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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stay Warm

It seems odd that the most celebrated holidays take place when it's dark and cold. Most especially during this time in history when the darkness and coldness are seemingly coming from sources other than nature.

And then, maybe not.

My house having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.

It's when it is coldest and darkest that we seek the warmth and comfort of light. And it is especially important that we realize this at a time both seasonally and in this season of history. Light does not come from wealth and presents and holiday outfits and sumptuous food and elaborately decorated homes. It comes from each other. When we strip away all these, we realize that the real reason for the season is to come together and celebrate life. For many, this has been a season of where the house has burned to the ground - much or all has been stripped away. For others it is the cold, dark fear that it might. Not being held by the promise of its trappings, it is a time of opportunity to be involved in this season's true intent. Come together. Hope. Don't stay out in the cold.

No amount of darkness can overcome a single ray of light

Hope is a powerful thing. It is the tiniest, warm ray in the deepest, coldest darkness and it increases as we bring our lights together. A chord of three strands is not easily broken. My wish is that the holidays bring us together so that in going forward into the New Year will keep us close and warm and strong.

Have a happy Holiday and a safe and prosperous New Year!

And thank you for reading my blog in 2008!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What good is an idea?

I recently completed some work with a group who is starting a viable business based on a concept that is coming to fruition. It started as an idea between a small group of people who were passionate and saw a need. They found the white space that exists between businesses already in their market and are finding ways to connect, improve the whole and be sustainable to ensure the wholeness.

Their approach is original - true innovation.

It has been hard work and they have been active in the process having spent the last two years physically involved to prove an idea they had been thinking about for a long time. They are now structuring the business and giving it a life. They are moving beyond themselves and are getting funding, advice, and help outside their areas of expertise.

So what good is an idea?

I did a quick search on the internet on how many thoughts we humans have a day and found anywhere between a couple of thousand to somewhere on the order of 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts. WOW! Somewhere among those numbers lie the many ideas we have to improve our current situations, heal our pasts and build success in the future. So, what is the value of an idea? Actually not much!

I have had the good fortune to work with many companies and individuals on ideas that could heal, solve current issues and grow their future. Ideas are not good or bad – they are only useful or not. If useful, what can float or sink an idea is as numerous as drops of water in the ocean. However, some generalizations can be made.

An idea can come too early

An idea that is too immature can fall victim to lack of viewpoints. This typically happens when we don’t want to see what will make an idea fail and it is the only viable way we think we have. We hoard it, hide it and coddle it.

I once had client that had a product idea, $10,000 and a plan to build it out of his garage. The plan was based on a few conversations, no marketing research, or plan to find other funding, partnerships or alliances, and a steely determination to become a millionaire. I fired myself from the project.

An idea can come too late

This can happen when we hold on too long or ask too late for input from others. When we wait too long to act on an idea either from fear of exposure or over analysis we can see our idea come to fruition at the hands of someone else. How many ideas have you had that have shown up in the marketplace, in your industry or company looking rather familiar to your own idea?

I remember the movie, Nightshift with Michael Keaton. It’s a pretty old movie and I am not sure it has made it to DVD, but in it Keaton plays a directionless character spending part of his time dictating ideas into his microcassette recorder (I told you it was old). He claims to have come up with the idea of Q-Tip swabs on his own, but someone else came up with it first. Sound familiar?
The other side is the lack of robust solutions when working on an idea. Have you ever had an idea shut down because some crucial information either through research or a knowledgeable person came too far down the development cycle to be integrated?

As a member of a large consulting firm, I managed a skills database and answered requests from other consultants on people in the firm who had specific skills building project teams and devising marketing plans. I got a call one day from an executive in the firm who had just found out that the competition was rolling out a service line based on a certain set of competencies and wanted to know who we had who could also provide these services. My search netted two people with a base set of knowledge in that area. It took two years of catch up at great expense in training, marketing and proposing to create a viable presence in that market - waiting too long with available signals in the market, put revenue at risk.

Our ideas are our own

The concept of owning our own ideas, destinies, fate, etc. is relatively new in civilization. Prior to today’s thinking, inventors, artists, scientist, philosophers and the like saw ideas and inspiration as a gift from God or the Gods. They considered themselves only a vehicle for their expression. They were driven beyond their own interests and saw their work as a mission. Relatively few, if any, Renaissance artists signed their work for the felt they were not the owners. One such exception was Michelangelo:

Michelangelo chiseled his name in his famous Pieta fearing he would not get credit. Known for his egotism, he nonetheless regretted this action for the rest of his life.

