The Story We Tell Ourselves

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

This series on situational awareness is principally about how we learn to relate to people in situations outside of our comfort zone.

To do this we need something more than tactics for making conversation. We need to be able to know who we are, what matters to us, and why.

What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more.

Another way of understanding this story is as a foundation, a platform, upon which we stand, while everything whirls around us. It is the story of our inner strength and commitments in the context of the external world.

It is not necessarily a story that I will tell people. This story is private, not public. It isn't a branding or a promotional story. It is, rather, a story of the values that matter to us, that we are unwilling to negotiate away by our accommodation to others. It is the story that enables us to walk into any situation and not feel compromised.

In this post, I'm going to describe two ways to create this story. One way out of reflection on who we are and what we want. The other through a more analytical approach using the Circle of Impact. 

Let's start with the first method which creates the story by looking at a couple of  scenarios.

Seeing the Situation

For example, when you go on vacation, what do you want to gain from it. Are you like some of us who enjoy adventure and discovery, or, like others, seek to be quiet and still. What appeals to you here is a part of your story.

I know folks who love going to the beach. They love sitting in a chair at the beach, reading a book, watching the waves come ashore, and then going out for a seafood dinner at night. They don't enjoy a manic schedule of biking, card playing and trips to the outlet malls. They have come for peace and quiet.

In this instance, that is their story. As a result, they need to be honest with their family members who love an action oriented vacation. That is the story which they tell themselves.

As a result, both types of vacationers need to be honest and respectful of the other. Both have to give in a bit, let the other have their approach, and plan to join them for some of the time that they enjoy, whether quietly on the beach or riding a jet ski jumping waves.

Here's another scenario. You are invited to a business after hours networking social event by a friend in your industry. You've never been to one of these meet-n-greet things. You don't really know what to expect. You are meeting your friend there. As you walk in the door, he texts you to say that he is running late, and will be there in 15 minutes. What do you?

The story you tell yourself, about who you are and what matters to you, guides your response in this awkward situation. You can stand outside and wait for him. Or, you can go in, register at the door, get your name tag, get something to drink, and stand near the front waiting for your friend. Or, you can immediately begin to introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are somewhat shy, this may take some effort. However, I believe, what you will find is that many of the people in the room are experiencing the same uncomfortableness.

If being uncomfortable in social settings is the story you tell yourself, then you will be. If, on the other hand, the story you tell yourself is

"I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to listen, and learn, and make one new contact with whom I'll schedule a follow up meeting."

In effect, the story is a plan of action which sets specific boundaries, and is focused on one goal. Once there, and the goal is met, then, a release of pressure will be felt, and our story changes.

This shyness thing used to be me. Those of you who know me personally may find that hard to believe. But it is true. The story I told myself in those days was

"What do I say? How do I start? What if I look weak and silly?"

It took time but the story I told myself changed. I began to walk into those situations looking for someone whom I could befriend. I would not go to a mingling of 3 or 4 people, but to the person who was standing by themselves. I'd introduce myself, and just start asking questions. Each question was not planned other than the initial one,

"So, what do you do? How do you spend your days?"

After they told, me, I'd ask a question about that thing. If they said,

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

Then they say, something, and then I asked, something like.

"How do your new customers find you?"

Or,

"What is generally the first question people ask you when they come to you for insurance?"

My story shifted from being about my fear to about my curiousity and interest in the other person. The rapport that comes from asking questions is the kind that builds trust, at least when the questions are kind and respectful. Now, I am not afraid to meet any person regardless of who they are.

Another Approach

The story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but about who we are. If your sense of identity is murky, then the story you tell yourself will be too. As a result, it may then be helpful to take a more analytical approach to developing your story. My Circle of Impact model can be a help.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

To develop the story that we tell ourselves, we don't start with the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Instead, we work from the Four Connecting Ideas - Values, Purpose, Impact and Vision. Let's take them one at a time.

Think of this discovery process as a conversation between us right now over coffee or dinner. Just the two of us talking. We aren't looking for the perfect answer, but an honest, beginning point of understanding. We've just met, and I'm just asking questions because I'm curious, not nosey, just interested getting to know you.

