Archive for the ‘Insider List’ Category
So, as is usually the case, the baby watch yielded a baby: Charlotte Autumn Van Carpels, born June 5th at 11:50am. Everybody’s happy and healthy (and, in Charlotte’s case, teeny and gorgeous). One thing I noticed, though, is that things didn’t happen quite the way we’d planned: Patrick wasn’t involved at all in the birth – he’d had to fly to Indianapolis two days before in response to a family emergency. So I picked up Hannah and she stayed with me overnight…and no one went to the birthing center except the new Mom and Dad since Charlotte decided to be born in record time. So I met Charlotte the next day (and had the joy of watching her big sister meet her for the first time, as well), and Patrick met her on Saturday.
Not exactly what we had in mind. And still: astonishing, joyful, miraculous.
Not limiting life to our measure…
I recently listened to someone complaining about his team. As his complaints unfolded, it sounded to me as though his team was actually pretty great: smart people, committed to doing good work, working hard to accomplish the objectives for which they were being held accountable. They were respectful of one another’s opinions and expertise, and they worked well together. No big interpersonal issues. Lots of success. At one point I said, “So the main thing that bugs you about your team is that they’re kind of serious.”
He stopped. “Yeah, well, I guess that’s it,” he said. “I just wish they were more fun; no one wants to hang after work, and there’s not a lot of laughing.”
How often do we overlook the 98% that’s great in a situation or in an outcome because we get obsessed about the 2% that wasn’t what we had in mind? Not even that the alternative 2% is worse – it’s just different. Not what we would have preferred or had planned for.
Here’s a challenge for you. Next time you find yourself irritated, disappointed or upset about something not turning out the way you’d hoped, stop and ask yourself these three questions: “Is this really worse than what I wanted?” “Is there any real reason I can’t be just as satisfied with this?” “Are the ways in which this might actually be better?”
Planning is a great thing, but a big part of the art of planning is being able to flex your plans to accommodate reality as it unfolds.
Till next time…
At my house this week, we’re on baby watch. Our daughter’s due date is tomorrow, and as soon as we get the call, we’ll leap into action: Patrick will call me, so I can make my apologies to whoever I’m meeting with and jump on the train – then he’ll go and get Hannah (our grand daughter), then pick me up at the train station and drop me off at the birthing center. They’ll go home and play (or sleep, depending on the hour) till I call them to let them know that Charlotte, Hannah’s new baby sister, has arrived and they can come and meet her!
It’s all well choreographed (my daughter is a very organized person), and we’ve done it before, so it doesn’t have that nerve-wracking first-time feeling.
But it’s still a miracle.
We think of miracles as once-in-a-lifetime things: the person struck by lightning who doesn’t die; the coin thrown up in the air that lands on its side. But when we limit our conception of miracles to these statistically improbably events, we fail to see the extraordinary in the everyday.
Redefining the miraculous…
One of the definitions for ‘miracle’ at Merriam-Webster is “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.” Having a baby may not seem unusual – but think of all that has to come to pass in order to make it happen. Think of the amazing and unlikely union of sperm and egg; then cells dividing and dividing again, millions of times, each fulfilling a designated role; the baby growing safe inside the mother’s body (that in itself astonishing) till – voila – 9 months later, a perfectly formed brand new human being arrives on the scene, starts to breath, opens his or her eyes…
And begins the miraculous journey toward becoming a speaking, walking, talking, feeling, creative person.
Just because something happens all the time, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a miracle. Let me say that more simply: common occurrences can be miraculous. And perhaps most importantly: we can appreciate them as such. The coming of spring each year; falling in love with someone who turns out to be perfectly suited to you; finding your professional passion and having the chance to work at it every day; doing or saying one thing that changes the course of another person’s life: these are all miraculous.
We can choose to put them into a “that happens all the time” category in our minds, turning them into boring commonalities not worthy of our attention, or we can see them as they truly are: Open our minds to noticing to the incredible complexity of factors necessary to even the most mundane event. Seeing the miraculous in the everyday gives you a very different experience of being alive. Each day seems chock-full of possibilities, happy confluences, wondrous outcomes. The world becomes richer, more three-dimensional.
And it’s up to you: you can see the world and your own life as ho-hum, business as usual, nothing special…or you can see the miraculous at every turn. The choice is yours.
Till next time…
“Good humor is the health of the soul, sadness is its poison.”
- Lord Chesterfield
My colleagues and I laugh a lot at work. I take this as one of the best signs of Proteus’ health as an organization. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but when people are uncomfortable with each other, or don’t trust each other, there’s generally not a lot of laughing going on (except for the forced, awkward, hah-hah-hah kind, and that doesn’t count).
