Inspiration · Leadership

Holy stuckosity Batman!

“Stuckosity” isn’t a real word. It can’t even be found at Urban Dictionary. Well, at least not yet.

But certainly most of us are familiar with the quality of being stuck. Perhaps you’re feeling it right now.

We get stuck telling the same old stories about ourselves that are familiar, but serve no useful purpose.

We get stuck trying to solve problems with the same level of thinking that got us into trouble in the first place.

We get stuck defending the status quo, even when we know it’s not working.

We get stuck in self-righteousness, which almost never changes the other person’s mind or behavior, but frustrates us to no end.

We get stuck fighting reality, re-litigating the past, trying vainly to predict the future.

We get stuck striving for perfection, when perfect is both impossible and, ultimately, only a recipe for suffering.

We get stuck waiting for precisely the right time and to be fully ready, failing to see that those exact conditions will never ever come.

We get stuck in relationships because we fail to speak our truth and ask for what we want and need.

We get stuck unleashing our full potential because we wonder how other folks will judge us if we were to go out on a limb.

And on and on and on.

The key to getting unstuck is to first see it for what it is. And most of the time our stuckness is merely our habitual reaction to an irrational fear; to a fundamental misunderstanding of risk.

Once we become aware that staying in our fear–and being unwilling to let go of our story, our need for control and our desire to be right–is actually the most risky thing we can do, the door is cracked open to change.

Once we we accept that our behavior is simply habit, the debilitating result of a lifetime of bad conditioning, we can work to establish new, more healthy and useful ones.

Once we are committed to take action, we are finally free. Free to start before we are ready. Free to embrace failure as a natural outcome of growth. Free to be okay with our imperfection.

And that’s good thinking Robin.

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Being Remarkable · Inspiration · Leadership

It’s easy to vote ‘no’

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” ~Pema Chodron

It’s rarely the case that organizations utterly lack new ideas or things to try. They just get voted down most of the time.

Many of us when confronted with change are quick to find fault with moving ahead. It might not work. We could look foolish. It just makes me uncomfortable. Maybe I’ll get fired. Best to just say ‘no.’

Most of us are filled with “should’s.” I should finish that novel or start that business. I should speak up more. I should finally make that trip. I should deal with the unfinished business with my family. And on and on. But our fear keeps us stuck and ‘no’ is all too often the seemingly safe choice.

Voting ‘yes’ more often isn’t the path of least resistance and it is far from a guarantee of success. Not everyone will get it, few may have your back and others might shun you entirely.

Stay the course. Be vulnerable. Chase remarkable.

Going out on a limb is where we’re needed, where we’re called to be, where the magic happens.

And your vote counts.

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Being Remarkable · Strategy

Shut up and play the hits

Maybe you’ve been to the famous comedian’s show where by far the biggest laughs come from the bits you’ve already seen him do on Fallon. And Kimmel. And YouTube. And his five year old Netflix special.

Maybe you’ve excitedly gone to hear that marketing guru at a big industry conference and grown weary and uninterested when she begins by talking about her just released book, you know, the one you haven’t read. But you instantly light up again when she starts to riff on the ideas from a decade old tome that formed the basis of her TED talk that you’ve watched a half dozen times.

Maybe you’ve attended a concert by an iconic rock band and became impatient with the lead singer’s extended stage patter. And then as soon as they start to play the new stuff–or maybe some deep track from a classic album you’ve always skipped past–you know that’s your signal to head to the rest room or go grab a beer.

For any kind of artist–and we’re all artists now–it’s a whole lot easier to go for the well-tested laugh line, crank up the guaranteed crowd pleaser or simply default to the thing that made you popular (or at least accepted) in the first place. As it turns out, most of us like safety and there is safety in the familiar.

Organizations and brands aren’t a whole lot different. Most non-profits turn again and again to golf tournaments and galas to raise money. In the CPG  world, the core strategy is to churn out seemingly endless iterations of best sellers. And just about every retailer goes back to the well over and over again with minor tweaks to long-standing merchandising and marketing practices.

Yet the evidence is clear. Eventually we grow tired of the greatest hits. What worked well for so long, no longer does. And with more and more art and content and ideas and disruption being produced literally by the second–accessible to nearly everybody at any time, anywhere–what once seemed remarkable is anything but.

Is there an audience who only wants regurgitated versions of what you or your organization has always done, who can’t possibly accept new material, who has no interest in being challenged? Perhaps.

Is that the audience that is going to get you to where you need to be?

 

Pema Nest

 

Inspiration · Leadership · Social Media

So we’re all gorilla behaviorists now?

My guess is you’ve heard about Harambe, the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was killed in an effort to save a child that had managed to get into his habitat. This tragic story has led to a firestorm of criticism heaped upon the zoo for alleged poor facility design and intense shaming of–and an online petition against–the child’s mother for supposedly being a horrible parent. There has also been great vitriol spewed at the response team for seemingly being too trigger happy and not opting for a tranquilizer instead.

