Tag Archives | Curiosity

Contests, Captains and Crashes

There’s Big Stuff happening here at Susan T. Blake Consulting, with system crashes and their attendant learning opportunities, new programs, a Contest (scroll to the end if you can’t wait), and a new series of Guest Posts on Curiosity. Read On!!!

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Captains Curious

You may have noticed that on the last two Thursdays I have run guest posts on the subject of Curiosity, one of my favorite topics! (Click here to read them.) I’m thrilled to tell you that these are just the beginning of a weekly series!

After approaching several people and inviting them to participate, the response has been fantastic! There are several weeks of fun and thought-provoking posts ahead, with people in a variety of roles exploring why curiosity is important, what role it plays in their lives, when (and why) curiosity is challenging, and more.

Why am I doing this? Well, I am a big fan of Wonder and Curiosity. In fact, I’d go so far as to make two pretty bold statements:

Wonder saved my life.


Curiosity can save the world.

I believe curiosity doesn’t only help us to solve problems and be more creative and play well with others. Curiosity also can be used to understand ourselves better. And that makes it a pretty extraordinary Super Power – one each of us can access.

So, in the interest of broadening the discussion and bringing you more perspectives than just mine, I have launched a series of posts by curious guests – nicknamed the Captains Curious.

Are you curious? I hope that you will check back every Thursday for the next installment from the newest of the Captains Curious. (You can have these and my other blog posts delivered to via email or RSS by signing up in the second blue box at right.)

Meanwhile, I will continue writing about wonder, curiosity, business, nature, and other things, and making connections between them that I hope will help and entertain you. Whether you agree or disagree with something that’s been written, please leave a comment!

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Crash Course in (My Own) Process Improvement

Last week Susan T. Blake Consulting suffered a disastrous systems failure. Luckily, cool heads prevailed and all is now well. But important lessons (or at least reminders) came out of it that I want to share with you:

Our Operating System had fallen so far behind the current supported version that several vital pieces of business and communication software were no longer compatible, leaving us less and less able to connect effectively with colleagues around the world. After performing a back-up of the current system, the Operating System upgrade was initiated.

The Scream, by Edvard Munch 1893

It promptly crashed the system and wiped the hard drive.

After conferring with outside consultants with expertise not possessed by our internal team, the upgrade was completed.

Meanwhile, emergency meetings were held to assess the potential damage and establish a recovery plan (corrective action). The Disaster Recovery team went into action and quickly discovered that the systems backup was incomplete, as it only included data and not applications. A long process of re-installing original applications and then downloading upgrades, as well as re-downloading applications acquired online, was undertaken.

The CEO also called meetings of the C-level executives to address root cause(s) of the debacle, assess lessons learned and implement process improvements (preventive action):

  • The Chief Operating Officer assured the others that processes scheduled on external systems (blog posts and Tweets) were unaffected.
  • The Chief Information Officer confirmed that application software was available for reinstallation and that the Disaster Recovery team was busy with reinstalling, upgrading and testing applications, and that key data was safe and available for restoration.
  • The Chief Financial Officer reported that no hard dollars were lost due to the crash, but that soft dollars were certainly impacted due to lost productivity.
  • The Chief Risk Officer admitted that a Lessons Learned review had revealed that a poor planning process had allowed for only a partial backup, an oversight that is being corrected in a new backup plan.

After a long process of reinstalling applications, downloading upgrades, restoring data, and systems testing, the Distaster Recovery team announced that all systems were Go and the team was rewarded with a round of applause and a day off.

The moral of the story is four-fold:

  • Do regular system backups and always do a complete system backup before upgrading business critical systems.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from outside experts.
  • Be curious about the root causes of problems and accept and communicate Lessons Learned without blaming or scapegoating.
  • Remember to say Thank You to people and reward them for their efforts, even if they are “just doing their job.”

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Contest Time!

Last but not least, it’s Contest Time!

Is there something that has been tickling your mind or blocking your path? Something you would like to explore and hash out with a group of colleagues or trusted friends?

Do you need an objective third party to come in and facilitate, or provide a fresh perspective?

You’re in luck!

Enter to win a FREE* custom half-day workshop or retreat ($500 value)!!!

Whether you want to address a business challenge, or a career, spiritual, relationship, or creativity issue, or you just want a mental massage, I will work with you to identify the topic and desired outcomes and I will design a custom 4-hour workshop for four to eight people on the subject of your choice.

Simply send a short email to susan@susanTblake.com with the subject line “Contest Time!” In your email, please include your name, phone number, email address, City and State, and a brief description of the workshop or retreat you want to hold and why. The winning entry will be selected by a panel of judges.

