Archive - March, 2016

Hardest to see

Empathy begins when we we discover blindspots. Our relationships break free of limits when, observed, we decide to set aside assumptions, our own bias, our realities and realize….the other person does not experience any of these like we do.

David Foster Wallace said “The most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

We all known those individuals that are like as the saying goes “a bull in a china shop” when it comes to relating to others. But none one of us are relating perfectly.

Our days are spent navigating dangerous and shifting worlds. We easily become obsessed with surviving the next conversation.

What do I say next? How should I react to what they just said? Should I be offended? Wait, was that a compliment? Should I make the pitch or wait a little longer? Do I get to tell my story now?

Do you see the 2nd conversation going on there? We all do it. We end up in an alternate dialogue….with ourselves.

What is the hardest thing for you to see. Stop and choose to discover it. When found, make the change.

I bet the next conversation will be radically different.

A nod to my friend Brian Solis is deserved for my discovery of Wallace’s quote. I found it via his recent book. X:The Experience When Business Meets Discovery.

You are doing what?!

“We have never done that before” our director told us after our first interview and learning we wanted to go over seas with our family of 4. They sent their first family last year in the ten years sending people to work as english university professors overseas. That family had a three year old, not two young teen children like us. The university dean was excited about the prospect of having us too.

So will it work? We sure hope so. Will there be surprises? You bet. Will it be one of the biggest leadership challenge we have ever experienced? Indeed.

The kids are excited. We are excited. We feel in over our head and wildly unprepared.

We would not have it any other way.

Over the next month some of my daily posts (including this one) will be assignments from a leadership class I am taking from Seth Godin.

Moving forward

We had been waiting for about two hours. An eleven hour drive remained between us and our homes. Really we were at the mercy of the convention center union dock workers and before that the desk and marshaling yard receptionist. It was the end of a long week at the Game Developers Conference. Everything had gone better than we had hoped but now we just wanted to be home. The rest of the team had already flown out the day before leaving our skeleton crew to drive our booth back home. But first we had to wait for them to let us pick everything up.

Chris, our CEO and my co-founder looked at me and with his familiar sideways smile and said. “Let’s just show up. What is the worst they could do to us?” And off we went to the convention center in hopes we would be allowed to pick up our materials and get out of San Francisco. This kind of decision making is pretty easy and normal for Chris. It is still pretty new for me though. A leader often has to make decisions on the fly, break rules and push past limits. I am getting better at it but it still feels risky.

Early that week I had to make at least three or four decisions with one thousand dollar or more prices attached to them. In the past I would have flinched. Often my hesitation has resulted in missed opportunities or worse yet a reputation for doubting my own instincts. But with experience comes confidence. So when the decisions came up it was easy to say yes.

As a leaders, people are looking to us to make the harder decisions. Freezing even with the smallest decisions can cost us. Do we know exactly what to do in every situation? Of course we don’t. They key is to see that every decision leads to many more and often if we don’t make one the whole plan begins to fall apart. And it keeps us in motion.

About six hours into our journey home we received a phone call from the shipping yard receptionist. They were now ready for us to pick up our materials. Chris looked at me with that same smile. Thank goodness we had broken the rules.

One final push

It is the end of a hard day. Maybe the worst kind. Maybe it is a Monday.

All you want it a glass of your favorite beverage and Netflix.

Being with anyone feels like too much.

Isolation is the draw. “I need to re-charge” is the appeal.

Introverts, extroverts and all those in-between, we all have that level where we just can’t take anymore. We need to pull away.

But then the invitation comes in or we see the event we forgot about on our calendar.

We have great excuses to not engage, attend, say yes.

Admit it, all of us have been there. And everyday being inundated by inputs, news and overcommitment only adds to the draw to remove ourselves from social settings.

What if we did that final push. Instead of isolating, we went out and connected?

In cultures throughout the world the evening scene is commonly that of people coming together. City squares, restaurants, plazas, streets, courtyards all become bustling places where people come together.

The outcome? We come away connected. We smile and laugh. We share a story or two.

That one final push was well worth it.

If you were paying attention

Here is a connection assignment.

Before your next meeting, date, coffee with a friend or family gathering, do one thing.

Take your phone and put it in your glove box. Don’t have a car? Place it in your purse, bag or backpack on silent mode. Then resist taking it out till you leave.

