Your Money or Your Life
For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the financial services company that left me an urgent voice mail message asking that I call them back immediately about my availability to lead their annual leadership retreat on a island off the coast of Florida.
All I can recall was how generic sounding their name was -- something like National Investment Services... or Consolidated Financial Brokers.... or The American Banking Alliance -- kind of like the corporate equivalent of John Doe.
Somehow, they had heard of me and, with their big company pow wow coming up, were looking for someone, with a track record, to help them "become more innovative."
Never having heard of them before, I googled their name and, 1.73 seconds later, found myself on their website, slickly designed, I imagined, by someone with a special fondness for iStock photos of earnest looking models impersonating business people -- models who must have just moved to L.A. to pursue acting careers, but found themselves, at 24 or 35, working part-time as waiters and jumping at the chance to pick up some easy money wearing a suit and a smile for a day.
Easy for me to say -- me being the proverbial pot calling the proverbial kettle black with my big ass mortgage, family to feed and young entrepreneur's dream of making it big so I'd actually have enough moolah, one day, to invest with a financial services firm. Not to mention all the time in the world to write my best-selling book.
My first meeting with the client was pleasant enough. They talked. I listened, choosing not to interrupt them every time they made their point with an acronym I probably should have known if I only I hadn't spent my formative years living as a hippie, poet and monk.
OK, so they weren't a solar energy company. So they weren't asking me to help them end AIDS. I got it. This was business. The money business. The big money business -- and I was in it, no matter how much Rilke and Rumi I read on the side. Money. This was about money. Money and the VP of something or other inviting me to meet with him and his team the following week on the 57th floor of a building on Wall Street. There would be a badge waiting for me at the security desk, he explained. All I needed to do was show my ID.
Thrilled? Was I thrilled? Not exactly. But this was a possible gig and I needed the bread, so I went.
The VP and his team on the 57th floor looked nothing like the iStock photos on their company's homepage, though they did have a real nice view of Manhattan and a large mahogany conference table.
Our conversation went well enough. I asked all the right questions. They gave all the right answers. They sprinkled the conversation with football metaphors. I nodded. They gave me their business cards. I gave them mine. But on the way home, I began to feel a creeping sense of dislocation and dread -- like I was auditioning for a movie I wasn't quite sure I wanted to be in -- a movie being produced by a very fat man, sitting poolside, cell phone and martini in hand.
So when they called me back for a third meeting, I was betwixt and between. Do I simply trust my instincts and tell them I'm not their man? Or do I let go of my all-too-obvious self-righteous judgments and focus on the possibility that I might actually be able to help them get to higher ground?
Eternally the optimist, I chose the latter and decided to meet with them a third time -- a meeting, sad to say, which only confirmed the fact that I didn't like them very much and didn't like myself for sitting in a room with them and enabling their collective hallucination of themselves as a service organization when all they really wanted to do was make more money. Lots more money.
More chit chat. More coffee. More "run it up the flagpole" platitudes that littered our conversation like hidden charges on a credit card bill.
This was the moment of truth.
My client-to-be, apparently satisfied with what was about to become his decision to engage my services, cut to the chase and asked me to quote him a fee.
The honorable thing to have done, at the time, would have sounded like "John, I wish you the best of luck at your offsite, but after deep consideration, I don't think I'm the best possible fit for your company's needs."
But since I hadn't yet mastered the art of speaking my truth I took the easy way out and doubled my fees, thinking that they would now be so ridiculously high it would be the client's decision to end the relationship, not mine.
"That sounds about right," the client exclaimed, extending his right hand to seal the deal.
Fast forward six weeks later.
It's 8:30 a.m. and I'm on stage, in the Oakwood Room, on a beautiful island off the coast of Florida. Looking out at the audience, I notice that four of the gathered troops are sleeping, heads on the table. Someone in the front row explains to me that last night had been a "late one" and they'd all stayed up, drinking, until 4:00 a.m.
I tap the mic and begin speaking, trusting that the sound of my amplified voice would be enough to wake the dead.
Two of them snap to attention. The other two don't, still lightly snoring.
I signal the people sitting next to their sleep-deprived peers to poke them, which they do, shooting glances at me as if I am a substitute algebra teacher.