Entries are due by Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Yes, you have one week!

*Entries will be accepted from all over, but entrants from outside the greater San Francisco Bay Area must assume travel and lodging expenses if their entry is selected.

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Meanwhile, you might be interested in visiting the blogs of Gwyn Teatro and Amy Oscar, who have written two wonderful posts that talk about Curiosity in very different contexts: Leadership and dealing with anxiety. Both are excellent!

Captains Curious: Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Writer (In Fact, It Helped Her Writing!)

Most business books tell you that you need to select a niche, remain focused, and become an expert or specialist in a certain area to make money.

Unfortunately, this advice doesn’t work well for many writers. If you’re like many writers, you’re interested in many things. In her book, Refuse to Choose best-selling author Barbara Sher calls people who have “intense curiosity about unrelated subjects” Scanners.

Are you a Scanner?

Many writers are Scanners. I know I am. And I believe my native curiosity is part of what makes me a good writer.

Many Scanners spend too much time apologizing for who we are. Over the years, people may tell you that you’re a dilettante or a flake; that you’ll never succeed because you’re easily bored and constantly rushing from one thing to another.

A blessing, not a curse

In the past, being interested in a wide range of subjects was considered a blessing, not a curse. The term “Renaissance man” (or woman) wasn’t an insult. Nobody calls Leonardo DaVinci a flake, after all.

Writing is an activity where having an inquisitive nature and being fascinated in a wide range of topics can be an advantage. Writing is a great career choice for people like me who get bored easily, but still want to earn a living.

You can go after a wide range of assignments

If you’re a freelance writer you can go after a wide range of assignments. Although I’ve largely gotten out of the pure freelance writing game, I still write articles for my own Web sites. In fact, technically, I have been “blogging” since before blog software like WordPress actually existed.

I have large content sites with hundreds of articles. The great thing about writing is that I can continue to earn money even from articles on subjects I have no interest in anymore.

When I get bored with one given topic, I start a new site or revamp an old site. There’s no law that says a blog or Web site has to be updated forever. My articles can live on in cyberspace and help people long after I’ve moved on to something else.

It’s hard to argue with success

In much the same way, I’ve published books on dogs, cats, fundraising, Web Business, vegan cooking, computer tips, and book publishing. Some may scoff at the fact that my books are on such a wide range of topics, but they make me money. It’s hard to argue with success.

The next time someone is criticizing you for your lack of focus, just say proudly, “My curiosity is what makes me a great writer!” Because it probably is.

Susan Daffron, aka The Book Consultant (http://www.TheBookConsultant.com) owns a book and software publishing company. She spends most of her time writing, laying out books in InDesign, or taking her five dogs out for romps in the forest. She also teaches people how to write and publish profitable client-attracting books and puts on the Self-Publishers Online Conference every May.

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Creating Space for Wonder

Last week I wrote about how wonder both requires and creates space. (You can read it here.) I had found myself thinking, as the result of a road-trip, about how external space can trigger the process of creating internal space, but I also ended up with a bunch of questions:

  • How can I create that internal space without going on a big road trip?
  • What about people who can’t get away? Do they have to wait to light the Wonder Fire for something big like that?
  • How can we maintain that sense of wonder once we have come home and the physical and mental walls close in and the distractions begin to fill up our minds?

For me, there is one answer and it is very simple: Notice.

  • Notice the things and people around me.
  • Notice the way the light is highlighting the hills behind me – I never realized there were two layers of ridges before.
  • Notice the little bird with a bum leg.
  • Notice the laugh-lines around the eyes of a local shopkeeper.
  • Notice how the oak tree that was bare of leaves a few days ago is now covered with a haze of new green leaves.
  • Notice the paw prints that some local cat has left all over my car.


Simple and easy are not the same

I admit that simple is not the same as easy.

When my mind is busy thinking about all of the other stuff of life, stuff like the conversation I had with my sister, the maintenance I need to do on the car, the bills I need to pay, the projects I am working on, the things I should have said… When I am living in my head with all of that swirling around, all of that distracts me and takes up the space in my head. And it can be difficult to take a step back.

Create space for wonder

But if I can consciously quiet that chatter in my mind, I can create space to notice things. I can create space for wonder.

Mental calluses and protective clothing

In fact, when my mind is cluttered with busy thoughts, it is almost as if all of that stuff moving around in my head creates calluses on my mind – just like using a certain garden spade creates calluses on my hands or wearing certain shoes creates calluses on my feet.

Calluses aren’t necessarily a bad thing – calluses protect us from pain. The calluses on my fingertips keep my fingers from hurting when I play the guitar, and when I’m not distracted by that pain I can focus on the music.

