Tag Archives | Beliefs

Parking Lot Angel


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I pulled into a parking spot at the grocery store, just before lunch time, after a meeting and on my way to one of my jobs. On top of the world after a successful meeting.

I got out of the Corvette, and a guy in a pick-up truck had pulled up behind me, window rolled down. He held out a brochure.

“May I give this to you?” he asked.

Oh no, I thought, a religious tract.

“Sure,” I said, suspicious.

“We’re the oldest Corvette association in America, and we’re right up in San Ramon. We’d love to have you come.”

Not what I expected. “Cool!” I said, “Thank you!”

Standing in line at the deli counter, I burst out laughing. People looked askance. “Damn,” I said to myself.

Ah, the irony. And the perfection. I’ve been driving (and loving) the Corvette for nine and a half years, and this Parking Lot Angel finds me now, when I am thinking about wrestling with selling it.

(I told the whole story to a friend last night, and he said, “You are cool. The Corvette is cool by association.”)

Well, I will go to their next meeting. They may be able to help me sell it. Or they may be able to help me not sell it. And they may be angels for my other work, too.

Either way, angels are not to be ignored.

Attachment


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I finally get the meaning of Attachment.

It’s a concept that has floated across my awareness at various times in my life, generally with the teaching that “bliss isn’t really possible when you’re (too) attached to things (or people, or outcomes).” I thought that meant “don’t get (too) attached because it will hurt when you lose it.”

Well, as someone who has moved numerous times and given away or sold lots of stuff in the process, as someone who throws Garage Sales for fun, I didn’t think Attachment was an issue for me.

I was wrong.

Even when I worked in a corporate job and wore Italian wool suits, I knew I would go home and put on mismatched socks and overalls. Attachment? The only things I was really attached to were my husband and my cats. (And my guitar. And my camera. And the antique cameo Aunt Norma gave me as a Welcome To The Family gift. But really, that was all.) (Really.)

I was wrong.

The other day I was telling a friend about how I am having trouble getting my car ready to sell, and how I had realized how much I liked the aura of coolness the car gives me. How much I like…

…the way people look at the car, look at me, and say, “That’s your car?” (Why are they so surprised?) And then they look at me differently.

…the way we Corvette drivers nod and wave at each other. Nobody else does that. Except bikers.

…the way people say, “You have the. Coolest. Car. Ever.” So I must be cool by association. Right?

…the way other drivers treat me. They yield the right of way just to watch the Corvette go by. On the rare occasions I’ve had to drive something else, I get no respect. People cut me off and steal the right of way.

This is all on top of the pure and simple Joy I get from driving the thing. From seeing an opening in traffic and putting the car there. From goosing the accelerator and taking off. From flying along the highway. From going around curves and corners at speed.

But that wasn’t what I was talking about.

It wasn’t about the fact this was the last car Bruce and I bought together.

And it wasn’t about the fact that I paid it off.

I was telling my friend how I had finally had to admit that my ego liked the way people look at me because I drive a Corvette…and how that made me feel.

She just nodded and said,

“Yup. That’s an attachment.”

Damn.

Here’s what I’ve realized

Attachment in itself isn’t a bad thing. The problem lies in what it keeps me from doing, or drives me to do (so to speak). And, more importantly, what lies behind it. Whether or not I sell the car, realizing the reason behind why I’ve had trouble moving forward with selling it is huge. That lesson can’t be unlearned, whether I sell the car or not.

Even more importantly, I realize as I write this, Attachment and Connection should not be confused.

We get Attached to ideas and beliefs. We Connect with Others.

This is a reminder to myself to finally believe in my Innate Coolness and Amazingness. Regardless of what I drive.

And to focus on Connection, not Attachment.


Where are your Attachments and your Connections?
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The Amazing Question


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This morning I received a newsletter from Chris Brogan (if you don’t know him, you can find him here and here) with the subject line, “Do you live by a manifesto?”

Funny you should ask that, I thought. After reading a variety of manifestos in the last couple of years, I was moved by a few but never wrote one.

