Tag Archives | Chaos

Sound Mass


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Hey!

Hello!

There’s been a lot going on around here lately, which is why this blog has been quiet for a few weeks. That’s no excuse for being out of communication, though. I’m embarrassed to admit it took a friend leaving me a voicemail asking if I was OK and noting that it had been a LONG TIME since she’d gotten a blog post from me to remind me how long it has been!

When I was in college, hanging out with the Music majors (they were way more fun than my fellow Psych majors), I learned about the concept of a “sound mass.” But while Wikipedia quotes Edwards’ comment that sound-mass “obscures the boundary between sound and noise,” there hasn’t been much noise around here lately. Instead, there has been so much going on that it’s like a giant chord with so many notes that it is like a wall of sound with a few themes that have managed to rise to the top like cream. (I know, that’s a mixed metaphor. But I like it.)

So here’s my attempt to share the sound mass with you in a completely different medium, with some of the recurring themes that are weaving themselves together. Lately I’ve been…

  • Working on a big project for a client, requiring a lot of concentrated effort, learning the dialect of that business. I am very grateful for the steady work and an income stream that will help fund the next couple of months.
  • “Vendorized” to work with clients of the state Department of Rehabilitation, coaching them through successfully settling into new jobs and working with my first such client.
  • Talking to an increasing number of people who are comfortable… but uncomfortable. Itchy. They’re thinking, “There must be More… but how do I find it?” There is lots of forming new habits, exploring, guiding, questioning. I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Consulting with several small businesses, providing coaching and consulting. It is awesome fun as they have breakthroughs and golden “Aha!” moments and lots of incremental progress. We’re working on a variety of initiatives, ranging from building new habits to delegating to attracting new customers to articulating core values for guiding the business to building a new framework for employee reviews. Good stuff, and again I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Helping two different friends with big garage/moving sales, paying attention to the dynamics of Letting Go of Things, enjoying the interactions and circus atmosphere of the sales, and enjoying the little community that springs up around a sale and falling in love with people and their stories and blessing them and the money they exchanged for new treasures, feeling gratitude for the friends, the wealth, the fun, the exhausted sense of accomplishment.
  • Wrapping up my tenure as the US Country Facilitator for Sedaa’s Global Brain Trust, a wonderful online community for Organization Development (OD) professionals. I have loved the time I have spent working with the founders and the Global Operations team, and it is time to bring in fresh energies while I focus on building my own practice.
  • Participating in kindred spirit Andrea Lewicki’s launch of her new website, where she explores thoughts about curiosity and its applications. Andrea, like me, believes curiosity can change the world! The Grand Opening was a two day event, with interviews with some of Andrea’s favorite curious people – including me! You can view the recordings for a while longer at Andrea’s site.
  • Launching a Facebook page for Susan T. Blake Consulting, which I’ve put off doing until just recently. But now I have a place I can post short things that don’t quite fit here, and have conversations with people. Come on by and check it out!
  • Working with my friend and mentor, Michael F. Broom, and a small team of cohorts, to create, launch and promote a new series of webinars on managing team conflict. We are looking for someone to take over promoting Michael’s Center for Human Systems via social media on a volunteer or internship basis, so if you know anyone…
  • Noticing recurring themes of balancing friendship and business. Accepting help as well as giving it. Noticing my relationship with money. Noticing what I procrastinate about.
  • Wishing for more time to work on projects I procrastinated on before and have less time for now, chuckling over “Be careful what you ask for.” Wondering, is my procrastination because my priorities aren’t my priorities after all, or am I letting fear get in the way? Fear of what?

And lately I’ve been wondering a lot about abundance, about gratitude, about creating the kind of life I want to live. As I work to grow my practice, trying to make a living and support my clients and the small businesses around me, I count my blessings during these times and abundance is more and more on my mind.

