The Martial Arts of the Mind
Ten years ago I was invited to teach a course on "Innovation and Business Growth" at GE's Crotonville Management Development Center for 75 high potential, business superstars of the future.
The GE executive who hired me was a very savvy guy with the unenviable task of orienting new adjunct faculty members to GE's high standards and often harsher reality.
My client's intelligence was exceeded only by his candor as he proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that GE gave "new instructors" two shots at making the grade -- explaining, with a wry smile, that most outside consultants were intimidated the first time they taught at GE and weren't necessarily at the top of their game.
I'm not sure how you say it in Esperanto, but in English what he said translates as "The heat is on, big time."
I knew I would have to raise my game if I expected to be invited back after my two-session audition was over.
And so I went about my business of getting ready, keeping in mind that I was going to be leading a 6-hour session for 75 of GE's "best and brightest" flown half way around the world -- high flying Type A personalities with a high regard for themselves and a very low threshold for anything they judged to be unworthy of their time.
I had five weeks to prepare, five weeks to get my act together, five weeks to dig in and front load my agenda with everything I needed to wow my audience: case studies, statistics, quotes, factoids, and more best practices than you could shake an iPhone at.
I was ready. Really ready. Like a rookie center fielder on designer steroids, I was ready.
Or so I thought.
The more I spoke, the less they listened. The less they listened, the more I spoke, trotting out "compelling" facts and truckloads of information to make my case as they blankly stared and checked their email under the table.
Psychologists, I believe, would characterize my approach as "compensatory behavior."
I talked faster. I talked louder. I worked harder -- attempting in various pitiful ways to pull imaginary rabbits out of imaginary hats.
Needless to say, GE's best and brightest -- for the entire 45 minutes of my opening act -- were not impressed.
Clearly, I was playing a losing game.
My attempt to out-GE the GE people was a no-win proposition. I didn't need new facts, new statistics, or new quotes. I needed a new approach -- a way to secure the attention of my audience and help them make the shift from left-brained skepticism to right-brained receptivity.
And I needed to do it five minutes, not 45.
The next few days were very uncomfortable for me, replaying in my head -- again and again -- my lame choice of an opening gambit and wondering what, in the world, I could do to get better results in much less time.
And then, like an unexpected IPO from Mars, it hit me. The martial arts!
As a student of Aikido, I knew how amazing the martial arts were and what a great metaphor they were for life.
Fast forward a few weeks...
My second session, at Crotonville, began exactly like the first -- with the Program Director reading my bio to the group in an heroic attempt to impress everyone. They weren't.
Taking my cue, I walked to center stage, scanned the audience and uttered nine words.
"Raise your hand if you're a bold risk taker."
Not a single hand went up. Not one.
I stood my ground and surveyed the room.
"Really?" I said. "You are GE's best and brightest and not one of you is a bold risk taker? I find that hard to believe."
Ten rows back, a hand went up. Slowly. Halfway. Like a kid in a high school math class, not wanting to offend the teacher.
"Great!" I bellowed, pointing to the semi-bold risk taker. "Stand up and join me in the front of the room!"
You could cut the air with a knife.
I welcomed my assistant to the stage and asked him if had any insurance -- explaining that I had called him forth to attack me from behind and was going to demonstrate a martial arts move shown to me by my first aikido instructor, a 110-pound woman who I once saw throw a 220-pound man through a wall.
Pin drop silence.
I asked our bold risk taker to stand behind me and grab both of my wrists and instructed him to hold on tight as I attempted to get away -- an effort that yielded no results.
I casually mentioned how the scenario being played out on stage is what a typical work day has become for most of us -- lots of tension, resistance, and struggle.
With the audience completely focused on the moment, I noted a few simple principles of Aikido -- and how anyone, with the right application of energy and the right amount of practice, could change the game.
As I demonstrated the move, my "attacker" was quickly neutralized and I was no longer victim, but in total control.
In three minutes, things had shifted. Not only for me and my attacker, but for everyone in the room.
That's when I mentioned that force was not the same thing as power -- and that martial artists know how to get maximum results with a minimum of effort -- and that, indeed, INNOVATION was all about the "martial arts of the mind" -- a way to get extraordinary results in an elegant way.
PS: I was invited back 26 times to deliver the course.
Every day, no matter what our profession, education, or astrological sign, we are all faced with the same challenge -- how to effectively communicate our message to others.
This challenge is particularly difficult these days, given the glut of information we all must contend with. The amount of information available to us is doubling every ten years! Yearly, more than one million books are published. Daily, we are bombarded with more 6,000 advertising messages and 150 emails. As a result, most of us find ourselves in a defensive posture, protecting ourselves from the onslaught of input.
What I've discovered in the past 25 years of working with some of the world's most powerful organizations is that if I really want to have get my message across, I've got to deliver it in a what that gets past the "guardians at the gate" -- the default condition of doubt, disengagement, and derision that comes with the territory of life in the 21st century business world.
My rite of passage at GE was a microcosm of this phenomenon.
Indeed, my presumptive effort to "win over my audience" by impressing them with data, case studies, and best practices was a losing game. Not only was I barking up the wrong tree, I was in the wrong forest.