Then, this past Spring I asked myself this question:

“What would you do if you really believed in yourself?”

I don’t remember what prompted it. But I started writing, and out came a pretty amazing statement.

So amazing that I typed it, made it pretty, and printed it out. I put it in my office and in my bedroom where I could see it and read it frequently.

Sometimes it becomes wallpaper, but I consciously go back and re-read it for courage and direction when I get lost.

“What would you do if you really believed in yourself?”

I wrote to Chris and told him about it, and sent him my manifesto. To my surprise, he responded almost immediately, saying “What an amazing question!!!”

It is an amazing question. It’s also a hellish question, and a heavenly question. It is heavenly and hellish because once I answered I could no longer hide.

Side note for Word Geeks

Here’s a thing I learned about writing a Manifesto. It’s based on the word “manifest.”

Seems kind of obvious, but it’s not. And it’s important.

If you look at the various definitions of the verb “manifest,” they boil down to an important idea: To make something visible. To make something real.

I asked myself a big question and answered it from my soul. As soon as I did, as soon as I made it real, teachers started appearing, doors started appearing, and opportunities started appearing.

And then…

And then something awful happened.

I realized how long I had been hiding.

That’s so big that I can hardly breathe as I write it. (And my pen ran out of ink as I wrote it. Hm.)

I realized how long I had been hiding, and that I no longer could. (I admit it’s a hard habit to break. But it’s possible.)

It is awful, and terrifying. And wonderful. Awe Full.

Are you curious?

If you’re still reading, you’re probably curious. Here it is.

Click Here for the Manifesto

Come and get it!

As I said, as soon as I made it real, teachers started appearing, doors started appearing, and opportunities started appearing. And I started getting tested. (Have you ever heard the proverb, “Never pray for patience, because you’ll get it and then it will be tested”? Like that.)

But I’m up to the test. Even though it’s scary. And I know you are, too.

“What would you do if you really believed in yourself?”

Would you like to answer this amazing question for yourself? Would you like to do it in the company of others?

You’re invited

to an evening workshop on Thursday, September 27th. Because the lessons I learn aren’t meant just for me.

Come and answer this Amazing Question, this amazing, hellish, heavenly question, for yourself – in the company of others. (There’s safety in numbers!)

Your answer to this question can open doors and provide you with a vital roadmap. I will create a space in which we will pause and listen, lead the process of answering the question, facilitate the sharing of the answers with the group, and facilitate work on what to do about it.

Are you ready?

Are you curious?


The Amazing Question Evening

Thursday, September 27th 2012

7:00pm – 9:00pm PDT

390 Diablo Road, #115 Danville, CA

$10

Attend live or via Skype

Attendance is limited to 20 participants

Please join me!


It’s time to move from the maze to Amazing.

Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thank you, Chris, for permission to use your name in this post!

Intentional Overflow


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This morning I was on a weekly conference call with a handful of friends who are also entrepreneurs in helping professions. As always, it was a rich conversation. Today we touched on many interrelated topics, including priorities, questioning how we define “productivity,” setting boundaries, keeping commitments to ourselves, and fun.

In other words, a typical conversation!

During the conversation I was reminded of an exercise I had gone through with another group of friends. We had gathered for a monthly potluck dinner, and each of us had been asked to bring our favorite cup or mug. The hostess had prepared a large punch-bowl full of water, and she led us through a meditation in which she poured water into our cups until they were overflowing. She asked us to consider this question:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Hmmm.

So, today I asked myself these questions:

What activities am I willing to stop doing to make time (or energy) for different activities?

What commitments, relationships, or partnerships no longer serve their purpose or do not serve both sides equally?

What beliefs do I hold that keep me from moving forward, that I can release to make room for beliefs that make progress possible?

Hmmm.

I am willing to stop breaking commitments to myself and protect my time for writing.

I am willing to release certain partnerships that have run their course to make more time and energy available for personal growth and projects in other areas.