You can see the threads of it throughout my life over the last few years. I talk about the importance being grateful in “Remember to Look Up;” I have been practicing Amy Oscar’s “More of This, Please” for a number of months; I have been reminding myself and others that Everything Is Going to Be All Right. (That’s another story, which I haven’t written yet – stay tuned.) And I have been thinking a lot about the work I really want to do as a consultant and coach, and what I am willing to do to make this little business fly. Thinking about what I really want. How many people really know what they want?

So when Birdy and Mike Diamond invited me to contribute to a program they wanted to develop about living abundantly, because of the synergy between my focus on curiosity and one of the steps in their program (Hint: It’s all about asking the right question), I of course said Yes. And for the last couple of months I have been pondering and practicing and exploring and noticing and writing. We are practicing and exploring not only our material but the practical aspects of teamwork, collaboration, and distribution of duties. Noticing coincidences and synchronicities and being open. Practicing gratitude. Pondering how to invite abundance into my life, developing material with Birdy and Mike and our partner, Nathara, and writing about it over at the Awesome Audacious Abundance website.

It’s perfect, really. Curiosity is fundamental to abundance. There is always more to learn, always more to do. And in our experience, living an abundant life is an interactive, participatory thing as well as a positive mindset. And Curiosity IS an abundant mindset.

So I invite you to pop over to http://www.a2abundance.com/ and peruse the blog posts we’ve been contributing about everything from Time to Money to Courage to Perfection to Magic Carpets and more. If you like what you see, sign up in the right sidebar to receive new posts (or arrange an RSS feed if you prefer). We are in the process of developing a variety of offerings to help people live more abundantly, and you can learn more about those offerings by signing up for the Explorer’s Club at the bottom of any blog post. At the same time, I laugh and am reminded of the proverb, “We teach what we most need to learn.” Come learn with us!

Meanwhile, I’m back at work in the world of Curiosity, and happy to be here! I am looking for more contributors to the next round of Captains Curious posts, so if you are interested please drop me a line at susan @ susantblake . com.

What’s happening in your life? Do any of these themes resonate for you? Please leave me a note below!

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Are You a Leader, or a Follower? How About a Servant Leader?


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Leaders, Followers and Listening to What People Want

When is giving people what they want leadership, and when is it following-the-pack?

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a lot of wonderful conversations recently about developing products and services for customers. One of the issues that have come up repeatedly is the importance of finding out what your customers want so that you can give it to them. Otherwise one runs the risk of developing a product that seems like a great idea but that no one buys.

Seems like a No-Brainer, right? But it’s not. In the context of those conversations a very smart person made the statement that asking what people want and then giving it to them isn’t leadership, it’s following-the-pack.

That really made me stop and wonder: When is giving people what they want leadership, and when is it following-the-pack? When is asking what people want and then giving it to them good customer service, and when is it purely mercenary? Why don’t more people – and companies – ask what their customers want?

I’ll address the last question first.

Why don’t more people – and companies – ask?

It takes curiosity to pursue finding out what people want and whether or not they are happy. Why don’t more people – and companies – ask? Fear.

As I wrote about here and here, there are a variety of things that keep people from exercising curiosity. The big one is fear – fear of finding out we are wrong about our assumptions or beliefs, fear of finding out we’re on a different path than everyone else, fear of looking dumb. Fear of admitting we don’t know. Fear of having to change, because change usually involves the unknown and that feels like chaos.

Another Fear

Another fear is of becoming a follower rather than a leader, that creating a product just because everyone wants it is not being a leader but following the pack, pandering to the desires of others.

This goes back to our earlier questions: Can one really be a leader if one just gives people what they want? Which raises another question: Should someone conduct surveys just because it’s The Thing to Do?

Soliciting input and feedback should not be done just because everyone is doing it. That is just following the crowd. It is inauthentic, not writing your own story but acting out someone else’s story.

If, however, people you admire are surveying their customers to find out what they want so they can create products that will help them, you may emulate them. You can put your own stamp on it by creating your own conversations with your customers. And the best surveys are conversations.

But still, isn’t doing what your customers want really just “following the pack?”

