I know I say this every year, so those of you who have been with me for awhile might be rolling your eyes about now. Nonetheless: I love the holidays.
All the stuff I grew up with is charming to me: twinkling lights, presents under the tree, crackling fires, stockings hung on the chimney, old-fashioned Christmas carols, delicious food, seeing people I love and don’t get to see often enough. I even mostly like the things that other people don’t like: corny Christmas movies, looking for just the right gift for someone.
Most of all though, I love what’s at the heart of all this, at least in my mind. The sense that life and love are astonishing gifts to be treasured every day.
Today is my last day of work for the year, and I’m already expanding into what I think of as holiday gratitude mode. I’m a pretty thankful person under ordinary circumstances, but during the holiday I really make the effort to consciously recognize all the gifts and joys in my life on a daily basis.
At Proteus, we have year-end review and look forward conversations with everyone on the team. I’m just about to have my final one for the year (I’ll be having a couple more in January), and feeling tremendously appreciative of all the smart, good-hearted, committed people I get to work with at my company. After that, I’m going to go and meet my husband at his first “beer event”; a tasting and brewer appearance for his new brewery. And I’m feeling so proud of him, and so deeply grateful to be sharing my life with such a remarkably kind, high-integrity, curious, brilliant, funny, loving, brave, handsome man.
And as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my living room enjoying our sparkling Christmas tree, each ornament connected to a fond memory. Grateful to have such a wonderful place to live, and the good health and mental capability to enjoy it.
I could go on and on. Feeling grateful elevates you, making your interaction with everything and everyone around you more conscious, hopeful and loving. When you are grateful, it feels wonderful and at the same time makes you a positive force in the world.
So, my wish for you: May you appreciate your holidays to the very fullest extent possible….
courtesy of Brainyquotes
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to be a part of a really profound learning experience. I was one of eight attendees at an Elite Group Experience – a two-day advanced speaking skills course with Victoria Labalme.
Even though I’ve done a great deal of speaking in front of groups over the past thirty years, and believe I’m good at it (and have gotten feedback that supports that belief), I decided this year to take my skills to the next level. I intend to do everything in my power to become a world-class speaker.
Victoria is a wonderful teacher, and my classmates – entrepreneurs, authors, and business owners – were without exception smart, focused and supportive. The coolest thing for me, though, was seeing how well the ANEW skills I propose as being key to new learning served me in this situation, even though I’m not a novice. Here’s how it worked:
Aspiration – Before I attended the course, I worked on increasing my aspiration – making myself want to improve my speaking skills. It’s challenging to raise your level of aspiration when you’re already good at something: it’s all too easy to think that you’re good enough, thank you very much. So I thought about the benefits to me of becoming a better speaker. First, we at Proteus have more important things to share than ever – and I love being able to share it. Also, I’m particularly convinced that the ideas and skills in my new book, Be Bad First, will be helpful to people if I have a bigger platform for sharing them. I can easily imagine a future where being a better speaker would make that possible.
Neutral Self-awareness – I spent some time before the class reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses as a speaker. Some of the pre-work Victoria had us do supported me in that effort. I wanted to be as accurate as possible going into the session, so that I could take full advantage of the learning being offered, and I found my “current state” insights very helpful. (If you’re curious, I decided that my strengths were clarity, authenticity, and connection with the audience, and that I needed to work on having more control over my pacing and volume, making better use of the stage, and exploring new options to three-dimensionalize my speaking – visuals, sound, online support, etc..)
Endless Curiosity – This one was the easiest; I didn’t really have to do much to ramp up my curiosity. Very fortunately for me, being curious is my natural state, and I found myself, during the session, continuously interested in understanding and mastering what Victoria was sharing with us. Over the two days of the class, I watched myself ask lots of Why?, How?, and I wonder? questions. And saw, yet again, how curiosity is jet fuel for learning. Every time I asked one of those questions of Victoria or one of my classmates, I found out something new or something more that would help me improve my skills.