This is, as far I could tell, not a leadership offsite at all, but a college fraternity weekend -- big men on campus with stock options, golf shirts and a very high opinion of themselves. The collective attention span in the room is somewhere between a tse tse fly and a lizard. Nothing I say lands. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Only one thing is clear -- I am the highly paid warm up act before another night of drinking -- a small typographic box they can check off next quarter to prove they have done "the innovation thing."
I may have missed the moment of truth back at my client's office six weeks ago, but I wasn't going to miss it today.
"Gentlemen and ladies," I announce. "It's obvious that some of you don't want to be here. It seems you'd rather be golfing, napping or checking your email. I have no problem with that. So... we're going to take a 20-minute break. Only return if you really want to be here. Otherwise, you'll just be dead weight, screwing it up for the rest of us. Kapish?"
Twenty minutes pass. Everyone returns. Every single one of them.
And while the rest of the day didn't exactly qualify as one of the great moments in the history of innovative leadership off sites, at least it wasn't a total loss. Some good stuff actually happened. People woke up. People shaped up. People stepped up. And I learned a valuable lesson that would serve me for the rest of my life: Follow my feeling, not the money trail.
March 01, 2014
This story excerpted from my forthcoming book: WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.
Follow Your Feeling, Not the Money Trail
Sometimes, you just gotta follow your feeling, not the money trail. A new article of ours just published in the Huffington Post.
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 a Blackberry 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?December 31, 2012
Mayan Calendar Prophecy Demystified
If you've been
why the world
didn't end in 2012
as many interpreters
of the Mayan calendar
thought it would,
here's why --
the full scoop
in my most recent
Huffington Post article --
if you like Italian food.
The 10 Most Popular Postings on the Heart of Innovation Blog in 2012
Voila! For your reading pleasure, here are the 10 most popular postings on this blog for 2012.
Curiously, the most popular one had nothing to do with innovation -- it was about the death of my father.
The other most popular topics? Email, Appreciation, Regrets of the Dying, Motherhood, Humor, Technology, Public Speaking, Asking Why, and Being a Manager.
Here's to a happy, healthy, and hugely creative year to you and yours in 2013! With gratitude from the entire Idea Champions team!
THE 10 MOST POPULAR POSTINGS ON THIS BLOG IN 2012:
1. Out of the Box, In the Box
2. 14 Ways to Go Beyond the Email Blues
3. The Power of Appreciation
4. The Five Regrets of the Dying
5. Because I'm the Mom
6. 20 Awesome Quotes on Humor, Play, and Creativity
7. The Cool But Creepy Futuristic World of Ray Kurzweil
8. The Arc of a Good Presentation
9. Why You Need to Ask Why
10. Rethinking the Role of a Manager
The Kindness-At-Work Manifesto
This just in! We're here for just a little while. No one gets out of here alive. Not even Donald Trump. So while you're here, remember to be kind and go beyond judgment, blame, and impatience -- especially when things start getting stressed out. Like on-the-job.
Here's my inspired rant on the subject, just published in The Huffington Post.August 18, 2012
Rene Descartes Had It Backwards
Rene Descartes, the famous French philosopher, mathematician, and writer is remembered by many as the author of the famous phrase, "I think therefore I am."
With all due respect to the probably-way-smarter-than-me Mr.Descartes, I don't buy it.
Based on my non-Aristotelian, late night sojourns into the flip side of thinking, it's become very clear to me that a more accurate statement would be "I am therefore I think."
Then again, since we all know Werner Heisenberg irrefutably proved that the experimenter affects the experiment, it is likely that the truest philosophical statement of being would probably take on the shape of the person who said it.
And so, in a highly non-caffeinated fit of blogospheric bravado, I present to you 15 alternate statements of epistemological coolitude that give Descartes' tired phrase (and mine) a run for their money.
1. "I wink, therefore I am." - Sarah Palin
2. "I blink, therefore I am." - Malcolm Gladwell
3. "I link, therefore I am." - Larry Page and Sergey Brin
4. "I sink therefore I am." - Davey Jones and his Locker
5. "I stink therefore I am." - Pepe LePew
6. "I drink, therefore I am." - WC Fields
7. "I ink, therefore I am." - Kinkos
8. "I slink, therefore I am." - Marilyn Monroe
9. "I rink, therefore I am." - Wayne Gretzky
10. "I kink, therefore I am." - Ray Davies
11. "I clink, therefore I am." - Moet Chandon
12. "I fink, therefore I am." - Vinny "The Rat" Scalucci
13. "I pink, therefore I am." - Mary Kay
14. "I tink, therefore I am." - Bob Marley
15. "I plink, therefore I am." - Ernest Kaai
Got others? Lay them on me.
