The Power of Tears
Social media did not exist when I was 26. But social work did -- a profession dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals, groups, families, couples, and communities.
As the Golden Boy of an upper middle class Jewish family from New York, social work was not on my radar screen. The pay wasn't good enough. The status wasn't high enough. And the hours weren't short enough.
So when my neighbor, a University of Virginia Medical Center pediatrician, invited me to become the social worker for a new, federally-funded "early intervention" program I was only half listening. Yes, I was social and yes, I knew how to work, but counseling parents of multi-handicapped infants did not seem like a talent I possessed.
My neighbor, the pediatrician, saw it differently.
"We have a mentor already picked out for you," she explained. "And besides, we don't want professional social workers. We want people who can learn on the job, so we can roll this program out across the country."
The case she made was compelling. And the scope of the project was inspiring -- for me to be part of a team of health care professionals, teachers, and psychologists who would provide services to families into whom a handicapped child had been born. The goal was to do everything possible to keep the families together -- a challenge that, historically, had been proven difficult to do, given all of the stressors and dysfunctional behaviors that manifest when a handicapped child enters the family system.
My job? To be the first person, from our team, on the scene whenever a physically handicapped child was born at the University of Virginia Medical Center or identified, a few months later, to be showing the signs of serious developmental delay.
The protocol was a simple one. I would get a phone call from the hospital, drop everything I was doing, and then meet with the doctors and parents. The doctors were glad to see me because it meant they wouldn't have to deal with all those untidy emotional issues. The parents were not glad to see me because my appearance confirmed the fact that something was definitely wrong with their child -- not at all what they were expecting when packing their bags the night before and wondering how many birth announcements to send out.
For two years, that's what I did, working closely with 20 families of handicapped children living within 50 miles of the University of Virginia Medical Center.
I learned a lot and felt a lot. But the one thing that stands out in my mind, some 41 years later, has nothing to do with facilitating parent groups, making home visits, or navigating the bureaucracy of a flawed medical system. It has to do with a young, single mother and the power of tears.
Lorraine Thompson was 17 when I first met her in a flourescently lit waiting room. Her son, Michael, was three months old. Neither of them was in good shape. Lorraine was overwhelmed, highly stressed, and barely said a word. Michael was twitching, kicking, and drooling, having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy just days before.
Seeing how much pain this young woman was in, my instinct was to comfort her, to be a safe haven from all the suffering in her life. And so, for the first few months of my weekly counseling sessions with her, that's what I tried to do -- bringing her tea, listening, and reminding her of all the many medical center resources available to her. After each session, I wrote up my notes and carefully tracked whatever progress she had been made since her last visit.
Progress was being made. Lorraine seemed to brighten in my presence and come out of her shell. My social work mentor saw it differently. To her, the progress being made wasn't progress at all, but my own unconscious strategy to protect myself and Lorraine from what really needed to happen.
My good intentions were getting in the way. What needed to happen, my mentor explained, was for me to stop being so damn benevolent and let Lorraine Thompson, the 17-year old, semi-catatonic, single mother of a severely handicapped son fall apart. She had to, as my mentor explained, "fall to the place she could fall no further from."
At first, I balked at this suggestion. Hey, I was the only person in the world this woman was receiving any solace from and now I was being asked to withdraw it? It made no sense. But after listening to my mentor wax on about "the healing process", my task became clear. The next time I met with Lorraine, I would let her fall apart.
Three weeks passed. Lorraine and her son, as they had been accustomed to doing for the past three months, met me in the parents lounge. We began as we usually did, me asking Lorraine how her week had been going. After a few minutes of chit chat, she started talking about the tough stuff -- the lack of support from her mother, her son's constant gagging on food, and a seemingly endless stream of complaints. But instead of responding with a hand on the shoulder or light-hearted diversion, I said nothing. I just sat there, silent, looking at her.
Lorraine held my gaze for about 10 seconds, then started crying. The crying turned to sobbing and the sobbing turned into something I have no name for. I continued sitting there in silence, remembering the sage counsel of my mentor. Let her fall to the place she can fall no further from.
It took a while, but it happened. Lorraine cried all her tears. When she was done, I reached out and held her hand. At first she wouldn't look at me. Then she did. There was a great deal of relief in her eyes.
SO WHAT? I wonder how much time, in my life, I've spent propping other people up when all that was needed was simply holding the space for them to let go. In the name of benevolence, compassion, and humanity, I've performed any number of seemingly heartfelt moves designed to relieve the suffering others. And while all of it has been well-intentioned, there have been many times where the highest expression of wisdom would have been to do nothing other than "hold the space" -- a space where no props and pep talks were needed -- a space where true healing could begin.
