50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

I am happy to share the complete list of my “50 Ideas Fighting For,” that concluded today. I trust that these perspectives will be a valuable resource for you – a spark to inquiry and to conversation – and that you will pass them along to others who might benefit. I am thankful for your readership and very much look forward to remaining connected with you through this format and others as we work together to navigate this extraordinary and very challenging shared experience. 

With deepest gratitude,
David


50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

#1 – Read poetry

#2 – Change starts from within

#3 – Know Your Values

#4 – Know Your Strengths

#5 – Be courageous enough to name your aspirations

#6 – You Are Creative

#7 – Get Moving

#8 – Take a Break

#9 – You Don’t Fit in a Box

#10 – Development is a Verb

#11 – There is no “there”

#12 – Never Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself

#13 – “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

#14 – Tell the truth as fast as you can

#15 – You are the one you’ve been waiting for

#16 – You’ve got it better than you think

#17 – Root for other people’s success

#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You the First Time

#20 – It’s Ok to be “Good Enough”

#21 – Simplify

#22 – Time Alone

#23 – Get Closer

#24 – Empathy

#25 – Take Responsibility for Your Learning

#26 – Show Up

#27 – Mature Idealism

#28 – Leap

#29 – Little Things are Big Things

#30 – You Can Adjust your Default Setting

#31 – Satisfaction ≠ Engagement

#32 – What Power Is For

#33 – Originality

#34 – The Next Smallest Thing

#35 – Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

#36 – Look to Nature

#37 – Eat What You Want (It’s your birthday)

#38 – Competence

#39 – The Real Conversation

#40 – Explain About the Thread

#41 – Be Change Ready

#42 – Common Sense

#43 – Compassion

#44 – The Greater Good

#45 – Integrity

#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

#47 – Readiness

#48 – Letting Go

#49 – Vote

#50 – Forgiveness



pexels-photo-1339866.jpeg

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

#43 – Compassion

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
http://www.lynnungar.com/poems/pandemic/


close up photo of pink and green caladium plants

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

#40 – Explain About the Thread

“The Way It Is”

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

– William Stafford –


I was captivated this week by an episode of the podcast, This American Life. Specifically, this segment featuring the magicians Penn and Teller describing their process for developing a new trick. Teller, the conspicuously silent partner, has fallen in love with the idea of recreating a classic floating ball and hoop routine. Penn is less enthusiastic, as in not at all. As Teller works and works to make the trick worthy of their show by the standard they have agreed to over 40 years of collaboration he falls short time and again.

A breakthrough comes when they agree that the way to make the trick compelling to both themselves and their audience is to let the audience in on it from the very beginning. The trick begins with Penn’s announcement: “The next trick is done with just a piece of thread.”  And off goes Teller, beautifully and brilliantly manipulating a ball with nothing more than a piece of thread.

What Penn and Teller understood and acted upon – after years of work on one specific illusion – is what William Stafford implores us to do in the poem above: “You have to explain about the thread.” 

I am often in a position to do exactly that. In the classroom or at a speaking engagement I am frequently asked about my own thread. Why do I do what I do? How did I get started? What are the steps I took from there to here?

I always respond in the same way, that I knew exactly what I was supposed to do with my life when I was 17 years old. A bright red thread emerged through my experiences in musical performance and student leadership. I was intuitively aware that the abilities developed and practiced in those early settings were the strengths I would call on throughout my adult life. I held onto my thread through the first few years of college but lost it completely once I had to marry my intuitive sense of it to the harshly practical world of “knowing what you want to do with your life.” I didn’t know how to manifest my nascent understanding of my thread into a next step. And I was too afraid to explain about the thread. I wasn’t willing to say, “This is my thread. I don’t know much about it but I do know a few important things, not least of which is that it’s mine. Will you please help me figure out where it leads?”

Instead, I let it slip away. As it turns out, it did not let go of me. We played peekaboo on occasion, a flirtation here and there, but it took over 10 years and an extraordinary confluence (aka, the thread working hard behind the scenes) of people and events to land me in front of a classroom of aspirational leaders. The specifics of that first class are hazy because my memory is dominated by the aliveness I felt at having my hands on the thread once again.

A few years ago my thread led me to the college classroom and the opportunity to teach and mentor undergraduate students. The thread has a solid sense of humor. It says, “You struggled to claim me as your own. Others struggle, too. Here is your chance to help a few people struggle a little less, to find the thread a little earlier, and to gain the confidence and declare their commitment to hang on.”