The key to my breaking through the collective skepticism of GE's best and brightest wasn't a matter of information. It was a matter transformation.
They didn't need to analyze, they needed to engage -- and it was my job to make that easy to do. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi so deftly put it, I had to "be the change I wanted to see in the world."
I had to do something that invoked the curious, playful, and associative right brain, not the logical, linear, analytical left brain -- tricky business, indeed, especially when you consider that most business people, these days, have a very low threshold for anything they judge to be impractical
Which is why I chose the martial arts as the operational metaphor at GE, my attempt to move them from the Dow to the Tao.
Impractical? Not at all.
Bottom line, whether we know it or not, we have all entered the "experience economy" -- a time when being involved is at least as important as being informed.
Information is no longer sufficient to spark change. Data is no longer king. Thinking only takes us part of the way home. It's feeling that completes the journey -- the kind of feeling that leads to full on curiosity and the kind of engagement that opens the door to exciting new possibilities.
Which is exactly what happened at GE when I made the shift from marshaling my facts, to marshaling my energy -- and by extension, the energy of 75 of GE's best and brightest.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What message have you been trying to deliver (with too little impact) that might be communicated in a totally different way -- a way that more successfully engages people and leads to measurable results?April 04, 2016
The Crowdsourced Birth of a New Book Beyond Business Innovation
Greetings! It's me, Mitch Ditkoff, author of this blog, President of Idea Champions, writer, speaker, husband, father, and dust particle. If you've been enjoying this blog, there is a good chance you will enjoy my forthcoming book. Towards that end, I have just launched a GoFundMe campaign and am inviting you to participate. We're talking crowd-sourced funding -- a way for me to buy the time and resources I need to write, produce, publish, and promote the book before hell freezes over. Hope you can be part of it! It takes a village... and a few village idiots!March 02, 2016
Sun Tzu on Preparation
"Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought." - Sun Tzu
What challenge or opportunity is coming up for you that will require a higher level of preparation than you usually make? What extra effort are you willing to make in order to prepare? What might prevent you from making the kind of effort you know you need to make? How can you create the support you need to ensure that your preparation efforts succeed?February 26, 2016
Everyone Is In Transition
February 15, 2016
On Creating an Innovation Mindset
If you want to spark innovation in your organization and are looking for the diamond cutters stroke, consider storytelling. Since 1987, I've tried everything under the sun to help my clients raise the bar for innovation. What I've discovered is that innovation begins in the mind and that unless people are in the right mindset, innovation will never be more than a pipe dream. Storytelling, I've learned, is the simplest, fastest, most memorable way to get people into an innovation mindset. Here's how we do it. And if you only have 90 minutes, this is how we do it. Its also boosts employee engagement.October 22, 2015
Asking for Permission to Facilitate
Here's a useful tip for you the next time you find yourself standing in front of a group of people and about to facilitate a meeting of any kind: Before you begin, ask people to give you permission to facilitate.
This may sound like a complete waste of time, especially if you've been brought in by the powers-that-be to facilitate the meeting, but it's not. It's essential. Here's why:
If your meeting is anything like the other 11 million meetings being held each day in corporate America, chances are good that there will be a time during your gathering when at least one person -- bored, cranky, distracted, or angry that they weren't asked to facilitate, will do something (consciously or unconsciously) to derail the session.
This something can take many forms -- everything from incessantly checking email under the table... to returning late from breaks... to ranting on any number of topics that have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand -- moments that will require a skillful and well-timed response from the facilitator.
If you haven't bothered to ask for permission to facilitate, people will resist (or ignore) your spontaneous interventions every step of the way. And if they don't resist you every step of the way, they will silently retreat into their own private Idaho, perceiving you, in their fevered mind, as an invasive, disempowering, or egomaniacal facilitator.
Bottom line, you will lose them.
And, if the people you lose should happen to be "tribal chieftains" of any one of the many feudal kingdoms represented in the room that day, you will lose a bunch of other people, as well. Their minions.
This is not the outcome you want -- an outcome that will lead you to triangulating to third parties or wishing you had gone into your father's dry cleaning business.
The way out of this mess? Simple.
Within the first five minutes of your meeting, after establishing a few simple ground rules, let everyone know that you need their permission to play your facilitator role -- that there may be some times, during the meeting, when you may have to ask someone to hold a thought or shift their behavior in some way ... and that unless you have their permission to do so, they will likely end up resenting you or feeling mistreated when, in fact, all you are trying to do is ensure that the meeting is a productive one.
Invariably, meeting participants will gladly give their permission for you to facilitate, even if they chuckle, under their breath, while doing so. And if they just sit there, silently, after your request -- bumps on an analog -- all you need to do is ask them to give you some kind of visible indication that they agree -- either by standing up or giving you the "thumbs up".
This simple act of people visibly giving you permission to facilitate is often the difference between success and failure -- especially when, later in the meeting, someone starts acting out or marching to a drummer from another planet.
Armed with the permission they gave you at the beginning of the meeting, all you need to do is reinforce the ground rule that's been forgotten and remind them that all you're doing is playing the role they gave you permission to play in the first place.August 15, 2015
Big Blues From the Viagra People
The concept was a simple one: help organizations increase teamwork and decrease complaint by getting employees to write and perform original blues songs.
