Tag Archives | Sound and Current Data

Garden. Stand. Glow.

Breathing Into a New Year

I am not immune to the seasonal reflection and contemplation that goes on this time of year, and like millions of others I find myself reflecting on the past year, my successes and failures, realizations, and what I want for the coming year.

It isn’t just about flipping to a new year on the calendar, though. 2012 was a year of huge transition for me, and I have spent the last two months on a sort of working vacation. Working. Treading water. Breathing. Contemplating. Being Grateful.

But over the last two weeks, as my schedule has slowed down slightly and we have passed through the Winter Solstice and the end of the Mayan calendar and entered 2013, I have begun to look forward. That has manifested as three exercises (so far) that have been very fruitful. I’d like to share them with you here, as you may find them helpful as well. (And going public, and the accountability that can bring, is probably a good thing.)

A Personal SWOT Analysis

A what?

It started when a friend invited me to send her my resume, as she wanted to share it with her client. I took some time to review it first and do some updating. One of the things I had highlighted was helping my clients perform SWOT analyses. What’s a SWOT analysis? It stands for





with Strengths and Weaknesses being Internal factors and Opportunities and Threats being External factors. The idea is to brainstorm these, and only then set goals and plan initiatives that have a good chance of succeeding based upon your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

I looked at my resume and thought, “Hmmm, this might be a good time to do that for myself.”

So I did.

It’s been an interesting process (which is still in process, especially the Opportunities and Threats part). Here are a few highlights:

  • This has been a great opportunity to be reminded of my strengths. I have a lot of them. I tend to take them for granted. (Is there anyone who doesn’t, at least at some time?)
  • This has also been a reminder of something two different wise people have said to me at different times in my life: “Your strengths taken to extreme can be your greatest weaknesses.” One example? I am extremely persistent and tenacious. Taken to extreme, I can be quite stubborn (good Taurus that I am). This doesn’t always serve me (or those around me), especially when it’s time to walk away from something.
  • I have a number of opportunities available to me, and I had an idea for another one as a result of this process.
  • Examining the Threats is important, especially since most of them can be prepared for and overcome. But they have to be recognized first.
  • Regarding those Threats, I realized that they, and the Opportunities, aren’t all external. Those Weaknesses can pose threats to my success if I don’t manage them. As for the external Threats, I need to watch my feet, and be aware, not wary.

That Amazing Question Again

Then, on Sunday, Chris Brogan’s newsletter arrived. In it, he asked this version of my Amazing Question: What would you attempt if you believed in yourself a lot more than you do today?

Hmmm. Excellent timing. I emailed Chris, and he challenged me to answer it for him. So I did. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Schedule more workshops – at least one every month.
  • Actively promote my coaching – by calling people, sending emails, launching a newsletter.
  • Get back on a regular – or at least more frequent – blog schedule, even if the direction changes.
  • Invite new Captains Curious guest posts.
  • Create a new photography site.
  • Create a site for my jewelry and either begin selling on Etsy or actively schedule shows and parties.
  • Submit a proposal for the magazine article I want to write, interviewing other women named Susan Blake.
  • Finish the rewrite of “Remember to Look Up” and publish it for e-readers through Amazon etc.

Damn. That’s a big list of Opportunities. But completely achievable – if I believe in myself. Since it was fed by the Strengths and Opportunities lists I had recently begun, I know it’s all possible – Weaknesses and Threats not withstanding.

Boil It Down

And then Chris’s next blog post arrived, his annual “My Three Words” post, in which he describes choosing three words that will be his touchstones for the year, his guiding force to keep him on track. They are the words that represent the Big Vision for the year.

So, here is my response to his challenge to come up with three words that represent my Big Vision for 2013:

Garden. Stand. Glow.

Garden: The first word that actually came to me was Renaissance, because I have a lot of interests, a lot of talents, a lot of avenues I want to pursue. I am a Renaissance Woman. My commitment for 2013 is to respect them and to pursue them all: Coaching. Writing. Photography. Music. Jewelry Making. Partnering with horses in Equine Guided Experiences. They all feed me, they feed others, they feed each other, and they have the potential for literally putting food on the table – if I act like I believe in myself (see above). I am a Renaissance Woman, but an even better term that describes this, and embodies action, is Gardener. A garden requires tending – planning, tilling, planting, watering, pruning, weeding, harvesting. And this is about action, not just interests and talents. Also, a good garden is filled with a variety of plants, not just multiples of only one plant, and that describes me. A polymathic garden. So my first word is Garden.

Stand: As in, stand in my power. 2012 was a year filled with repeated reminders that I am powerful. And that I often either discount it or take it for granted. Especially my Intuition. I built a varied and successful career on mostly left-brained, highly analytical abilities, but events in the past year have repeatedly plunked me smack dab in the middle of my right brain. My work with horses is part of that. Where before I have often discounted my intuition, I am finding that it is indispensable and usually accurate. Part of respecting my garden of talents, interests and skills includes trusting that intuition. It guides my curiosity and I can employ my curiosity to validate it. This year I commit to standing in that power, so my second word is Stand. (I also like the visual connection to a “stand of trees.”)

Glow: As I tend my Garden and Stand in my power, I see myself start to glow. That glow serves as a beacon to others. The glow of a candle in the window, a campfire in the forest, a lighthouse on the coast. Come this way! It helps us find each other, connect, engage. No hiding my light. My third word is Glow.

* * * * *

There you have it. Three exercises for the New Year, the new age. It is all part of a work in progress, of course. I encourage you to try them! Please share the results here in the Comments, or feel free to reach out to me.

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?

Freedom to Believe – and Freedom from Beliefs

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?

How Do Our Expectations Shape Our Reality?

This morning I got up to the sound of rain falling. This made me glad, as my plants need watering.

But when I opened the drapes and looked outside, the streets were dry. What?

The wind was blowing strongly, though, and tree branches were waving and dancing in the wind. It is Spring, and the trees have only recently leafed out. I realized that the sound the leaves make in the wind is very different from the sound bare branches make in the wind.

The weather reports had predicted rain, so I expected it. And I misinterpreted what my senses told me because of my expectations.

I wonder: How often do we misinterpret data, whether provided by our senses or by numbers and reports, because of what we expect? How often do our expectations shape our reality?

If I believe that all sales people are solely motivated by money, then I will only create programs that generate behaviors that reinforce my belief. If I believe that people of a certain skin color or ethnic background behave in a certain way, then I will only notice those examples that fit in with my beliefs and use them to reinforce and serve as demonstrations of my beliefs – even if those examples are really only a small minority.

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.

Sometimes what we think is sound and current data (the sound of rain falling) really is sound and current data about something else (the sound of wind in the trees). How can we effectively interpret the data we are receiving?

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