Values:

I ask:

"If you didn't have to work for a living, and you had access to all the financial resources you would need, how would you spend your days, and why?"

"What do you think are the values that are important to you in doing those things? Do you think those values define you more than any other? Do they please you, make you smile, get you excited about the day ahead?"

In discovering the values that matter to us, we are identifying the foundation upon which we have built our lives. These values help us to establish the boundaries that guide us. If this is new to us, then we may have to live into this awareness. These values may not be evident, active or relevant at a particular moment, with some people, and then, some comment, triggers in us an awareness. This is how we grow into the values that matter. We try many, discard many, from our emotional investment in them, and then come to realize what is truly important to us.

These are the values that tell us who we are, and are the ones we want to have always present. I have five of these values, and I'm looking for them in every thing that I do. I, personally, have decided that if three of the five are not present in the opportunity before me, that I'll not participate. Knowing the values that guide and give meaning to our lives is a way of saying No to situations that are not supportive of the values that are important to us. This is why knowing what our core values are is so critical to being able to walk into any situation and function well.

Purpose:

I ask:

"How do you spend your days? How did you end up doing this kind of work? Does it give you a sense of purpose, a sense that you are making a contribution?"

The conventional thought is that we all have a singular purpose for our lives. I find that very limiting. Instead, I see purpose as an intentional focus on applying our values in a specific way in the situation that presents itself to us. Here's how this could work.

One of my values is integrity. It is so that I don't live with regret or fear, or, even the sense that I've compromised by values to accomodate some person or situation. The purpose of integrity beyond that is to provide me a basis of relating to every person from the same position of respect towards them. My purpose, then, in social situations is to act with respect, by listening, being honest and truthful, without being beligerent. The purpose of my integrity is to establish a basis of friendship that is open, mutual and filled with opportunity for shared work and contribution.

Purpose is a way of translating the values that matter to us into action. While our values may become clearer and more specific over time, they rarely change in any radical sense. Our purpose, however, can and should change. For purpose is the mechanism for focusing our values in the situation that is before us right now. Even if we are talking about our purpose as sort of a life mission, it still is subject to change. With our values as a foundation, we live out a purpose in an adaptive manner to fit the time and place in which we live.

While our purpose is about what we do in acting upon our values, it is also about the effect that we want to have.

Impact:

I ask:

"Tell me what difference you think your work makes? Why is it important? Who is impacted by what you do? What do they tell you?"

The way our world works is by an exchange of products or services by an agreed upon price. Money is the most tangible medium of measure we have. It is simple, straightforward, and for that reason obscures many of the signs of value that actually exist, yet we never really see.

To look at the difference a person makes, we have to look at what our expectations are, right now. This requires us, on both sides of a relationship, to have an idea of what we want, or, what our purpose is. If we can define our purpose, not as what I do, but rather the difference I want to make, then my story takes on a very different feel.

Let's return to our business after hours event. In that room, our purpose is what? Is it to meet people? Or, is it something more. Is it primarily about "my" interests or about the other person's?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliott Powell told me years ago about her strategy for after-hours business events. Her focus was to go, meet people, and leave as soon as she had three follow-up meetings with new contacts. She would go to alot of these events, and built up a substantial client list through that focused approach to business relationship building. She's one of the best I know at this. I found her approach incredibly helpful, and focused on the purpose of the event, which is to initiate new business relationships. Then she works her "magic", she's really good, in the interaction she has with people within the context of their business.

When the story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but what we create, the difference that we make, about the relationships that we form, then we approach everything with a different level of confidence. If we measure our lives by our activity level, then we never really see clearly the outcome of that activity.

Measuring by activity comes out of the old factory production model focus. The most tangible measure of that work was the paycheck. Measuring by impact is a change model focus. One is repetitive. Let's see how many events I can go to this month. The other is a creative relationship with people where together we learn to make a difference. How many relationships do you have right now that if asked they would say, "She makes a real difference in my work." And, then be able to describe precisely what that impact is.

The Four Connecting Ideas are not isolated from one another, but, are interconnected as a way to understand how things can fit together in our life and work. To be able to see the impact of our values and purpose in real life, then our perspective changes, and our story does too. It opens up possibilities that may have been present, but were hidden behind the production measure mindset.