We also create artificial calluses to protect us: I wear garden gloves to protect me from blisters and cuts and bites and from dirt buried deep beneath my fingernails, and I wear shoes to protect my feet from sharp rocks, glass and hot pavement.

Calluses protect me from pain, but they also keep me from noticing the way certain fabrics feel in my hands, or from noticing the feeling of the grass beneath my feet.


There are things we can do to remove our calluses and take off our protective clothing so that we can experience what is around us. Sometimes it is as simple as deciding to do it and reminding myself, especially when I notice those busy thoughts flying around my head. (Ah-hah! – I have to notice those thoughts as the first step to quieting them and making space to notice the world around me.)

I can create space for wonder by deciding to do it.

I can create space for wonder by paying attention to the world around me.

I can create space for wonder by taking off my mental shoes and work gloves so that I can feel the grit under my feet that the cats have tracked across the room from the litter box, feel the prickly welcome mat on my front porch, feel the soil as I pat it in around this plant, feel the way this quarter is grimy and a little sticky compared to that one that is shiny and new.

Drive home using a different route.

Say hello to the check-out clerk and really look at his or her face.

Sit in a different seat on the train.


It will create space for wonder.


Why is this important?

Because it is fun.

Because it is wonderful.

Because when I create space for wonder, new ideas show up. (And if I don’t write them down or say them out loud to someone I forget them, so I keep pads of sticky notes all over my house and a notebook in my bag.)

Greater minds than mine have been writing and talking about ideas like this, such as Mindfulness, for hundreds – even thousands – of years. But for each person an idea can be new, and each experience can be new.

Take off your mental shoes. Give yourself permission to be an emotional tenderfoot.

Notice, and create space for wonder. We can go together.

“I sha’n’t be gone long. – You come too.” –Robert Frost, “The Pasture”

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Last Thursday I was thrilled to publish the first guest post in a series on Curiosity. The first was by Claire Tompkins, and there is another one coming this Thursday, by Susan Daffron, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, you might be interested in visiting the blogs of Jeffrey Davis, who writes about wonder and creativity, and Mark McGuinness, who wrote a marvelous post about curiosity and creativity.

Captains Curious: Become an Explorer of Your World!

Are your habits serving you? Or are they cluttering up your life?

People get into habits because they streamline the tasks of life. That’s the good thing about them: If you are reinventing the wheel 75 times a day, you’re not going to get a lot done.

The bad thing about habits is that we take them for granted. That is, the tasks they’re streamlining have been taken for granted. If you have a fabulous system for automating the path of a client’s address onto a mailing label, but your mailings are now all electronic, it’s pointless. If you’re in the habit of holding a progress meeting every Tuesday morning, but everyone’s being updated via email and just repeats their email content at the meeting, well, you get my drift.

It takes effort to examine things you do regularly. Most of us are way too busy to do that. And, hey, isn’t that why we created this regular meeting, so we don’t have to plan it every week? Yes, of course, and it initially served its purpose well.

Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Things change, though. Systems become outdated, values are realigned, goals are rewritten. It’s worth taking the time to evaluate the habitual and automatic and make sure those things are still valuable. In fact, it’s wildly useful to ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” about pretty much anything you do. (I definitely don’t mean to imply that everything you do must be directly productive. “Because people really love it” is a perfectly valid answer.)

Ask, and ask often.

Don’t just copy what someone does without stopping to find out why

More insidious are habits that are handed down. Years ago, I read a letter to Ann Landers about Grandma’s pot roast. The writer had always prepared it as her mother shown her, by cutting off the ends and placing them in the pan next to the rest of the roast. Her mom learned it that way by watching her own mother. She didn’t think twice about it; this was the way it was done.

One evening, a dinner guest was curious and asked why she did it that way. The writer said that her grandmother always had, so there must have been a reason. A good reason. But now she too was curious. A phone call to Grandma revealed the answer: Because my pan was too short!

Notice that each woman learned solely by observing. Grandma never actually said “cut off the ends,” which might have provoked questions. So there’s another trap; copying what someone does without stopping to find out why.

Be curious and inquisitive

If you aren’t curious and inquisitive about why things are the way they are, it’s very easy to clutter up your life with habits that make more work for yourself, waste time and do things that don’t pay off. Just because your predecessor had a certain way of setting up email groups doesn’t mean it still should be done that way. Turn curiosity around so that it’s not about lacking knowledge (being a dummy), it’s about investigating the possibility of doing something in a better way.

Keep asking “Why?” until you get to the real reason:

Q: Why does this email group exist?