I am willing let go of the belief that people want to pay me for my services out of charity, just to help me build my business, and make room for the belief that what I do is really valuable to them.

Letting go can be hard, but when the time is right it can be very easy.

What about you? Please tell me in the comments:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Image: Darren Robertson / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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I Just Realized…


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I once wrote a piece about how my expectations can shape my beliefs about reality. (You can read it here.) I recently re-read it, and I looked at the following sentence and had to pause: “It isn’t until the curtains are opened and it is proven to me that the streets are actually dry that I realize it really isn’t raining.”

“I realize that it really isn’t raining.”

It wasn’t until I saw the word “realize” next to the word “really” that I noticed that the root of the word “realize” is the word “real.”

“Um, yeah,” you might say, “That’s pretty obvious. And your point is?”

Well, my point is that in an instant my understanding of the word “realize” shifted. I previously thought of it as a synonym for something occurring to me. To say “I realized that…” was the same as to say, “It dawned on me that…” But to say that an idea – or a dream – was made real is a much stronger idea, a much stronger statement.

When a word has “ize” at the end, it means that something has been made into something else.

So, to real-ize a dream is to turn a dream into reality.

And to real-ize an idea is to allow that idea to become a concrete thing, a real possibility, a part of my reality.

I have embarked on a path to real-ize my dream of learning to play the banjo. In the process, thanks to the support I am receiving from friends about this project, I have real-ized in a new way that people love me and want to help.

What have you real-ized lately?

The Beauty – and the Danger – of Woo-Woo


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This post was triggered by a post written by my friend and soul-sister, Jenny Bones. It has become one of those topics that started burning a hole in my pocket to the point that I couldn’t get to anything else until I took it out.

Jenny’s post What’s Wrong With a Little Woo? (at her new website, an exciting change of direction for her) hit a nerve with me.

I am, among other things, an Organization Development (OD) consultant. And even though that sounds mighty Proper and Official, people in OD (and HR and Training and Development, and all the associated tracks) are sometimes looked down upon by The Corporate World as being, well, woo-woo. Touchy-feely. We deal with feelings. And soft skills. (Among other things.) Sometimes the work we do isn’t perceived as being “closest to the dollar” (or anywhere near it, except as an expense). Dealing with and overcoming this perception is not an unusual topic at professional meetings and trainings.

So I wasn’t surprised when I went to a workshop last fall called Become an Inspiring Speaker (which was FABULOUS) that there was a lot of self-deprecating humor among participants and presenters about being perceived as being woo-woo. What did surprise me was that when someone would ask, “What does that mean?” or challenge the use of the term, people would kind of hem and haw and change the subject.

“Woo-woo” is one of those terms that everyone kind of knows the definition of.

“Woo-woo” is one of those slang terms that everyone kind of knows the definition of, but here are a couple of official definitions (from the Internet, which is never wrong):

Wiktionary.org says: “It has been suggested that “woo woo” is intended to imitate the eerie background music of sci-fi/horror films and television shows, however the exact origin is uncertain.” It gives the definition as: “(Decribing) A person readily accepting supernatural, paranormal, occult, or pseudoscientific phenomena, or emotion-based beliefs and explanations.”

The Skeptic’s Dictionary says, “When used by skeptics, woo-woo is a derogatory and dismissive term used to refer to beliefs one considers nonsense or to a person who holds such beliefs… But mostly the term is used for its emotive content and is an emotive synonym for such terms as nonsense, irrational, nutter, nut, or crazy.”

Nice, huh? The problem is, what is considered nonsense is relative. It can be applied to anything that isn’t mainstream, left-brain and “close to the dollar.”

“Be Who You Be”

In Jenny’s post, she takes a stand that you should “be who you be” and not be afraid of being woo-woo if that’s who you are. I agree! She went on to say,

“When we edit ourselves and our marketing message in the hopes we’ll attract a larger audience we risk losing everything. More often than not, we end up missing our target completely.”

With that I agree… and I disagree. Here’s why.