The one thing I would hope we can agree on is that compassion should be extended to all that had to go through this terrible situation.

I would also hope that we would recognize that we aren’t gorilla behaviorists and our opinions about what Harambe was likely to do simply aren’t worth listening to. Few of us have any educated idea on what a 17 year old male Western Lowland Gorilla’s response to being shot with a tranquilizer might be. A similarly miniscule number of those opining vociferously on social media have ever been trained in emergency response, much less found themselves in an adrenaline-fueled, literally life and death, situation where decisions have to be made with limited information, virtually instantaneously.

The internet and social media are wonderful things. They give us unprecedented and nearly unlimited access to information. But so often we confuse data and opinions with insight, knowledge or the truth.

Social media gives us all a platform. It’s a powerful platform that can be used to promote knowledge, love, compassion and many other kinds of positive and useful messages. But we’ve all seen how it can be a veritable cesspool of misinformation, distortions, outright lies and hate.

Social media often serves as a billboard of our personal brand–a mirror to our belief system and a lens into that which we worship.

In my case, I’ve certainly been guilty of using it to deal with what the Buddhists sometime refer to as shempa. When my ego needs a boost in some way–or I go to a place of fear or discomfort–I’m easily triggered and I often allow myself to be hooked into needing to demonstrate how smart, funny or cool I am. This can be by engaging in self-righteous behavior, putting others down, showing off those things or activities that would cast me in a flattering or interesting light (look where I am! look what I ate! look at this picture of me with a celebrity) and on and on.

I know this will come us a shock, but I’m not a better person because of the hotel I just stayed in, the car that I drive, the dinner I cooked last night or a selfie I took with a Kardashian. Nobody needs a running commentary of my life on Facebook. I’m going to be just fine if you don’t like something I posted. And, as it turns out, I can’t prove that I have the world’s best friends, partner or siblings, despite my exhortations. Neither can you. Though, just so you know, hyperbole is fantastic, amazing, incredible, high energy and the best thing ever.

The fact is almost none of us are gorilla behaviorists, tort lawyers, vaccine specialists, economists, climate change scientists or experts in foreign policy. It so happens I have opinions on how to stop ISIS, improve the US’s aging infrastructure, reform healthcare and for how Hillary can stop dressing like a communist dictator. And you’d be wise to ignore them. And I’d be wise to keep them to myself.

My point is this. A megaphone is sometimes a very handy thing to have. But just because you own one doesn’t mean you should use it all the time.

A hammer has great utility. But not everything is a nail.

And if self-righteousness or ego-boosting is fueling anything you are about to say or do, stop.

Please stop.

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Being Remarkable · Leadership

The hardest to learn is the least complicated

Gentle reader, congratulations on your wise choice. It is indeed your good fortune to have chosen to read my blog today for I am about to reveal a short-list of virtually guaranteed ways for you to be successful in both your professional career and your personal life.

Intrigued? I bet.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Steve’s virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in business:

  1. Focus relentlessly on the customer.
  2. Never engage in a price war you can’t win.
  3. Defy the sea of sameness and find your purple cow.
  4. Treat different customers differently.
  5. Reject the cult of busy.
  6. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail better.

Steve’s virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in your personal life:

  1. Accept the things you cannot change.
  2. Live in the now; be present and mindful in all you do.
  3. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
  4. Don’t take things personally.
  5. Remember the things for which you are grateful.
  6. Live open-heartedly and with compassion.
  7. Embrace vulnerability.

As a reader of this blog you have already revealed yourself to be a person of great intelligence and discernment, so you have likely already concluded that these ideas– collectively and individually–are both true and useful. More importantly, you probably noticed that they are all conceptually rather simple to comprehend.

So why do we struggle to put them into practice?

The first reason is our habits. If you are anything like me, you’ve been been conditioned to strive for perfection, to associate your self-worth with your job, your busyness and your possessions. Perhaps you’ve also been taught that vulnerability is weakness or that you’re not okay unless the people around you are okay or that it is your job to figure things out without the help of others. These are all rather obvious and destructive lies, yet our negative practice has created deep grooves in our psyche. The only antidote is to develop different habits and practice them until new grooves are formed.

The understanding is not the hard part. It’s the un-doing.

The second reason is our choices. I’ve watched myself (and more than a few friends, colleagues and loved ones) decide to stay stuck in the past, fight things I couldn’t change, drink the poison of resentment, bask in the misguided attention of victimhood and generally engage in far too much ego grasping and not enough letting go.

Again the understanding is not the hard part. It’s the acceptance that every day we start clean slated and I (and you my dear friend) get the chance to make a new set of choices. Our task is to choose wisely and to rinse and repeat.

The wolf we feed is the one that wins.

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h/t to the Indigo Girls for the title inspiration.

