16-Year Old Solves a 350-Year Old "Impossible" Math Problem
A few months ago, 16-year old Shouryya Ray blew the mind of mathematicians and the media by solving two "unsolvable" particle dynamics problems first posed by Isaac Newton 350 years ago.
How did he do it?
Explained Shouryya: "When it was explained to us that the problems had no solutions, I thought to myself, 'Well, there's no harm in trying."
Generations of scientists and mathematicians had tried their hand unsuccessfully at solving Newton's problem (for the technically minded, the problem was coming up with a mathematical formula to predict the fluid dynamics of a flying object taking into account the combination of forces including gravity and air friction).
That was until Indian-born Shouryya was on a school trip to Dresden University, and heard the professors mention the problem, and saying it was unsolvable.
Hearing this, Shouryya said "Why not? I didn't believe there couldn't be a solution."
So he got to work on it, and wouldn't give up until he had solved it and published his work.
Does he think it was genius that got him there? No. In fact, almost the opposite.
"I think it was just schoolboy naivety."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Name three things in your business or life that you written off as "impossible". Now, like Shouryya, don't believe it. Get busy. Take a fresh look at the problem. Trust your instincts. Muse, contemplate, dream.
If you need to get your creative juices flowing, try this.
The problem Shouryya solved?
Let (x(t),y(t)) be the position of a particle at time t. Let g be the acceleration due to gravity and c the constant of friction. Solve the differential equation:
(x''(t)2 + (y''(t)+g)2 )1/2 = c*(x'(t)2 + y'(t)2 )
subject to the constraint that (x''(t),y''(t)+g) is always opposite in direction to (x'(t),y'(t)).
Finding the general solution to this differential equation will find the general solution for the path of a particle which has drag proportional to the square of the velocity (and opposite in direction). Here's an explanation how this differential equation encodes the motion of such a particle:
The square of the velocity is:
x'(t)2 + y'(t)2
The total acceleraton is:
( x''(t)2 + y''(t)2 )1/2
The acceleration due to gravity is g in the negative y direction.
Thus the drag (acceleration due only to friction) is:
( x''(t)2 + (y''(t)+g)2 )1/2
Thus path of such a particle satisfies the differential equation:
( x''(t)2 + (y''(t)+g)2 )1/2 = c*(x'(t)2 + y'(t)2 )June 29, 2012
Skillset vs. Mindset
Yesterday, as one of my favorite clients was introducing me as the day's presenter at one of her company's leadership development programs, something she said caught my attention:
That's what she was telling the 41 business leaders of the future they were going to learn from me.
Yes, it was true. I was going to help these good people become more skillful at innovating. That's what I do. But that was only half the story.
Actually, less than half. Much less.
If there's one thing I've learned these past 25 years of working as an innovation provocateur, it's this: mindset -- not skillset -- is the name of the game in business these days, no matter what the rules or lack thereof.
When a person's mindset (i.e. receptivity, curiosity, adaptability, enthusiasm, focus) is in the right place, skillset becomes secondary.
Is acquiring new skills useful? Of course it is.
If you're about to have surgery, you want to know the man with the scalpel knows what he's doing, But all the skills in the world become useless if the mind of the physician is cloudy.
I'm talking attitude. Viewpoint. Approach. Not what you look at, but what you see.
Psychologists have boiled down the phenomenon to three words: "Motivation affects perception".
If you're driving through a town and are hungry, what do you see? Restaurants. If you're running out of gas, it's gas stations you notice. And if someone you love is dying, you become suddenly amazed at how many funeral parlors there are.
My mentor once put it this way: "When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are his pockets."
Bottom line, if you want to jump start innovation -- in your self, in your team, or your company, begin paying more attention to mindset. Be willing to make the effort required to help yourself and others enter into the frame of mind most conducive to innovating.
Because in the end, it's less about where you're going, than where you're coming from.June 26, 2012
When a Best Practice Is a Worst Practice
I'm a collector of best practices. I like to find out what forward thinking individuals and organizations have done to accomplish extraordinary results.
Invariably, my stock rises when I tell these stories. People think I know stuff. They get giddy. They take notes. They think about how to adapt these best practices to their organization.
But then things get weird.
People start becoming satisfied with emulating other people's lives. Instead of thinking up their own best practices, they imitate. Ouch!
The spirit of innovation gets replaced by the religion of innovation.
Gone is reflection. Gone is the process of discovery. Gone is the ownership that comes with birthing new insights. In it's place? Simulation. Imitation. And, all too often, the blind following of pre-packaged solutions.
I'm not saying there isn't value in paying attention to other people's best practices. There is.
But when when imitation replaces creation, something invariably gets lost -- and innovation eventually goes down the drain.June 24, 2012
The Social Media Revolution Revelation June 23, 2012
20 Reasons Why Creative People Like to Work in Cafes
Ever since I was old enough to realize there would never be a want ad in a newspaper that described a job I wanted, I've loved working in cafes. I never really thought much about it until a few days ago when a baffled friend of mine asked why I was so into it.
His assumption? That working in a cafe would be a distraction. A distraction? Dude, quite the opposite.
And so, at the risk of trotting out a few half-baked conclusions that my non-cafe-going critics will have a field day trashing, here goes:
20 REASONS WHY YOU LIKE TO WORK IN A CAFE
1. It doesn't feel like work.
2. It's a nice break from the office.
3. You don't have an office.
4. Easy access to caffeine.
5. If you have a home office, you appreciate the fact that -- in a cafe -- there are no interruptions from your wife/husband/kids/roommate who rarely think they are interrupting you when they stick their head in your office and begin their conversation with something like "I'm not interrupting you, am I?"
6. The act of going from your office to a cafe gets the creative juices flowing.
8. You get a whole bunch of unexpected inputs that change your perspective for the moment (i.e. snatches of conversation, songs on the radio, odd posters on the wall).
9. There are no distracting tasks to default to (i.e. cleaning your desk, filing, tossing paper clips over the cubicle wall).
10. The people in your office want you to talk in hushed tones and have a need for you to appear busier than you really are.