NOW WHAT? Is there a Lorraine Thompson in your life -- someone going through a hard time who you've been propping up with your good intentions? Are you willing, the next time you see him or her, to stop trying to save them and simply let them feel what there is to feel?
15 Quotes on the Importance of Asking the Right Question
As a facilitator of the creative process, I continue to be astounded by how few organizations have any kind of process is place to PAUSE, reflect, and make sure they are coming up with the right questions. Apparently, I'm not alone.
1. "It's not that they can't see the solution. They can't see the problem." - G.K. Chesterton
2. "There are no right answers to wrong questions." - Ursula K. Le Guin
3. "We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong." - Bono
4. "Ask the right questions if you're going to find the right answers." - Vanessa Redgrave
5. "Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers." - Robert Half
6. "What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question." - Jonas Salk
7. "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." - Werner Heisenberg
8. "The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions." - Antony Jay
9. "In school, we're rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question." - Richard Saul Wurman
10. "In all affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." - Bertrand Russell
11. "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." - Pablo Picasso
12. "Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers." - Voltaire
13. "We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers." - Friedrich Nietszche
14. "My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions." - Peter Drucker
15. "He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever." - Chinese proverbHow to Tell a Good Story
Let's start with the basics: You already know how to tell a good story. You do. You've been telling stories your entire life. Today, you probably told at least a few. And later, tonight, you will probably tell some more -- whether they are merely accounts of your day, a memorable encounter you had at work, or a reminiscence from days gone by.
Story is the ocean we are swimming in. And because it is, we don't necessarily feel wet when we're in it, but we are.
Fish aren't taught to swim. And you aren't taught to tell stories. As a child, you didn't need to be taught. All you needed was to hear them and them tell them to others -- which you did -- everything from The Three Little Pigs to Jack and the Beanstalk to the excuses you laid on your teachers for not handing in your homework on time.
Of course, if you had to teach someone how to tell a story in the next ten minutes, you would probably resist because you don't necessarily know how you do it. But just because you don't, doesn't mean you lack the knowledge or the skill. You don't. It's in there. It is.
Storytelling is what psychologists refer to as an "unconscious competence" -- a skill, like walking, eating, or complaining that has become second nature to us. It's in our bones and has been since we were very young. And while you may not be as skillful a storyteller as Garrison Keillor, you don't need to be a Garrison Keillor in order to be a good storyteller. In fact, you don't want to be Garrison Keillor. You want to be yourself. Because being yourself is one of the secrets to being a good storyteller.
Is this just a story I'm telling you -- a way to pump you up and get you past your resistances? No, it's not. Having been a professional communicator for the past 27 years and having worked with thousands of people from just about every industry on planet Earth, I've seen, first hand, the extraordinary, untapped and unexpressed ability people have to go beyond their assumptions of who they are, what they do, and how they do it.
Where to begin? With one simple commitment: To stop telling yourself the story that you don’t know how to tell a good story.
Willing? If so, the rest of this essay is for you. Unwilling? No problem. Either skip the next few paragraphs or take a nap.
Ultimately, there is only one thing you need to know if you want to tell a good story: Storytelling is part art and part science. And of the two, it's more about the art than it is about the science.
Communicating your humanity is the art. The more human you are willing to be (i.e. not perfect, not an expert, not a superhero), the more likely it is that people will connect with your story.
The key to communicating your humanity? Your passion for telling your story, your respect for your audience, your authenticity, your understanding that people will get what they need without you teaching or preaching, and your ability to engage the attention of the people you are telling your story to. All of the preceding requires the right application of eight subtle factors: voice tonality, body language, facial gestures, hand movement, pacing, adapting to the non-verbal cues from your audience, how evocative you are, and the choice of what details to include, embellish, or ignore.
Can these factors be learned? Of course they can -- much in the same way that aspiring actors go to acting class. But the real key to successful storytelling is less about study than it is about practice. The more stories you tell, the better you'll get. It's as simple as that. Real-time, you'll figure out what works and what doesn't work and then make the necessary adjustments in order to improve.
The science of telling a good story is much less complicated that you think. Fundamentally, it's about structure and the inter-relationships of the elements that comprise the structure. Just like a house needs a foundation, framing, walls, and a roof if it wants to fulfill its purpose, a story needs structure, too. Once you understand the elements of story structure, you're on your way.
What are those elements? There are five, just like the fingers on the hand you use to make a point.