We are not in and of ourselves whole, our thoughts represent something more than our own egotistic need for power. We need more than ourselves.

Ideas can be controlled

Ideas are like everything else. Although conceived in our internal environments (our brains), ideas get life outside of us. Like children, conceived internally, we learn over time how little control we have over them as they mature and take on their own lives. Ideas must have their own lives in time – we can only be a part of their growth. We have to be good parents, managers, stewards of our ideas. In the book, Parenting through Love and Logic, it identifies the styles of parenting that influence positive growth and those that hamper, handicap or destroy growth. It’s a great philosophy for parenting and transitions into some powerful direction for business and concepts. For the purpose of this discussion, two ways of hampering ideas were inspired from the Love and Logic reading.

Overprotecting an idea

When we over protect an idea, hide it, hoard and don’t expose it to the light of reality, it withers. Not unlike children, ideas need light and life and other inputs beyond us. Without, it never gains the resistance it needs to exist in the outside world. Ideas need conflict and resolution, as no idea is conceived in maturity, it only grow in that direction through hard work and renewal. To come back as a mature business, product or service we have to let go a little and respect its need for other influences.

Overexposing an idea

We can alternately expose an immature idea too widely and too quickly having not given it the time it needs to mature and find its own way. When our egos get in the way and an idea serves only to show the world our brilliance, it can serve to prove just the opposite. It’s the classic pride before the fall. Not being a responsible steward to the idea and not working in its best interest we lose the perspective we need to make it work.

What have you seen that make ideas float or sink? I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart

Happy Thanksgiving and Thank You!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Now What?

Now that we have selected a new president, which has brought an unparalleled response from voters and the global community alike, what do we do? Some people couldn’t be more energized with a vision of hope and prosperity, others see their hopes dashed. And neither can relish the privilege of their feelings. The energy, passion and spirit of Americans that this produced on both sides of the political color wheel have created a power base. For those with hope and those who felt they have lost it is an opportunity that will not be affected by one person in the form of president. For those who see this as a positive situation and for those who don’t, it is a call to be more. The situation is the situation that can only be brought to a positive outcome by our attitude. The energy that brought all of us into the community of voters to cast our ballots needs to be the same energy that brings us into the community of issues. Each one of our votes has counted and each one of our efforts will do the same and in community we can heal the boundaries that keep us from acting in concert. For our differences are not what makes our country great, it is what he have done with them as Americans that has made the difference.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


We are in an unparalleled time in history. We live in a world of plenty. We have access to all the information in recorded history and it is at our fingertips. Its access is immediate. We can find and communicate with anyone, anywhere in the push of a button. Yet despite all of our modern advances, we are facing a challenging time not caused by what the world does or does not give us, but by what we do or do not give ourselves and others. In the face of economic hard times, we suffer least from the lack of resources and most from our own lack of spirit.

Tuesday is this country’s time and our time to move into a new place, a better place. Two candidates are vying for the leadership of our country and we have received no small amount of information, both good and bad. Lines are drawn as to the candidate that is the better to lead the country based on platform, constituency, and years of experience. I have my candidate and you have your candidate. And whereas we may differ, we are all bound by one common purpose – the country in which we live and prosper so well that even in bad times we do better than the majority of people inhabiting this planet. We may differ in candidate, but we all want one thing – health and prosperity and since we all want it, the health and prosperity must be for all. While my candidate may differ from yours, my prayer and the prayer I hope for all of us is that on the day after the election, our next elected leader will open all our hearts to being one country, not delineated by the colors of red and blue, but of one spirit. But that can’t happen.

It can’t happen, unless we start by uniting in one spirit at the polls. Making time in our busy hectic day, driving through the traffic, standing in long lines, smiling and talking to friends and strangers and casting our ballots is the fuel that will fire the spirit of whoever is our next president. We can’t elect spirit, we can’t demand a better new and better place, we have to be the spirit – VOTE!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bringing Groups Together…What’s it all about?

We assign a mystical quality to bringing groups together. We assign the same magical powers to place, geography, d├ęcor and the like. Not unlike a “Field of Dreams” our perception is if we build it they will come to greater solutions and decisions. But different than the fictional plot of the movie, bringing them together does little. So what’s it all about? These occasions, places and accoutrements, while enhancing the occasion, do nothing without defining two key goals: Output and outcome.