A: Because all three departments need to know what’s happening.

Q: Why do they need to know?

A: Because they all work together on the annual report.

Q: So why do they need to know all this other stuff during the rest of the year?

A: Because they, um, used to produce monthly reports, too. We stopped that in November.



It’s easier for me to be curious with my clients than to do it with myself. When it’s me and my habits I’m curious about, I have to strive to be kind and open so I can just observe. It can be hard to stay in that objective frame of mind when there’s a problem to be fixed. I can go down a trail of “How did I let that happen?” and “Don’t I know better by now?”

It’s normal to take it personally when you figure out you’re doing something wrong. That’s why the series of questions is helpful. If I can identify why what I’m doing made sense at one time, I can be much less judgmental about still doing it. The process gets focused back on discovery instead of blame and guilt and being a dummy.

Use your curiosity!

I’m not saying the questions won’t bring up resistance and fear; they may. But those questions provide a path to keep moving forward so you can get to the answer. Using them in a dialogue with someone else is also quite helpful.

Be an explorer and use your curiosity to discover, learn and improve your world!

Claire Tompkins is a Professional Organizer and Coach in the San Francisco Bay Area. She blogs and helps people to unclutter their lives and gain more time, money, space, calm, and clarity at http://cluttercoachblog.com.


Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Are You Curious About Your Customers?

Lately I’ve been talking to a lot of people and listening to a lot of conversations about building and improving our businesses. A lot of great questions are coming up, and I have realized I am not alone in asking them:

  • What do my customers and prospects want?
  • Is that the same as what they need?
  • What can I do to help them?
  • If I build it, will they come?
  • How happy are they with what I’m already doing?

As I’ve written in other places, it’s so easy to think we know what people want, and it’s wicked tempting to believe people are happy and would never think of using anyone else. But do we really know for sure?

I’ve been hearing a lot of people asking these questions lately, which is very exciting. Some are acting on those questions, but I also see a lot of people not knowing how to take the next step. I hear people asking questions like:

  • But how do I get started?
  • What tool should I use?
  • Can a free tool really help me find out what I need to know?

I also hear people say:

  • I don’t know what to ask.
  • It’s too complicated to think about right now.
  • I don’t really have time to evaluate and choose a tool.
  • I’ll have to figure this out when I have more time.

The good news is, I’ve seen a lot of people put together short surveys and ask their customers what they are looking for so that they can provide products and services that will truly help them. I have also seen a few of these where the questions were asked in such a way that they may not have provided clear answers – and they may not have done everything possible to get people excited about buying a solution when it is provided.

The even better news is, there are resources available to help!

I have put together a short-but-sweet guide to surveying called “The Survey as Conversation.” It is designed to help you get your arms around “the W’s” of asking your customers important questions, and it also presents some important issues to consider when setting out to start a conversation with your customers. This guide is available for you to download here, and I am providing it at no cost because listening to your customers is so important.

Although “The Survey as Conversation” primarily addresses surveying your customers, “the W’s” apply whether you want to connect with your customers via a survey, live interviews, or focus groups. I really hope you will take a few minutes – it’s short! – to read it and then let me know what you think.

Because I know how busy you are, I also realize that you may be saying, “That’s fine, but I’m swamped and I don’t have time to develop a survey and figure out how to send it and and and…”

I can help with that, too. To make it even easier for you connect with your customers, I have put together three affordable consulting packages to help you through the process. They provide increasing levels of support aimed at meeting your unique needs.

Utilize my knowledge and resources for building, delivering and analyzing your customer survey so that you can focus on what you do best! Click here or on the Survey Consulting tab at the top of this page to see more about the sweet resources available to you. And if all you really need is to bounce some ideas off of someone, I’m available for that, too.

Remember, one of the best ways to become a trusted resource for your customers is to listen to them and then to act on what you hear.

  • Ask good questions
  • Listen to the answers
  • Act on what you hear
  • Show that you listened by providing what people asked for
  • Use their words in your communications

This doesn’t mean following the crowd and not being authentic. It does mean being willing to be curious, to learn, and to serve.

“A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.” – Sam Houston*

This improvement is helped dramatically by not assuming we know what improvement is needed.

Are you ready?

Are you curious?

I invite you to start a conversation with you customers, clients, prospects, and stakeholders!

Click here to download my free (it’s that important!) e-book, “The Survey as Conversation.”

Click here to choose a package to help you get started!

*That quote is doubly appropriate this week, as I am driving to Texas with my sister. I’m curious to see what blog posts come out of that, aren’t you?

The Importance of Asking – and Listening

In which I reveal my new guide, “The Survey As Conversation”!