The concept resonated with a lot of industries, especially Big Pharma.
Oh yeah, they had the blues, lots of blues, like the "Now We Gotta Compete with Generic Drugs from Canada Blues," and the "No One Trusts the Drug Companies Anymore Blues," and the always popular, "Our Pipeline Is Empty, But Our Inbox is Full Blues."
So we weren't all that surprised when Pfizer came calling...
They had a big conference coming up and wanted to do "something different" to engage participants -- all of whom were high ranking business leaders.
And so they did.
Unlike most bands -- or business simulations, for that matter -- our service began long before we took the stage.
For each client wanting the complete experience, we'd write a custom blues song weeks before -- a kind of musical caricature of their company that we'd perform to kick off our performance -- a modern day Greek Chorus routine that loosened up audiences while modeling the message of the evening -- to speak (or in our case, sing) the truth.
And though we always shared our lyrics with clients long before an event, rarely were we asked us to modify what we wrote.
Pfizer was a different story.
From their perspective, our lyrics were "incendiary, politically incorrect, and might be taken the wrong way."
Customer-focused as we were (and not wanting to blow a good pay day), we revised our lyrics overnight and submitted version 2.0 the first thing in the morning.
Pfizer didn't like our new version, either. Or version 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0.
After five failed attempts, we decided to drop the custom song and focus on the classic blues songs that made up the bulk of our play list.
But doubt had crept into our client's mind. He was now officially nervous and wanted to see the lyrics to all our songs.
"Piece of cake," we reasoned to ourselves. The lyrics we'd be sending him had been performed for more than a hundred years all over America and were a huge part of the DNA of the nation.
True. But they weren't part of Pfizer's DNA. Our client had major issues with every song we sent them.
So we emailed him the lyrics to another ten classic blues songs. He rejected those, too.
Now, we had the blues. Like the legendary Robert Johnson, we stood at the crossroads, Blackberries and guitars in hand.
"Gentlemen," I began the damage-control conference call in the most corporate voice I could muster, "with all due respect, you have just rejected the lyrics of the most popular 20 American blues songs from the past hundred years. Remember, you are engaging the services of a blues band, not a polka band. You've got to have more trust in us."
Ooooh... the "T" word!
They hemmed. They hawed. Them hemmed again. And then with a semi-shrug of their collective shoulders and the growing recognition that their event was just a few days away, they chose the seven tamest songs and gave us a tepid thumbs up.
"But remember!" they warned, "the show must end no later than 9:30 sharp. Not a minute more."
When we got to the venue, I could tell we were in for an interesting night.
Though our client greeted us pleasantly enough, something was off. Outwardly, he was fine. Inwardly, he was anxious, uptight, constricted, nervous, sweating, and silently obsessing about how he was going to cover his ass should his worst nightmares about the evening come true.
The band picked up on his mood and immediately tightened up.
Knowing that good music doesn't issue forth from tight musicians, I sent the band backstage for a glass of wine and some small talk while I filibustered with the client -- the theater now rapidly filling with hundreds of people who made a lot more money than we did.
"Remember," the client reminded me again before the lights went down, "the show must end at 9:30 sharp!"
The band's first two songs that night were lame. Very lame. Channeling the tension of our neck-on-the-line client, the band was playing it safe -- not exactly a formula for foot stomping blues.
By the third song, thank God, the band found its groove. The audience relaxed and the songs they wrote and performed were some of the funniest we'd heard in a while.
I looked at my watch. It was 9:27. Quickly, I signaled the band to wrap things up when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the client making his way to the stage.
Actually, "making his way" wasn't the right phrase to describe his approach. "Storming the stage" was more like it.
I looked at my watch again. Now it was 9:28 and the client was getting closer by the nanosecond. I spoke faster, much faster, doing my best to finish before the bewitching hour
Two sentences from closure, the man bounds up the stairs and lunges towards me.
"Keep playing!" he blurts. "Tell the band to keep playing! This is really going well! Forget the 9:30 deadline. Keep playing!"
I signal the band and they segue into BB King"s "Let the Good Times Roll" -- the 12-minute version. South Side Denny takes off on a blistering guitar solo.
South Side Slim is wailing at the top of his lungs. Screaming Sweet Pea Fradon is bringing down the house. Blind Lemon Pledge is on top of his game.
Everyone in the audience is singing and dancing and clapping and laughing.
The pharmaceutical blues? Gone. At least for the momentJuly 16, 2015
Want to Move to Woodstock, NY?
Thinking of moving to Woodstock, NY? Looking for a great place to rent? Voila! We are renting the Blue Pearl Guest Cottage on our land, starting this November. Interested? Enter your email address in the comments box below and I will get back to you with details.February 28, 2015
How to Deliver a Meaningful, Memorable Message Quickly
HINT: It has nothing to do with pep talks, powerpoint shows, case studies, statistics, data, performance reviews, carrots, or sticks. Give up?
Stories. That's right. Stories. Storytelling, done well, is the most effective way to deliver a meaningful, memorable message. It's been going on since the Stone Age. Why? Because it works.
Here's my 5-minute talking head video on the topic.February 24, 2015
The Only Risk is Not to Risk
September 15, 2014
Is Peace the Innovation We Need the Most?