Vision:

I ask:

"Where do you see yourself in a year? What's your plan for today?"

The vision we need is not some grand, epic adventure into the future. Instead, our vision is our story lived out in real time, right now. It is the story we tell ourselves every day that enables us to make decisions. In the context of the Circle of Impact, it is about people, and the organizational structures in which we live and work. Our vision emerges and is lived out every day through the story we tell ourselves.

A vision then is simply what I do and the decisions I make, based upon my values and my sense of purpose for this particular moment, all through a deep desire for impact, with the people that I work with and encounter everyday.

The story we tell ourselves is a guide in the unexplored land of today. It helps us to know the boundaries that will both protect us from the unwanted compromise of our values, as well as, opening us up to the possibilities in every human relationship and situation.

When we find the story we tell ourselves, and, we grow into it, it ceases to be a story "out-there" that we tell myself. We become the story. We become the living embodiment of the values, the purpose, the difference and the vision for being an authentic person regardless of where we are and with whom we are with.

The story that we tell ourselves is the secret to being situationally aware. If you are a person who finds him or herself overwhelmed by circumstances, people and change, then you need a story which helps you live in those moments that are threatening and uncomfortable. 

Where do you begin to write your story. Here are two suggestions.

1. Think of the situations where you are most comfortable. What are the values at work in those situations that you'd like to see in those uncomfortable situations.

2. Write a three sentence introduction of yourself that describes the person you believe you actually are. This is not what other people think of you, but you at your strongest, most impactful, most free and at peace self. Write it down, carry it with you, and edit it until you've found the story you really want to tell yourself. Then toss it away, and let your story unfold.

It all starts with personal initiative. One step. Then another. And another. If you need to share your story with someone outside of your world, send it to me. I'll not critique, but will ask questions to clarify, so you can be clear. Then you can go live the story you tell yourself.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves


The Benefits of Adaptive Learning

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The other day, I stopped by to see a friend and colleague. On his desk was one of the best leadership books of the past decade, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. It is stellar description for leadership of the importance of the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptation is a key skill for leaders who are managing change, while at the same time creating stable, sustainable enterprises.

Peter Mello and I had the opportunity to interview Marty Linsky on the book for two Weekly Leader podcasts, Part 1 and Part 2. It is worth hearing Linsky talk about the book and his work with Ron Heifetz.

Sitting there with this friend in his office, talking about leadership, how we deal with people in various situations, I came to a realization about myself, and about adaptive leadership.

In order to be an adaptive leader, we must be an adaptive learners.

I  realized, then, that virtually everything I know, I learned from someone else.

It wasn't like a being student in a classroom learning from a teacher. Rather, it was learning by listening and observing to the lessons embedded in a person's perceptions and experience.

Listening and Observing - keys to being an adaptive learner.

Informational or Contextual?

There is no way I can tell you what I have learned from any particular individual. It isn't that type of learning.

It isn't informational learning.

Rather it is contextual learning. Learning from the context of a person is learning to see how ideas matter within a certain distinct situation.

It isn't abstract, or detached from experience. Rather, it is how an idea that transitions from the idea itself to something practical and real, that's applied in a particular situation.

The use of values in an organization is an example.

There are two types of values.

There are the ones that are on a list that the company claims are their values.

Then, there are the ones that actually are practiced by the people in the company.

These two sets of values are not always the same, congruent or even aligned.  Depending upon different conditions, the same understanding of value will have a different application in an organization.

Company A espouses to be an open, transparent organization placing a high value on communication. Company B makes the same claim. The difference is in their context.

Company A is physically structured so that executives are separated into their own discrete offices. Communication is mediated by administrative assistants, and written information distributed throughout the company. If you want to speak to V.P. Joe, you go through his assistant Mary, or look at the latest memo.

Company B is physically structured around an open space concept. My friend Dana Leman of RandomKid share with me her experience of touring the Bloomberg offices in New York. She sent me a link ot a video tour of their offices. Regardless of your position, your office is in the midst of this open concept. The benefit is a greater exchange of ideas.