11. Being waited on by the cafe staff puts you in the mode of "things coming to you" without much effort.
12. You focus on your most creative projects.
13. It feels good being part of a community -- even if the community disbands after your third cappuccino.
14. Old patterns are interrupted. New patterns emerge.
15. You like the authenticity of your responses when the geek at the next table, peeking up from his Mac, asks what you're working on.
16. It's like having a focus group at your beck and call. You can ask anyone for their opinion and they'll give it, no strings attached.
17. If you work at home, it's just a matter of time before your spouse asks you to move a piece of furniture or clean the bathroom.
18. It brings out the artist and poet in you.
19. If you go back to the same cafe again and again, you develop trusting relationships with some of the other regulars -- sharing enthusiasm, feedback, and croissants.June 22, 2012
I Have a Webinarry Question for You
I've just noticed that a recent blog posting of mine has "gone viral" (not postal) and it dawns on me that it might be a good idea to turn it into a 60-minute webinar.
Of course, I've had a lot of "good ideas", in the past, that weren't, so I'm asking YOU for your big, fat, glorious opinion.
Good idea or not?
And if so, what would you pay for it if it included an annual subscription to our creative thinking app, Free the Genie?June 20, 2012
An Invocation to Vacation
14 Ways to Get Breakthrough Ideas
There's a lot of talk these days about the importance of innovation. All CEOs worth their low salt lunch want it. And they want it, of course, now.
What sparks innovation? People. What sparks people? Inspired ideas that meet a need -- whether expressed or unexpressed -- ideas with enough mojo to rally sustained support.
Is there anything a person can do -- beyond caffeine, corporate pep talks, or astrology readings -- to quicken the appearance of breakthrough ideas?
Yes, there is. And what follows are 14 catalysts -- simple guidelines, principles, and approaches that will help you on your way.
1. FOLLOW YOUR FASCINATION
If you find yourself fascinated by a new idea, chances are good that there's something meaningful about it for you to consider.
Fascination, quite simply, is nature's way of getting our attention. Well beyond seduction or attraction, it's an indication that we are being called. Out of the thousands of ideas with the power to capture our imagination, the felt fascination for one of them is a clue that there's something worthy of our engagement.
Don't dismiss it as trivial. Give it room. Give it time to breathe. Honor it. If you have any doubt, consider the origins of the word "fascination". It comes from the Latin "fascinus," meaning to be "enchanted or delighted."
What enchants or delights us is sacred -- or could be sacred -- a clue that something significant is knocking on our door. Indeed, if we are willing to let fascination grow inside us -- a kind of immaculate conception can occur -- the illogical, miraculous becoming pregnant with possibility -- the bodily expression of the phenomenon that you are here to birth something extraordinary.
The idea is simply the first "waaaaaaah" to get you to notice.
What new idea is fascinating you? What new possibility has captured your attention? In what ways can you honor this inspiration today?
Breakthrough ideas, like telemarketers or Jehovah's Witnesses, have a curious habit of showing up at odd times.
And because they do, we're not always ready to receive them.
To complicate matters, chances are good that when they do show up, we are multi-tracking our little tushies off -- checking email, microwaving dinner, or looking for our Blackberry amidst the half-folded laundry. Not exactly the pre-conditions for breakthrough.
The alternative? Immersion -- the act of becoming completely involved or absorbed in something -- engrossed, enthralled, or preoccupied."
If you want to radically increase your odds of originating breakthrough ideas, you will need to immerse. Don't be a chicken, be a hen!
Baby chicks break through the shell separating them from flight not because their mothers are rushing off to meetings on parenting skills, but because their mothers are immersed in the act of hatching. Mommy is sitting in one place for a looooooooong time. And baby chick is also sitting (curled up) in one place for a looooooooong time.
At Google, employees are given 20% of their time to immerse in projects that have nothing seemingly to do with their so-called day job. At 3M, it's 15%. W.L. Gore gives employees a half a day each week to immerse in projects that fascinate them.
Look at your calendar. Block out some time to focus on the development of your most inspired idea or venture. Unplug! Incubate! Hatch! Immerse!
3. TOLERATE AMBIGUITY
Breakthrough ideas are not always the result of a revolutionary Eureka moment. On the contrary, they are often the result of an evolutionary series of approximations or failed experiments.
When Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 800 times before coming up with tungsten as the filament for the light bulb, his answer was a revealing one.
"Fail?" he said. "I didn't fail once. I learned 800 times what didn't work."
Edison had the ability to tolerate ambiguity -- to "not know." Like most breakthrough thinkers, he had the ability to dwell in the grey zone. Confusion was not his enemy.
"Confusion," explained Henry Miller, "is simply a word we have invented for an order that is not yet understood."
If you are attempting to birth a breakthrough idea, get comfortable with discomfort. Give up your addiction to having all your ducks in a row -- at least in the beginning of your discovery process.
People may think you're a quack, but so what? Your chances of birthing a breakthrough idea (and result) exponentially increase the more you are able to tolerate ambiguity.
What new idea of yours is bubbling on the brink of breakthrough? In what ways can you stay with it -- even if something in you is impatient for a breakthrough?
4. MAKE NEW CONNECTIONS
True creativity rarely happens in a vacuum. On the contrary it is the product of two or more variables connecting in a new way.
It happens all of the time in nature. Water, for example, is really just the connection between hydrogen and oxygen.
It happens in the human realm as well. Roller blading is nothing more than the connection between ice skating and roller skating. MTV? Nothing more than the connection between music and television. Drive in banking? Car + banking.
The originators of these breakthrough products didn't pull rabbits out of hats. All they did was see a new, intriguing (and potentially commercial) connection between already existing elements.
Why don't more of us make these kinds of connections?
Because we usually stay within the confines of what we already know. We live in a box of our own creation -- whether that box be defined by our nationality, profession, concepts, cubicle, or astrological sign.
The more we are willing to get out of this box, the more likely it will be that powerful new connections will reveal themselves to us -- uncommon linkages between this, that, and the other thing -- kind of the way it was for Johannes Gutenberg when he noticed a previously undetected connection between the wine press and coin punch.
