threat response” in our limbic system which causes us to feel something akin to pain.  Being certain is almost like an addiction so when we “meet” the goal of avoiding uncertainty, we feel rewarded…even when it is not in our best interest.

Questioning is also more aligned with divergent thinking rather than convergent thinking because it focuses on the “why” more than the “how”.  In general terms, divergent is more creative and convergent is more efficient.  I think there is less uncertainty in convergent thinking so this means our brain will reward us for taking the convergent path and making the world certain…even if its not.  If you would like to read more, here is “Divergent Thinking versus Convergent Thinking” from Phil Charron.

Finally, there is this gem from Shunryu Suzuki which really stands on its on merits and needs no explanation.  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I realize the we live in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world (VUCA) which means that trying to remain open to multiple scenarios and withholding judgment is biologically challenging.  We crave certainty because we want to avoid the psychological and emotional “pain” that comes with not knowing but, oftentimes, “knowing” is a false certainty.  We make connections that are not there and draw faulty conclusions because are addicted and need that “certainty fix”.

I believe we all need to continually extend our “threshold of uncertainty” and embrace the opportunity to play the “holy fool” from time to time. Richard Cecil  provides a great closing comment for us on this topic…“The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Adaptation, Complexity, Decision Making, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking

What if?

We spend 95% of our time doing stuff.  Even when we think we are thinking about stuff we are actually thinking about doing stuff…and this is not really thinking, this is planning…there is a difference.

scrabble-what-if

With that in mind, take a minute and just think…”What if…”

  • you caught what you were chasing?
  • money no longer mattered?
  • no one was actually “holding you back”?
  • the people you thought were against actually didn’t even think about you that much?
  • the giants were actually windmills?
  • you decided to not let “it” get to you?
  • your boss wasn’t really a jerk but you were?
  • it’s your issue and not _____ (insert name here)
  • your kids acted just like you?
  • you decided not to argue with ________ (insert name here)
  • the power to make the changes you desired were inside you…and you still didn’t make them?
  • it all depended on you?
  • _______ (insert name here) died unexpectedly and you had not made the time to call or stop by?
  • retirement sucks?
  • they took it all away and you were still happy?
  • you never started that project you always wanted to do but never found the time?
  • you started being the person you thought you would be once you “made it”?
  • you acted “as if” _________ (fill in the blank)
  • no matter what _______ (insert name here) said or did to you, you displayed grace and forgiveness?
  • there is no tomorrow? (I bet you know what movie clip will play if you click on the link)

I know that it is easy to write this down and extremely hard to incorporate into your life.  I know because I struggle with it every day just like you.  That is also why I have a hard time with “self-help” books and gurus who tell you all you need to do is follow their 10 step plan and you too achieve everything you ever wanted.

There is a huge chasm between thinking and doing and sometimes that distance looks so vast we are able to console ourselves because “we would never make it” and just continuing to do as we had always done is “safer”.  We are also correct that it is safer and much, much easier to stay continue to act as we have always acted and not entertain “What if…?”

Several months ago I was having coffee with good friend and he was telling me about some challenges he was having.  Now this conversation had been the same one…more or less… for the past 6-7 months.  He is a very bright guy and was always talking about strategy and planning and would say things like…”once this happens…” or “as soon as I…” then I can get things going.  I just nodded my head and stroked my beard as he continued to talked (my own way of focusing my attention on the other person).  At one point, he stopped and I just continued to think about all he has said without saying anything.  He looked at my for a minute and then asked me what I thought.  I then posed  the following question to him – “What if you started doing stuff instead of talking about stuff?  He just stared at me for a few minutes as he thought about the question.  Finally, he said – “I guess stuff would get done and I would actually see some results.”  At that point there was no much more to talk about.

(Read what Seth Godin has to say about this idea here…)

Here is all I can offer.  The next time you are in a situation and falling into your normal behavior/response/activity do the following:

  1. Stop and think “What if I…kept my mouth shut/spoke up/was nice/walked away/helped out/didn’t gripe about it/made that phone call/expressed gratitude/committed to ______ (insert your own answer here)
  2. Immediately reach out to someone close to you and share the experience with them and tell them what new action you are going to take and ask them to hold you accountable
  3. Do it
  4. Enjoy the feeling of being the person other people think about being…

Final thought:  What is Hale, Gandhi, and Fuller were right?

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”   ― Edward Everett Hale

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”      ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person. ”     ― R. Buckminster Fuller

Leave a comment

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

What are you prepared to do?

Please do not read this post if you are easily offended by NSFW language.  I am not trying to alienate or offend anyone but believe there is value in word choice.  I also apologize to my Mrs. Finke, my high school biology teacher, who always said that “cursing was a sign of a weak vocabulary”.

There is a scene in “The Untouchables” when Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is asking Jim Malone (Sean Connery) how to “get” Al Capone.  They are sitting in a church and Malone’s response is, “What are you prepared to do?”  (You can watch the clip if you click here)

 This is the most essential and vital question we can ask ourselves in context of our goals because the answer then impacts and drives (in theory at least) our daily activities.  I believe that the answer to this question is really what prevents many of us from reaching our goals because we are not honest with ourselves from the start.  

It is at this point that I diverge from most folks who discuss this issue.  There is no judgement involved in this for/from me.  My only goal is to empower you to be honest with yourself as to what you are willing to commit to as you begin to think about your dreams, aspirations, goals, or whatever you would like to call them.  Dreams and goals are easy because they do not cost us anything.  In fact, they are more harmful really because our failure to achieve them feeds the gremlins who told us we aren’t worthy, don’t deserve it, or whatever other head trash you might have.  In fact, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, wrote a great treatise on “Whey big goals are for losers” that I would recommend checking out.