So, two companies can claim allegiance to the same values, but their application of those values be totally different. To understand the difference is to understand how to these insights and apply them in your own context.

Through my conversation with Dana, my perception of how to organize office space is different.

This is how adaptive learning happens. We listen for insights for applying ideas in various contexts. The more we learn from others the clearer our own understanding becomes, and how we can be adaptive leaders.

This kind of understanding is tacit and intuitive. It isn't an understanding derived from an analytical process. Rather, our brains synthetically weave together many thoughts, impressions, experiences, and feelings to provide understanding. The more this emergent awareness is allowed to take place the greater the capacity for adaptive leadership.

Adaptive leadership is a shift away from the old command-and-control method.

It requires openness to other people, their ideas, their experiences and an appreciation of their particular context.  The easiest way to begin to learn this kind of adaptive behavior is simply to listen and apply the good ideas that you hear each day. 

The Difference Adaptive Learning has made to me.

Sitting in my friend's office, I came to realize that adaptive learning had been my practice for over 30 years.

Listen and learn from people, whomever you meet, you can learn something from them.

Listen to them, ask questions to clarify what their experience was. Listen without trying to compete. Listen to learn.

Take what is heard and seen, then, reflect, process and apply what you learned.

Share what you learned with others. Express gratitude.  

This is how the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides came to be developed. Circle of Impact
From lots of conversations over the years, about what was happening in organizations, each one contributing a little piece of wisdom and understanding, creating a holistic perspective, I learned what I was suppose to see in leadership. In effect, these are not my ideas, but rather my catalog of what I've learned from other people. These lessons have wide applicability because this is the product of contextual learning, not simply the exchange of information.

The benefits of adaptive learning are many.  Here's what I've learned.

1. We learn that Ideas matter.

They are the key to understanding where we are and how we can adapt to the changes that are constantly confronting us. They connect us to people. They are tools for being more effective communicators. All learning at the most fundamental level is about ideas. Without ideas, we are left only with feelings. As a result, adaptive leaders must also be idea people who are interested in the ideas of others, not just in what they are thinking.

2. We learn that Relationships matter.

When we place ourselves in a position to learn from every person with whom we meet, every single one, we come to understand how our interaction within a social context is where the action of organizations is found. The greater our capacity for forming adaptive learning relationships, the greater our capacity to develop the adaptive capacities of employees.  Those adaptive capacities provide employees the opportunity to lead from their own specific work context. This is part of what I mean by the idea, Community of Leaders.

3. We learn that Structures are either tools for adaptive learning and leadership, or they are obstacles.

If the structure of a business does not provide a way for people to learn from one another, and to apply that learning, then it is stuck in a system of operation that is not sustainable. 

For many businesses, the structure of their organization is, seemingly, the only tangible, secure, stable, set, concrete, real thing that exists. It is a monument to the past, not a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.

4. We learn that learning matters more than knowing.

When our posture towards others is learning from them, we are less concerned about making sure they understand just how much we know.

It this is an issue for you, then practice asking questions about things you do not know. Read books in subject areas in which you have no background. Stop trying to reinforce you own knowledge, and start expanding it. Start listening for the wisdom and insight in others.

5. We learn that if we never stop learning, we also never arrive at a full and complete understanding of anything.

Adaptive learning isn't a tactic we deploy for a period of time to ramp up our current knowledge on a subject. Rather, adaptive learning is a lifestyle of openness to new ideas, fresh insights from people and a reflective approach to applying ideas by doing things differently one step at a time.

6. We learn that adaptive learning changes us so that adaptive leadership is possible.  

Adaptive learning simplifies the way we approach leadership. It becomes about the impact we need to have right now. The old way of strategic planning is having to change to become more adaptable. This approach produces leaders who are nimble, intuitive and able to take advantage of the changes that are constantly happening.To adapt is to change. To change in this way is to make a difference that matters, it is to create impact. Becoming impact focused simplifies leadership.

7. We learn that adaptive learning leads to adaptive leadership which leads ultimately to becoming a Community of Leaders.