I agree that we should represent ourselves authentically and not try to convince others that we are something we are not. Or that we are not something we are. We can only connect with our Right People by letting ourselves shine.

But And I also believe that we should carefully select the language we use and be wary of using terms that have negative baggage – not only because it can scare new Right People away, but also because it reinforces the monster voices in our heads that call us names. It makes it more difficult to fully embrace and describe with pride Who We Are and What We Bring to the Work We Do.

Simply put, it’s the term woo-woo that bothers me.

It’s the term “woo-woo” that bothers me.

So I left a comment on Jenny’s blog and told a story about a group of consultants and coaches with whom I meet regularly. At one of our meetings, where we were working on ideas for promoting our businesses, we kept using the term “woo-woo” in a self-demeaning way. So we had a reframing exercise to see if we could shift the way we thought of the term, and of ourselves. And in the process we came up with a lot of very useful terms to use instead of “woo-woo.”

It was a very powerful exercise, as it helped us to take more pride and ownership in what we do as well as giving us new language to use with people who hunger for more than black-and-white, either-or, numbers-driven, left brain solutions.

I should have anticipated it, but several people replied to my comment asking about what some of those words were.

So I went back to my cohorts and asked if they minded if I wrote about this. Their support was unanimous, and one responded with, “I’m totally in support of it, and, in fact, would love it if you DID mention us — not names and details, but that you are a member of a fabulous group of intuitively-oriented goddesses with our feet firmly on the ground.

I couldn’t have put it better myself! So here we go with more about the reframing exercise:

We brainstormed as many synonyms as we could for “woo-woo.”  Not necessarily concrete definitions, but any term that came to mind that we associated with “woo-woo.” A volunteer record-keeper wrote them down in a word cloud as fast as we blurted them out.

At first they were mostly words that are negative – or might be perceived as negative by The Corporate World – including words like “unrealistic,” “joke,” “scary,” “mysterious,” “unprovable,” “touchy-feely,” “girlie,” “psychic,” “dangerous,” “evil,” “witch,” and “wimpy.”

But even before we stopped to intentionally redirect ourselves to listing more “positive” terms, those terms started tumbling out until we had more positive terms than negative terms. Overflowing positive terms!

Then we went back through the word cloud and circled those positive terms to help them stand out. They include “curious,” “power,” “quantum physics,” “universal,” “authentic,” “honest,” “real,” “expansive, “right brain,” “passion,” “joy,” “present,” “intercultural,” “love,” “light,” and “connection.” Those are just a few; a copy of the actual page is below:

What a difference! By the end of ten minutes we had shifted the language we were using and the way we were presenting ourselves, and we pledged to only use the positive terms when marketing ourselves going forward.

What’s my point?

The world includes – must include – both yin and yang. We have both a left brain and a right brain.

There are a lot of people in The Corporate World, as well as small businesses, solopreneurs, and individuals, who want and need what we bring. We can authentically speak to them in languages they can understand.

So, embrace who you are and what you bring to your work! That enthusiasm is contagious! As Jenny said, “You are the only thing that’s unique about your business. Market it. Celebrate it. Believe in it.”

Use language that celebrates who you are and what you bring to your work. If that includes the term “woo-woo,” Yay You! But if using that term is just an excuse to kick yourself in the shins or justify your lack of success because They see you as “woo-woo,” then Not-Yay.

If the rebel in you wants to proudly wear the badge of Woo-Woo, go for it! But think carefully about whether or not it is an excuse to have your “No One Will Ever Buy From Me” cake and eat it too.

Re-framing can be a powerful exercise for getting unstuck and looking at something in a new way. Language is important – and powerful.

Take it from a “fabulous group of intuitively-oriented goddesses with our feet firmly on the ground.”

Do you truly embrace what you do and invite others to share in it? How have you used a re-framing exercise to change how you look at things? Please leave a comment!

Stop Making Sense


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Have you ever been stymied by logic that you know must be flawed but it successfully keeps the status quo in place? By getting to the hidden beliefs behind that logic, we can begin to make a difference.