Last year I attended a conference session that was convened around the issue of how to involve people who have previously been uninvolved (in whatever) by either choice or exclusion.

One of the key points that came out of that discussion was the importance of listening to the people whose participation was solicited. It went back to the old adage, “If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.”

Can you think of a time that someone really listened to you? How did it feel? If you ask someone a question and then disregard their answer, how likely are they to appreciate that? Even worse, how likely are they to answer honestly the next time they are asked?

I have been thinking a lot about asking for people’s input, opinions and feedback while I have been working on a guide to help people with polling their customers. In the course of writing that guide, several stories came to mind.

At one time I administered a customer satisfaction management program for a large international company. Although the company had a policy of having managers follow up on survey responses (positive and negative), I occasionally got calls from customers who said, “I completed your survey and told you about something bad that happened, and no one ever responded.”

Or, worse yet, “I completed your survey and told you about something that happened, and someone called and yelled at me for making them look bad.”

These were important learning opportunities around dealing with negative feedback. But another one of the many lessons was, “If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.” It is much harder to recover from debacles like these than to skate along pretending everything is fine. And it’s easy to skate if you don’t ask.

But skating along doesn’t tend to result in loyal customers who will buy more and refer others to you.

If you pay someone a compliment, how likely are you to say something positive in the future if they just deny or brush off the praise?

We don’t stop to think about it very much, but the same rule about acknowledging negative feedback applies to positive feedback. If you pay someone a compliment, whether you tell them they look great in that outfit or they did a stellar job, how likely are you to say something positive in the future if they just deny or brush off the praise?

I think we tend to underestimate the power of asking someone’s opinion. Perhaps it is because there are so few examples of people sincerely listening to the response. And it is that listening that is powerful.

As I mentioned in my last post, a survey is part of an ongoing conversation. At its worst, surveying can be like saying, “Hi! How are you?” We may not really want to know, and most of the time we get the answer we want, which is, “Fine, how are you?”

But on those occasions when I actually have a conversation with someone, when they tell me how they really are, and they really want to know how I am, it’s a pretty amazing experience.

Can you remember a time someone asked your opinion? How did it feel? Pretty good?

Can you remember a time someone failed to ask your opinion? How did that feel? Not so good?

Can you remember a time someone asked your opinion, but clearly disregarded it?

Can you think of a time someone asked your opinion, but you never heard if it made a difference?

Can you remember a time someone asked your opinion, and then followed through on it? How did that feel? Awesome, right?

But this isn’t just about making people feel good.

When it comes to dealing with people, not being curious can be fraught with peril.

A real conversation, whether it is in person, in writing, or is a survey, involves curiosity about the other person.

When it comes to dealing with people, not being curious can be fraught with peril. Decisions are made that affect others, and without sound and current data the wrong decisions can be made. Decisions about new products, decisions about customer wants and needs, decisions about the solidity of relationships. Decisions made without sound and current data are really just assumptions (when I am sure I know the truth) and bets (if I suspect I might not know, but there’s a good chance I do).

Drawing on experience is important. Intuition is very often right. But without confirming the validity of that intuition or checking the facts we run the risk of being wrong. Dangerously wrong. So wrong that someone else might step in and provide what our customer needs. So wrong that we might believe we have a solid relationship when in fact they’re shopping around.

Don’t worry, being curious about your customers is about to get easier.

This is why I developed my new guide, “The Survey As Conversation – to help you to get your arms around the importance of not making assumptions about what customers and prospects want and need, or about how satisfied they are.

As the title suggests, the guide begins by framing the surveying of customers as nothing more than a conversation and then moves on to practical considerations for articulating what you want to know, how to get the information, and what to do with the information once you have it.

I feel so strongly about the importance of partnering with customers and not making assumptions about them that I am making this guide available at no charge. I invite you to learn more about it by clicking here (or on the “Survey As Conversation” tab at the top of this site) and clicking on the link to download it. There is also a worksheet included in the guide to help you get started, but you can also download the worksheet separately.

You don’t have to sign up or give me any information to get access to the guide. But I do have one request: Please return to the “Survey As Conversation” page and leave a comment telling me what you think, whether you found it helpful or not and in what way, and if there is anything that should be added. I want to make sure that it does help you, and I need your feedback to do that.

I hope you enjoy “The Survey As Conversation,” and that you find it helpful! Don’t worry, being curious about your customers is about to get easier!

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

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!

Doppelganger or Kindred Spirit? An Invitation

Once upon a time when this website was still just A Twinkle In My Eye, I started researching possible domain names and I set up a variety of Google Alerts so I could find out what was happening in the interworld. One of the alerts I set up was on my own name – “Susan Blake.” And I discovered that there are a lot of Susan Blakes out there – but only one Susan T. Blake, and that’s me. Hence the name of this site.