An adaptive leader will be most effective in creating a culture of adaptive learning. To do so means that each person takes responsibility for their learning, their contributing and their responsibility to create impact. Adaptive learning starts with the personal decision to learn from others. This nurtures within the individual the personal intiiative from which all leadership originates.  It isn't just the individual initiating change. It is the whole organization as a community functioning as adaptive leaders.  This is what I see as a Community of Leaders.

Realizing that I have lived this way throughout my life, my gratitude grew towards the hundreds of people from whom I've learned. Many are no longer with us. Many have no idea of the impact that they have had on me. Many are friends who are my go-to-people for counsel when I need it. Many are random people whom I've met in passing whose stories and insight helped me gain a deeper appreciation of so many different ideas and ways of leading organizations. If you are one of these people, I thank you.


Seth's Difference That Matters

It was spring 1984. I was living and working in Atlanta. At the moment of awareness, I was sitting in a board meeting with about 40 people planning how to turn around a neighborhood of small businesses, old Atlanta residences, corporate offices and religious congregations. The Midtown area of downtown Atlanta had been declining during the 1960's and 70's as it was gathering place for drug deals, prostitution, strip bars and homelessness.

As I sat with these business people, corporate executives, developers, designers and artists, I saw what genuine leadership was. It is people with passion and commitment who are willing to do whatever is required to make a difference that matters. I knew then, that I wanted to be that kind of leader, and that leadership was going to be the focus of my professional life.

That moment of awareness began a continual process of study and exploration. Through all the reading and experimentation, I was never comfortable with what I found as the consensus view of leadership. It was far too much a matter of managing tasks rather than engagement with people. It seemed that leadership was nothing more than the tyranny of the efficient, rather than the excellence of the effective.

When I began my consulting practice in 1995, it wasn't because I had already figured it all out. Rather I started it to learn leadership from the ground up. I knew that leadership had to be focused on the relationship that leaders have with followers. I just didn’t understand how.

Then, in the spring of 2004 (if I remember correctly), twenty years after my initial initiation into the field of leadership, I saw this cereal box on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble. The book inside, Free Prize Inside, was by a marketing expert named Seth Godin. I bought it, and then, Purple Cow, and then free ebooks and manifestos. In Seth, was a writer who was different, provocative and had common sense. I began to think differently about my business, and began to see positive changes. I can date them to the time I began to read Seth’s work.

In 2008, Tribes was released, and, finally the leadership book that I had been looking for since 1984, was in print. The book brought affirmation and clarity to what I had been seeing for over three decades. And it is not an understatement to say that my life changed as a result.

Seth practices a type of leadership that I call, "leading by vacuum." This means that he stays focused on doing what he knows well, and lets others take the lead to do what they do best. The recent Linchpin MeetUp is a classic example of Seth’s influence. Float an idea, and people jump to implement it. They do so, not because they are ordered to or coerced, but because they want to do so. This is Seth’s kind of leadership. It is the kind that builds community and collaboration.

As a result of his approach, people across the globe have grown into being tribal leaders and Linchpins in their hometowns and businesses. The world is now filled with leaders who know that they are, and are motivated to make a difference that matters where they life and work.

Because of Seth, I now have friends around the world with whom I share a common vision for leadership, and a friendship that is supportive, trusting and caring.

Seth, I'm grateful for the work you have done, and the influence that you have had upon my life and work. Thank you and may you find peace in the difference you’ve made.

Happy Birthday, my friend. God bless.

In addition:

You can find additional celebrations of Seth Godin's 50th birthday here. The site where these celebrations are collected is the brain-child of Ben Love. He not only create a great way to honor Seth, but pull off an impossible task, while being willing to edit copy after it had been posted. Thank you, Ben for your Linchpin leadership.

And in typical Seth fashion, he diverts attention from his birthday to giving to Charity: Water. Do it if so led.


Banking on Cupcakes

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My friend, David Pu'u, writes about a dinner that ended with cupcakes.

At the end of our repast, someone mentioned cupcakes. We were full, but I remember thinking: What the heck, its only a cupcake, and ordered two, which we shared. Those cupcakes were unlike anything I have ever experienced or tasted. They exemplified an obvious flair for creativity and generosity in what would as a rule, be a mediocre at best, stab at the art of baking.

What the heck, its only ... you add the name or object.