Here are two true stories that can help demonstrate this. Consider the following:

Story #1

Once upon a time there was a social services agency in a famous city. This city was very proud of its image but, despite its image and beloved status, it had – and has – a very real Skid Row area. The agency served the Skid Row population, and it was located in a down and dirty neighborhood that was, among other things, strewn with litter.

One day, someone noticed that there were no trash receptacles on the street in this neighborhood. A delegation from the agency was sent to the city to ask that garbage cans be installed on street corners in the neighborhood.

The city, in its infinite wisdom, said “No.” The reason was, “If we put out garbage cans, people will just put garbage in them.”

? ? ?

Story #2

Once upon a time, there was a large company that prided itself on its quality customer service and the strength of its customer relationships. This company, despite its image, did occasionally have unhappy customers. Those customers occasionally reached out to the company have their complaints addressed.

The company had a toll-free number specifically for complaint calls, but that number was unpublished. It wasn’t in any of the company’s printed materials, nor was it on the company’s website. Because it was difficult to find, it was not unusual for otherwise calm and reasonable people with reasonable concerns to be frustrated and even furious by the time they got to someone who could address their issue.

It was proposed to The Powers That Be that the “hotline” number and email address should be made available on the company’s website.

The Powers That Be, in their infinite wisdom, said “No.” The reason was, “If we publish that number, people will call.”

? ? ?

What the…?

Those two scenarios are head-scratchers – each seems like a simple, common-sense solution that is illogically rejected.

Yet, the reasoning behind each rejection has a certain logic to it. On the surface, at least, it is about resources.

If the city had strategically placed trash receptacles around the neighborhood, it would have had to spend money to not only purchase the trash cans but also provide pick-up service – an additional labor expense. That wasn’t in the budget.

If the company had published its toll-free number and customer service email address, it might have had to hire another person to handle the increased volume of calls. That wasn’t in the budget, whereas the hidden costs of people routing calls was spread across various budgets.

In both cases, the seemingly simple logic trumps any arguments to the contrary. And so the status quo is maintained. Such improvements rarely make it into the budget for next year, however. Why? Because of the unexamined beliefs that surround them.

It is these beliefs that provide the structural support for the tunnel vision that keeps the status quo in place. What might those beliefs be?

  • This is Eden! We don’t have garbage here. (Denial.)
  • People who litter are moral degenerates who create their own problems.
  • People who create their own problems have to live with the consequences.
  • We, therefore, only need to do the minimum necessary to protect ourselves (from rats, from disease, from bad publicity).

So let’s look at the possible belief system for our second scenario:

  • We don’t have complaints; our customers love us. (Denial.)
  • People who complain are crackpots who have created their own problems.
  • People who create their own problems deserve what they get.
  • We, therefore, only need to do the minimum necessary to protect ourselves (from lawsuits, from bad publicity).

There is a certain logic to this belief system, even if that logic is flawed. But one thing I remember from my first college philosophy course was this: If one premise in an argument is flawed, then the conclusion cannot be true. In the scenarios above, the first premise is certainly not true, and the second premise is, at the very least, debatable.

But here’s an important consideration: I can speculate all day long, but if I don’t get verification of those beliefs, then I am only acting on my own beliefs and not on sound and current data. It is essential to respectfully investigate the real beliefs that underlie a system or decision or I may also be operating on flawed logic.

Stop Making Sense

Only if one looks for and examines the underlying belief system that supports a decision can one begin to understand why the situation never changes. Change will always be resisted until the underlying beliefs are addressed.

So, what to do? When faced with such logic and belief systems, there are three primary options:

  • Accept the situation as it is and collude with the system.
  • Accept the situation only long enough to leave.
  • Pay attention to the underlying beliefs and act accordingly. This option has two sub-options:
    • Keep a low profile, do not rock the boat, but handle individual situations according to a different belief system and make a difference for individuals. This is the path of Corrective Actions.
    • Hold those beliefs up and expose them to the light of day. Sunlight is, after all, the best disinfectant. This is the path of Root Cause Analysis and Preventive Actions.