And so the printing press was born.
Make three parallel lists of ten words. The first list? Nouns. The second list? Verbs. The third list? Adjectives. Then look for intriguing new connections between them.
In 1989, Gary Kasparov, the Soviet Union Grand Chess Master, played a two game match against "Deep Blue," the reigning supercomputer of the time. Kasparov won easily.
When asked by the media what his competitive advantage was, he cited two things: intuition and the ability to fantasize. (And this, from a master strategic thinker!)
Few of us are ever encouraged to fantasize -- a behavior most commonly associated with children or perverts.
And yet, fantasizing is exactly how many breakthrough ideas get their start -- by some maverick, flake, or dreamer entertaining the seemingly impossible.
I find it curious that business leaders want their employees to come up with fantastic ideas or solutions, but they don't want their employees to fantasize. And yet, the words "fantastic" and "fantasy" come from the same linguistic root, meaning to "use the imagination."
Think of a current challenge of yours. What would a fantasy solution to this challenge look like? What clues does this fantasy solution give you?
6. DEFINE THE RIGHT CHALLENGE
"It's not that they can't find the solution," said G.K. Chesterton, the renowned American philosopher and writer, "They can't find the problem!"
Most people, in their rush to figure things out, rarely spend enough time framing their challenge in a meaningful way. If they owned a GPS, they'd fail to take the time to program in their destination -- because they were so much into the hustle of getting out of town.
Coming up with the right question is at least half of getting the right answer.
If you want a breakthrough idea, begin by coming up with a breakthrough question -- one that communicates the essence of what you're trying to create.
State your most inspired challenge or opportunity as a question beginning with words "How can I?" Then write it five different ways. Which is your real question?
7. LISTEN TO YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS
If you study the lives of people who have had Eureka moments, you'll note that their breakthroughs almost always came after extensive periods of intense, conscious effort.
They worked, they struggled, they noodled, they gave up, they recommitted --and then the breakthrough came. And often at unexpected moments.
They weren't buying lottery tickets at their local deli, hoping to win a breakthrough fortune, they were digging for treasure in their own back yard.
Rene Descartes got the idea for the Scientific Method in a dream. Richard Wagner got the idea for Das Rhinegold while stepping onto a bus after long months of creative despair. Einstein used to conduct "thought experiments" (a fancy name for daydreaming) whenever he got stuck.
In other words, the conscious mind works overtime in an attempt to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
Unable to come up with the breakthrough, the challenge gets turned over to the subconscious mind which then proceeds to figure it out in its own, sweet time.
Of course, all of this assumes that we are listening to the promptings of our subconscious mind.
This week, keep a log of your most inspired ideas, intuitions, and dreams. At the end of the week, review your log. See what insights come to you.
8. TAKE A BREAK
If you want a breakthrough, you will need to take a break. True innovators rarely follow the straight and narrow path. Not only do they march to a different drummer, they're often not even on the same playing field as most people.
Take Seymour Cray, for example, the legendary designer of high-speed computers.
He used to divide his time between building the next generation super computer and digging an underground tunnel below his Chippewa Falls house.
Cray's explanation of his tunnel digging behavior is consistent with the stories of many other creatives -- inner-directed, boundary-pushing people who understand the need to go off-line whenever they get stuck.
Bottom line, whenever they find themselves struggling with a thorny problem, they walk away from it for a while. They know, from years of experience, that more (i.e. obsession, analysis, effort) is often less (i.e. ideas, solutions, results).
Explained Cray, "I work for three hours and then get stumped. So I quit and go to work in the tunnel. It takes me an hour or so to dig four inches and put in the boards. You see, I'm up in the Wisconsin woods, and there are elves in the woods. So when they see me leave, they come back into my office and solve all the problems I'm having. Then I go up (to my lab) and work some more."
Next time you find yourself stuck on a thorny problem or project, walk away from it for a while. Stay conscious of new solutions coming to you during this down time.
9. NOTICE AND CHALLENGE PATTERNS AND TRENDS
There are many people these days who make their living from the pattern recognition business: futurists, meteorologists, air traffic controllers, and stock brokers just to name a few.
And while their success rates may not always be 100%, it is clear that whatever success they enjoy is intimately tied to their ability to notice patterns and then interpret those patterns correctly for the rest of us.
The same holds true for breakthrough thinkers.
The only difference? Breakthrough thinkers often hit the gravy train by challenging old patterns and then reconfiguring them in new ways.
"The act of creation," said Picasso, "is first of all an act of destruction."
"The genius," said American painter, Ben Shahn, "is merely the one able to detect the pattern amidst the confusion of details just a little sooner than the average man."
What trends in the marketplace most intrigues you? In what ways might these trends shift in the coming years -- and how might your most inspired idea be in sync with this imagined shift?
10. HANG OUT WITH A DIVERSE GROUP OF PEOPLE
Years ago Sony used to insist that their engineers spend at least 25% of their work time out of the office and mixing it up with people outside of the four walls of their industry.
Keepers of the innovation flame at Sony understood that diverse inputs were essential to the origination and development of breakthrough ideas.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to stay within the intellectual ghettos of the familiar. We hang out with the same people day and night -- usually people who either agree with us, report to us or, through some indefinable act of karma, are joined to us at the hip.
If you want to increase your chances of getting a breakthrough idea, you will need to break the bonds of the familiar.
Hang out with a different crowd. Go beyond the usual suspects. Seek the input of oddballs, mavericks, outcasts, or, at the very least, people outside your field.
If you can let go of your need for comfort and agreement, you will find yourself catapulted into new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting -- all precursors to breakthrough ideas.
Make a list of ten people outside of your traditional posse that you can spend some time with this month. Whoâ€™s first? When?
Breakthrough thinkers are often rugged individualists. They believe in their inalienable rights to think for themselves. They value their opinions, their perspectives, and their innate creativity. Their biggest fear is group think.
All well and good.
But there is an important distinction to be made between group think and the phenomenon of inspired individuals getting together to spark each other's brilliance.
Indeed, most great breakthroughs are more about inspired collaborations than they are about lone wolf genius.