There is no “magic.” There is finding your thread and there is holding onto your thread because “while you hold it you can’t get lost.” There is demonstrating to all who cannot see it that what looks like magic is just your commitment to trust where it will lead. Sometimes, like Teller performing for a full house, we hang on with artistry and elegance. Sometimes, like Teller in the early days of practice, we hang on in spite of our fumbling because our curiosity compels us to learn where it wants to go.  And sometimes we don’t hang on at all. But it is there, waiting to dispel the illusion that we can find our way without it.

What is your thread? Where is it leading?
Who have you explained it to? Who have you asked for help?
What makes it hard to hang on?
Is there someone whose thread confuses you?
Will you listen to them explain about the thread?

For further reading, here’s another reflection on “The Way It Is” by Parker Palmer.


This is #40 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” You’re one click away from reading another!

blue green colours details

Photo by Irene Lasus on Pexels.com


 

#39 – The Real Conversation

Open. Authentic. Honest. Vulnerable. Expressive. Sometimes painful, always a catalyst for new learning.

The real conversation is the one below the surface of the one that is familiar and comfortable.

It is the one hinted at but only entered into when two people agree to ask the un-askable questions give the un-giveable answers.

I am a deeply privileged human being in so many ways. One of those for which I am most thankful is that the “real conversation” is explicitly stated in my job description.

It is an expectation of my professional interactions that I have – and help others to have – real conversations because they are the ones that lead to lasting change. And the degree to which people trust me to do so, the ways in which they willingly, if often tenderly and cautiously, enter into territory that has been perceived as off limits, is humbling beyond measure.

It helps me to appreciate how deep our shared need is for more authentic connection. It also makes me optimistic that the more we work together to meet that need the more likely we are to meet other needs as well.

This is #39 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Care for one more?


PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


close up photo of water

Photo by Emiliano Arano on Pexels.com

#26 – Show Up

This is #26 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one you might enjoy.


Years ago, just after launching my business as a leadership coach and organizational consultant, I decided to market myself through speaking engagements. Organizations like the Rotary Club need a new speaker every week and this newly minted sole-practitioner needed both the practice and the exposure.

I secured a listing in Rotary’s online speaker’s bureau for San Diego county and was fortunate to receive a few invitations. One of these was a lunchtime engagement for a club about 30 miles from my home. I was assured that this was a lively and well-attended meeting, with “at least 20 to 25” participants on a regular basis.

I was diligent in my preparation, I dressed for success and I showed up plenty early for the event. Upon arrival, the well-inflated balloon of my anticipation started to leak a little air. At first it was because the restaurant’s “private meeting room” was no more than a converted back-room storage area just off the kitchen. This means that it was both small and noisy.

The loss of air continued when, at five minutes before noon there were only four people there. If you know anything about Rotary you know that it is a punctual organization. I’ve been to at least a dozen different clubs over the years and not one has failed to start on time.

It seemed a long shot that four people was going to turn into “at least 20 to 25” in the next few minutes so I launched into what can only be described as a good, strong sulk. Picking at my Cobb salad I felt a warm rush of self-pity punctuated with the question, “What the hell am I doing here? I dressed my best, prepared myself and drove all this way, and for what?” 

I felt cheated, for sure, and worse than that, I was stuck.

When it was obvious that the meeting was about to begin and there were, and would only be, six people in attendance, I snapped out of it and made a decision. I saw the faces of my mentors looking back at me, I examined the truth of my own intentions and I decided that if I was going to do this, I wasn’t just going to survive it, I was going to make a splash. I found a way to turn that surge of self-pity into a surge of productive energy and I decided to speak to those six people no differently that I would speak to 60 or even 600.

I decided to give them all I had. I gave them my very best.

As a result – would you believe it? – one of those six thrust a business card into my hand and invited me to meet with his organization. That meeting, just days later, turned into a bona fide project that itself became a multi-year engagement. It was the most significant financial transaction of my first year in business, by far. It is the reason that my business got off the ground and that seven fortunate and meaningful years later I can look back on it with so much pride and appreciation.

All of that because I decided to show up, not just to fulfill an expectation, but to give myself the gift of being able to look in the mirror with the pride of full commitment. I needed that badly and I also needed a reminder of what I will never forget: that it is never my place to predict or assume the outcome of my efforts. It is only my place to do the very best that I can do and trust that the rest will take care of itself.


city skateboard skate

Photo by Salvio Bhering on Pexels.com

 

#21 – Simplify

This is #21 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” You might like #10, also.


Here’s a sentence I read recently: “As brands grow they can sustain a certain growth rate; forcing higher growth unnaturally simply consumes capital unnecessarily.”