The last option takes energy and it can make you unpopular if not done with Patience, Persistence and, most importantly, Compassion.

Patience, Persistence and Compassion

The patience, persistence and compassion are very important: We must remember that the people who buy into these belief systems aren’t trying to be difficult, and they aren’t trying to hurt others. It would be easy to say they are dumb, or bigoted, or lazy. But often they are really trying to do a good job – to protect the organization, to save money, to be efficient. Those positive intentions should be honored. But they cannot be accepted at face value without colluding with the system.

Effective Organization Development can help. OD is about improving human systems, which is best done by strengthening the human processes through which people get their work done. (Check out this Definition of OD at the Center for Human Systems for more about that.) These human processes are driven by beliefs that often are not expressly stated, so part of the work of the effective OD practitioner (and of anyone who is trying to improve human systems) is to uncover the beliefs that drive the human processes. In other words, negative, dysfunctional beliefs must be uncovered so that the human processes can truly be improved.

The $64,000 Question

Here is my question for you: How do you shine sunlight on underlying beliefs without everyone involved getting sunburned?

Freedom to Believe – and Freedom from Beliefs


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Martin Amis said something interesting about writers in a recent interview with Charlie Rose. When describing a friend who is a writer, he stated that he felt this writer’s gift had really blossomed when he stopped defending Marxism. His point was not about Marxism, it was about writing from a standpoint of ideology: “Writing is freedom. If you’ve got some Commissar staring over your shoulder, you’re not free. If you have some consensus that you’re loyal to, you’re not free.”

I think he makes an interesting point: One may have extraordinary gifts, but if one looks at the world through a specific lens, then everything one writes is going to be unconsciously edited to support or promote that viewpoint. If, however, one can achieve a perspective of being open to many perspectives, then one can be free to consider many viewpoints, many possible outcomes, and one can authentically create various characters.

This requires an ability to perceive and accept different shades of gray. It does not allow for black-and-white thinking.

I think this applies not only to writing, but to many things: To leadership, to management, to relationships, to creativity; to the choices we make, to the paths we follow, to the way we encourage ourselves to succeed or prevent ourselves from succeeding.

The lens through which we look at the world consists of the beliefs we hold – beliefs we often take for granted. And those beliefs may or may not be grounded in sound and current data.

True freedom begins with identifying our beliefs. It then requires that we examine those beliefs and ask ourselves where they came from and whether they are valid.

Identifying one’s beliefs is harder than it sounds. This is because beliefs are like a layer cake, or like the layers of the earth. There are conscious beliefs that are easy to identify. But there are other, deeper beliefs that we can only reach by digging. How do we do that? By asking questions, especially “Why?”

If one is willing to pay attention to one’s statements and actions and ask, “Why?” – “Why did I do that?” or “Why do I think that?” and “How do I know that?” – then one can begin to peel back layers and open curtains. Only then can we examine our beliefs – by first identifying them  – and decide whether they are valid.

I am reminded of a story I once heard, and I will paraphrase it here. There once was a woman who was teaching her daughter how to prepare a pot roast. “First, you must cut the ends off,” she said. “Why?” her daughter asked. “Because they’re no good,” the mother replied. “But they look fine,” the daughter said. “Well, that’s how my mother taught me,” the mother said in exasperation. Curious, the daughter later asked her grandmother about this. The grandmother burst out laughing and said, “I only had a small roasting pan, and the roasts wouldn’t fit in it if I didn’t trim them!”

The process of questioning our beliefs requires curiosity. And curiosity requires being open to chaos – or at least being at the edge of chaos – where things change our knowledge and our perceptions of the world shift. And that requires groundedness, a belief (ironic, isn’t it?) that change is not death, that I will go on and be OK even if I change, if I change my mind, if the world around me changes. I don’t have to control everything in order to go on.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that we go through life without beliefs. What I am suggesting is that we examine those beliefs so that we can consciously decide whether they are serving us or we are serving them.