Think Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), David Filo and Jerry Yang (Yahoo), Watson and Crick (DNA), Lennon and McCartney (the Beatles), Hewlett & Packard.
All you need to do is frame a meaningful question, invite the right people, and facilitate the process for helping your think tank creatively jam. If you are not the right person to facilitate, you probably know someone who is. Ask them.
What is the topic of your next group brainstorm? Who will you invite? Who will facilitate? When?
12. LOOK FOR HAPPY ACCIDENTS
Breakthrough ideas are often less about the purposeful act of inventing new things that it is the art of noticing new things that happen accidentally -- those surprise moments when the answer is revealed for no particular reason.
The discovery of penicillin, for example, was the result of Alexander Fleming noting the formation of mold on the side of a Petri dish left unattended overnight. Vulcanized rubber was discovered in 1839 when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a lump of the polymer substance he was experimenting with onto his wife's cook stove.
Breakthroughs aren't always about inventions, but about the intervention required to notice something new, unexpected, and intriguing.
For this to happen, you will need to let go of your expectations and assumptions and get curious.
Give up being an expert. Let go of the past. See with new eyes.
What failed experiment or unexpected outcome might be interesting for you to reconsider?
13. USE CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES
I live in the Northeast. In the Winter, it's common for old cars -- especially on very cold mornings -- not to start. When this happens, the best thing you can do is get a jump start. All you need are jumper cables and another car that's got its motor running.
Creative thinking techniques are like jumper cables. They spark ignition. They turn potential into kinetic energy. They get you going when you're stuck.
If you're looking for a breakthrough idea, perhaps all you need is a jump start.
That jump start could take many shapes. It could be a classic, creative thinking technique, of which there are many. It could be a "creative thinking coach" or a favorite book, or a quote.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what medium you choose, just as long as you choose something to get your motor running.
Here's something to get you started:
14. SUSPEND LOGIC
Perhaps Einstein said it best when he declared: "Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted."
He was referring, of course, to the part of the human being that knows intuitively -- the part that is tuned in, connected, and innately creative.
Kids live in this place. The rest of us just visit, preferring the left-brained world of rationality, logic, linearity, and analysis.
On some primal level, we're all from Missouri. We need proof. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with gathering data, the addiction to it subverts our ability to originate breakthrough ideas.
We know this.
That's why we go to the movies, the pub, watch TV, read novels, dial 900 numbers, and daydream.
We seek an altered state -- one that is free of the normal gravity of daily life.
That's why movie makers ask us to suspend disbelief. That's why brainstorm facilitators ask us to suspend judgment. That's why women (innately intuitive as they are) ask the men in their lives to stop being so damn practical for a change and actually feel something.
It is in this state of suspension that our innate creativity is free to percolate to the surface -- over, under and around all of the left brained guardians at the gate.
And so... if you want to really birth a breakthrough idea, you too will need to enter into this state -- at least in the first phases of your new venture. Suspend judgment. Suspend evaluation. Suspend your addiction to the practical.
What exists on the other side is fuel for the fire of your untapped creativity.
What can you do this week to suspend practicality, logic and rationality in service to birthing your big idea?June 19, 2012
Free Overview of Our New Webinars
We are not officially "psychic", but there's one thing we know about you without having talked to you and it is this: you have a lot to do and very little time to do it in. Yes? We thought so.
Which is why we've created Idea Champions University -- a curriculum of 60-minute, content-rich webinars for movers and shakers in the fast lane.
It wasn't our idea. It was two of our clients' idea. They asked us, six months ago, to create a simpler, faster, less expensive way to deliver innovation-sparking content -- online -- to their time-crunched workforce. Towards that end, here's an overview of five of our new webinars -- voice over by Mitch Ditkoff, Idea Champions co-Founder and President.
Intrigued? Open to possibility? Breathing? Contact Sarah Jacob, our World Wide Webinatrix: email@example.comJune 17, 2012
In Honor of All Our Fathers
I wrote the following piece the night my father died three years ago and read it at his funeral three days later. If your dad is still alive, love him today and every day. If you're dad is gone, cherish his memory and all that he taught you. If there's anything you need to forgive him for, today's the day.
Last night, I sat in my father's office attempting to write this eulogy. I started five times and stopped five times. I started again, trying to find the words to describe how it feels to be here without him. I still don't know.
You see, I had a father for 94 years and have only not had a father for three days, so anything I say must be understood as the words of someone only three days old. But still I will try.
Indeed, this trying -- this effort to accomplish the seemingly impossible -- is a gift I've received from my father...
He was the most tenacious person I knew. Ferocious, focused, and fueled by a need to be his own man which he accomplished in countless ways until the very end. To him, it wasn't "my way or the highway," it was "my way or the my way."
I do believe if God had appeared to him as a Burning Bush in his bedroom during the difficult last weeks of his life, he would have advised the Unnamable One to switch from mutual funds to stocks as a way to save on the commission.
The simplest thing I can say about my father is this: He was a force of nature, a storm of a man.
In his path, things moved. Nothing stayed still. He was primal, persevering, and on fire with the possibility that something good was just about to happen if only you worked hard enough to make it so.
It wasn't always easy being with him, but so what? Easy doesn't always equal good. Being a father isn't always easy. Or being a husband, or a friend, or a rabbi, for that matter.
I became strong because of him and the way I burned in the crucible of his intensity -- able to press through challenges... able to be alone... able to find God, my teacher, my self, my soul mate, and raise two extraordinary children -- who, one day, will have their own chance to reflect on what their daddy meant to them.
As a young boy, I did not understand my father at all -- why he worked so hard, so late, and so much. It was only later, after I had my own kids, that I understood. He worked so I might play. He worked so I wouldn't have to work in a tannery like he did at 15, joyful only for the times the machines broke down so there might be a few minutes reprieve.
His work, in a curious way, was a kind of prayer -- a way he connected with something beyond himself, a way he tuned into the meaning of service, of giving to others in an unreasonable way -- an experience I would only learn much later in life.