"Innovation" continues to be a hot topic in corporate circles these days -- a "competitive edge" organizations are increasingly attempting to hone so they can not only differentiate themselves from the competition, but survive in today's topsy turvy economy.
That being said, there are some forward thinking organizations out there who are going beyond the status quo and seriously asking themselves what they can do differently to not only be "socially responsible", but use their corporate clout to help various peace-themed global causes truly impact positive change.
If that describes your organization, please contact us. Idea Champions, in 2015, will be launching a new innovation-sparking service to help corporations, world wide, figure out HOW they can leverage their resources, bandwidth, and brainpower to foster peace and well-being in the world -- and still make a profit.
How to Spark Wisdom in the Workplace
Dear Heart of Innovation Readers:
If you have received any value from this blog and would be interested in supporting my next, big project -- now launched as a GoFundMe campaign -- click here for a 3-minute video of me describing it and a written description of what the whole thing is all about -- a venture which includes the writing, publication, and promotion of a new book, Wisdom at Work, along with the launching of WISDOM CIRCLES in organizations around the world.
Whatever support you can provide is very much appreciated, Plus, you will be sent a copy of the book when it's published, if you want.March 26, 2013
The Woodstock Regeneration
If you want to "get away from it all" for a romantic getaway this Spring or Summer (or just want a weekend to chill out), consider the Blue Pearl in Woodstock, NY -- arguably the most beautiful vacation cottage in all of the Hudson Valley.
Just a two hour drive from New York City, the Blue Pearl is an 850 square foot cottage on a quiet, country lane, with mountain views -- just a 12-minute walk to the town of Woodstock.Click the link below for a Blue Pearl slide show and a sampling of guest testimonials
Here's what guests are saying:
"Thank you for creating such a wonderful, comfortable, and welcoming place, We will come back again and again." -- Susan and John
"Your cottage is perfect -- the vibe is welcoming and warm. We immediately felt at home. Thank you for letting us borrow the brownie pan!. We had an amazing time!" -- Cathy and Carlos
"Thank you so much for a wonderful weekend! Your cottage is beautiful and offered us the perfect relaxing vibe we were looking for. This is a great place in a great town and we are lucky to have had the pleasure of staying here." -- Sarah and Joe
"We had a wonderful time at the Blue Pearl and enjoyed every single moment of our stay! The house decorations are absolutely amazing. Thank you for your amazing collection of books, too!" -- Tuliya and Stas
"The cottage makes for a fantastic romantic weekend! We went for a fun walk up to Meads Mountain and we enjoyed walking to town several times. We'd love to come back for a stay in the summer!" -- Adam and Lauren
"We loved it! We loved it! We will be back!" -- Cindy and Bob
"We had a wonderful time and felt so relaxed." -- Jill, Scott, and Jamie
"The Blue Pearl is a special, magical place. Words cannot describe how peaceful the energy is in this place. I asked the love of my life to marry me here!!!" -- Ricardo and Nancy
"We had an absolutely fabulous time in Woodstock, mostly due to how beautiful the Blue Pearl is. Thank you for being so accommodating. We will definitely be back." -- Patti and Robin
To make a reservation or call 845.389.5405March 21, 2013
The Humanize the Workplace Poll
If you work for an organization that needs to become a more benevolent and humane workplace, I invite you to respond to Idea Champions' new Humanizing the Workplace poll.
Not only will it jump start your thinking about simple changes that can be made on the job, it will also provide us with the vital input we need to really tune into the issues.
You'll need about five minutes.
We'll be posting the results of the poll here in a few weeks, but if you'd like us to email the results to you directly, just note your email address in the comments box or send a message to email@example.com
You can read more about this topic in my latest Huffington Post article.December 05, 2012
The Syndrome Syndrome and the Rise of the New World Disorder(s)
If you don't have ADD or ADHD, you probably know someone who does -- and if they don't have ADD or ADHD, they probably have some other newly identified syndrome, disorder, or dysfunction.
It's a bull market, these days, for medical conditions, so I thought I'd provide a public service and alert you to 14 of the most recently discovered ones coming down the pike -- my newest article in the Huffington Post. Enjoy!
Thank You for Being Who You Are
Just a quick note from all of us at Idea Champions to thank you for being who you are and making your best efforts to open doors and minds in this world.
All of us are needed. Each, in our own small way, can make a difference.
Forget about the economy for a minute, or your cash flow, or the twitterfication of human communication. Trust yourself and your emerging vision. Don't give up! Follow your instincts. Make effort every day. You are being guided.
BTW, we are here to be of service. If your organization is looking for ways to raise the bar for innovation, creative thinking, collaboration, and communication, we're just a phone call or email away.November 09, 2012
50 Awesome Quotes on Risk Taking
Is it time
Get out of
your comfort zone?
Take a new step
a little queasy?
to go beyond
the status quo?
Here's the ticket.
50 quotes on risk taking,
my latest piece
on Huffington Post.