Output is the physical representation of work done. It may be a strategy, plan, schematic, vision/mission/goal, schedule and more. It summarizes what was done, to be done and is the communication vehicle for those not present.

Outcome is the energy change that occurs when people brought together are combined with the right kind of activity to address the issues at hand. People enter as individuals (unshared thought, beliefs and attitudes), and leave different - better aligned and capable of putting into play the decisions and solutions they have created. The goal is to create a stronger system, to take the decisions forward. Without it, all the physical signs of the work they have produced will be worthless. They will be just another stack of papers collecting dust or digital files sitting on a computer to no one’s benefit.

Being in a measure-centric world as we are today, output is an obvious goal for a group or team. If we can’t see it, it cannot exist nor should it be sought. However, without a change in how a group interacts and focuses as a team, we lose our ability to ensure the success of all we have created.

What is your view on the energy of a group? What is the value it brings to our work? I value your comments

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Creativity, Innovation and the Power of Constraints

When most individuals and teams are asked what they need to do better in their organization, the response usually centers not having enough. Not enough time, money, people and tools to get the job done. All of this translates into FREEDOM. I once facilitated a group of upper management in which their sole reply when being asked what they needed was freedom. What my experience has taught me in facilitating and through observation and my life experience is that freedom in its infinite forms is not what people want. Rather, it is the freedom to choose. And the list of options cannot be infinite.

The most successful innovation and creative applications are always bound by constraints – choices we make among a series of finite options which define the playing field from which we execute our work. The examples are many:

Artists choose a canvas or a wall or a blob of clay from which they, bound by physical constraints, produce inspiring works of art.

What would a football game look like without end zones, yard markers and out of bound lines?

The inventor, Thomas Edison, did not invent the light bulb. He did, however, invent the light bulb that was long lasting and affordable meeting the needs of a mass market.

Within all of these constraints, incredible amounts of creativity and innovative thinking have been poured and have flourished successfully within a field of play.

And while people en masse are self governing, when constraints are eliminated through natural disaster, government breakdown, or sanctions and regulations redrawn to a point that the end zones and out of bounds lines are somewhere in the foggy distance – anarchy ensues. We need to have freedom within guidelines that allow expansive thinking and actions, but guidelines nonetheless that allow us a field of play with which to focus our energies.

Tell me what you think. How do you define freedom?

The Role of Leader and Constraints

I apologize in advance for using a sports metaphor, but it provides useful guidance in the role of the leader in providing direction and guidance to a team. In American football, the leader has to work within the box provided – the yard markers, the out of bounds lines and the end zones and the other people on the team. The leader’s job is to provide sound strategies and communicate observations that the players cannot see from their own vantage point. The leader communicates this in the form of plays, but the leader being from only one vantage point too, knows all plays cannot be called from the sidelines. Some plays need to be called from the huddle, and some while on the line and finally while within the play itself. It would a pointless game if a player while during the execution of the play followed all the direction given by the leader if an opportunity arose and a change to take advantage of the opportunity was not taken.

Not being on the field of play, the leader knows that while he or she is responsible for the overall outcome, the leader is not in control nor has all the information necessary to execute the plays that will allow success.

The leader is a passive influence, and expects players on the field to not only execute the play called but to stay open and react to opportunities that come up and expects that a change in activities on the field will be made should the opposition not react in ways predicted. Of course both parties – leader and player rest on a foundation of the constraints placed on them by the field of play. As such, they pour all their energy, creativity, innovation and muscle into that which they are given. The most successful can be out of the box while constrained within a box. The leader succeeds as a leader by working within a mutually interdependent system, the likes of which he or she only has partial control. The best leaders realize this and respond to the realities of the situation.

What is your opinion on leaders and leadership? I welcome your comments

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Start with People

People are your most flexible and adaptable stakeholders in the interaction between process and technology. They are also the most unpredictable source of time, cost and quality. Whereas, process and technology is purely objective and mostly measurable, people can be an untold source of hidden costs that show up with no home on the balance sheet. Resources (mostly cost associated with waste and time) disappear without a trace.

However, people engaged in the creation of solution can become an organization’s most potent agent in positive change. People with an active stake in the success of an organization need less supervision, bring limitless energy, and can nurture the success of an organization. Most of our world outside of organizations is self governed. It is the very reason we have existed this long and civilization has prospered. People care about establishing family, home and a place in society. Given the freedom to decide, people become their own, best taskmasters.