It could be a phone call or a drive to the office or a report due tomorrow or your child's soccer game or dinner tonight with the family.

When we invest in believing that every moment can be an historic and life elevating one, then we approach the investment of ourselves in that moment differently.

Lately, my discussions with people and groups have centered around the following.

  • change in an unknown future
  • doing more with less
  • morale in the workplace
  • work-life balance,
  • the need for visionary leaders
  • the organizational shift from centralized to decentralized to interdependent leadership models.

Behind each of these discussions is a facet of human life that David is touching on in his post. He writes.

Those cupcakes said a lot to me about how our lives could work and what a world could be, if we found enthusiasm and creativity in our little segment of a daily existence that at times, for even the most creatively inspired, can wax mundane. We all go through it in family, work, sports, art: that “what is the point?” query.

Here is the point. When we engage our endeavors with creativity, and flair, and have it matter to us, it will make a difference somewhere down the line and matter to others. One never knows what results will spring from your diligence and attention to what is right in front of you in your life, at this exact instant.

I do find that people are asking "What's the point?", and asking it a lot.

They do not see that each moment is an investment in the next one, laying the groundwork for the next opportunity to make a difference.

Creating strength is like putting money in the bank. All the moments that seem "pointless" don't have to be.  It is a choice of perception. If we can develop the capacity to see the connections, then we can see the "point" in it all.

In reflecting on all those conversations noted above, I realize that much of what brings us down are the external realities of our lives. Business is hard. Our children are distracted and indifferent to the family's needs. My friends constantly complain about bosses, spouses, politics and the designated hitter rule. 

The reality is that we have very little control over the external realities. All we can truly control is ourselves. If you are dependent upon other people to give you the strength and support you need to deal with life, then you are squandering the investment that David writes about.

Puu-cupcake-cherry

Goodness and joy in life begins within us. We must decide that I will not allow circumstances to dictate how I feel about myself or life in general.

This is not the mind over matter sort of mental gymnastics or denial of reality dive into the pool of illusion.

It is instead a change in our orientation to life so that what we do is an expression of who we are inside.

If you take the attitude that I'm going to invest creatively in every thing I do, then regardless whether it produces something now or later, you are investing in a strength that will be there when even harder times come.  One of the products of this strength is happiness.

This is what the philosopher Aristotle means when he speaks about how we find happiness in life.

Is happiness something that can be learnt, or acquired by habituation, or cultivation in some other way, or does it come to us by a sort of divine dispensation, or even by chance? …

For, as we said above, happiness demands not only complete goodness but a complete life. In the course of life we encounter many reverses and all kinds of vicissitudes, and in old age even the most prosperous of men may be involved in great misfortunes, ...

And if, as we said, the quality of life is determined by its activities, no man who is truly happy can become miserable; because he will never do things that are hateful and mean. For we believe that the truly good and wise man bears all his fortunes with dignity, and always takes the most honorable course that circumstances permit; …

We are now in a position to define the happy man as ‘one who is active in accordance with complete virtue, and who is adequately furnished with external goods, and that not for some specified period but throughout a complete life’. And probably we should add ‘destined both to live in this way and to die accordingly’; because the future is obscure to us, and happiness we maintain to be an end in every way utterly final and complete. If this is so, then we shall describe those of the living who possess and will continue to possess the stated qualifications as supremely happy – but with human happiness. ...

Virtue, then, is of two kinds, intellectual and moral.  Intellectual virtue owes both its inception and its growth to instruction, and for this very reason needs time and experience. Moral goodness, on the other hand, is the result of habit, from which it has actually got its name, being a slight modification of the word ethos. This fact makes it obvious that none of the moral virtues is engendered in us by nature, since nothing that is what it is by nature can be made to behave differently by habituation. …

Again, of all those faculties with which nature endows us we first acquire the potentialities, and only later effect their actualization. … But the virtues we do acquire by first exercising them, just as happens in the arts. Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it: people become builders by building and instrumentalists by playing instruments. Similarly we become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate ones, brave by performing brave ones.

Nichomachean Ethics, Book I, ix,x; II,i

By practicing this investment in the moment every day, we gain the kind of virtuous, happy life that Aristotle writes about.