As I said in my ebook, beliefs can be the seatbelt that keeps us from going through the windshield when life slams into us. They can be guideposts that help us choose what road to take. If we hold on to them too tightly, they can become a platform that we feel we must defend and even evangelize. If they are mistaken, they can send us down the wrong path. They can become unnecessary obstacles.

Here is an example from my own life: I believed that my gravelly, strangled-sounding voice prevented me from having an effective career presenting workshops and webinars, coaching, and facilitating meetings. Why? Because I believed people wouldn’t want to listen to me, and that they would not respect me because of how I sounded. Why? Because I hated listening to myself. Did I have any sound and current data about this? No. In fact, people were giving me unsolicited praise about my skills. I also created a double bind for myself: Because I had not done enough research and my voice had not been successfully diagnosed, I believed that there was no treatment for my voice. More specifically, the only treatment I knew of was unappealing. So therefore I had “real” obstacles to doing work I wanted to do. Once I did get more information, however, I found there were possibilities for improving my voice. So my beliefs on both counts were mistaken and created unnecessary obstacles.

If you had asked me if I believed these things, I probably would have said No – at least initially. Reflexively. It wasn’t until I examined the situation and the difference between my words and my actions that my beliefs became clearer. Often our words and our beliefs are consistent, but they may still be unfounded.

I am not going to ask you what you believe, at least not right now. But I will ask you this: How do you know what you believe? Are your actions consistent with what you say you believe? Have you ever let go of a belief? Are you willing to wonder?

Creativity, Problem Solving and Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese


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I don’t like salads with apples in them.

I just don’t. It’s a quirk, I admit it. I love apples, though, and the handy-dandy apple slicer that you place over your apple and push down to core and slice your apple in one easy motion changed my eating habits forever. (That and my salad spinner.)

So why would I even think about, much less LOVE, a grilled steak and cheese sandwich with sliced apples in it?

Well, I was making lunch the other day and looking for inspiration in the refrigerator. I found the remains of a piece of steak, some cheddar cheese, and some good bread. Sounded like a good sandwich to me. I wanted to put something green in it to give it a little zip, though, and I didn’t have any greens. (OK, I did, but they weren’t green any more and they were in the garbage.) But I did have some apples (Granny Smiths, to be exact).

What made me think about slicing an apple ever so thinly and putting some slices in my sandwich? I don’t know, aside from the fact that I hadn’t eaten an apple in a while and I didn’t want to have a plain bread-and-meat-and-cheese sandwich. I wanted something just a little healthier. I thought about the apples in the fridge, and at first I thought, “Eeeew.” But then I thought about apple pie with cheddar cheese on it, and I thought about a nice grilled sandwich, and I decided to give it a try.

That was a darn good sandwich! Everything was nicely warmed through and the cheese was nice and gooey and the apples weren’t hard and cold and edgy; they were warm but still crisp and apple-y. In fact, it was so good that I made it again the next day and it was good the second time, too.

It’s not about my food habits and quirky tastes. It’s about creativity.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you this. It’s not about my food habits and quirky tastes. It’s about creativity. And about being willing to try something new.

I learned something important about creativity and problem solving from this: Although sometimes the best solution is something completely new and disruptive, sometimes the best solution is something that works in another context but hasn’t yet been tried in this context.

When was the last time you were stuck for ideas, and the only idea you had was so far-fetched that you didn’t think anyone would try it? Or it was so far-fetched that you wouldn’t even try it?

The next time you – or your client – is stuck between a rock and a hard place, think up a crazy idea and ask yourself, “Is there a connection to something else here that makes this reasonable?” (Like apple pie with cheddar cheese.) Or, ask yourself, “What can I do to the old solution to change it just a couple of notches so that it works here?”

I’d love to hear from you about a time you came up with a solution to a problem by thinking of a connection that made sense in another context.

What Is Like a Muscle?


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I noticed a pattern recently in things I hadn’t previously thought of as related: Courage, Creativity, and Belief. I’d like to get your thoughts on it, and see where else we can take it.