Not necessarily. Much depends upon how one defines leadership, and upon the extent to which that definition includes a component of service.

Consider the idea of Servant Leadership. According to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership,

“The phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, he said:

‘The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.’ ”

There are Ten Aspects of Servant Leadership, which tend to give a person authority versus power:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of others
  • Building community

Although curiosity wasn’t listed as one of those ten characteristics, I submit that curiosity is an important component of several – especially Listening, Empathy and Awareness. In this context, exercising one’s curiosity and finding-out-what-people-want is an important part of leadership.

The best surveys are conversations. And a good conversation involves several of the characteristics listed above.

It is this service mentality that keeps finding-out-what-people-want and then giving it to them from being either “following the pack” or a purely mercenary endeavor. Moreover, an effective leader listens to identify what problems her or his people need to have solved, and then leads by teaching them honorable methods for solving them.

Should we always give people what they want?

We must compare what people want to what we are called and able to give. Are those in alignment? If not, we may still serve by referring people to someone who can give them what they want.

For example, one of my favorite parts of the movie “The Miracle on 34th Street” is where Santa Claus refers customers of Macy’s to other department stores if they ask for something Macy’s doesn’t carry. At first the management at Macy’s is horrified – until they realize that this honesty and willingness to be of service doesn’t lose customers, it makes them even more loyal.

It is also important to remember the importance of dialogue, and of authenticity. There is a difference between “tell me what to do” and “tell me what you want.” A responsible servant-leader engages in a conversation and does not just take orders. And when it comes to finding out what people want, remember that the best surveys are conversations.

A responsible servant-leader has to prioritize, and listening to the wants and needs of customers can help with that.

And sometimes a responsible leader has to say No. But it is possible to listen respectfully, weigh the options and then respectfully disagree and follow another path.

It is possible to ask people what they want and try to give it to them without just being an order taker. It is also possible to listen respectfully and yet follow another path. If you are committed to listening and building community, then the input and feedback you receive is part of a dialogue, a conversation. And in that context it is important to say, “Thank you for your advice/input, but I am going to do this instead – and here’s why.”

It all goes back to being willing to be curious.

It all goes back to being willing to be curious. Which means being willing to admit we don’t know, to being open to change – changing our minds, changing our methods, even to hearing a new calling and changing paths. And a Servant Leader who is curious can have very meaningful conversations with customers as he or she works to find out – and help them get – what they want.

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” Woodrow Wilson

Are you curious? If so, stay tuned – there’s more to come about having meaningful conversations with customers. Meanwhile, please leave a comment and tell me what you think about this!

What Gets in the Way of Being Curious?


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I recently spent five days with more than one hundred fascinating people at the Become an Inspiring Speaker workshop. (And it was fabulous!) In one of the first exercises, we paired up to talk about our focus and our reasons for being there. I paired up with Ross Barrable, an acoustic sculptor and builder of wind harps. (How can you not be curious about that?)

I told Ross about my interest in wonder and curiosity as catalysts for creativity, innovation, learning, and compassion. His eyes lit up, and he asked me, “Why are people curious?” I suggested that a better question is, “What keeps people from being curious?”

We are hard-wired to be curious. Children are naturally curious, and grown-ups can be, too. In fact, the human brain rewards curiosity by emitting an opium-like chemical when a new concept is grasped.

Being curious is easy – as easy as falling off a log, as they say. Or is it? Some people lose their sense of curiosity. (Is it a sense? Is it a muscle? Hmmm.) Why?

If being curious is so easy, why don’t more people let themselves be curious? I think there are several reasons.

One reason is that well-meaning adults train children out of it. Children get scared, and we want to protect them. We want to look smart. And we get tired of all those questions. So we tell them what we know, or we tell them what we think we know, or we tell them to stop asking so many questions. Maybe curiosity gets squashed as people leave childhood and it is easier to conform than to keep being told to stop asking so many questions.

Another reason is just Habit: It’s easy to get comfortable, even lazy.