Willingness To Be Bad First – This one was definitely the hardest…but the most rewarding. It’s difficult enough to convince yourself it’s OK to “be bad” when you’re actually new to something. But when you’re quite good at doing something already, there’s a strong momentum toward considering yourself an expert. I found the most valuable and realistic “acceptance of not-good” self-talk in this situation was, I still have a lot to learn, if I want to be a world class speaker. I need to be open to everything I hear. As a result, I was able to hear important feedback from Victoria and from my classmates that I might have otherwise dismissed. For example, in one practice, my partner pointed out to me that I was skimming over the uncomfortable part of the story I was telling – and he noted that “without the lows, the highs don’t feel like highs.” Because I was really listening and taking it in, I realized he was exactly right…and that it was something I do habitually. I was able to integrate the feedback, and it had a real impact.
My husband once asked me “Are people ever done being bad?” And now I can definitely say: No, fortunately for us, we’re not.
My husband and I recently took a little mini-vacation to Grand Canyon National Park. I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to get there – it’s not as though I’ve never had an opportunity before now. All that aside, though: it was astonishing. If you’ve never visited, all I can say is that pictures absolutely do not do it justice; it’s much more vast and beautiful and other-worldly than you can imagine. It made us feel small, but in a completely positive way; a tiny part of an awe-inspiring whole.
Hopi House; Courtesy of Wikipedia
While we were there, I kept noticing buildings that I really loved. There was Hermit’s Rest, the Hopi House, and the Desert View Watchtower. As it turns out, they were all designed by a woman named Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in the first half of the 20th century as an architect and designer. In the words of Wikipedia:
She was one of the very few female American architects in her day. She was the designer of many landmark buildings and spaces for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, notably in Grand Canyon National Park. Her work had enormous influence as she helped to create a style, blending Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival architecture with Native American motifs and Rustic elements, that became popular throughout the Southwest.
MJC ca 1893 by California Artist Arthur Mathews
from the Program for Art on Film Web site
I was so charmed by her buildings and intrigued by her story that I bought and read her biography. In 1902, Ms. Coulter began working for the Fred Harvey Company, which partnered with the Santa Fe Railroad to open the American Southwest to travel and tourism in the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries. Coulter was one of the only female employees of the Harvey Company at that time who was not a waitress – and the only woman with management responsibilities.
As I read about her, and looked at the buildings and interiors she designed – and the construction of which she oversaw and managed – I tried to imagine the combination of vision, strength of character and diplomacy required to be successful as a woman leader working with an all male group of colleagues and staff to establish a new kind of architectural style in a barely-civilized part of the US, at a time when any sort of woman professional was a rare creature indeed.
Talk about a high bar.
I’m inspired and humbled to find that she was able to do all of that, to leave us a legacy of wonderfully evocative buildings, structures that live at ease in the landscape of the desert southwest. Her designs are unpretentious and yet in harmony with the grandeur around them, while marrying indigenous Native American and Mexican styles with modern applications.
I suspect I’ll think of Mary Jane Coulter’s life and work from now on when I’m in what I believe is a difficult situation. I kind of feel as though my toughest challenges would seem like an easy day to her. It’s good to remind ourselves of those brave souls who have gone before us; it helps us find that pioneer inside. It supports us to be bold in asking “Why Not…?” and in finding ways to do things that haven’t been done before.
Thank you, Mary…
I spent the weekend mostly with millenials: two of my kids and their spouses, and two nieces and their spouses/significant others.
And once again, I simply didn’t experience all the negative things people of my generation tend to say about people of this new generation. Lazy? Every one of them is gainfully employed and working hard. Entitled? None of them seem to be expecting to have things handed to them on a silver platter. Disengaged? All of them are passionate about the things that matter to them.
In fact, we had many wonderful conversations all day and into the night – and I was continually impressed by their insights, humor and curiosity.
Now, they are skeptical about the things that deserve their skepticism: corporations, the government, advertising. But when it comes to the important stuff: love, connection to other people, finding work that has meaning for them, being stewards of the planet – no skepticism at all: 100% in.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to understand why Boomers and Gen Xers are so dismissive of Millenials. I believe part of it is simply the age-old and continuous disregard for every new generation by every preceding generation. I think of it as the why-in-my-day phenomenon: “Why, in my day, we had to work hard, and we didn’t expect…” I’m completely convinced that grown-ups in Pompeii were complaining about their young adult kids in just this way even as the lava rolled in.