My wife recently pointed out how many of her students use their phones as a rescue device or a crutch in social settings.

Adults do it too.

“But it is how we communicate today” is the response I get all the time. Really? It is not the way you speak with the person right in front of you.

If you need to take notes, grab a notepad or journal.

Need to take a photo? Why? (seriously, I bet someone else there has a camera. Ask them to snap a pic.)

Will it be tough? I bet it will be. Stick it out. For some of you it will be the first time you have looked someone in the eyes and listened without the distraction of so many other inputs.

Need a refresher? Learn to listen all over again.

For a great refresher on how to have a good conversation watch Celeste Headlee:10 ways to have a better conversation

Too many signs

We have all experienced this. We walk into the vacation rental, business or classroom and are met with a barrage of instructional signs. Signs are posted in the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom doors.

We have plenty to learn, as the new member in the club, stable, office, classroom, time share or rental.

As the leader we have plenty to teach or convey to the newcomer.

The problem with making a sign instead of good communication is that signs can become another way of yelling. They also get ignored. After a while people become sign blind.

Signs are also the lazy way to get our point across.

Good communication is hard. It takes time. We have to invest.

We have to first express what we need to communicate and then check back in to make sure it was understood. We may even have to redirect, reiterate, and do it all over again. It will take creativity.

And here is a truly radical idea. Make a list of all the rules, regulations, steps, tips and things that must be understood and followed. Next make a list of the ones no one seems to get. Now cut those. Eliminate them.

Maybe they were not working because they were bad rules in the first place.

What will you do?

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest. Mark Twain

Why do you think Twain mentioned the reactions of others when writing about doing the right thing?

I think it is because our actions have so much to do with our connection to others. Rarely do we act in a bubble.

Every day we have dozens if not hundreds of opportunities to practice Twains urging.

Every text, email, tweet, comment, like, transaction, and conversation is a testing ground. What will you do? And if we screwed up yesterday we get a do-over today.

Using inputs

Like any input, words have influence on us and others.

Sailors are skilled at using the winds and currents to help move them forward through the water in their intended direction. A fighter is trained to use the energy of an opponent to form and deliver their next blow. In both examples the result is forward motion.

While we do control much of what we encounter in a day there are inputs that we can’t avoid.

Instead of letting them derail, incite or panic us, like the sailor or fighter we can see them as opportunities to make our next move. The insult can be seed for a new story or helpful reflection on how we may have delivered a similar blow the day before. The worrisome word from a frenzied co-worker can remind us how we used to fear the next memo but now instead deflect them or better yet only allow email to influence us twice a day instead of every minute.

Cultural anti-chameleons

Chameleons are cool in nature. They are the best at hiding, blending in and avoiding attention. But you are not a chameleon. We are called to stand out. Hiding to avoid being seen is the opposite of giving the world your art. The clique might be the safest way to survive high school but they will eventually hold you back, kill your heart.

Every generation has the crowd that says “you have to wear this or say that” to fit in. But every generation also has those who say “no, I won’t”, the rebels that, against the crowd, decide to have a voice. They are the writers, thinkers and innovators we revere today. They are the ones who stood up against the tyranny of their day. Often what they stood up against or what they said yes to was subtle.

So as artist Hugh Macleod says, avoid the water cooler crowd. Stand out, stand up, shout, make a ruckus, turn a table over (it is a great week for that by the way), interrupt the bully, paint, hit publish and love radically.

Be a cultural anti-chameleon.

Inputs re-visited

Every hour of every day we are bombarded with inputs. News, media, updates from friends and strangers, good news bad news.

We control two things; our inputs and our reactions.

Keeping a check on inputs helps to manage the flood that demands us to ask the first question. What is real?

Take for example the news. How violent is our daily world, really? How much do I need to be concerned about the stock market going up or down? These are all questions that rise to the top if we allow the inputs in the first place. Less inputs equals less to deal with.

Second is our reactions. When we have a healthy perspective we can choose what to react to and what to ignore. If you are spending your time reacting to comments and haters, maybe we need to reduce the inputs.

Most of all choose. Choose the inputs. Choose the reactions. Choose to have an honest conversation about how much time you have and how you want to spend it.

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