The One Voice for Laos Documentary
Here is a remarkable 8-minute video produced by Garland Berenzy (16!), documenting the One Voice for Laos project -- an inspired humanitarian effort spearheaded by Hudson Valley teens, committed adults, and my amazing wife, Evelyne Pouget, to support 600 orphans in Luang Prabang, Laos. If you want to donate to the orphanage, send a check to the Windhorse Foundation (P.O. Box 26582, San Francisco, CA 94126) and write "Deak Kum Pa Orphanage" in the memo line.July 06, 2012
The Cool But Creepy Futuristic World of Ray Kurzweil
ED NOTE: The following post is the second in a series of reports from the World Innovation Forum by Idea Champions' take-no-prisoners-tell-it-like-it-is Director of Training, Val Vadeboncoeur.
"Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell; more human than human is our motto." -- Dr. Eldon Tyrell (from the 1980 Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner) discussing the business of producing replicant humans.
First, a caveat. I attended only the second day of the two-day 2012 World Innovation Forum so I didn't get the full picture of what was presented. From what I understand, the first day's speakers talked more about the "human side of innovation" -- a subject I can easily warm up to.
The second day, which I DID attend, was focused much more on technique, process, tools, and technology and the unbridled enthusiasm for same.
I'm guessing that the Forum was purposely organized around these two themes. But, for me, on the second day, it was a bit like watching a competition of state of the art salesmen and could have been titled "America's Got Technology."
Don't get me wrong. The presenters were all excellent -- knowledgeable, articulate, and well-prepared. But I wasn't buying what they were selling and got the sense that many of my fellow attendees weren't either.
I'm also guessing it was because everyone in the hall had just come in from an outside world that is threatening to unravel in about a thousand different places at once and is, at the same time, more technologically awesome than it's ever been.
If our technology is so wonderful, then why is it being accompanied into the world by so much that is undesirable?
Second, a confession: I'm a tough sell when it comes to new technology.
I'm old enough to have read McLuhan when he first came upon the scene in the 60's and I view technology somewhat through his eyes -- in particular, his notion that every new technology represents a trade-off; it gives us something as well as it takes something away.
The automobile gave us the capability to travel much more extensively than before. It also took away our legs. Now, we have to schedule regular exercise to find them again.
The television gave us dreams and fantasy. But they were someone else's dreams and, as such, took away part of our ability to dream and fantasize.
As the 1950's era story goes, when a little girl was asked if she preferred the new medium of television over radio, she said, "Radio... because the pictures are better."
In addition to this give and take, every new technology shapes us in its image whether we are aware of it or not. That is, it makes us a little more like itself the more we use it.
The use of technology even affects the way we think about life, ourselves, and the universe we live in.
To the ancients, the Universe was a Living Being. To the people of the Industrial Age, it was a big machine with gears and levers. To us, in the 21st century, it's a massive computer -- and we're now trying to reprogram its software.
Of course, in reality, it's all of those things and none of them. In each of these cases, what we're really seeing is ourselves -- our own level of consciousness and understanding reflected back to us.
I admit that I can't quite shake off my inherent distrust of the latest technology and of those who extol its virtues -- especially those who neglect to mention the trade-offs.
One phrase from my favorite presenter of the day, Andrew Winston, stuck with me. While describing the experience of having one's movements on the Web tracked by search engines and subsequently being offered products and services in connection with those movements, Winston said that it felt "cool, but creepy."
That about sums up what the entire second day of presentations at the World Innovation Forum felt like to me -- a vision of the world that lacked warmth, projecting the image of something just out of sight, just around the corner, just out of hearing range, and definitely out of the ability of our five human senses to notice, let alone moderate. New technology as Nosferatu.
The one and only defense against new technology that I'm aware of is consciousness itself -- the idea that the more technology evolves the more I am called upon to become more of a conscious being.
I'm not the first person to notice that we are in a very important race at this point in our evolution -- one between consciousness and technology.
The question we are all facing?
"Can our consciousness and understanding of who we are keep up with our rapidly-expanding technology?" -- a technology that is changing us and life on the planet at warp speed.
And if it can't, are we not in very great danger?
Which brings us to Ray Kurzweil -- scientist, inventor, businessman, and technology salesman.
It's difficult to even process his concept of "The Singularity" -- Kurzweil's catchphrase for the point-of-no-return in the very near future (say, 2029) when the trans-human species replaces the human -- let alone write about it. But here goes.
Kurzweil discussed the exponential growth of computer power (Moore had a Law, don'cha know) complete with one chart after another that followed the same suspiciously exact, and extremely hopeful arc of accelerating information and data.
In Kurzweil's rosy scenario, in a very short time, technology will be a billion times more powerful than it currently is and this exponential growth will lead to miraculous breakthroughs that seem impossible to us today.
Kurzweil went on to discuss technological progress in medicine and what the mapping of the human genome could mean -- customized medical cures for each human being based on each person's particular DNA -- how biology is now an information process and how 3-D printers will materialize physical objects (such as a violin) sent by nothing more than an e-mail.
Soon, explained Kurzweil, we'll be able to email a bus or a house via 3-D printers, or, at least, all the parts of a bus or a house.
But that's nothing compared to the nano-technology that's on its way.
Kurzweil sang the praises of self-replicating nano-bots that could increase our intelligence, cure us of any "defect" in our DNA and keep us living, well, forever!