I remember, late at night when I was in bed, hearing the sound of his Volkswagen turning the corner as he approached home. He'd enter my room, open the window, kneel by the bed, and put his head on my chest. Half asleep, I could feel his day's stubble pierce my pajama tops.
It was, at once, both harsh and comforting.
There, in the darkness, we would talk. He'd ask me how my day went and kiss me on the cheek. Then he'd say goodnight, eat dinner, talk with my mother, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.
I see him now, 50 years later, as a Suburban Samurai -- a man who long ago took a sacred oath he couldn't quite remember, an oath to live a life of principle, purpose, and perseverance.
He was smart, but I cannot recall him ever reading a book. He just didn't have the time. And even if he did, he'd rather read people which he became very good at.
His BS meter was quite evolved. He could pinpoint a fool at 30 paces and if you were a salesmen trying to hustle him in the middle of his workday you were out the door before he could say "Schmuck, don't even think of coming back."
I didn't always like him. Then again, I didn't always like my high school coaches, either -- all of whom believed in my potential so much that they were willing to be unpopular with me to make a point they knew would move me toward success.
As a college graduation gift, my father gave me a turquoise 1965 Pontiac LeMans convertible. I gave it back a few months later, suspicious of his intentions to control me with his supposed generosity. I actually left the car in his driveway with a heartless note on the steering wheel and then hitched back to where I was living some 500 miles away.
Looking back now, I realize my ability to return that car was the real gift he gave -- the gift of speaking my truth, the gift of being a man of my word to myself, the gift of going beyond the expected and doing what I felt was right -- even if it was unpopular or uncomfortable.
I've never met anyone as generous as the man we have come to celebrate today. He gave more to people than people gave to him. If someone in our family needed something -- a house, a car, a loan -- chances were good he would give it.
My wedding? Paid for by him. The downpayment on my house? A gift from him. A business loan when I was going under? That, too. And the terms? No interest. Pay me back when you can.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about Mother Teresa here. No. My father was sometimes more like Attila the Hun -- but Attila with a twist... and a story... and a joke... and a pearl of wisdom only visible to me when I stopped judging him for being so imperfect.
His generosity wasn't just with our family. In his later years, when he got into Real Estate -- a career, by the way, he mastered -- he'd find a way to help his clients buy houses they could never afford on their own. "The First Bank of Barney," we used to call it. Some of those people are here with us today.
My father's last days were not easy. Always used to being in control, he found it hard to concede to the body's imperfection and the growing need to depend on others for support. Always a giver, now he had to receive. Always the one in charge, now he was the charge of others.
That was hard for him. But in time, slowly... grunting and groaning... he began to find his way -- a new way, a softer way -- learning the kinds of lessons as he approached death that weren't always accessible to him in the prime of life. Thank God.
No, my father was not perfect, but who in this world is? Who? He was, however, I am happy to say, perfectly himself... a warrior... a teacher... a man of integrity... and for that I am forever grateful.
June 16, 2012
More about my teacher, here
The Power of Networks Teamwork Tip for Today
June 14, 2012
The Ultimate Offsite (Sort Of)
Just in case you've been in a coma these past few years, allow me to break the news to you: the spirit in the workplace movement is rapidly gaining momentum.
Untold thousands of dissatisfied US workers are making their way to ashrams, retreats, and yoga centers for something they just can't seem to find at work -- peace of mind.
Overworked, under-appreciated, and newly inner-directed, they are looking for something far beyond the next quarter -- something timeless, sacred, and completely immune to credit default swaps.
That's the good news. The bad? Many of our peace-seeking brothers and sisters seem to be falling prey to the "Starry-Eyed-Syndrome" -- that curious set of behaviors that surface whenever a well-intentioned, but time-crunched person unknowingly associates a place with an experience.
And so, it is with great respect to your personal God, your yoga mat, and your favorite tax-deductible charity, that I humbly offer you the following soul-saving tips should you ever decide to visit (or move into) the spiritual retreat of your choice.
Take what you can, leave the rest, and remember -- it's not whether your shoes are on or off, but if your heart is open.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR VISITING A SPIRITUAL RETREAT
1. Do Not Change the Way You Walk
Most visitors to a spiritual retreat think they have to change the way they walk if they are truly going to have a meaningful experience. Somehow, they believe there is a direct correlation between the way they move their feet and the amount of "grace" or "blessings" about to enter their lives.
The "spiritual walk," is actually a not-too-distant cousin of the "museum walk," the curious way a person slows down and shuffles knowingly, yet humbly, past a Monet (or is it a Manet?), silently getting the essence of the Masterpiece even as they move noddingly towards that incomprehensible cubist piece in the next room.
If you like, think of the spiritual walk as the complete opposite of the on-the-way-to-work-walk or the exiting-a-disco-in-New York walk.
Simply put, the spiritual walk is a way of moving that practitioners believe will attract small deer from nearby forests -- deer that will literally walk right up to them and eat from their hand -- more proof to anyone in the general vicinity that they are, in fact, enlightened souls, humble devotees, children of God, or the so-far-unacknowledged successors to their guru's lineage.
Ideally, the spiritual walk should be taken in sandals, though Reeboks or Chinese slippers will do in a pinch. Cowboy boots are definitely out, as are galoshes, high heels, and Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars.
2. Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Succumb to the Spiritual Nod
Closely related to the spiritual walk, the spiritual nod is routinely practiced in retreats the world over. And while no one completely comprehends it's divine origins, many believe it began when a blissful brother simply forgot the name of his roommate on his way to the bathroom.
Instead of issuing the familiar Sanskrit phrase of the week, our trend-setting friend simply tightened his lips, looked at the ground and... well... nodded.
Now, every time you walk by someone at the ashram, you are half-expected to flash them the nod, the non-verbal equivalent of "Hi! I know you know, and you know I know, and you know that I know that you know, and in my knowing, I know that I know you know, and by so knowing, need not speak, since words are finite and cannot express the knowingness which the two of us (being one) share from such a knowful place. Know what I mean?"
3. Do Not Judge Anyone, Including Yourself
This is the hardest of all commandments to obey. Why? Because spiritual environments not only bring out the best in people, they also bring out the worst. And while the worst is often more difficult to detect than the bliss of people wanting you to notice how blissful they are, the higher you get, the easier it is to notice -- that is, if you are looking for it.