Another, more insidious reason is that we think we know the truth; for example, we think we know about people who are different from us. So we don’t inquire.

I think the main reason is Fear.

But I think the main reason is Fear.

By asking questions, I run the risk of:

Looking dumb.

Looking nosey.

Looking bigoted.

Looking disrespectful.

Looking defiant.

When we ask questions, we run the risk of being ridiculed for asking “stupid questions.” We also run the risk of getting new information that might force us to change the way we think. That can be uncomfortable.

Nobody wants to be forced to do anything, especially to change. I once read a quote attributed to Rosabeth Moss Kanter that said, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” I think that is true.

So, why don’t we ask questions?

It’s easier not to ask questions; it’s easier to go along.

We think we know something.

We’re afraid to admit we don’t know something.

We’re afraid of looking dumb.

We’re afraid of changing our minds.

We’re afraid that if we allow one part of our worldview to change, the whole thing will unravel, and that feels like chaos.

Fear.

Being curious takes courage. I submit not only that courage is like a muscle, but curiosity is like a muscle, too. Like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes and the more fun you can have with it.

One more thought:

I submit that it takes more courage to admit that I don’t know or I am wrong than to get to know someone else.

I’ll say that again, a different way: It takes less courage to get to know someone who is different from myself than it does to admit I might be wrong, or that I don’t know. Once I am willing to admit that I don’t know something, asking the questions is easy by comparison. Even fun.

So, are you curious? If not, are you willing to wonder why? What keeps you from being curious?

What Matters Now


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In an essay for Seth Godin’s ebook “What Matters Now,” Dan Pink wrote, “After a decade of truly spectacular under achievement, what we need now is less management and more freedom – fewer individual automatons and more autonomous individuals.”

Hmmm. Isn’t it interesting… thanks to a national Unemployment rate of 10%, that’s exactly what we’ve gotten in the last two years, even if we didn’t choose it for ourselves. If you are part of that group, how are you using that new autonomy? Is it your friend or your enemy?

What about the portion of the country that is still employed and trying to figure out whether to hold on more tightly or let go a little bit? Creativity, innovation and problem solving don’t thrive in a white-knuckle environment. Creative solutions depend on at least some autonomy.

To be effective and autonomous requires Conscious Use of Self. How mindful are you of your needs, wants, skills, fears, and beliefs?

Are you more autonomous than you were previously? If so, how are you using that autonomy?

Would you like to be more autonomous? In what way? What do you need to do to make that happen?

How can you help the people around you to be more autonomous?

What frightens you about autonomy? Does it feel like chaos?

The seasons are changing this week. What changes can you make in this area?

Jazz Requires Systems Thinking – and Living at the Edge of Chaos


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The other day I was talking to a friend who loves jazz, and it got me thinking.

One of the many things we touched on is how, unlike classical music, which is played pretty much as written on the page, jazz is by nature improvisational. This means that players weave an ever-changing tapestry around a single theme. It is a group discussion, where participants take turns talking. Like a group discussion, it works best when all of the participants listen to each other and respect each other’s turns.

I was reminded of how I recently saw a foursome comprised of McCoy Tyner, Ravi Coltrane, Esperanza Spalding, and Francisco Mela, and how I was struck by how smoothly they managed the transitions between full-on playing by the group and solos supported by the others. The solos were long and far-ranging, sometimes played with clear intention and sometimes with wild abandon. The four clearly listened to each other playing, they played to support the others when it was not their solo, and they watched for signals about the transitions.

Jazz musicians enjoy a great deal of freedom but, like freedom in other contexts, it works best when that freedom is exercised with awareness of and respect for the other members of the group and for the group itself.

And within that context, magic can happen.

It occurred to me as we were talking that jazz requires systems thinking. It requires awareness of the system, and awareness of how changes affect that system.

It requires agreement from the participants to support the system and each other.

When participants don’t support each other and the system and they focus only on themselves, indulging in tunnel vision, the result is noise. Chaos.

And yet – jazz also requires living at the edge of chaos.