I kept the Google Alerts, and I stay up to date on what the other Susan Blakes are up to – Susan Blake the novelist, Susan Blake the jeweler and Susan Blake the veterinarian are by far in the lead as far as internet activity. But they are by no means alone.

Well, a new one showed up yesterday that actually kind of freaked me out. Google alerted me to a pair of articles in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Santa Cruz Patch about a park interpreter and docent at Big Basin State Park (which is practically in my backyard) named – you guessed it – Susan Blake.

This is freaky for several reasons. First, I have loved Big Basin State Park since the early 80’s when my late husband and I discovered it by accident on one of our adventures. It’s one of those hidden pockets in the Bay Area that offers peace and tranquility in an otherwise densely populated area. Second, I have long had a fantasy of running away and becoming a Park Ranger. (When I went to Big Sur in 2009 after getting laid off I joked with my friends and fellow-travelers, Nina and Leslie, about giving up my job search and becoming a Park Ranger. Nina subsequently gave me the coffee table book from Ken Burns’ “The National Parks”  for my 50th birthday. Yay Nina!) So it was a kick reading the article about my doppelganger at Big Basin. “Ha ha,” I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if my friends thought this was me.”

And then I got to the end of the article in the Patch, and I got goosebumps. The other Susan Blake was quoted as saying, “Last Thursday I took a school group of 4th graders out and at the end asked the group what their favorite part of the hike was. One boy answered, ‘I loved that I could ask all the questions I wanted,’ and I thought, ‘Wow that was my favorite part too’.”

Damn. We don’t just share our name.

I get goosebumps every time I read it, in fact.

I forwarded the Google Alert to my sister, whose first response was, “You’ve always said you wanted to run away and become a park ranger… have you been moonlighting?  Do we have to start calling you “Mister Ranger Sir”?” Ha ha.

Then she sent a second reply, which included that quote from the article in the Patch. “She even sounds like you.  Are you SURE you’re not moonlighting?”

Yes, I’m sure, although I’m beginning to wonder if I’m projecting a part of myself out into the world where it walks and talks and has a life of its own. Goosebumps. But this doppelganger is a good omen, not a harbinger of bad luck.

It’s really neat when I find evidence of other people who are following the same call as I – the call to question, the call to be curious, the call to wonder. I found another kindred spirit the other day, Jeffrey Davis at http://trackingwonder.com. In the Source of Ideas section on his “Tracking Wonder” page, Jeffrey says, “Wonder aids idea inception because it opens the mind with surprise. It cracks rigid preconceptions and stiff assumptions wide open. Anyone who wants to make a real difference in this changing world needs wonder on the team.”

Yes! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I will be writing more about wonder and curiosity and questions in the coming days, and highlighting specific ways to apply them. Are you curious? I hope you will join me on Team Wonder.

Meanwhile, I think it’s time to visit Big Basin again…

Follow-up for Superheroes in Training -or- Curiosity is a Super Power

I recently had the great good fortune to have a guest-post published at www.redhotmomentum.com, a website for small and/or nontraditional (“unhinged”) businesses.

I submitted it there because it is about Marketing, which really isn’t the focus of my website or my blog posts. But two of the people who followed up with me directly got me thinking, and one pointedly suggested a follow-up article. So here is that follow-up. I’m posting it here because it is not about Marketing so much as it is about Questions and Curiosity – two of my favorite subjects. (Go read the original post here. I’ll wait.)

Are you back? Great, here we go.

Those two people who reached out to me are both in full-time jobs. One wrote,

“I am struggling with similar things even though I am employed, switching careers definitely is as unsettling because I don’t have experience in what I want to do.”

The other wrote,

“I am that woman now and have not yet figured out how or where or a comfortable way to market myself. I keep hearing my family members saying ‘you better keep your job with benefits’ every time I even begin to want to market myself and then I back off.”

I thought about their predicaments, and what it was about my story that appealed to them. One thing is my struggle with the internal resistance I kept encountering. Another is the idea of the security that a full-time job offers – security that can be very difficult to leave behind. And yet another is the fear I described that no one would give me a try in my new role because I no longer wore my old cape.

To overcome those fears, I had to get curious about myself and ask myself a lot of questions about why I was getting in my own way.

And I realized that these two people were actually asking questions in addition to the ones in the original post. (What, you haven’t read it yet? Click here.)

• How do I quiet the voices of my family that tell me to choose security over following my dreams?