Imagine -- red blood cell nanobots could be introduced into your blood stream to repair your body. They could even be re-programmed or given new software updates and capabilities from afar at any time. If a new flu virus epidemic strikes, these nanobots could be given the latest info of what these virus cells look like and how to deal with them.
New human organs could be grown without the use of stem cells. All that would be required is a bit of your own DNA, a blood sample, for example, to keep with our Nosferatu theme.
The human brain could be reverse engineered. And, if the "viscerally impressive" (Kurzweil's words) recent Jeopardy-winning computer is any indication, human thought could be equaled and then surpassed in a very short time.
So, what are we waiting for? Get on the technological love train! Nirvana and eternity await.
Or do they?
Kurzweil opened up the floor to questions at the end of his talk. One gentleman acknowledged that Kurzweil had given us only the most incredibly sunny predictions of how this technology could be used and asked if Kurzweil would speak about the downside of this technology.
Kurzweil replied with his one biggest concern that "kept him up at night". Bio-terrorism.
The questioner didn't ask a follow-up question regarding WHO Kurzweil envisioned as being the most likely bio-terrorist, but since Kurzweil had already established that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a good friend and former classmate, it didn't take a great stretch of imagination to see that Kurzweil probably envisioned some Osama Bin Nano as his bogeyman, especially since he went on to talk about the need for government agencies like the FDA to become more powerful and vigilant to deal with these issues.
Really? The most likely bio-terrorist is some religious fanatic nowhere near the centers of power and nowhere near the research labs churning out this stuff? Really?
When Kurzweil uttered the word "bio-terrorist", the first word I thought of was "government". I also recalled Henry Kissinger's recent (2007) and very revealing quote, that "What we, in America, call 'terrorists' are really groups of people who reject the international system."
A friend of mine, Michael Schacker, in 2008, published a book entitled A Spring Without Bees. In it, he correctly identified the "culprit" responsible for the world's rapidly diminishing bee populations due to "Colony Collapse Disorder" whereby bees become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.
Michael made the compelling case that the widespread proliferation of commercial insecticides containing highly-toxic neonicotinoids, which are chemically similar to nicotine, acting on the central nervous system of the bees as well as many other insects and small song birds, were responsible.
Since then, many other bee researchers have confirmed Michael's verdict.
But even though everyone pretty much now KNOWS what is going on here, the corruption of our society and of the people responsible for acting on this information is preventing anyone from really doing much of anything about it, although some European countries have now banned the stuff.
It seems that human beings are not, in the case of commercial pesticide technology, sufficiently evolved enough to safely deal with its use.
How much more dangerous is our lack of control and understanding in the case of all the technology involved with Kurzweil's "Singularity" that brings us the possibility of re-engineering human life?
One has visions of Mickey Mouse's Sorcerer's Apprentice, but with real, massive, and tragic consequences.
Who will control this technology? What will they do with this power? What will be their goals and agendas?
Will they be people similar to the folks at the EPA blocking all progress in restoring our bee populations in the service of large multi-national corporations who produce certain dangerous, but commercially successful pesticides? The people who run the Fukushima nuclear plant who are STILL covering up a massive danger? The people who make up lies about WMDs that lead to wars that kill, injure and displace millions of people for profit? The people in a Las Vegas facility who, by the stroke of a computer key, can send a missile, fired by a flying robot drone, into the window of a family celebrating a wedding on the other side of the world?
If I were Ray Kurzweil, that is what would be keeping me up at night.
When our education system continues to show decline in producing results in every cognitive skill except for, perhaps, testing for levels of obedience, when the world's wealth (and therefore, power) is accumulating in fewer and fewer hands at an increasingly rapid rate and threatening to restructure the world's economic system along the lines of Pharoanic Egypt, when weather on the planet is becoming more and more unpredictable and extreme due to man-made and/or natural warming, and when current technological advances are being used primarily to serve military, surveillance, and security purposes -- and mostly in secret and beyond the reach and control of the democratic institutions they supposedly serve -- it does make one want to root against Kurzweil's vision of a priestly scientific elite re-engineering the human species, or at least hope we can slow it down until we become a whole lot more wise, generous, and loving.
POSTSCRIPT: Some of my fellow World Innovation Forum attendees admitted, as we walked away from Kurzweil's final forum presentation, that their "heads were spinning".
Might this be because Kurzweil was, in actuality (and in Powerpoint), announcing the end of the human race and, furthermore, insisting that this end was coming soon and was inevitable?
And, could this latest technology, promising an eternal Garden of Eden of sorts, actually have a VERY dark side, indeed? Could it possibly become the ultimate terrorist act itself, and, before we realize it, end up hijacking human evolution on this planet?
Small wonder our limited, all-too-human brains were "spinning". It's surprising that they just didn't turn into rocket ships and blast off out of the Milky Way.
All this being said, perhaps the best way to regard this "cool but creepy" information is as a challenge.
I'll articulate the challenge in the form of a question:
"How can the human race become fully human before the opportunity is taken away from us forever?"
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.
April 13, 2012
More about my teacher, here
Ask the Right Questions!
This is the first of several Heart of Innovation postings from the World Business Forum, which we recently attended in NYC. The conference was very inspiring. Great speakers. Timely content. And lots of food for thought (and feeling).