Inspiration · Leadership

Don’t bite the hook

Depending upon our relationships, our work environment and what we choose to pay attention to, there is a seemingly endless variety of hooks that are dangled in front of us.

There’s the hook of the marketer that says “buy me” and we will miraculously become a “better” person.

There’s the hook of the bully who strikes out in anger hoping to entrap us in his cycle of pain and insecurity.

There’s the hook of escapism and avoidance that draws us into mindless distraction from– or numbing of–a painful present reality.

There’s the media hook of “breaking news”, trumped up (ha!) conflict and the ever present belief that it’s interesting when people die.

There’s the hook presented by our partners and friends trying to lure us into their codependence, neediness and demon dialogues.

And on and on.

Of course, just because it’s been said, doesn’t mean it’s true.

As it turns out, giving the finger to the guy who just cut us off on the highway will not actually make him a better driver.

Most of the time it’s about them, not us. There’s no requirement that we have to take things personally.

The notion foisted upon us by society, the media and (all too often) our families that we are not enough is both a lie and a huge trap.

And even if it were true, the new outfit we just bought or the photo of the fabulous dinner we just posted on Facebook may give us a momentary little ego boost, but it does nothing to make us happy and whole.

We don’t have much choice about which hooks will get dangled in front of us. There is hardly a shortage of bait.

If we want to stay trapped in anger and resentment, if we want live a life of disconnection and distraction, then by all means bite away.

Just remember it’s a choice.

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h/t to Pema Chodron

 

 

Innovation · Leadership

The places that scare us

“A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. ”
― Pema Chodron, The Places that Scare You 

Halloween is an interesting tradition.

While there is some debate as to its precise origins, by now we’ve mostly come to see Halloween as a fun way for kids to dress up and score some treats and for everyone to playfully indulge in fantasies of terror and some rather benign scariness.

Perhaps the construct of a day focused on “safe” fear is a way to channel both the conscious and unconscious reality that we live in a pretty scary world and that most of us experience fear each and everyday.

Fear of failure.

Fear of rejection or abandonment.

Fear of injury or death.

Fear of being discovered for who we really are.

The truth is that there are plenty of places that scare us and once the make-believe of Halloween passes, those thoughts and feelings will still be there.

The only way to conquer our fears is to confront them. The only steps that work are awareness, acceptance and action. The only path is through, not around.

Innovation · Leadership

99 problems but a botch ain’t one

For many of us, it’s so easy to identify with a story about all of our problems. My boss is a jerk, it’s too hot, I’m so busy, my back hurts, allergies are really bad this year, this idiot cut me off in traffic, and on and on.

In this line of thinking, stuff happens and somehow or other we’re a perpetual victim. Who cares that much of this is out of our control or that few of these situations truly arise to being much of a real problem at all. Indeed, to paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, “the problem is not the problem, the problem is our thinking about the problem.”

Yet, for me, it’s interesting how rarely our narrative includes owning up to a botch, a blunder, a mess we made, our glorious failure or bungled experiment.

Sometimes it’s just too painful to admit we took a chance and it didn’t work out.

Sometimes we’re scared to say “here I made this” and face criticism or outright rejection.

Sometimes, we conveniently ignore our role in a less than desired outcome.

Of course, sometimes there can be no botch, because we took no risk. The fact is it’s almost always easier to do nothing.

Growth doesn’t come from rehashing life’s little inconveniences or slights. It comes from taking the leap and exposing ourselves to the harsh light of both the tribe and the trolls. It’s not about trying to avoid the botch, it’s about being prepared to fail, fail again and fail better.

Ultimately we must make a choice. Will it be “V” for victim or “V for Vulnerable”?

Customer Growth Strategy

In the Absence of a Time Machine, Start Where You Are

I was reflecting on recent conversations I have had with former colleagues and potential consulting clients. Often the discussion turned to the past and a reciting of various decisions we wish we had made. If only this….and if only that…we lamented.

Yes, if we knew the recession was coming we should have been more proactive about cutting costs and integrating our marketing functions when it was first recommended. Of course, getting a jump on that new business opportunity two years earlier would have assured us a leadership position today. No doubt, if we had truly focused on understanding customers’ needs and wants better we would be ready to respond more quickly and in a more remarkable way.

Ah, if we only had a time machine.

One of my favorite writers and speakers is Pema Chodron, the American born Buddhist nun and spiritual adviser. One of her excellent books is entitled Start Where You Are, and at its core the book is a reminder to embrace, rather than deny, painful aspects of our lives and develop a fearlessness to move ahead.    It is also a manifesto to deal with the present reality, rather than waste time hoping to re-do our lives.

In my experience, there can be benefit to reflecting on past decisions (and non-decisions!) to see if we can learn how to avoid repeating the same mistakes.  But even more powerful is embracing the reality that–in the absence of a time machine–the past is the past and that all we really have is right now.

Is your organization ready to let go of the past?  Are you ready to start where you are?
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