David is a professional photographer. His response to the cupcakes at dinner was more than simply a post on creativity. Instead it became a way to honor and thank his friend the chef for inspiring in him fresh creativity. He closes.

I took the confections home having thought about the subject, and inspired, shot cupcakes. Even had a little joke with my editor at Surfer, Jean Paul Van Swae about it (You won’t believe what I am doing JP!). The short of it is this, West’s passion for his business and love for his community birthed  something new, and my own homage to the source of my inspiration.

That is how we all ought to be, inspired by one another. I am constantly amazed by the bright lights in my life, and am convinced that without their illumination, contributions, enthusiasm and participation, that the world around me would be pretty freaking dark.

...

Go ahead, do it. I know you are stuffed.  But you will enjoy the results, and so will everybody else. Have a bite.

What should we see here? What's the point?

Inner strength, creativity and gratitude expressed in honor to others is how we deal with the hardships and challenges, and establish an environment of happiness that we can share with others.

If we look at all that we do as a way to create beauty, goodness and happiness, then we will see how to turn hard times into a time of strength and advancement.

As David showed in his story, each moment of our lives is worthy of our investment.

Bank on the cupcakes, and life will be sweet.

Photo credits: copyright©David Pu'u


Real Life Leadership: Showing Gratitude should be a Daily Practice

After a two month hiatus, my Real Life Leadership column is back and online.  This weeks' column - Showing gratitude should be a daily practice - is a message to people who have lost jobs during the recession. The most recent statistics show that unemployment is at 13.2 million people or 8.5% of the non-farm workforce.

I know a number of people who have lost their jobs. Each has taken the change as an opportunity to venture in new directions. Their ability to do this is partly do to an attitude of gratitude.

We each have a choice about how we handle adversity. We can feel self-pity, and become paralyzed from taking the actions we need to make,or we can pick ourselves off and get back in the game.

Precisely, what is an attitude of gratitude. Here are a few ways of understanding what I'm driving at.

1. Gratitude is appreciation for what you have, even if it is just a little.
My friend Meridith Elliott Powell told me about her trip to South Africa. She and her friend were doing mission work in one of the poorer districts of the country. She came home transformed by the people she met. As she recounted it to me, these people had nothing, yet they were happy, gracious people. She concluded that they had learned to appreciate whatever they had right now. They lived in the present, because the future didn't hold much hope for them. Appreciation for what we have helps to see that all that we have is a gift.

2. Gratitude is appreciation for people who matter to us. Recently, I realized the impact that my parents had had on me. Once when I was young, I took a pack of gum from the drug store. My father saw me chewing the gum in the back seat of our car as we drove home. Instead of flying off the handle, he turned the car around and took me to see the store manager. Any temptation toward shoplifting was squelched by my father's wise act. Several years later as a mischievious junior high school kid, a couple of friends and I were tossing firecrackers off a hill into the parking lot of a shopping center. My mistake we set the field where we were on fire, burning up a number of talk pine trees that bordered the parking of the center. We told the management of the grocery store, and then fled each to our homes. My mother's kind understanding of my embarassment, and recognition that I had learned a lesson show me what the nature of forgiveness and redemption truly means. Ironically, today, there is a fire station at the location of our brief pyromania career.  The wisdom of parents didn't hit me until I remembered these two incidents. I'm grateful for their kind treatment of their rebellious son.

3. Gratitude is appreciation for the opportunities in the past and the future.  When we lose our job, we are thrust into a situation of fear and ambiguity. We don't know what to do right away. So, we feel wronged, angry and victimized. It is important that we get over it as quickly as possible. Losing one's job may be the best gift one could receive. Being forced to look for a new job may just the impetus to start your own business or begin a whole new journey in your career. Appreciate the opportunities you have everyday, and make the most of them. Think that nothing is for certain or last forever, and remain open to new opportunities that come.

What do you appreciate? What are you grateful for? Sharing in the comments, or better join a group of us over at a social network site focused on the expression of gratitude called Say Thanks Every Day.