It’s a terrible sentence. It’s terrible because it’s complicated and excessive. It’s terrible because it is loaded with adverbs, and the overuse of adverbs is a crutch for bad writing.

I know that I’m on thin ice critiquing someone else’s writing since I make all kinds of mistakes in my own and that I edit only just enough.

I take the risk to make the point that it’s not just about the writing. It’s about the ways we construct facades of competence and self-importance rather than promote connection and learning through simplicity.

Here’s that sentence again, minus the adverbs: “As brands grow they can sustain a certain growth rate; forcing higher growth consumes excessive capital. 

What do you think? Has your opinion of the writer diminished? Are you disappointed by their lack of expertise? Or do you understand the sentence now without having to read it three times?

A good question to increase the impact of our writing and speaking: have I constructed this to prove something or to be of service?

Complexity without cause blocks understanding. Let’s get out of our own way and trust what Dr. Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”


fullsizeoutput_3a

#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

This is #18 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


Since we know that nothing lasts forever, a healthy, necessary and realistic point of view for leaders to take is that whatever is working right now will not necessarily work next year. Rationally, we understand that. Emotionally, however, we are too frequently loathe to question ourselves when things are going well as if we might jinx our good fortune. Harry Potter taught an entire world of wizards that it was not only ok to “speak his name” (Voldemort, that is) but it was actually necessary to do so to have any chance of defeating him.

What follows are the direct and specific actions I believe leaders must take if they are to be successful in building capability for the future. I have divided the list into three categories: Developmental, Strategic and Cautionary.

DEVELOPMENTAL

1. Go to therapy. Don’t walk, run. Since many leaders are narcissists and all leaders have narcissistic qualities they are more fragile than they appear to be. (Both Michael Maccoby and Manfred Kets de Vries have written extensively and powerfully on the subject.) When they are wounded by criticism and questioning of their leadership they often don’t heal very quickly and may actually go to great lengths to even the score. As you know, it can get pretty ugly. And, since everything else I am about to advocate involves building infrastructure to question the system, leaders need to build a tough and thoughtful resilience to bear it well. They need to learn not to take every new idea for improvement as an indictment of their leadership but rather as a response to an invitation to keep getting better. For that to happen, those narcissistic wounds are better worked out in the therapist’s office than in the conference room. (If you’re wondering if someone’s a narcissist you can always just ask them.)

2. Send all key leaders to therapy. For all of the reasons stated above.

3. Or at least provide them with highly skilled coaching support. A great coaching relationship can and often does feel “therapeutic” (one senior leader I worked with referred to it as “couching”). The key is to have a safe, trustworthy partner to work through the holistic challenges of work, home and health. All necessary subjects for an effective executive to discuss and work on regularly.

4. Be more human than otherwise. That is to say, thoughtfully reveal your vulnerability, things you’re working on, the challenges you face. Items #1-3 will be very helpful in equipping you to do this. When you become accessible to your team as a human being you increase your power by strengthening your connections. Those connections become the lifeline for communication. And communication is at the heart of learning how to get better.

5. Treat people like adults. Respect them enough to be transparent about what’s going on. Be clear about what you need. Expect them to do the same for you. You’re not their mom or dad. You don’t have to protect them from the truth. You do need to give them a chance to rise to the occasion. If they can’t or don’t you’ll have the information you need to support them in their own development.

STRATEGIC

6. Make every leader accountable for a meaningful annual report of what needs to change in his or her function in the coming year. There is always something to improve. ALWAYS. Building in this kind of evaluative, reflective process expands our capacity for having hard discussions and normalizes the process of doing so. And this is to be done in open dialogue with the whole team, starting with the people who are actually doing the work each day. A simple question for them: if you could change one thing that would allow you to be more effective in fulfilling your job responsibility, what would it be? (Note: if you don’t get useful answers the first time around it’s probably because they don’t trust you enough to be honest. Earn that trust by keeping at it in a sincere and authentic way. If that’s hard for you, see item #1.)

7. Determine how you will change first. No meaningful change happens until the leader decides to change. Figure out what change in your behavior will help bring about the larger change initiative and get busy. “Be the change you want to see in the world” is not an invitation but an admonition.

8. Hold Pre and Post-mortem meetings for every project. In the pre meeting ask as many people as possible what they think could go wrong. Learn to anticipate the bumps and get your team ready to respond. The post-mortem is more of a no-brainer but usually overlooked because we’re already off to the next thing. Even a couple of simple questions – again, asked of all involved – will build openness and a greater capacity for learning: What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn about yourself and our team? 