• How do I pursue my dream when I don’t have Real Experience in that area?

How do those questions go together? Are they, perhaps, the same question?

Confession Time

I didn’t voluntarily leave my last job – I was laid off. I had been thinking of making a change but I hadn’t done it, and circumstances made the decision for me. I didn’t decide to stop job hunting and embrace the uncertainty of hanging out my own shingle until after the severance had run out and I really began to think about the possibilities and, more importantly, to see a completely different set of possibilities.

But the fears are still the same.

That said, let me try to address their questions.


Here is the thing about family members and friends (and their voices that take up residence in our heads): Is it possible that they love us and want the best for us, that they’re not TRYING to discourage or squish us? That they’re just wrong? Well-meaning but wrong?

I learned a very important lesson last year at a workshop led by Marcia Wieder. She talked about listening to the voice of my inner Doubter, and rather than trying to silence it, learning to determine whether the warning it is giving is a legitimate obstacle that needs to be overcome or an obsolete belief that can be released. (Willie Hewes and Alexia Petrakos also do a great job with this at the Monster Journals.)

And so when my Voice of Alarm said, “You’ll never make it on your own! Go get a Corporate Job with benefits!” I practiced asking questions like, “Do I have to find a new corporate job with benefits? Or can I find reasonably priced individual coverage at a risk level I can handle?” Mmm, guess what – I have individual coverage now. And then I was able to get to the bigger issue of my beliefs about whether I could really be a Superhero without someone else’s Cape of Authority.


Regarding making a Career Change, it occurs to me that the idea of threads is very important. As I mentioned in that other post, I have had a fascinating and fun variety of jobs in my life, and I never went from one job to another exactly like it. But there was always a thread that connected them. And even if Job A was very different from Job M, I could demonstrate that there were certain threads (skills, personality traits, work habits) that helped me to not only move from one role to the next but to be successful in all of them. (Such as, I’m a Builder. Not a Maintainer.)

Focus on the threads, the suspension bridge cables that bridge the gaps, not the gap itself. Spend time pouring the concrete footings, and acknowledge the gaps between them. But focus on the threads.

Questions – My Favorite Part!

So, here are some questions to add to those in that other post, especially for Superheroes who want to move from the Fantastic Four to the Justice League – or create a League of Their Own. (Wait, I think someone’s already used that. No worries, you can call it something else.)

• What are the concerns that your Doubter (or Monster) brings up?

• Are they real obstacles, or are they beliefs?

• If they are really potential obstacles, what are your options and resources for overcoming them?

• If they are beliefs, where did they come from? Are they still valid?

• If they’re no longer valid, can you release them?

• Have you done the same exact thing throughout your career?

• If not, what are the threads that connected your various roles?

• How are they applicable to your desired role?

• If your target role is really different from your current/past roles, what are the transferable skills, character traits, talents, etc., that apply to the target role – even if it is not a 1-to-1 fit?

Story Time

Once upon a time, when I was a recruiter, I sometimes found a candidate that I just knew was going to be successful – even if his or her background wasn’t a direct match with the dreaded Job Description. They might not have been an exact fit, but they had something, some Secret Sauce, some Super Power, that made them worth taking a risk on. Often it was The Stuff You Can’t Teach. Once I identified it, I was able to add that to the experience I presented to the hiring manager. And the hiring managers usually went for the people with The Stuff You Can’t Teach because they could, well, teach them the other stuff. But I had to be curious enough about the candidates to uncover it.

Curiosity is a Super Power

Curiosity is the key to answering to both of the questions at the top of this post.

Curiosity about myself has helped me to look at myself and figure out that I needed to set aside my reliance on my old cape and embrace my new cape.

Curiosity doesn’t only help us to solve problems and be more creative and play well with others. Curiosity also can be used to understand ourselves better.

And that makes it a pretty extraordinary Super Power.

Are you curious?

If you like this post, please share it with at least one other person, whether by email, Twitter, Facebook, or your carrier pigeon of choice. Thank you!

Birdwatching, Wonder and Contemplation of The Special

I am in the process of re-reading Simon Barnes’s delightful book, “How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher,” which I discovered a couple of years ago at a local bookstore when I was looking for something else. (I love Amazon, but despite its best efforts to recommend things to me, there is still nothing like browsing the shelves of a bookstore and discovering something quite unexpected.)

In his book, Mr. Barnes lovingly writes of his nearly lifelong fascination with birds, and he good-naturedly scoffs at the competitive “collectors” who are the official “good” birdwatchers.