As Lord Chesterfield noted almost 300 years ago, humor promotes health – physical, emotional, and mental. But laughing with (as opposed to at or about) others benefits your professional life, as well.
Humor makes things easier…
I wrote a post at Forbes a few weeks ago about humor, Want to Get a Promotion? Be Funnny, where I cited a statistic I found fascinating,“A Robert Half International survey…found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job.”
Those are pretty impressive percentages. So, what is it about humor that makes it so important to our success?
I think of humor as one of the primary lubricants of human interaction. That is, when you share a laugh with someone, everything seems a little easier. You feel more connected, more relaxed.
For instance, when a difficult situation arises, if you’re able to see the irony or the absurdity in it, and smile or laugh with others about it, you feel as though you’re in it together – rather than that you’re facing it alone.
If there’s a tense moment between you and someone, and one of you responds with humor (especially self-deprecating humor) rather than defensiveness or confrontation – it breaks the tension and provides an opening to come back to comfort and trust.
And when a team uses humor regularly, it communicates ease and affection – “we get each other and we like each other” – in a simple and consistent way. It makes all the members of the team more likely to feel that they can come to each other with questions or problems, and that they’ll get openness and support vs. stone-walling or “not my job.” Humor builds our confidence in and reliance on each other. In the words of Maya Angelou:
”I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”
― Maya Angelou
Till next time -
As you have probably figured out by now, I love language. I find the entire subject fascinating: as a writer, looking for exactly the right word or phrase to capture a particular idea or feeling; as a parent and grandparent observing and participating in the development of kids’ speech; as a language learner, reflecting on how different languages are constructed and how they embody and convey their culture; and as a student of human behavior, noticing how language is equally likely to be a source of clarity and a source of confusion.
I was just thinking about this today – how easy it is to misinterpret others’ words. It’s especially easy when one word or phrase can mean two very different things. A timely example:
May Day on May 1 is an ancient Northern Hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures.
Mayday is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in voice procedure radio communications. It derives from the French venez m’aider, meaning “come help me“.
Imagine the confusion that could result from the use of this simple phrase with a non-native English speaker – especially one who knew one of the meanings, but not the other!
That’s why it’s so important to communicate clearly – but perhaps even more important toget curious about how your communication is received. If you do that, you’ll be better able to ’unpack’ the misunderstanding to achieve real communication.
For example, here’s something I’ve seen many times over the years. A manager communicates a direction, and then doesn’t get the desired result. The most common response: say it again. This is a particular problem with managers who are smart and articulate – they almost always just repeat their message, trying to be a little smarter and more articulate.
But this is probably not going to help: it’s unlikely they didn’t hear you the first time, and it’s unlikely that simply saying it again is going to make a difference.
Instead, I suggest you get curious about how the person heard you, and then you can work to resolve the misunderstanding. The simplest way I’ve found to do this is just to ask the other person to share what they’ve understood. You don’t want to sound (or be) condescending, so it’s a good idea to “preview” your question by sharing why you’re asking it. Here’s how that might sound:
“When I said, ‘this as a real may day situation,’ I was surprised that you started putting together flower baskets. What’s your understanding of what I was saying?”
“I thought we were in agreement about the bonuses, but the memo that went out didn’t reflect what I thought we were going to do. What’s your understanding of our agreement?”
Getting curious about the other person’s understanding, when there’s been a disconnect, is not only the most efficient way to get back on the same page – it’s an eminently respectful and collaborative way to do it.
Have a great May Day (the flower basket kind)…
Till next time,
I notice that every year I write something about the coming of spring. Whether it’s in an Insider List (two years ago), at erikaandersen.com (last year) or Forbes (this week). At the same time, I notice I don’t write about the onset of other seasons.
It’s probably partly because the other seasons don’t have such specific indicators: so much of nature goes through enormous and obvious state changes in the space of a few weeks in the springtime. (After all, how do you know when winter is really starting – because it’s slightly colder than late fall?) But I also think it’s because I’m so attracted to all that spring represents.
Spring is the essence of all those great “re” words – renewal, rebirth, rejuvenation, renaissance, resilience, regeneration, restoration, recharging.
Spring is undeniable proof of the relentlessness of life. The transformation of naked gray branches and piles of rotted leaves into leafy bowers and carpets of wildflowers never fails to enchant me. It’s beautiful, but it’s also massively powerful. It reminds me of the strong biological imperative driving the whole world toward growing and thriving.
We have that in us, too – and it’s good to remember. Sometimes the forces driving in the opposite direction in our lives seem overwhelming; we all have days when it feels as though our personal winter will not end, when there’s no clear sightline to our “hoped-for future.”
But the human spirit – like spring – has a way of overcoming obstacles and bursting onto the scene. The best way I know to support my own inborn will to growth and evolution is to use my human powers of envisioning to remind myself of the future I hope to create, and then to manage my self-talk to support that intention.