9. Expect leaders to coach their teams and teach them how to do so. Here’s a fine job description for a key leader: spend time everyday understanding the business and how all the pieces fit together (educate your team about same); critically consider what’s working and what’s not in your function and engage your team in frequent dialogue about same; make plans for improvement by seeking as much perspective as possible; assign responsibilities to follow through on plans; provide coaching support and resources to ensure success; recognize and celebrate publicly and tangibly. This is a talking, engaging, coaching, critical thinking, relationship job. It is not a protect, defend, isolate, manipulate, scheme and otherwise preserve hierarchical hegemony job.

CAUTIONARY

10. Don’t pretend to do any of the above. Up to now, I’ve offered suggestions on what to “do.” Here’s my first and only “don’t do.” Any inauthentic attempt at any of the above will be sniffed out immediately and seen for the manipulative tactic that it is. You gotta mean it or don’t even bother. Good people will leave and you will be surrounded by scared people all too willing to tell you that you’re great and that what “we’re doing” is just right and will certainly last forever.

Until it doesn’t and you end up in therapy anyway.


collection of construction safety helmet

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

#13 – “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

This is #13 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


Actually, it’s not just an acceptable answer, it’s often a great one.

It is wonderfully counterintuitive that the ability to say “I don’t know” comes from self-confidence. It is self-assurance in what we do know that allows us the ability to be more curious, rather than defensive, about what we don’t.

This is, for me, one of the signs of mature leadership (and parenting, too for that matter), the ability to openly and publicly “not know.” The power surge from “not knowing,” when treated as a collaborative and even connective moment, can be significant.

If a leader says “I don’t know” when asked a question by a team member, and then asks, “Do you have any ideas?” or “Who else do you think we could ask about this?” or “What resources do we have to figure this out?” that person is now jointly engaged as a problem solver. That person is now engaged at a much higher level.

Good leaders, like good parents, are facilitators of discovery, connection and learning. They do not see themselves as repositories of knowledge but as catalysts for the dynamic exploration of potential. They can’t define what that is with perfect clarity or precision, only that it is more likely to be discovered if we are all committed to the search.


close up of beer bottles on wood

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon on Pexels.com

 

Between Friends

A text exchange between friends \\ 10:45 AM \\ December 18, 2019

\\\

Friend: Checking in on you today – you keep crossing my mind. Wondering how your spirits are, and the sense of “darkness”?

\\\

Me: Lovely timing…

\\\

Friend: Crazy how that works

\\\

Me: The thing about advent is that its a journey from darkness to light…

the dark is uncomfortable at first, and then seductive…a comfy place to stay and brood…the promise of light feels a little too much at first, the light itself a little harsh

And then the memory that the dark is in service of the light and stepping towards it is not fatal but generative

Feeling more on that side of things these days

TMI 😂

\\\

Friend: No!! So good, and as usually happens with ‘lovely timing’, the words coming back my way were hand-picked for today. Thanks David!!

Here’s to stepping towards the light…

\\\

And a few hours later, “friend” sends the perfect poem to encourage me to keep stepping:

\\\

From (Rainer Maria) Rilke’s “Book of Hours”:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


i see light in the darkness text

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

You Have to Plug It In

Dec 13, 12:47pm – Oakland Airport: A man looks up between bites of his Mesquite Grilled Chicken salad and sees a “Short Story Dispenser.” Intrigued, he sets the salad on the seat next to him and approaches the machine, the sensation of his unwitting participation in a social experiment growing in his mind. He pushes the button for a “1-minute Story” and nothing happens. He pushes the 3 and 5-minute story buttons and nothing happens.

The man notices that the “Short Story Dispenser” is, in fact, unplugged. Increasingly confident of the social experiment, the man bends down and plugs it in. He hears a brief whirring sound and then…nothing. Oh, well, he thinks and returns to his seat for more salad.

Moments later, he glances up and sees that the machine is lit up now, each button outlined by a small circle of light.

Certain that he is being played, and unable to resist, the man returns to the kiosk, pushes the “1-minute Story” button again and to his delight, a story comes tumbling from the mouth of the machine.

As he finishes the story he sees another man at the machine, a braver man who has clearly pushed the “5-minute Story” button given the length of the scroll that emerges.
The first man is envious and also satisfied. And when another man approaches and receives a story, and then a small boy does the same (bravest of all because he prints two stories!!) his satisfaction deepens and becomes happiness.

He knows, and will always know, that he is the man who plugged in the story machine at the Oakland airport on a Friday in December.

(Alternative post title: “Things that happen when I am not holding my phone”)


IMG_7471