How aware are you of the systems of which you are a part? Whether the system is a work group, an organization, a committee, your family, or a sports team, how well does that system work if the members don’t think beyond themselves? At the same time, how flexible are those systems? Do they support creativity, innovation, improvisation?

Creativity, Change, and the Edge of Chaos


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Not so long ago I wrote about chaos and our fear that chaos is the only possible outcome – and a negative one at that – of trying something new. In that post I wrote about the importance of suspending disbelief in the idea of a positive outcome. (You can read that post here.) I even went so far as to suggest that Chaos is not necessarily bad, at least as a transitional state.

Well, in a recent blog post at Rise of the Innerpreneur, Tara Joyce writes that Chaos is the result of too much structure – and the result of too little structure. What? Chaos as a result of too much structure? That’s right. Most of us would probably accept without a second thought the idea that Chaos is at least a possible result of too little structure.  But with too much structure, a system strangles and the system fails, also leading to Chaos.

When a structure is changed or taken away, we fear chaos. I wrote about this in another blog post about my recent experience with circles. At a recent conference that was held in Open Space format, the typical conference structure did not exist. But that lack of structure did not result in Chaos: “It was somewhat uncomfortable, at least initially, for those who are more comfortable with Structure – even if they admitted it was only so they could resist that structure – but there was no Chaos.” There was likely no Chaos because the old, rigid structure was replaced with a different structure. Even a change of structure can feel like chaos must be just around the corner. But we have to live at the edge of chaos in order to change.

Tara makes an excellent point:

“Living at the edge of chaos

This is where life and creativity exist. They can’t be limited by too much structure or failed to let unfold in the moment through too much planning.

It’s a process of listening to, and trusting in, the ideas within us; then revealing those ideas through our action.”

I love that. The edge of chaos as an ideal state. In order to grow, in order to thrive, we must live at the edge of chaos, whether in business or elsewhere in life. I would also submit that living at the edge of chaos is an antidote to tunnel vision, which is a symptom of too much structure – in thinking and beliefs, and in human systems.

In my earlier post I proposed that Chaos is not necessarily a bad thing – as a transitional state. You know how when you start a major house-cleaning project, it always looks worse than when you started? That is Chaos as a transitional state. But maybe it is really the edge of chaos – it simply brings Chaos from being part of the wallpaper to being front-and-center while a new order is created.

At the end of my earlier post, I asked these questions:

Can we suspend our disbelief in the possibility that the outcome of trying something new can be anything other than anarchy, failure, or ridicule?

Can you suspend your disbelief long enough to give it a try?

Now I reframe those questions: Are you willing to live at the edge of chaos in order to make a space for creativity, change, growth?

And I add this question: Are you willing to help others step out onto the edge?

Suspend Disbelief


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We must suspend our disbelief in order to allow for the possibility that something new can be created.

I can’t remember where I heard or read it, but somewhere in my past someone said that the reason Theater works is because the audience is willing to suspend disbelief. Willing to forget that the people on the stage or the screen are actors, that it is a contrived situation, and accept the premise, at least for a little while, that what they are observing is somehow real.

I was reminded of this when I was writing a different essay on the importance of doing something in a new way in order to get a different result. In the process, creativity is sparked.

You know the saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Well, it occurred to me that in order to try something new, we have to suspend our disbelief in our ability to create something. Suspend our disbelief in the possibility of a better outcome. Suspend our belief in a negative outcome if we take a risk.

Negative outcomes such as a result that looks even worse than our previous effort. Negative outcomes such as people laughing at us. Negative outcomes such as an unknown result. (“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”) The unknown is scary. The unknown is outside of our control. The unknown is Chaos.

(If you grew up watching “Get Smart” like I did, then you might remember that the acronym for the Bad Guys’ organization was KAOS and the acronym for the Good Guys’ organization was CONTROL. Hmmm.)