A while back I heard the quote, “Courage is like a muscle,” and I was quite taken with it. The idea is that exercising a muscle is difficult at first, but the more you use it, the more you can use it. It’s easy to be timid, to play it safe, and harder to take risks, to be visible. But the more you take those risks, the more realize you can do it, and the fears you had were either unfounded, no longer relevant, or just not that important. You become able to act despite fear, and you become able to do more, go further, and push the envelope.

So I noticed when, early last year, Reut Schwartz-Hebron posed a question about habits vs. abilities in her (now closed) KindExcellence blog and a related LinkedIn discussion. She opened with:

“We are capable of innovation but we don’t always bother to innovate. We can be empathic and kind, but we are often not.”

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we will put it into practice when the time is right, even if in retrospect we think it was the “right” or more effective thing to do.”

She went on to ask for examples of effective habits, and examples of situations in which a leader had an ability but did not apply it – and asked whether anything else was missing other than having an effective habit in place.

I commented that “a key habit is courage. Yes, it is a habit, not just a quality. Someone once said that courage is like a muscle and must be exercised regularly. This is true for anything that becomes a habit. 

In that vein, I think that often managers fail to lead due to a weakness in their courage muscle. Whether in being willing to give credit where credit is due, or to take a stand, no matter how small, courage is the habit that supports so many other actions.”

This prompted Reut to write related blog post on “Courage As A Stepping Stone for Innovation” and asked people to expand on whether they thought courage was a habit and what other such habits might be required for people to be effective innovators or change facilitators.

I was actually surprised how many people disagreed! Many did agree, but many felt that courage was not required for creativity – you just did it (creativity) or you didn’t – or that courage was not a habit – either you had it or you didn’t and it is only called out in extraordinary situations – like the soldier who carries his or her comrades to safety while under fire, or the mother who lifts a car off of her child.

But I’ll go out on a limb and stand by the idea that it is a habit that can be developed by exercising that muscle. Sometimes people who have never been courageous before do stand up and make a courageous act, large or small – just like some who has never been interested in fitness may go to a yoga class and then decide to continue in that vein.

Recently a series of tweets from Linda Naiman caught my eye. Linda writes and consults on the subject of creativity. Some of her comments included:

“Learning to be creative is akin to learning a sport. It requires practice to develop the right muscles.”

and

“Business leaders are adopting the principles and practices of art and design to build creative muscles in their organizations.”

Linda has also written posts highlighting the connection between risk-taking, leadership and creativity, as well as exploring the notion that creativity and innovation in organizations are often viewed as dangerous:

“Creativity is fostered in organizational cultures that value independent thinking, risk-taking, and leadership.”

and

“Root fears present re creativity and innovation are fears of change risk and failure.”

Then Johnny B. Truant made me sit up this week (which is not unusual) when he re-published a blog post about the importance of belief. In particular, he stated that the obstacles that we let stop us only stop us because we believe in them – or believe in our inability to overcome them. He says,

“And if you stop projecting false problems in your path – or panicking about something that might happen – then you’ll soon discover that you’ll build a sense of surety within yourself that you can learn to trust, and that will keep you on that true path.” (This is what I was talking about in my post, Suspend Disbelief.)

But here’s what really made me sit up:

Belief is like a muscle. You have to build it over time, and it all starts with telling yourself that something you fear or that appears to be in your way isn’t really there. If it is, fine. Take the hit and adjust. But I’ll bet that a bunch of times you’ll walk right through it – no harm, no foul.”

Suddenly I saw a pattern emerging:

Courage is a muscle.

Courage is required for Creativity.

Creativity is a muscle.

Creativity requires positive beliefs in our ability, or at least a suspension of disbeliefs in our inability.

Belief is a muscle.

Belief takes a certain amount of courage.

Hmmmm.

I am one of those who believes that everyone is creative, but they may need help to be courageous about it, to believe in themselves, and to develop those habits.

What else is like a muscle? Let’s see if we can find more patterns, or expand on this one.

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