1. Setting (where your story takes place)
2. Character (the hero/heroine/protagonist who has adventures)
3. Plot (the events that unfold, the arc of what happens)
4. Conflict (the obstacles the characters encounter)
5. Theme (the resolution of the conflict, what's been learned along the way)
"Everybody likes to tell a story. Little children do it effortlessly. Great artists do it with talent and years of practice. Somewhere in between stand you and I." - Sylvia Ziskind
Want to get an email alert when my STORYTELLING AT WORK is published in October? Click here.
Here's a lovely book on storytelling -- THE STORY FACTOR.
Thank You! April 10, 2015
The Four Lenses of Innovation
A wonderful new book on innovation, by Rowan Gibson, THE FOUR LENSES OF INNOVATION: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking, has recently been published by Wiley. Rowan Gibson is the real deal -- a lucid, passionate, creative thought leader in the field of innovation. If you are looking for a simple way to cut through a lot of the ho hum mumbo jumbo about innovation, this book is for you.April 09, 2015
The 8 Dimensions of a Brainstorm Session
Most people think brainstorming sessions are all about ideas -- much in the same way Wall Street bankers think life is all about money.
While ideas are certainly a big part of brainstorming, they are only a part.
People who rush into a brainstorming session starving for new ideas will miss the boat (and the train, car, and unicycle) completely unless they tune into the some other important dynamics that are also at play:
1. INVESTIGATION: If you want your brainstorming sessions to be effective, you'll need to do some investigating before hand. Get curious. Ask questions. Dig deeper. The more you find out what the real issues are, the greater your chances of framing powerful questions to brainstorm and choosing the best techniques to use.
2. IMMERSION: While good ideas can surface at any time, their chances radically increase the more that brainstorm participants are immersed. Translation? No coming and going during a session. No distractions. No interruptions. And don't forget to put a "do not disturb" sign on the door.
3. INTERACTION: Ideas come to people at all times of day and under all kinds of circumstances. But in a brainstorming session, it's the quality of interaction that makes the difference -- how people connect with each other, how they listen, and build on ideas. Your job, as facilitator, is to increase the quality of interaction.
4. INSPIRATION: Creative output is often a function of mindset. Bored, disengaged people rarely originate good ideas. Inspired people do. This is one of your main tasks, as a brainstorm facilitator -- to do everything in your power to keep participants inspired. The more you do, the less techniques you will need.
5. IDEATION: Look around. Everything you see began as an idea in someone's mind. Simply put, ideas are the seeds of innovation -- the first shape a new possibility takes. As a facilitator of the creative process, your job is to foster the conditions that amplify the odds of new ideas being conceived, developed, and articulated.
6. ILLUMINATION: Ideas are great. Ideas are cool. But they are also a dime a dozen unless they lead to an insight or aha. Until then, ideas are only two dimensional. But when the light goes on inside the minds of the people in your session, the ideas are activated and the odds radically increase of them manifesting.
7. INTEGRATION: Well-run brainstorming sessions have a way of intoxicating people. Doors open. Energy soars. Possibilities emerge. But unless participants have a chance to make sense of what they've conceived, the ideas are less likely to manifest. Opening the doors of the imagination is a good thing, but so is closure.
8. IMPLEMENTATION: Perhaps the biggest reason why most brainstorming sessions fail is what happens after -- or, shall I say, what doesn't happen after. Implementation is the name of the game. Before you let people go, clarify next steps, who's doing what (and by when), and what outside support is needed.April 08, 2015
100 Reasons Why You Definitely Won't Read This Blog Posting
I know you have no time. YOU know you have no time. I know you're not gonna do anything you don't wanna do. YOU know you're not gonna do anything you don't wanna do. We both know you're not going to read this blog post. It's too long and you have more important things to do.
What follows are 100 other reasons why you won't read it.
1. You don't want to.
2. You're late for a very important date.
3. You can't think of a way to monetize the experience.
4. You don't like blog postings with clever, little titles.
5. You don't know how to read.
6. You have to go to your health club to work off last night's two margaritas.
7. Someone stole your identity and you don't know who you are.
8. You've got to walk the dog.
9. You are wary of any list longer than ten.
10. Something is beeping just a few feet away from you, but you can't seem to find it.
11. It's none of my business.
12. You have to get to the airport (bathroom... meeting... dry cleaners... grocery store... movie theater).
13. You just had three shots of tequila and when you read the title you thought it said, "50 Seasons You Won't Seed the Post Toastie."
14. You're obsessing about cash flow.
15. You've got to check your kid's Facebook messages again -- especially after reading last night's really rude ones from those 497 FB friends you've never met.