One theme that several presenters noted was the importance of asking the right question.
Tal Ben Shahar: "How do you get others to focus on what works? By asking the right questions."
Tal implored the audience to change the questions they are asking, noting that if we only ask "What's wrong?" (as many business leaders are wont to do), the answers will be unnecessarily skewed in response to that particular filter.
The most serious mistakes being made in business these days, according to Ben Shahar?
Asking the wrong question.
Ben Zander spoke passionately about this theme, as well.
The "rhythm of transformation", he explained, is totally dependent on creating new frameworks -- and creating new frameworks is often a function of being willing to ask powerful, new questions. (Ben, by the way, is the answer to the question: "How do you deliver the most powerfully compelling presentation to 4,000 people sitting on plastic seats at the Jacob Javits Convention Center?"
Bill Clinton was all over this "question asking' theme, as well.
"If we spend all our time asking the wrong questions, we're going to get the wrong answers. If we ask the right question, we still may get the wrong answer, but at least we'll have a chance."
"We're all in the future business", Clinton declared.
Amen. Clearly, if we want to create a future worth living, we will all need to start asking much more powerful questions than ever before -- questions that reflect our growing interdependency and collective need for conscious leadership.
And finally, Jack Welsh weighed in on the topic.
When asked by the interviewer how a business leader can accurately assess an employee's passion, he replied "By the intensity of their questions."
In other words, if you are trying to figure out which person to hire or which employee to assign to a particularly challenging project, make sure you tune into the kinds of questions candidates are asking.
If their questions are flabby or non-existent, it's a dead giveaway that your candidate is ill-equipped to take on the assignment.
If their questions are thoughtful, penetrating, and full of mojo, it's a clue that you are talking to the right person for the job.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
1. What are you passionate about?
2. How can you make a profound difference on the planet?
3. What do you need to do differently in order to make this difference?
4. Who is your tribe?
5. How can you stay inspired?
6. How can you foster a culture of innovation?
7. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
8. What risk are you willing to take this week?
9. What is your vision?
10. What are your instincts telling you about your hottest, new idea?
The Best Practice of Love
A few weeks ago, my wife and I had a huge fight. A doozy. The Superbowl of all fights. If you're married -- or ever were -- I'm sure you've had at least one of these. Probably more.
You think you're right. They think they're right. You attack, they deflect. They attack, you deflect. You get hopeless and weird. They get hopeless and weird.
And both of you -- self-appointed judges in a supreme court of your own creation -- feel diminished, abused, blamed, hurt, ignored, dissed, damaged, and demonized.
The love? Out the window. And the window? Stuck in a half-closed position.
Whenever I'm embroiled in this kind of dynamic and (hallelujah!) manage to make it out the other side, I get majorly humbled -- all concepts of myself as a conscious, loving, evolved human being completely blown to smithereens.
And yet... no matter how painful the experience, something good always comes out of it. A phoenix rises from the ashes. Like the list below, for example -- my wishes for my dear wife, Evelyne, (the day after) and, by extension, you, me, and all the other 8 billion people on planet Earth.