Of course, it would be very easy to spend your entire spiritualized retreat noticing all the subtle ego trips going on around you. Resist this temptation with all your might!
Do not, I repeat, do not, focus on the stuff that would make good material for this article. You have no right. In fact, you have absolutely no idea why anyone is there, what their motivation is, or how they will learn the kinds of lessons you are absolutely sure they need to learn.
In reality, you are most likely seeing your own projections -- those disowned parts of your self that you've refused to acknowledge all these years...
Your spiritual groupie, your brownie point collector, your junkie for more experience, your suburban yogi , your guilty seeker of God, your con man, your eunuch, your resolution maker, your ass watcher, your closet fanatic, your glutton for humble pie, your too poetic definer of ecstasy, your flaming bullshit artist, your know-it-all, your have-it-all, your spring-headed bower towards anyone with more than two devotees.
All of them are you! Every single one of them! Don't judge them. Love them! Bring them tea! Rub their feet every chance you get!
4. Do Not Think That This Is the Only Place Where It Is Happening
Spiritual retreatants have a marked propensity to think that the grounds they inhabit are somehow more blessed than any place else on earth -- that they are privy to a special command performance by God, revealing himself in thousands of exotic ways for those lucky enough to be there, while thousands, nay millions, of George Bush-like souls are stumbling around in uncool places recently vacated by the Power of Life so a very cosmic thing can happen here and only here this weekend.
Life, in fact, is often perceived as so good in the "Center," that the rest of the world becomes eerily cast as the "booby prize."
Indeed, to new age seekers, everything else is simply referred to as "the world," much like Manhattanites speak of New Jersey. In short, the new age retreat comes to represent all that is good -- about God, about the Guru, about life itself.
Somehow ("and I don't know how, but you could ask anyone who was there this weekend") flowers seem sweeter there, the moon seems fuller, the air seems cleaner. Even the bread tastes better. If you glimpse a shooting star at night, it's the "guru's grace." If you see a double rainbow, it's directly over the meditation hall.
I guess it's all in how you look at it. The same shooting star convincing you that your guru is, in fact, the Supreme Guru, was also seen by a plumber named Leroy who just happened to be drinking a beer in between innings of the Mets game. His conclusion? The Mets were gonna win 20 of the next 25 and bring the pennant home to Flushing!
What do the signs in the sky (or what we perceive as signs) really mean? Isn't the whole world our ashram? Isn't the real issue one of appreciating what is happening all around us? The flowers? The stars? The beggars asking for spare change?
Flowers aren't any sweeter on retreat. It's our willingness to breathe deeply and enjoy them that's different. What's stopping us from being in this place right now? What's stopping us from realizing that the very ground beneath our feet is the promised land -- wherever we happen to be at the time.
5. Don't Put a Red Dot on Your Forehead If You Don't Want To
Unless you've been living in a trailer park your whole life, you probably already know what the red dot thing is all about. That's right. The third eye. The sixth chakra. High holiness. INDIA!! While sometimes mistaken for a beauty mark or a random bit of watermelon, the little red dot is actually a useful reminder to focus one's attention on the space between the eyebrows, which, for some people, is where God lives (or if not lives, at least vacations). Nothing wrong with that, now is there?
Still, you have to concede that the third eye isn't the only spot on the human body that's sacred. What about the earlobes? The belly button? The nipples? They come from God, too -- not too mention chakras #1 - 5 and the highly under-represented center of consciousness at the crown of the head. Sacred, every one of them!
Don't you think that, if the body is the temple of the soul, it follows that our entire physical structure is sacred? Shouldn't we be covered from head to toe with little red dots? And if so, why is it that we routinely quarantine people with measles -- the very people who have selflessly chosen to manifest disease just to remind us to honor our body's ultimate holiness?
6. Play With the Children
The only sentient beings free from the collective mentality of spiritual seekers are the children. Children visiting "holy places," in fact, behave the same way the world over no matter what adjectives their elders use for the unspeakable name of God. When they're hungry, they eat. When they're tired, they sleep. They cry when they want to, laugh for no reason, consume ice cream without guilt, and rarely wonder why your picture of the Master is bigger, newer, or better framed.
7. Fart At Your Own Risk
If you fart, and there's no one around to hear it at the ashram, did it happen? And if it did happen, does that mean you've been disrespectful? Is the resident Guru able to hear you? And if he or she is meditating, out of the country, or dead, is their guru or their guru's guru able to hear you? And if so, so what? Will you be reborn as a gerbil? Does the Guru fart? And if it's OK for him or her to pass wind, why not you?
OK, so it's their place and you're a guest. But after all, aren't we all guests here? Even the Guru? Who do they answer to? And if it's not the same one you're answering to, what the hell are you doing getting up at five in the morning and sitting in the lotus position?
Maybe the real question isn't whether or not it's permissible to fart on holy ground, but how you fart. For instance, if you're farting out of a blatant disregard for the Master's teachings or the sincerity of his or her followers, you might want to reconsider where you're coming from. However, if your farting is just a random release of gas, relax! Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You see, a typical visit to a spiritual center quickens one's ability to "let go" -- so what you call "farting" may, in fact, be a timely sign of your evolving spiritual condition.
8. Do Not Think You Are Higher or Lower Than Anyone Else
One of the favorite pastimes of people visiting a spiritual retreat is comparing themselves to everyone else. "See the guy over there carrying firewood? He's a very old soul -- way older than me. Been on the path for years. And that dude laughing hysterically in the corner? That's Shiva. Oops, he can probably see through me, maybe I better walk around the other way."
Want to save yourself some time? Don't try to figure out how "on the path" anybody else is. It's impossible. Stare into the eyes all you want, watch for tell-tale signs of liberation, but when it comes right down to it, the only conclusion you'll reach will be your own -- one that may have absolutely nothing to do with the anything but your own projections.
Face it, how accurate is your assessment going to be when 99 percent of humanity couldn't tell that the carpenter from Galilee had something special going for him?