16. You're out of range.
17. You're out of time.
18. You're out of money.
19. You're out of your mind.
20. You're out of excuses.
21. Anytime anybody comes off as seeming to know what you will do or won't do, you immediately do the opposite, (but you're wise to me and realize that you'd be playing into my hands by doing the opposite, so you are not reading this, which, by the way, was exactly what I predicted.)
22. You associate lists like this with superficial feature stories in Vogue or Redbook.
23. You realize that the entire universe is an illusion.
24. You need a break.
25. You took a break and now you're broke.
26. You have ADD or the latest medical condition invented by the pharmaceutical industry to sell you more drugs your health plan won't cover.
27. You have an acute case of blogitis.
28. You'd rather tweet.
29. You're late for your session with your therapist.
30. Your therapist would rather tweet.
31. You've got to check your Match.com page to see if anyone wants to go for a long walk with you on the beach.
32. You've got to change your e-Harmony profile. You haven't gotten an email from anyone in weeks.
33. You're thinking of starting your own business.
34. You're thinking of starting your own blog.
35. It's time to meditate.
36. You have an undeniable need to eat chocolate, but can't find anything in the house. Wait a minute! What about that Baker's Chocolate on the back shelf?
37. The oil spill has reached your front door.
38. You're too busy complaining to anyone who will listen about Facebook's privacy policies or lack thereof.
39. You're trying to find out how you can get a free 15-day trial to my new, online creative thinking tool.
40. These two bloggers walk into a bar.
41. Anyone here from Cleveland?
42. You're waiting for this posting to come out as a YouTube video.
43. You've only got two minutes left of battery life and if you don't book a cheap flight to Chicago, you're screwed.
44. You're certain it's all part of a vast right wing conspiracy.
45. Your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/mother/father/kids are on your case for spending too much time on the computer.
46. You're in the Federal Witness Protection Program and are convinced someone will track you down for reading this.
47. The tea kettle is whistling.
48. You're trying to figure out if the Isle of Langerhans is in the Carrribean or your pancreas.
49. You're waiting for your assistant to bring you the Executive Overview.
50. You're waiting to be important enough to have an assistant.
51. You're waiting for Godot.
52. You're a waiter and your shift starts in ten minutes.
53. The BIG GAME is on.
54. You're suspicious of anything that can't be reduced to 140 characters.
55. You're still counting hanging chads.
56. You live in New York City and have to move your car to the other side of the street.
57. It's not part of your 12-Step program.
58. Even though you had that fabulous laser surgery on both your eyes, you can't seem to find your new, inexpensive reading glasses.
59. You've just figured out how much it's going to cost to send your kids to college.
60. The Ambien's kicking in.
61. A Jehovah's Witness is at your door.
62. The pizza guy is at your door.
63. You suddenly realize you didn't order pizza.
64. Maybe it's a serial killer at your door -- not exactly the perfect time to be reading 100 reasons why you won't read this.
65. The moon is in Aquarius.
66. Your mind is in the gutter.
67. You're downloading free iPhone apps you will never use.
68. You're trying to figure out what Apple's next product that begins with "I" will be (I-Give-Up?, I-Matey?, I-Coulda-Been-A-Contenda?).
69. It's been five minutes since you've logged onto Facebook.
71. You think blogging is a fad.
72. Nostradamus didn't predict it.
73. It's not in the Bible.
74. Just because.
75. You're a big fan of Sarah Palin.
77. You're not as open to possibility as you think you are.
78. See # 61.
79. You just got pulled over by a state trooper who saw you about to read my blog while doing 55 mph in a hospital zone.
80. You weren't breast fed.
81. You were thinking about the need your company has to establish a sustainable culture of innovation -- the kind that would make it much easier for everyone to bring the best of their innate creativity to the table on a daily basis.
82. There's something about blogs that put you off. I mean, don't these people have anything better to do?
83. Your boss is standing in the doorway, arms folded, frowning, as if to say, "Back to work, slacker. We've got a business to run!"
84. You're feeling a compelling need to find someone who can teach you how to run kick-ass brainstorming sessions.
85. Someone's on Line 2.
86. You think there must be some kind of marketing campaign behind this and I'm probably gearing up to sell you something you don't need -- and even if you did need it, clicking this link would end up getting you a whole bunch of emails that have nothing to do with your real interest (which is to read the next item on this fabulous list of 100 reasons why you won't read this fabulous list). I rest my case.
87. You've just been acquired by Google.
88. You figure that anyone who would bother writing a list of 100 reasons why you wouldn't read the list he wrote is either insane, unemployed, or your brother-in-law.