The challenge is to get excited about the “work”…the tactical steps that will be required each day to make that goal a reality.  This is the sticking point for us because the day to day things we have to do aren’t fun or exciting.  I think the biggest issue for us is that the small stuff doesn’t generate enough positive reinforcement from others.  No one is there congratulating us or patting us on the back when we perform some mundane, yet essential, tasks that will eventually lead to the achievement of a meaningful goal.  So here is where the NSFW piece comes in.  I saw this graphic the other day and have since printed it off and have it sitting on my desk.  We all have to find something that resonates with us and this really nailed it for me because I think we like to overcomplicate things.  We want to create these elaborate and complex plans to make it appear that what we are doing is challenging.  In reality, it really isn’t…it is really as easy as this…

 

writethatshitdown

I can think of no better way to close this out than to offer this benediction (using the term very loosely)…

“Remember this lesson. History does not teach fatalism. There are moments when the will of a handful of free men breaks through determinism and opens up new roads. People get the history they deserve.”  – Charles de Gaulle

What history will you deserve?

Leave a comment

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

Unknowing is not easy

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

As you probably know, this is the statement that Morpheus makes to Neo during their first conversation in “The Matrix”.  Did you also know that you may have this conversation with yourself many times a day?  The power to choose is available to all but not all accept the responsibility.

My goal is to be descriptive and not prescriptive so here are some interesting resources that you can choose to investigate (red pill) or ignore (blue pill)…the choice is yours.

  • Locus of Control (this sums it up)
    locus-of-control

 

 

 

 

 

 

You now bear the burden of “knowing”and you can’t go back, no matter how challenging it might be. It can be overwhelming to acknowledge that you can change your own behavior and, in turn, change other’s as well.  We all operate in the same complex adaptive system so that means that every “agent’s” action causes ripples in the ecosystem and we never really know how others will react because we are not in control (that is whole other post in itself).

So which pill will it be?

matrixbluepillredpill

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Decision Making, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Writing with your wrong hand

When is the last time you learned something new?  

When is the last time you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation in order to gather new skills or stretch your comfort zone?

When is the last time you changed your mind about something and took a different stance because of new knowledge?

learning-008-2

 

Chances are, for many of us, it may have been days, months, or even (“gulp”) years since any of these things have happened and that does not bode well for our future. As we progress through our lives we tend to develop a “very particular set of skills” (just like Liam Neeson) and the more we use those skills, the less time we spend developing new ones.  This is not necessarily a bad thing unless we begin to rely so heavily on those skills that we cease to understand the value in challenging ourselves and why it is important for our overall mental and physical health.

Contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks if the old dog (insert your name here) is willing and able. In fact, Daniel Honan wrote “Neuroplasticity: You Can Teach An Old Brain New Tricks” about the work of Dr. Dennis Charney  and there are some pretty amazing insights in regards to the impact that exercising your brain can have on you physically as well as on your overall well-being.  In fact, he asserts that the brain orders the body to make the necessary changes to suit its needs. I was quite fascinated with the story about the London cabbies and how they have an enlarged hippocampus which holds spatial representation capacity which they would use for navigation.

The challenge is that it does get harder to engage this plasticity as we age and if you want to read more about that here is “Neuroplasticity: The 10 Fundamentals Of Rewiring Your Brain”. In fact, Dr. Sarah McKay offers this summation in Neuroplasticity:  can you rewire your brain”“Plasticity dials back ‘ON’ in adulthood when specific conditions that enable or trigger plasticity are met. ‘What recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the power of brain plasticity can help adults minds grow. Although certain brain machinery tends to decline with age, there are steps people can take to tap into plasticity and reinvigorate that machinery,’ explains Merzenich. These circumstances include focused attention, determination, hard work and maintaining overall brain health.” 

If that is not enough, there is the argument that learning actually leads to folks being happier.  Philip Moeller provides a compelling case as to  why everyone over the age of 40 should be focused on their personal learning & development.  In his article, “Why learning leads to happiness”he discusses “flow,” a name coined 30 years ago by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and how it can lead to an autotelic state. (see Csikszentmihalyi’s Ted talk here).  He also points out that doctors are heading down the path of connecting continual learning as a potential method of staving of Alzheimer’s.

I believe there is also an emotional component as to why we tend to shy away from learning as we age and that is because the older we get, the less we embrace failure of any sort.  I think we develop a fairly fragile image of ourselves in terms of what we “do” and “don’t do” and embrace one and shun the other.  Not because we can’t  or don’t want to do it but because we don’t want to be in the position of failing when we try.  We tend to overvalue things like strength, confidence,  & being “right”. We avoid failure at all costs and you rarely hear anyone touting how many mistakes they’ve made.  The irony with this is that innovation and growth requires failure because we cannot learn without acknowledging our own ignorance. 

I am left handed and many times in my life, I have been forced to do things with my right hand because there was not another option.  Simple things like using a pair of scissors could pose a challenge as they are made for right-handed folks.  Early on I became accustomed to being put into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations and am sure that was part of the reason I have sought out new and interesting opportunities throughout my life…or it could just be I am not that bright and am willing to move from failure to failure without losing my enthusiasm.  I guess the motivating force is not that important because I like the outcomes.

For all you right-handers out there…pick up the pen in the “wrong” hand and give it a go!

Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life