But part of it is also based on a misinterpretation of the Millenials’ values. I was working with a senior group at Facebook a couple of weeks ago and the head of the group said, “Millenials as a group care most about meaning, challenge and flexibility.” I agree, and I also think that millenials see work as one of a number of elements in their life that can give them these things, AND that they believe they have the right, perhaps even the obligation, to look for those things in work – and if they’re not getting them, to ask. And if they’re still not getting them – to leave.
For example, my assistant Dan and his wife Jen are parents of a 10-month-old daughter, Teddy (short for Theodora). They recently decided that they didn’t want to raise her in NYC– both because it’s so brutally expensive and because they wanted for her the kind of childhood they had both experienced: a house with a yard, grandparents nearby, a less frenetic pace. (That’s “meaning,” for those of you keeping track.) Dan came to me and said that he really likes and values his work with Proteus (meaning), that he thinks there’s still a lot more for him to learn, and lots more the company wants to do that he could help with (challenge), and that he’d like to figure out how to make it work for him to work long-distance (flexibility). From what I understand, Jen had a very similar conversation with her employer.
Now, if I were looking through the lens of millenials-are-bad, I might very well have interpreted Dan’ announcement and request with indignation: Who does he think he is? I might have thought. Does he think we’ll change the way we work just for him? How entitled!
But I don’t see it that way at all. I think the millennial generation looks at their whole life and wants it to be a quality life, with meaning, challenge and flexibility. And they see work as one aspect of creating the kind of life they want. In other words, they’re not willing to put aside their life in order to meet the demands imposed by work. And to most baby boomers, who have done just that for thirty or forty years years, it seems uppity.
Fortunately for Dan, it turns out that I’m kind of millenial in my view of the world – meaning, challenge and flexibility are key to me, as well, and – unlike many folks of my generation – I’ve been crafting my life to deliver those things for a long time.
So, we’re trying to make things work with Dan’s new circumstances, and I’m pretty sure we can shift to accommodate.
And I know that he will be even more focused and excellent than he already is when we do. Because one thing I’ve learned about millenials is that when you collaborate with them in their quest for a life of meaning, challenge and flexibility, they respond with all of their considerable energy and passion.
I actually think the world is going to be in good hands as this new generation takes the reins over the next few decades. I’m excited to be a part of it.
I love being around people who are good at things. Last week and this, we’ve turned the NYC Proteus office into the Proteus pop-up studio: the swing office is the edit suite, the coaching space is the actors’ green room, the kitchen is craft services, and every other space is somehow being used as a set. Over five days of shooting, we’re creating 24 separate pieces of video, all of which will be up on ProteusLeader.com when it goes live in October.The still below is from the filming of the intro to my new book (coming from Bibliomotion in March), Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future.
Our partners in this endeavor are the talented, smart, funny and warm professionals of Capisco, a Paris-based film group led by Clement Jouve. It’s such a pleasure to work with them – I’m finding out so much, both about film-making and about great teams. Watching Jim, the director, work with the actors and Delphine, his second camera person, to get exactly the shots that make each scene work, and that give Max, the editor, just what he needs to make it all work. And Max is, frankly, a magician. It’s really fun watching him make each scene flow just the way it should (and make a two-camera shoot look like a three-camera shoot). Nicolai, the sound guy, is invisible and essential, and Clement keeps everything moving and connected.
They work together like a dance ensemble or a sports team: fluent, continuous hand-offs of action and responsibility, graceful and frictionless. Because they mostly speak French to each other, and I don’t speak French (except for, now, “c’est bon!” “je suis pret” and “quoi?”), I can observe the shape of their interaction rather than getting caught in the words.