89. BTW, if you know of a good publisher who would be interested in publishing my next book, Wisdom at Work, contact me in the next 11 seconds.
90. You live on an asteroid.
91. Your hemorrhoids are acting up.
92. You've heard it said that reading long blog postings written by total strangers leads to the "harder stuff."
93. You're afraid of commitment. Always have been.
94. You haven't read my book yet.
95. You have more important things to do. (Then again, you always say that.)
96. You really need to get back to writing your screenplay.
97. Someone just mentioned you look a lot like Johnny Depp and you've got to find an agent fast.
98. You majored in economics.
99. Bottles of beer on the wall.
100. You're waiting for the results of the focus group.April 06, 2015
35 Awesome Quotes from Einstein
Since 1986, every innovation workshop I've facilitated has included a poster of Albert Einstein.
Somehow, Einstein's smiling countenance inspires everyone in the room -- no matter what their social style, gender, or title.
The only thing I find more fascinating than this is the incredible amount of powerful quotes he left behind.
1. "The only real valuable thing is intuition."
2. "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
3. "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
4. "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."
5. "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
6. "The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge."
7. "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
8. "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
9. "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."
10. "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."
11. "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
12. "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
13. "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe."
14. "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."
15. "When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours. That's relativity."
16. "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts."
17. "What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world."
18. "A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."
19. "A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?"
20. "A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?"
21. "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."
22. "Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."
23. "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."
24. "Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them."
25. "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."
26. "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
27. "I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right."
28. "The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive."
29. "Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."
30. "We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us."
31. "You ask me if I keep a notebook to record my great ideas. I've only ever had one."
32. "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
33. "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."
34. "Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts."
35. "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."April 03, 2015
What On-The-Job Wisdom Lessons Are Most Compelling to You?
If you have four minutes and are interested in the topic of storytelling in business, I invite you to respond to my online poll -- your chance to tell me what themes about storytelling in the workplace are most meaningful to you. Thank you!
If you want to get an email alert when my book is published
Big thank you to Jesse Ditkoff for the graphics
STORYTELLING AT WORK: The Mailing List
If you would like to receive an email alert when my forthcoming book is published in the Fall, just click this link and write your email address in the space provided. Takes 30 seconds.
Below are a few excerpts from the book, previously published in the Huffington Post.
AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
As the story goes, 2,500 years ago, Buddha gave a wordless sermon to his disciples. All he did was hold up a single white flower -- a lotus. That's it. No words. Just a flower. All his disciples were mystified, except, that is, Mahakasyapa, a young monk who immediately smiled, signifying the direct transmission of wisdom from Master to student -- a moment referred to in Buddhist literature as "tathagata", the ineffable nature of suchness.
Something within Mahakasyapa instantly understood the non-verbal essence of what Buddha was communicating. He got it in a flash. No thought was necessary, no analysis, no intellectualization. It was, as if, a veil had lifted and he got to experience something profound that was previously inaccessible to him.
For want of a better phrase, let's call the young monk's recognition a "moment of truth".
The good news for the rest of us is that a person does not need to be a monk to experience a moment of truth. Nor do all moments of truth need to be "spiritual", historically significant, or worthy of inclusion in future scriptures.
Moments of truth are not only for everyone, but they come in all varieties -- small, medium, and large -- spontaneously occurring, unplanned happenings that have, embedded within them, the potential for great learning, insight, and wisdom. Simply put, a kind of Red Sea parts and a meaningful "lesson" is learned, even if no teacher is present. We all have them, though, like dreams, they are easy to forget, dismiss, or undervalue.
The catalyst for a moment of truth can be anything. For the young monk, it was a flower. For you, who knows? A chocolate bar? A glance from a beggar? Missing a train? A nasty divorce? Getting lost? Being rescued? Almost dying? A dream? A blues song you hear on the radio? It really doesn't matter what, as long as it sparks an inner shift that that moves you beyond old assumptions, habits of mind, and outdated beliefs so you can experience the magic of life in a fresh, new way.
If you deconstruct the stories we tell, you'll soon discover that most of them turn out to be our attempts to give shape to these moments of truth -- our verbal deciphering of a moment, in time (or outside of time) that had great significance for us, even if that moment was invisible to others.
Unspoken, these moments of truth remain hidden, stashed away inside us like buried treasure or unopened love letters. Expressed, especially in the form of story, they uplift, inspire, and empower, pollinating great fields of wisdom -- in yourself, the people you share them with, and the people they share them with. On and on and on it goes, countless moments of truth circulating the planet at the same time, opening minds, opening hearts, and helping awaken us all to a richer, fuller life.
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