To support you in your quest for your own personal “re,” here are a few articles I’ve written recently that I hope will provide both hope and practical guidance:
- Inviting inspiration
- 3 Simple Steps to Get Where You Want to Go
- How to Make It Through Personal Difficulty at Work
- If Something Happens All the Time, It Can Still Be A Miracle
Till next time,
We’ve discovered something truly amazing, here at Proteus. It turns out that every time someone has attended a Proteus training over the past 23 years, a reclusive multi-billionaire in Kuwait has deposited $10,000 US in a secret Proteus account in Switzerland – he said he likes what we’re doing. Today he sent us the account numbers and turned everything over to us. It also turns out that he set it up in such a way that the money is tax-free. Jeff and I are in the process of figuring out how to divide up the $250,000,000 currently in the account so that everyone at Proteus gets something…but it looks as though Jeff is going to buy a vineyard and retire to France, and I’m going to donate all my time helping Obama figure out how to fix the government.
Oh, also…April Fools.
No one seems to know the origins of April Fools Day, though there are lots of theories. But however it arose, I’ve always loved the idea that there’s one a day a year specifically dedicated to goofiness – playing silly pranks and trying to convince each other of outlandish things. (Google released a video today claiming that YouTube is going to be shut down tomorrow, after they choose “the best video in the world” from all the videos submitted to YouTube over the past eight years.)
I think the thing that appeals to me most about April Fools Day is the element of play. This weekend our grand-daughter Hannah stayed overnight with us while her parents went to a party and then had a night to themselves, and for the whole time she was with us, when she wasn’t sleeping, she was playing: inventing, imagining, creating, discussing, fooling, exploring, experimenting. It’s how she’s figuring out life on the planet.
And I often think that the main problem with most of us adults is a dearth of playtime. If we were to re-introduce the feeling and idea of play into our work and our relationships on a regular basis, I believe wonderful things would ensue. More laughter, more discovery, more trust and affection. Less needing to be correct and serious, more willingness to make mistakes and find out new things.
In short – more innovation and fun; less rigidity and obligation.
Here’s to foolishness!
Till next time,
I wrote a post about mastery at Forbes recently, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular aspect of mastery that involves going beyond your self-imposed limitations.
Then I had an interesting experience of this yesterday. I was at my stepdaughter’s bridal shower, and she had just opened one of our gifts to her, which was a shawl I had knitted for her to wear at the wedding reception. I had made it out of a very fine mohair yarn in a lace pattern with tiny beads knitted into it. As people passed it around to look at it, one woman said, “I knit, but I could never make something like this.” And I responded that it looked more complicated than it actually was, and that it hadn’t been that hard to make. She shook her head. “No,” she said, “I’m sure it was really difficult.” And again, “I could never do this.”
As I thought about it afterwards, I realized how often we limit ourselves in this way. Over the past week, I been in conversations with people who said each of the following things: “I’m a terrible manager,” “I’m not good at planning – it’s just not who I am,” “I’m the most disorganized person I know,” and “I don’t believe in happiness.”
Imagine what could happen if we turned those negative predictive announcements we make about ourselves into questions. For instance, what if all those people I spoke to this week had gotten curious about their potential capabilities, instead of dismissing them: What if the lady at the bridal shower had said, “I wonder if I could make something like this?” What if my friends and colleagues had shifted their statements to questions: “Could I be a good manager?” “Could it be that poor-at-planning isn’t part of who I am?” “How can I get more organized?” “I wonder if happiness is possible for me?”
Now, it might be that the answers to those questions turn out to reinforce their previous assumptions. It could be, for instance, that the lady at the shower actually doesn’t have the patience or the hand-eye coordination to become a skilled knitter, or that my anti-happiness client truly is not capable of being happy.
But if they don’t ask the question, they’ll never know. I think we all talk ourselves out of so much joy and accomplishment; let’s explore the possibilities instead.
I would love to hear examples from you of times you’ve done this: gone beyond your limitations to achieve mastery at something. You can just reply to this email -
Till next time,
I just got back from a really lovely vacation; for the past 4 years my dear husband has taken me to Jamaica for my birthday, and this year we stretched our normal week to ten days.
This time, I noticed that it took me a while to unwind. Generally speaking, I can get into vacation mode pretty quickly; last week it was a bit of a struggle. As I reflected, I came to believe that it was because the last year has been by far the busiest, most demanding of my career. Doing work most nights at home and doing at least some work every weekend had come to be normal for me over the course of the year. I was simply “revving higher” and so it took me longer to untangle from that and come to zero.