And so I’m noticing that, like all high performance teams, they have clear goals (creating excellent film that meets the client’s needs), agreed-upon measures (clear standards of quality and time benchmarks for each piece of film), well-defined roles (everyone clearly knows what each person on the team is responsible for doing), simple process (how they operate together – it’s like a well-calibrated machine) and high trust (it’s obvious that they respect and have affection for each other, and feel that each person on the team is highly capable and will get results).
Observing a great team is really fun; getting to work with them is even more fun. Realizing that their excellent product is going to be an integral part of ProteusLeader is the most fun. It’s so gratifying to have partners who, like us, believe that supporting people to be better managers and leaders is important, and who can help us bring to life our vision of an online learning platform that helps people build those skills in a way that’s simple, fun, and highly useful.
I’m so excited about having all of this to share with you in October!
I’m excited. For the past four or five years, my partner Jeff and I have been acknowledging to each other (and to anyone who cares to have the conversation with us) our need to have an online/mobile aspect of what we do available to our clients. We recognized that if our core focus is, as we say, leader readiness, we needed to support leaders to be ready 24/7, not just when they’re with us in a coaching, training, or facilitated session.
We’ve been able to create some very good audio and video “nuggets” over the years, and we have lots of useful written material to offer (between this blog, my Forbes blog, other articles, and my books.)
But now….drum roll, please…we’re in the process of putting bite-size pieces of our existing audio, video and written content – plus a lot more great stuff that we’re now creating – into our new online/mobile learning resource, ProteusLeader.com. It will be going live in October – so I’m giving you, dear reader, a heads-up now. Partly because I just want to share it with you (as I said, I’m excited), but partly because I’d love your input if you’d care to weigh in. If you have suggestions for stuff you’d particularly like to see, or topics you’d like added, that would be hugely valuable for us.
Here’s how we’re envisioning it. There will be 16 topic areas – the main areas we focus on in our work with leaders. Those topics are:
- Accepted Leader
- Be Bad First
- Being Strategic
- Company Culture
- Giving Feedback
- High Performance Team
- Leading Change
- Making Agreements
- Managing People
- Managing Your Career
- Social Style
- Tough Conversations
You can go straight to this list of topics from the home page (and then select one you’re interested in), or you can get to groups of related topics by selecting one of four “interest areas.” Under each of the 16 topics, we’ll have resources in three “buckets”:
- See It/Hear It – video and audio nuggets focusing on that topic, offering models, tools, insights, or skill demonstrations.
- Try It – video, audio, and written activities to help you assess yourself, prepare for, and practice the skills in that topic.
- Read About it – quick, practical articles about the topic that offer insight and recommendations.
So, what do you think? Anything you’d like that you don’t see listed? Any ideas for specific support in these topics?
I’ll keep you posted as we get closer to launch – but for now, I’d love to know what you’d find useful and interesting…
Thanks, as always, for being here.
My husband and I just spent a few days in Reykjavik, and once again, I was astonished at how relatively little information I have about the world around me, and how many completely unwarranted assumptions I make, based on the limited and limiting information that’s been passed on to me from others. For example, outside a soaring modern church in the center of Reykjavil is a statue of Leifr Eiricsson, with this inscription on the back:
Wait – I had some vague factoid in my head about somebody named Leif Erikson sailing west from Scandinavia…but discovering the US? And wait – the one thousandth anniversary of the…Althing?
So I bought a little book of Icelandic history, written by an Icelandic historian, and it seems as though there’s a good deal of evidence that a guy named Leifr Eiricsson sailed from Iceland around 1000 AD and established a settlement near what is now Newfoundland. There is some indication that he may have also sailed as far south as present-day New York.
And yet, every child in the US still learns that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and became the first European to set foot in North America. Well, except for that other guy who showed up 500 years earlier. Ironically, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared October 9th “Leif Erikson Day”, so you can actually decide whether to celebrate Columbus Day or Erikson Day during the second week of October. That is, if you know that Leif Erikson existed and that he has a national holiday dedicated to him.
And as for the Althing – that’s the Icelandic parliament, which has met regularly since the year 930. It’s one of the two “oldest extant parliamentary institutions in the world,” according to Wikipedia.
I love finding out new stuff…I get excited to realize that as long as I live, there will be new and fascinating things to discover every moment of every day.