United 93

Just returned from watching United 93, the first film depicting the events of September 11, 2001.  It is not a dramatic film in the typical theatrical sense.  It is simply a depiction of what happened during those morning hours in September.  Some of the actors are people who are playing the roles that they had on that day. We watch as detached observers as events unfold. We know what will happen, but are unable to step in and help.

The action takes place on United flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, in the control rooms of the FAA, and in the NORAD air command center.

As the film ends, not a sound could be heard.  It is not a tear-jerker of a movie in the traditional sense.  It is a very sad, moving film.  It treats the victims with the respect that is due them.  We are placed in their context wondering how we would respond.  The image of men and women rising up out of their seats to charge the terrorists will give others the courage to do the same if ever, God forbid, it comes to that again.

Whether the impression is intended, though I suspect it is, I left with two other reactions.  One is that really poor communication and coordination between government agencies didn’t begin with Katrina. It is a system lost in internal process without clarity about outcomes. 

Two, that our divisive, self-interested political culture increases the prospects that terrorism will succeed. Why, because while politicians work to pad their campaign money chests with lobbyist money, the bureaucratic system of government cannot function in a state of crisis.

The lack of repeat terrorist attack within the bounds of our country should not bring comfort as long as the political establishment is a divide house about the war on terrorism.

What the film does not answer is why this happened, only that it did.  It does not caricature the terrorists.  They simply are who they are.  A diverse group of young Moslem men whose faith overcomes their own fear of death, to bring terror to our land.  The same can be said for the passengers on United 93. They are a diverse group who conquer their own fear of death when they realize that death is inevitable. There is a lesson in their example.

I know the retelling of this story is painful for those who lost family and friends on United 93, the other flights on 9/11, and at the Pentaton and the World Trade Center.  However, because this movie exists, it may provide a means of reminding ourselves of what happened so that we won’t bow to the petty power interests of the political elites who twist the story into being something that it is not.   

Go see it.  You will not be entertained.  You will leave saddened and a bit affirmed that even in a unresponsive bureaucratic culture human beings can join together to do what has to be done.  We see in the Katrina response, and we see it here, in United 93.  It is that very willingness of individuals to take initiative to do what's right that is the counter to the terrorist's commitment to bring death to our families and land.

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Googling Hero

Mrs Greyhawk of the milblog The Mudville Gazette  suggested that we Google "hero." 

What do you think you'll find?

Four websites: a off-shore oil company, a Chinese film, and a British research gateway, twice.

The Mudville Gazette's posting makes a very interesting point about the Mainstream Media's treatment of the soldiers in the war in Iraq.

Can the everyday American (who hasn't been exposed to milblogs) name a single Hero of this war? No. Why? Because in the MSM's eye's, the epitome of a hero is ...a sports figure.

How is it, the headlines are filled with the casualties of our warriors but having none honoring their heroism? They list them only as a veritable number. And if our warrior should so live thru a ferocious battle committing heroic deeds, they do not even get a mention of their valor.

He proceeds to provide descriptions of six heroes. Read them. Then compare them the heroes the MSM celebrates or at least invests print precious print and air time on. Read about them hold the words "Terrell Owens" and "steroids" in your mind.

 

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Customer Service is a two-way street

Tom Peters posts on a lesson he learned from former Texas Governor Ann Richards and applied in a particularly stressful situation regarding lost luggage.  He quotes Richards,

"Here's what she said (among many other things): "When you are facing a horrid service situation, which has you fit to kill, take a deep breath and remember, as, say, you approach an employee from the offending company, 'This woman [man] is the only person on earth who, at this moment, can help me—or not.'"

I have been aware for a long time that customer service is a relationship, not a business transaction.  And that the customer has as much an obligation to establish as mutually beneficial a relationship as the sales person does.

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Appreciation is Cool!!!

When one person's life or work touches another, we need to acknowledge it with appreciation.
Jeff Reed, the music director for the Bowling Green Chamber Orchestra( Ky) sent Seth Godin a note of thanks for helping his orchestra become a success.

Jeff does two things that further the conversation and the relationship.

1. He tells Seth how his thought has impacted the orchestra.

2.  He asks a question that attempts to further his application of Seth's ideas.

Read the story.  It is one that everyone could have if they would just apply the simple insights that Seth gives in each of his books.