In order to try something new, we have to suspend our disbelief and believe in the possibility of an outcome other than Chaos or, even more revolutionary, believe in the possibility that Chaos is not bad. At least not as a transitional state. Can we suspend our disbelief in the possibility that the outcome of trying something new can be anything other than anarchy, failure, or ridicule?

If you believe that trying something new will not result in something good, if you do not believe that it could result in something positive, can you suspend your disbelief long enough to give it a try?

You do it every time you go to the movies, and the result is that you co-create a different reality, even if only for a short time.

Imagine the possibilities if you were able to apply that in other areas…

Circles


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Have you ever noticed how seemingly unrelated things connect?

Last week I attended an event in an ongoing series of VisionHolder calls sponsored by Craig and Patricia Neal’s Heartland Circle. This week’s event was an evening with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, co-founders of PeerSpirit, Inc. and co-authors of “The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair.” I have enjoyed several of these events in the past year, and this was no exception.

After opening the circle, Ann and Christine spoke about how they began using circles as a forum for teaching and conducting meetings, how they met and began working together, and some of the key facets of circle work. (Maybe “facets” isn’t the right word, since circles don’t have facets. Hmmm. How about points?)

Anyway, some of those points included the idea that the circle is the molecular unit of democratic practice; all members have a voice. They can remove divisions and do not allow differences to divide people. Anger can be expressed, if it is directed to the center where it can just be deposited and not directed across the circle at someone else. And when we focus on the issue we are gathered around today, “the sacred comes into the room.” (I thought this was a particularly moving idea; it was not about religion, but about something “entitled to reverence and respect.”

I was also struck by Christine’s description of how she began using circles in her teaching. She realized that her students were also teaching her and each other, and I was struck by the connection to Paulo Freire’s emphasis on the teaching model of “teacher-student and student-teacher.” (I am re-reading his book, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” for the first time in 30 years, and I am struck by the timeliness – or timelessness – of his thoughts, as well as how he has shaped my thinking.) Connection Number One.

Then on Friday I attended the annual conference of the Bay Area Organization Development Network (BAodn). For the first time the conference did not follow the traditional model with a keynote speaker and pre-defined sessions with expert speakers. Instead, the conference followed the “Open Space” model. There was a facilitator, but there was no set agenda and there were no “expert speakers.”

Instead, we convened in a circle (ah, Connection Number Two) and the facilitator, Lisa Heft, explained to us how the day would proceed. Anyone who had an issue or question they would like to have addressed in a session could come to the center, create a placard, and announce it to the group. They then selected which of three one-hour time slots they wanted their session to be in. When those who had created sessions were done, they were assigned meeting stations to convene their circles. (There it is again.) Then we began the first session and participants went to the session(s) of their choice. Each group was asked for a Note Taker and the notes were turned in at the end to be compiled into a Book of Proceedings that will be distributed to all participants. At the end, after all sessions were complete, the facilitator reconvened the great circle and each person had an opportunity to share a reflection on the day.

This was quite an interesting experience for me. It was somewhat uncomfortable, at least initially, for those who are more comfortable with Structure – even if they admitted it was only so they could resist that structure – but there was no Chaos. Every person’s expertise and desire to learn had a place; and all perspectives were welcome. The only barrier to being heard was one’s own barriers to speaking. There was a lot of sharing and learning and exposure to new ideas or tools, and I was struck by how many people said they found themselves having, and sharing, surprising insights.

I wonder about my recent experiences with these learning circles. They are not, at their core, new; as Ann and Christine said, such circles are archetypal, part of our cellular memory: Humans have been gathering around fires since there were fires and humans.

But why are they getting attention now? I wonder, is it just me paying attention? Or is it that at this point in time we are realizing that many of the “experts” have been wrong, or dishonest, and our answers have to come from each other – and from within?

It seems to me that these circles are like Four-Way Stops, which someone once said were one of the great examples of Civilization. Why? Because everyone generally agrees to abide by the rule without enforcement. There is the opportunity for Chaos, but it is avoided.

I wonder. And I look forward to doing more circle work.

What about you? Care to join me?

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