I got an email last week from Kathryn Cramer, who wrote a book that I like, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say and Do. She was writing to let me know about a new campaign she’s launching, focusing on what she terms the Leader’s Heroic Journey. Those of you who have read my book Leading So People Will Follow know how fascinated I am by storytelling, and by leader stories in particular, so it’s not surprising that I quickly went to check it out.
Kathryn has created something very cool; a modern and resonant series of six infographics that take you through the steps of the Hero’s Journey (as defined by Joseph Campbell). But she’s reframed for today’s leaders – those of us who are trying to lead through a time characterized by more and faster change than at any other time in history.
She’s offering one of the six steps in the journey each week on her website, or you can download the full ebook, also on her site. With this series, Kathryn has teed up some of the most critical inflection points we all face as leaders, and provided simple, practical insights and ideas for navigating those passages.
It’s a wild time to be a leader – we all need help. Kathryn’s campaign is food for the journey.
I was talking to a wonderful, wise woman today: I learned a lot from her, and I hope she also learned useful things from me. She told me a great quote that she has made part of her email signature line:
People who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt those who are doing it.
When she said it to me, my first reaction was to laugh out loud, in that surprised way that happens when something strikes you as completely and unexpectedly true. I’ve seen that very thing happen in corporate life dozens, perhaps hundreds of times over the past few decades. While some people are pontificating at length about why something isn’t possible, someone else is quietly going about doing it. For instance, I just found out that, even as Wilbur and Orville Wright were preparing to complete their first successful trials of a manned, heavier-than-air flying machine, the New York Times published an article from which the following is an excerpt:
The flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years—provided, of course, we can meanwhile eliminate such little drawbacks and embarrassments as the existing relation between weight and strength in inorganic materials.
— ‘Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly,’ published in theNew York Times, 9 October 1903.
It sounds really smart and well-reasoned (if somewhat smug and self-righteous), but it also turns out, as we all know, to have been complete and utter nonsense.
Fortunately, the Wright Brothers weren’t working for the New York Times, or any of the other thousands of people who were opining that what they were doing was impossible and foolish. Where the quote above gets less funny, but even more true, is when the people doing the talking about what can’t be done are the bosses of the people who are able to do it. That’s when innovation and creativity get torpedoed, and companies (if it gets bad enough and consistent enough) collapse.
For instance, I will bet you any amount of money that there were young people working for Barnes and Noble in 2005, who were trying to tell their bosses that e-readers were the wave of the future, and that they could build one of they just had the support, and those bosses rolled their eyes and dismissed the idea entirely, and blathered on about the strength of the B&N business model and how people will never give up the feel of a real book, or stop coming to bookstores, especially now that we have cafes and kids’ play areas and blah blah blah blah. And all the while Jeff Bezos and company were busy inventing the Kindle in a back room somewhere.
So the next time someone – especially someone who works for you – comes to you with an idea that you believe is just plain impossible, or impractical, or too expensive, or not how people want to do X….just shut up. Suspend your disbelief, and really listen. Ask them to walk you through how they would do it, and what it would require.
Maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to see how it could be done, and why it should be done…
And that could change everything.
I have to admit upfront that this post is primarily a thinly-veiled excuse to say wonderful things about my husband. However, be assured there is an important life/work lesson here as well. My husband Patrick is in the final stages of setting up his craft brewery, and it’s been fascinating watching him travel down five parallel business-building tracks for the past year. I’m realizing that any successful entrepreneur needs to walk down these same paths. (He’s doing this much better than I did 25 years ago, when I started Proteus, but still I recognize the pathways from my start-up days.) Here’s what they are:
Facilities/Physical: From the moment he rented his brewery-space-to-be last May, Patrick has been focused on a wide variety of physical, object-related tasks, from revamping the space (cleaning, painting, putting in trench drains, having the plumbing and electrical upgraded); to speccing out and ordering the brewing system and deciding how to set it up in the space; to switching our main vehicle from a car to a truck for schlepping purposes. Almost any entrepreneurial venture – even something like a one-person Cloud-based enterprise that seems not physical at all – requires asking and answering questions about physical requirements and doing the associated tasks. Where are you going to work? What equipment will you need? What work processes will require physical space and how will you set that up?