THE BEST PRACTICE OF LOVE: My Wishes for You
1. Gratitude every day
2. Deep inner peace, especially during tough times
6. The courage to be yourself
7. Rest and renewal
8. The vision to see God in everyone
9. Letting go of self-righteousness
10. Simplicity and ease
11. The willingess to let go of worry and doubt
12. Allowing yourself to be nurtured
13. More fun
14. Plenty of time to do nothing
16. Heartfelt self-expression
17. Health and vitality
18. Moving through the tasks of your life as if you were a dancer
19. Relating to each person you talk to as if they were the only person on earth at that moment
20. Laughter from your core
21. Appreciation of your family
22. A "live and let live" mindset
23. Waking up each day with gladness
25. The experience of community
26. Full responsibility for your own projections
28. Honoring all of the teachers in your life, past and present
29. Slowing down, going deeper
30. The ability to order a very rich dessert in your favorite restaurant without enrolling someone to share it with you
31. A wi-fi connection whenever you want
32. The end of lower back pain
33. Living the St. Francis Prayer without making a big deal of it
34. Knowing you are loved
35. Good sushi within a five-mile radius
36. Appreciation of other people's "spiritual path" -- with absolutely no judgment
37. Foot massages
38. Fresh air
39. Understanding what Krishna meant when he said: "The world is an illusion, but you have to act as if it's real."
40. Random acts of kindness
41. Nights on the town
42. The ability to be alone, but not lonely
43. Accepting the aging process with dignity and delight
44. Fabulous dinners with friends
45. Nights in front of the fire
46. Having no regrets
47. Cranking up the music
48. Not judging your kids for texting or being on Facebook
49. Seeing the blessing in every challenge that comes your way
50. Loving yourself when you look in the mirror
51. Not having to look in the mirror to love yourself
52. New adventures
53. Endless learning
54. Giving up complaint
55. A dependable plumber
56. Snow angels!
57. Working smarter, not harder
58. Looking up at the stars
59. Never going to bed angry
60. Being happy for other people's successes
61. Realizing you are everything and nothing both at the same time
62. Unconditional love
63. Reframing aging as "becoming an elder" instead of "getting old"
64. Weekends in exotic places
65. Someone else to wash the dishes
66. Enjoying the poetry of Rumi, Kabir, and Hafiz
67. Did I mention foot massages?
68. The commitment to immerse in the projects that most fascinate you
69. Deep listening
70. Longer vacations
71. Reaching out to those less fortunate than you
72. Holding hands with someone you love
73. Taking on an impossible project -- and making it happen
74. Really good chocolate
75. Unforgettable celebrations
76. Going beyond your limiting assumptions
77. The discipline that comes from love, not duty
78. Spontaneous generosity
79. One remote for all your electronics
80. A hot bath on a cold night
81. Wonderful surprises
82. The laughter of children
83. Realizing you have enough
85. Understanding this quote: "When you're on the path it's a mile wide, when you're off it, it's razor thin."
86. Giving flowers to absolute strangers
87. A wardrobe you love
88. Making a clear distinction between longing and desire
89. No fear of death
90. Dancing around the living room for no particular reason
91. Howling at the moon
92. Knowing how to say "no" without being negative
93. Completing what you came here to do
94. Experiencing life as a beautiful play
95. Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies
96. Forgiving everyone who has ever wronged you
99. The peace that passes all understanding
100. Sweet watermelon on a summer day
Shining Eyes and Open Hearts
Ben Zander is the most extraordinary speaker/presenter/catalyst I've ever had the good fortune to experience other than my teacher, Prem Rawat. I first heard Ben at HSM's World Business Forum, in NYC. He entranced 4,000 business people for two hours and ended his enchantment by getting everyone to sing Ode to Joy in German. Ben is a masterful conductor, not just of orchestras, but of the human spirit of what's possible every single minute of the day.May 23, 2011
Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment
Here is an impassioned, inspired, lucid, refreshing 15-minute presentation by Gary Hamel on the need for organizations to radically reinvent the way they manage their people. Hamel not only builds a compelling case for something you've always felt (but never quite had the words to express), he uses motion graphics in a way that adds major mojo to his presentation.April 16, 2011
How the Ivy League is Killing Innovation
Authors G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton state their case clearly, cleanly, and with just enough of an edge to draw blood.
"Process-driven cultures love process-driven experts. Organizations, just like people, do what makes them feel strong, and nothing makes mature, process-driven companies feel stronger than having a template for doing anything (even if having a completely buttoned-down-ain't-no-exceptions-allowed template for innovation seems oxymoronic on its face).
Need innovation? Simply call in a PhD with a bow tie and trademarked process and watch your innovation portfolio grow. Right? Nope."
If you are a professor and find Maddock and Viton's article objectionable, speak up! Let them know what you think -- and why. Maybe you're the one who's found a way to teach innovation in a novel, cut-to-the-chase, non-academic way. I know there are some of you out there. Yes?
If you are a high roller in a corporation looking for the "secret innovation sauce," I invite you to read their article before reaching out to academia for your next keynote speaker.April 04, 2011
Getting Out of the Organizational Box
Last Thursday, I had an opportunity to be the keynote speaker at the Ethical Sourcing Forum, in NYC, a conference sponsored by Intertek, a world class organization dedicated to "helping customers improve performance, gain efficiencies in manufacturing and logistics, overcome market constraints, and reduce risk."
The topic? Sustainable Innovation. Or, more specifically, how people who work in large organizations can get out of the so-called "box".
After the keynote, I was approached by two very animated people from 3BL, a savvy media company specializing in corporate social responsibility, sustainability and cause marketing communications. Apparently, they liked what they heard and wanted to dig deeper -- on camera.March 05, 2011
Every once in a while a really good deal comes along. Like the one described below, for example...
If you're committed to "living the life of your heart's desire," could use a little coaching, but don't have the moolah to pay for it, read on.
For the merry month of March, the extraordinarily kind Lynn Kindler is offering complimentary 15-minute Cut to the Chase coaching sessions on a first-come, first served basis (10:00 am - 12:00 pm, Austin, Texas time.)
What is "Cut-to-the Chase" coaching?
Explains Lynn: "Each of us has the knowledge and wisdom inside of us to live the life of our heart's desire. CTC coaching begins there and asks each person to step up to who they are and get moving towards what they really want in their life -- both personally or professionally."
Think of Lynn as the fulcrum to help you move the rock that's been blocking your path.
And if you've been moaning about not being able to afford coaching, cease and desist! Lynn is offering her sessions for free -- no strings attached.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 512.775.4260
Ch... Ch... Ch... Changes!
"The act of creation begins first as an act of destruction." - Picasso
Face it. No one likes change. No one likes chaos. No one likes starting all over again -- especially the older we get.
Get over it! The only way the species survives (and your organization) is by adapting to change -- and change is what's upon us now. Big time.
The economy is crumbling. The old institutions are dying. Nothing, on the outside, ever stays the same. Picasso knew this. YOU know this. And your customers are only going to wait so long for you to turn your knowing into action.
So, let the old forms die. Let what no longer works fall away. Then, usher in the birth of WHAT'S NEXT -- before that, too, falls away -- only to be replaced by what's next after what's next.