A Complete Re-boot…
But eventually, I did arrive at that zero point, and once again, I was reminded how important that is for my overall well-being…and for my effectiveness in every part of my life.
You know how sometimes your computer or your phone start acting strange and you have to just completely shut them down and start over again? I think we humans are like that, too.
Yesterday was my first day back at work, and I notice the impact of my re-boot. Nothing feels too difficult; I’m back to being interested in how everything is going. I just got off the phone with a client; talking through the agenda for his meeting next week felt fun and useful…and I know two weeks ago I would have been dragging through it, having to work hard to stay focused.
I’m excited to re-connect with my colleagues. I’m ready to re-focus on solving some thorny problems. I’m looking forward to moving ahead in a number of new areas.
Overall, I simply feel rested, refreshed and re-aligned: like my processors are all lined up and operating at peak efficiency. And that makes me feel capable, confident, content – happy to be back.
So next time you’re on vacation and you’re tempted to “kind of” work, I encourage you to take the opportunity to come fully to rest.
Your brain, your body and your heart will thank you…
Last week was pretty important in the history of Proteus. On Thursday and Friday, we had our first financial deep dive with our new CFO/COO, convened the inaugural meeting of the Proteus Design Council, and conducted a vision and strategy session for Proteus LATAM (Latin America).
Yesterday, Jeff and I had a debriefing call about all these meetings, and we agreed: this is a critical inflection point for the company.
You see, for the first 10 years of Proteus’ history, I was more focused on building a practice. My kids were small, so I wanted to balance home and work, and the company was starting from zero. I wanted to create something simple, solid and grounded, to offer services that could truly help my clients create the future – individually and organizationally – that they most wanted for themselves.
For the second 10 years, we were focused on building a small business. Jeff joined Proteus in 2000, and we began, slowly, to add consultants and staff and to clarify our offer. I started writing books to share and codify our unique IP, and we began to create a business infrastructure.
Now, in this 3rd ten years, we’re building an enterprise. We’re focusing on how to grow it significantly while maintaining the core elements that make us uniquely valuable to our clients. We’re getting much more organized and intentional about processes and priorities, and thinking deeply about what to carry forward, what to change, what to let go of, what to build.
Shared experience with others = better able to help them…
One of the very cool things I’m noticing about this: as Proteus grows, our experience becomes even more applicable to our clients’ world. As a company, we’re now dealing with the problems and opportunities they face every day. And because we always try to practice what we preach, we can test drive our skills, guidelines and recommendations in our own business as we employ them with our clients.
One of the first pieces of advice I heard about writing was “write what you know.” I’m seeing now the business version of that truism: it’s generally most useful to teach, coach, manage and consult based on what you know. Not just what you know intellectually, but what you’ve lived through and know how to do. When I encourage a course of action based on my own personal experience, I can offer so much more support to my client – not only here’s my suggestion, but also here’s how it works, here’s what to watch out for, here’s what you might have to do after that.
And I believe the same is true for any manager or leader. If you speak to your folks from your own experience, and behave as you expect them to behave – not only will they be more likely to accept your counsel and guidance, it will simply be better. It will be grounded practically and empirically, tested in the fire of your own life.
So here’s to gaining real-world experience, and here’s to passing it on.
Just over 20 years ago I read a wonderful little book called Love and Profit by Jim Autry. The title caught my eye as I was walking through a bookstore; I opened it to the first page of the introduction, and it snared me completely:
“First, a few straightforward statements about some of my beliefs regarding work and management:
- Work can provide the opportunity for spiritual and personal, as well as financial, growth. If it doesn’t, then we’re wasting far too much of our lives on it.
- The workplace is rapidly becoming a new neighborhood, and American businesspeople are helping make it happen.
- Good management is largely a matter of love. Or if you’re uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because proper management involves caring for people, not manipulating them.
Those who have read this far and think what I’ve said is too crazy for business should stop reading now.”
Jim had recently retired as CEO of the Meredith Corporation; I had just started Proteus. I was thrilled and inspired to know that there were successful executives who felt this way. I had hoped it was true; they were the ones with whom I wanted to work. I sent a copy of the book to Leo Kiely, at that time the newly hired President of Coors Brewing; it resonated for him as it had for me. Leo worked with Proteus for many years – he was one of first “caring-focused” CEO clients.
Keep Your Standards High…
The moral of this story: trust that work, and your work relationships, can be what you want them to be. You can have trust, transparency, honesty, affection, curiosity, and joy at work. Not everyone wants that – but some people do. You can find them.
And for your reflection, two haikus about what’s possible:
Imagine a world
Where all are paid a good wage
To do useful work
If bosses were fair
And cared about their people
Work life would be great
I invite you to focus on how to make this happen, rather than believing it can’t, or complaining about the fact that it doesn’t.