Indeed, it's not at all unlikely that the beer-bellied, first-time visitor you met this morning at the ashram is, at this very moment, being treated like a spiritual mongoloid by everyone who meets him (repeatedly being asked if "this is your first time") when, in fact, the beer-bellied, first-time visitor is actually the reincarnation of Buddha.
9. Do Not Think That You Are Going to Get Something
Many people visit a a spiritual retreat because they want to get something. They want "clarity" or "contentment," "enlightenment" or "grace," "blessings" or "peace of mind." At the very least, they want their business to improve or their marriage to be saved.
Alas, they miss the point completely: If you try to get, you will lose, left only with the sinking feeling of having just bought $300 worth of lottery tickets only to learn that some electrician from Staten Island just won the whole thing.
Look, it's really very simple. You don't go to a spiritual center (or a Big Time Teacher, for that matter) to get. You go to give, to let go -- to relax your grip on the very thing that's been separating you from getting all these years: Your grasping. Your fear. Your well-rehearsed strategy to realize God.
10. Do Not Feel Compelled to Change Your Name
OK, so your name is Joey. Ever since you were knee high to a jar of Cheese Whiz, everyone called you Joey -- as in, "Hey, Joey, what's goin' down, bro'?" Yeah, you grew up in Brooklyn, cut school once a week, and dated a chick named Angela with very big boobs.
Great. So, here you are at the ashram and ba-bing, you run smack into a bunch of dudes with names like Arjuna, Govinda, Namdev,Shanti, Krishna. "Hey," you think to yourself, "maybe they got something I don't."
Guess what? They do. They have spiritual names given to them by their Guru -- names that make their mothers somewhat close-lipped around the canasta table. And while these names are clearly given with a purpose, the fact of the matter is -- they are irrelevant. Do you think the people in India who have spiritual experiences get their names changed to Eddie, Gino, Stacey, or Shirley ?
Hey, what difference does it make? You are not your name -- even if your namesake was enlightened. It doesn't matter what they call you, when it's time to go, you're gone.
The only name worth knowing at that time is God's name -- and that, my friend, no matter how many mantras you've memorized, can never be pronounced.
It's All WITHIN You!
June 13, 2012
Find a Reliable GPS for Your Organization's Innovation Journey
ED NOTE: It has recently come to our attention that some of our most avid readers still don't know the full scope of what Idea Champions (that's us) does. Here you go:
For 25 years, Idea Champions has catalyzed organizational innovation -- guiding forward-thinking companies to both short-term and long-term success in their marketplace.
As a result of our work, our clients not only learn to quickly adapt to constantly changing markets, but also evolve and invent offerings that blow their competition out of the water.
These companies are committed to what we call the "Innovation Journey." Think of us as your GPS for the journey.
We provide innovation consulting, skill-building training, team facilitation, catalytic conferences, and products to help you create a strategic, systemic and sustainable innovation process -- one that fully engages your workforce.
We have the road map. We know the shortcuts. We know the detours. And we also know how to get you to your destination with the least amount of wheel spinning, frustration, and expense.
To build capacity for innovation, we provide services in five key areas:
1. Innovation Journey Consulting: Needs assessments, senior team alignment sessions, visioning, roadmapping, and a simple process for choosing and developing ideas.
2. Creative Thinking Sessions: Skills for opportunity finding, ideation, brainstorming, breakthrough thinking, and idea assessment. Includes creative thinking tools, support materials, and webinars.
3. Leadership Development Workshops: Customized meetings to increase the core competency of innovation for your organization's "best and brightest". Focuses on helping participants go beyond business as usual and establish a sustainable, culture of innovation.
4. Team Collaboration: Jump starts the process of groups becoming teams and teams becoming high-performing teams. Focuses on team culture, values, communication, collaboration skills, coaching, and how to create low-cost business incubators.
5. Catalytic Conferences: Innovation-sparking events focused on generating new revenue, reducing costs, incubating new business models, and establishing a sustainable culture of innovation. Includes interactive keynotes and conference design, and expert facilitation.
Idea Champions turns theory into practice in a way that is engaging, enlivening, and empowering. Top down. Bottom up. Inside out. And outside in.
Our approach is collaborative, empowering, creative, productive, and fun. Everybody commits to taking the journey together so innovation becomes a mindset, not a program.
We can start small -- with a team or department event. Or we can start BIG, with a series of Innovation Journey Roadmap sessions designed to align and enroll your senior team on their innovation strategies for the future.
Call us today to begin: 845.679.1066. Or email.June 12, 2012
What You Can Learn from WC Fields
WC Fields was always an exceptionally gifted performer. But some of his most unforgettable performances took place off-camera.
Like most actors in the start of their career, Fields found himself a little short of cash. A problem? Not for him.
The non-traditional Mr. Fields simply created a "Blue Ocean" job for himself in Atlantic City, one summer, as a professional drowner.
Here's how it worked:
Several times a day, Fields would swim out to sea, pretend to be drowning, and then be "rescued" by one of his accomplices, the lifeguard.
Invariably, a large crowd would gather on the beach as the no longer struggling actor was "resuscitated."
Once it was clear that this poor fellow was going to live, the suddenly relieved crowd would turn to Field's third accomplice, the hot dog vendor, (who just happened to be standing nearby) and treat themselves to an "I'm-so-glad-he's-alive" snack.
At the end of each water-logged day, Fields would split the take with his buddies -- the lifeguard and the hot dog vendor.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you do anything to deceive your customers. Not at all.
But what I AM suggesting is that you take a fresh look at what you might do differently to get an extraordinary result.
Is there a new risk you need to take? An experiment you need to try? A non-traditional collaboration to enter into?
If your product, service, or venture is drowning, what can you do to resuscitate it?
My company, Idea Champions, once got a sizable contract from AT&T by teaching the Director of Training and Development how to juggle in five minutes -- something he'd been trying to learn for 25 years.
That's what I'm talking about: a new approach, a different twist, a non-traditional angle that will spark extraordinary results.
So... what is it?