Relationships: Patrick won’t be hiring any employees during the brewery’s early days – but that doesn’t mean relationships aren’t important to his success. He’s spent more time with his landlord, his plumber and his electrician that with most other people he knows over the past few months. And he’s working to build good relationships with a much wider group as well: his suppliers, the folks who built his brewing system, and other local brewers, just to name a few. Even if you’re starting a single-person enterprise (or at least single-person to start with), don’t underestimate the necessity of having a web of people around you who want to do business with you and are supportive of your success. If you don’t tend to those relationships, it’s really hard to accomplish almost anything.
Organizational/Admin: I now know that starting a brewery – even a small one – requires jumping through an astonishing variety of administrative hoops. The federal permitting process was a daunting seven-month journey of frustration and bureaucratic nitpicking through the bowels of the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). Watching him go through it and listening to his very legitimate complaints, I was astonished that anyone who doesn’t have a fleet of lawyers and accountants to call upon ever ends up opening a brewery. The two-month long state permitting process was, by comparison, a walk in the park. Then pile on all the local requirements (building codes, business license, city council OK, etc. etc.) and the internal functional questions to be answered (How will we bill customers? What accounting program will we use?). Any entrepreneur who assumes he or she can just start producing their cool thing and make a million is courting disaster. I think for most people, this is the least fun part of starting a business – but if you don’t think through it in a pretty structured way (or work with someone who can help you to do that), and build the time and effort required into your start-up plan, your business will grind to a halt before it even starts.
Product: I’ve been truly impressed with the fact that, as he’s been fully immersed in these first three aspects of starting his business, Patrick has also been devoting a lot of time to making sure his product is extraordinary. He’s spent the whole year doing exhaustive recipe development and testing on each of his four standard beers and two seasonals. Now that his system has arrived, once he gets it set up he’ll be going through a whole new product loop of figuring out how to replicate the quality he’s achieved — at 20x the volume. He’ll be going from 5 gallon homebrews to 3.5 barrel (108 gallon) production batches. It’s all too easy as an entrepreneur to think “I’ve got a great thing – it will knock everyone’s socks off.” And yet – will it? It’s essential that you build rounds of testing, ramping up and improvement into your pre-sales start-up planning.
Marketing and Sales: And yet, just having a great product or service isn’t enough. You have to think clearly and practically about who your customers are, how you’ll let them know that you have something they need, and how to communicate that in a compelling way. This is Patrick’s least favorite part, and so the one in which I’ve been involved most involved. We’ve had many branding discussions: that is, what are we promising, and how do we want to convey that promise in words and images? Based on that, we’ve put lots of thought into naming and labelling for each beer. Since we’re now a couple of months away from having beer to sell, we’re focusing on all the decisions, large and small, needed to connect our product with a delighted customer base. For instance, we’re only selling to restaurants and bars, vs. retail, so we identified the criteria for the hospitality businesses that could be attracted to our product and price point, and then made a list of all those businesses within about a 45-minute drive of the brewery. Now we’re figuring out how to support and inspire our future customers to let their patrons know they’re carrying our beers. And then how to make it easy for those patrons – once they’ve tasted and liked the beer – to become vocal fans and advocates. In other words, even great products don’t sell themselves. Before you have product to sell, think about who your target audience is, why they need your product, and how you’ll let them know it exists and can meet their needs. And do your best to do some market-testing beforehand: it’s easy to think people will love your thing just because you do, but you need to get some independent confirmation of that love.
And, happily, Patrick just received some great independent confirmation: he sent his four standard beers (1875 Milk Stout, 1829 IPA, 1758 Witbier, and 1855 Cream Ale) out to six national competitions a few months ago. Just last week, he found out that he won awards in four of the six: 2 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze medals – and each of his four beers won at least once.
All of which goes to show – when you take care to walk down the right paths as an entrepreneur, wonderful things can happen along the way.