A big thank you to Cary Bayer and Barney Stacher for a bunch of the aforementioned pearls of wisdomAugust 10, 2012
Web Workshops from Idea Champions
Here's a 3minute video overview of Idea Champions newest service -- Web Workshops -- highly engaging 60-minute tutorials to help your workforce raise the bar for innovation, collaboration, and communication.January 31, 2012
Go Beyond Your Pet Ideas!
If your company runs brainstorming sessions, know this: too many of them have become veiled opportunities for people to trot out their pet ideas.
Because everyone is so ridiculously busy these days and real listening is at a premium, people use brainstorming sessions as a way to foist their pre-existing ideas on others.
And while this sometimes leads to results, it doesn't make best use of the opportunity a brainstorm session provides. The way around this phenomenon?
Give people a chance to express their pre-existing ideas at the beginning of a session. Clear the decks. Then use the rest of the time to explore the unknown. Woof! Woof!January 25, 2012
The Rock and a Hard Place Exercise
Here's a fun 5-minute exercise -- a good icebreaker or brainstorm session starter.
Make a list of every bad thing that will happen to you and your business if you don't figure out how to free yourself from being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Then take another five minutes and make a second list of everything you can do to prevent the stuff you just wrote down on your first list from happening. Go!January 02, 2012
Top Innovation Bloggers of 2011
Well, I've got good news and great news to share with you.
Now the great news: 2012 is going to be an awesome year for you -- full of happiness, abundance, creativity, collaboration, community, fun, gratitude and, yes, innovation. That is, if you want it to be.
I'd like to take this moment to thank all of you who voted for me. (And by the way, for those of you who think that all I do is write about innovation, please know that this is just a sideline).
My real work is in the trenches...
I'd also like to acknowledge some amazing people who have inspired and encouraged me throughout the years.
These include Evelyne Pouget, Tim Gallwey, Prentiss Uchida, Seth Godin, Gary Hamel, Ben Zander, Roger van Oech, Guy Kawasaki, Erika Andersen, Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, Morihei Ueshiba, the entire Idea Champions team, Joe and Eddie, Ron Brent, Phyllis Rosen, Joan Apter and, most of all, Prem Rawat (aka Maharaji).
I first heard about Prem Rawat when he was 13 (and I was 24). At that very young age, he came to America (from India) to bring a very powerful message of peace -- a message he doesn't just talk about, but helps people experience for themselves.
He is not the first to talk about this message. Nor will he be the last. But he is here and now -- helping thousands of people, from all walks of life, go beyond ideas to find their way to the source of peace within themselves.
His dedication, brilliance, love, and endless commitment to innovating is a great source of inspiration to me.
December 14, 2011
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
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.May 04, 2010
iPhone, Therefore I Am
Got iPhone? Want something more interesting than just the weather and the location of your nearest Starbucks? If so, download Cards of Destiny -- especially if you want some fascinating insights into who you are in the grand scheme of things.
Being from New York, I was skeptical at first that an online deck of 52 "playing cards" could offer me any useful insights. (Aaargh! Tarot cards gone digital!) But I was wrong.
My birth card (September 8th), I learned, was the "Three of Diamonds," AKA "The Colorful Character." And what it had to say about me was totally accurate -- and gave me much food for thought.
Still skeptical, I thumb-scrolled the cool birthday calendar that comes with the app to read the description of my wife, son, and daughter. Again, spot on, each one. The best $2.99 I've spent this year.
For more about Sharon Jeffers, the wizard behind the deck, click here.August 10, 2009
The Top Ten Learning Tools on the Web
Click here for the Top Ten Learning Tools on the web as compiled by the fabulous Jane Hart, Social Media and Learning Consultant.
If you've never seen Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day site, check it out immediately (or at least by 3:30pm) and discover an extraordinary web resource -- especially if you just can't seem to catch up with all the latest and greatest apps, websites, tools, blogs, and digital goodies.
Last year Jane featured one of our online creative thinking tools. And I'm not talking hammer, chisel, or screwdriver.