Out of the Box, In the Box
Today is the anniversary of my father's death. In his memory, I offer you a different kind of post today. It's not about thinking outside the box. It's about the last day before being put in the box, last breath taken, work done. I dedicate this to those of you whose father is still alive -- that you might savor every day with him while you have the chance...
There is a time of life when the time of life is about to end -- the time of last breaths, the time of saying goodbye to everything you have ever known or loved, the time of letting go.
This is the time my father now finds himself in.
He is flat on his back in a hospital bed, but the hospital bed is in his bedroom in West Palm Beach which is where he has chosen to die -- and will.
There will be no more calls to 911, no more paramedics, no more blood transfusions, no needles, no pills, no tests. This is his death bed and we are around it, me, his son -- his daughter, my sister -- my wife, his daughter-in-law -- grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the ever present hospice nurse here to keep him as comfortable as possible.
His mouth is dry. He cannot swallow. Someone swabs his lips as he gathers what's left of his strength to move his tongue toward the precious few drops of water.
The sound track for his last night on Earth is an oxygen machine pumping purified air through transparent tubes clipped to the end of his nose.
On the counter -- creams. Creams for this and creams for that and creams for the other thing, too. I've never seen so many creams.
Those of us around his bed are very still, holding his hand, rubbing his back, looking at him and each other in ways we have never looked before.
There is very little for my father to do but breathe. This lion of a man whose life was defined by ferocity and action is barely moving now. A turn of the head. A flutter of the eye. A twitch.
Though his eyes are closed, I know he can hear, so I bend closer and talk into his good, right ear. I tell him he's done a good job and that all of us will be OK. I tell him I love him and to go to the light. I tell him everything is fine and he can let go.
The hospice nurse is monitoring his vital signs. They keep getting lower and lower. I touch my father's cheek and it is cooler than before. His skin looks translucent. Almost like a baby's.
He opens his eyes and shuts them once again. None of us around him know what to do, but that's OK because it's clear there is nothing to do.
Being is the only thing that's happening here.
My father had his last shot of morphine about an hour ago. He had his last bowl of Cheerios yesterday at 10am. Cheerios and half of a sliced banana. That was the last time he could swallow.
It is quiet in the room. Very quiet.
I see my sister, my nieces, my wife, the nurse. All of us are as helpless as my father. The only difference is we are standing.
If only we could pay as much attention to the living as we do to the dying. If only we could stop long enough from whatever occupies our time and truly care for each other, aware of just how precious each breath is, each word, each touch, each glance.
Sitting by my father's side, I am hyper-aware of everyone who enters the room -- the way they approach his bed, what they say, how they say it, the look on their face, their thoughts.
I want to be this conscious all the time, attuned to the impact I have on others in everything I do. It all matters.
Nothing has prepared us for this moment. Not the books on death and dying, not the stories of friends who's fathers have gone before. Not the sage counsel of the Rabbi.
One thing is clear. Each of us will get our turn. Our bodies, like rusty old cars gone beyond their warrantees, will wear out. Friends and family will gather by our side, speak in hushed tones, hold our hands, and ask if we are comfortable.
That's just the way it is. It begins with a breath, the first -- and ends with a breath, the last.
In between? A length of time. A span of years. A hyphen, as my teacher likes to say, between birth and death.
What this hyphenated experience will be is totally up to us.
Will it be filled with kindness? Love? Compassion? Gratitude? Giving? Delight? Will we be there for each other before it's time to fill out the forms and watch the body -- strapped to a stretcher by two men in black suits -- be driven away like something repossessed?
I hope so. I really do. I hope we all choose wisely. I hope beyond a shadow of a doubt before we walk through the shadow in the valley of death that we choose to hold each others' hands NOW, rub each other's backs, bring each other tea, and listen from the heart with the same kind of infinite tenderness we too often reserve only for those about to depart.
My father is very quiet now, breathing only every 20 seconds or so. Or should I say being breathed?
And then...there is nothing. Only silence. No breaths come. No slight changes of expression on his face. No whispered words of love.
We, around his bed, are in his home, but he is somewhere else.
Bye bye Daddy! Travel well! Know that we love you and will keep the flame of who are deeply alive in our hearts. Thank you for everything. We will meet again. Amen!June 03, 2012
How to Create an Idea Factory
One of the reasons why most BIG IDEAS go nowhere is because the idea originators do not have a team of collaborators on board to help develop and execute their ideas.
In the absence of collaborators, the idea originators either try to do everything themselves (not a good idea) or spend so much time trying to enroll people on the fly that the idea loses momentum and eventually evaporates.
Simply put, it's easy to conceive. It's harder to deliver the baby.
But what if each of us who comes up with a potentially game-changing idea already had a team of collaborators in place -- people who were poised and ready to respond with enthusiasm, skill, and clarity?
This is not a new idea. There are examples in many other domains: Swat Teams, Firefighters, and Emergency Rooms, just to name a few.
These are people who are there when you need them. They are skilled. They know their roles. They are team players. And they are totally committed -- even when tired, cranky, and under-appreciated.
YOU need something similar every time you come up with a big idea. OK. Maybe not every time -- but at least sometimes.
Here are the people I want in my Idea Factory (or, as one friend renamed it, my "Opportunity Incubator").
1.Brainstorm Buddy to help develop the idea, give feedback, share insights, and keep me on my game.
2. Researcher to gather information, best practices, data, resources, etc.
3. Finance Person to do projections, budgets, and help build the business case.
4. Marketing Maven to help me sell the idea -- in house and out there in the "real world."
5. Writer to create proposals, business cases, and other support materials.
Five people. That's it. On call. Part time.
1. The Big Idea comes to you.
2. You write a brief and email it to your Fab Five
3. On a conference call, you present the idea -- and get feedback.
4. You make specific requests to each member of the team.
5. You stay in close touch with all Idea Factory cohorts -- making sure to share info, progress, changes, and successes.
Anything I've forgotten? Any members of the team I should add?
Or... are you ready to start your own idea factory?
PS: These do not have to be paid positions. I'm talking about inviting your friends or colleagues who are "in the zone" and would love to be involved in some cool projects with you.