The Habit of Looking

He writes early on, “Birds are in our past; they are in our blood and in our bones. In short, when you make the decision to become a bad birdwatcher, you do not start from scratch. You are already a bad birdwatcher. The baddest birdwatcher on the planet starts off with a huge bank of information, tradition and culture. After that, it is just a matter of getting the habit. The habit of looking.” (emphasis mine)

I am a (bad) birdwatcher. I don’t remember how it started. I vaguely remember being aware of a few birds as a child – robins, which I think we had all year in Seattle (Seattle having a mild climate, at least in those days), blue jays (which I later learned were Steller’s Jays), seagulls, pigeons, and crows, as well as a few notables such as something we called snowbirds (known as such because they occasionally appeared in the winter) and the highly unusual owl.

I moved to San Francisco as a young adult and I remember nothing of note about birds (other than hearing my first mourning dove and thinking it was an owl).

It wasn’t until I moved to rural Washington State in my mid-twenties that I began paying attention to birds. I hung my first bird feeder, but I don’t remember what visited it. I do remember sitting on my back deck, surrounded by woods on three sides, and being amazed by the depth of birdsong around me. I would close my eyes and try to count the many layers of birdsong – and would quickly get lost.

I think that is when the habit got me and I started noticing – and then looking for – birds. I saw my first bald eagle there, and that was an amazing sight.

We moved to Maine, and I discovered cardinals. And house finches. Both of which caught me in late winter with their calls – and their redness.

One day in late winter, when there was still snow on the ground and the only colors in the world were black, white and brown, I heard a loud bird call. It was a long, shrill, descending call. Over and over. What the heck was that? I followed my ears, and ended up staggering through the deep snow in my neighbor’s back yard until my eyes and ears located a spot of ruby red in a brown, leafless tree: Cardinal. He burned a spot in my mind with his fire. And I have been smitten ever since. We don’t have cardinals on the west coast, and I miss them.

Another day in Maine, this time in early, early spring when there was still a lot of snow on the ground but the gutters were running with snowmelt, I was walking into a building downtown and a magical trilling like the water burbling everywhere echoed around the granite entryway. What? I stopped short, and the man behind me walked into me. I couldn’t go in until I found it – a brown little bird with a red head and breast up in the archway, singing his lungs out. “Spring is coming! Spring is coming!” Despair at six months of wearing gloves and boots suddenly disappeared.

I later looked him up in my bird book, and there he was: A house finch. (Or a purple finch. But purple finches aren’t purple… what’s up with that? Anyway.) We have house finches on the west coast, too, and that makes me happy.

Also in Maine, I saw another bird I had never seen before. I described it to my husband’s aunt, who was nearly blind at the time. She thought about it for a minute, and then said, “It sounds like a flicker.” A what? But I looked it up, and she was right. Aunt Norma was a (bad) birdwatcher, too!

As time went by, my fascination expanded and, as we moved around the country, I was exposed to a variety of birds. I saw nuthatches, rose breasted grosbeaks, goldfinches that looked like dandelions on the lawn, herons, egrets, pelicans, red-winged blackbirds. Cedar waxwings that were smaller than I expected. Pheasant that sounded like a squeaky car door. Wild turkeys. More bald eagles. Ducks that nested in trees. White crowned sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets, phoebes, various hawks, turkey vultures, and kingfishers. It’s a glorious birdworld, although I miss some of my friends from other areas (especially cardinals).

All of this came flooding through my mind, in less time than it took to write it (or read it), as I started to re-read Simon Barnes. I am most definitely a (bad) birdwatcher, and I’ve got it bad, too. But I don’t mind.

The Point

What was it that made me traipse through Mr. Brown’s snowy yard to see that cardinal? Wonder. Just as it was Wonder that once made me photograph a bowl of cherry tomatoes (Remember to Look Up, “Appreciate Beauty”). A cherry tomato is not a bird, but wonder is wonder. Wonder that something so simple can be so beautiful. And that is all that needs to be said.

Wonder. And Curiosity.

Except that is not all I will say. Wonder applies. It translates. And Curiosity, like birdwatching, is a matter of habit. The habit of looking. A habit that can be cultivated.

What are you curious about? What would happen if you cultivated curiosity about… people who are different? Or who don’t agree with you? What would happen if you wondered what would happen if…

How would your life be different if you got in the habit of noticing things? (Or, for the advanced among you, how has your life been transformed because you do notice things?

Here is what Simon Barnes says about birdwatching at its best: It is “not the chasing of the rare but the untroubled contemplation of the special.

I get goosebumps when I read that.

And here’s the thing: It doesn’t just apply to birdwatching. It applies to all sorts of things. Not just birds.

What is special in your life? Is it a finite list? Or does it continue to grow?

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