Doing Something Different

Sitting on the deck of the ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria BC, I soaked in the anticipation of my weekend escape to Canada. I thought how cool that I can spend 90 minutes on a ferry and change my perspective by visiting another country. There is something that comes alive in us, that unlocks energy and anticipation when we are going on an adventure.

As I sat with the idea of adventure, change and disrupting the norm through new experiences, it led me to further reflection on what stimulates inspiration and creative discovery.

Does it shock you when I say we’re ignoring our greatest creative resource every single day—even suffocating it? What do you think when you hear that creative resource has nothing to do with what you do every day of your life?

For arguments sake let’s define creativity as the ability to solve problems in a surprising or unpredictable way, to explore insights, new truths and options outside what we currently know. Many of us may be in careers that are perceived as "creative" (designers, writers, developers, strategists or entrepreneurs). Is it surprising to observe that we don’t force ourselves regularly to solve problems that are clearly out of our areas of expertise. Why we consistently look for options that avoid risk or change—solutions that keep us comfortable and hopefully “looking good” to others.

That’s where we’re squandering our greatest creative resource. With routine, patterned approaches and avoidance of discomfort, people get stuck in prescripted forms of thought and rigid assumptions. By forcing our thinking out of our comfort zones, we become part of a more intellectually and emotionally diverse population that helps us continue to learn, expand and challenge our own assumptions.

For most humans, structure, order and predictability offer intrinsic comfort. That’s why so many people fear change. It’s why they avoid people, places and scenarios that are different than they’ve traditionally known. They choose to stay stuck in patterns and fail to spark transformation within their companies and professional and personal lives.

This can be an incredibly destructive behavior, as it creates missed opportunities where problems can be solved, new innovations moved forward and new partnerships formed. Creative tension and degrees of disruption leads to spontaneous change, and change has the power to create immense value.

Yes, change, difference and creative tension can be scary—but it’s the place that reward, influence, expansion and opportunity exists.

What’s exciting about change and disruption is it’s actually adventure waiting to be engaged. Most people respond to adventure as, “I’m so jazzed we did that.”

Go put your skin in the game and do something different.

Failing Better?

I’m going to take us into a bit of discovery about risk and failure…and I promise to bring back to your safety zone in one piece—maybe a little rattled.

We are inundated and over mediated with aspirational and challenging proclamations about the benefits and transformational affects of “failing faster and better.”  The plethora of opportunity that comes with the ability to take risk, be bold, innovate and make mistakes sounds compelling.

Whichever tone you choose, embracing failure makes for a trendy mythology, especially for the aspiring heroes of innovation.

The truth, it’s mostly lip service, while most scramble hysterically to avoid failure at all costs, confirming what many actually experience in most organizations is rampant risk avoidance and resistance to change. And, when someone does make a mistake, more energy is spent playing the “blame game,” which derails any opportunity for learning or advancement.  

So what’s happening?

Fear of failure and rejection are top of the list of some of the most crippling fears. And seemingly for good reason; the threat of judgment, blame and being wrong hangs in the shadows ready to pounce. We are driven by a need to prove ourselves, to be accepted and to be found worthy. This fear becomes an insidious virus that infects our lives and creates distorted stories we carry around as if they are empirical fact.

This dynamic creates a “play it safe,” risk avoidance pattern in our personal and professional lives, creating a pre-emptive avoidance of ever being wrong. Basically shutting down the capacity for discovery, innovation, transformation and change.

The reciprocating patterns that follow risk avoidance and “playing it safe” are: unhealthy appeasement, groupthink, loss of authenticity, distortion and dishonesty and paralyzing bureaucracy and politics.

What many consider to be innovation and risk taking is rampant business, doing lots of things, much of which doesn’t actually create any real value other than consume time and resources.

I want to be very clear—no one respects thoughtless, irresponsible behavior or reactive risk taking.

Let’s reframe the conversation of failure.

What’s behind the idea of failing better?

There’s a mission, a purpose and supreme science behind failing and mistakes; it’s called exploration and discovery. It’s about learning, developing, discovering and then, breaking through to something new and unimagined.

·      Athletes did not get to the Olympic games without failure.

·      Artists and musicians experience painful failures as they move to brilliance.

·      Strong passionate relationships that grow and deepen experience moments of failure and pain.

·      Any company that leads in the market place has a culture steeped in purposeful risk taking and integrating failure.

·      Champagne was created in the 17th century because of a failure.

·      We would not have the life saving vaccines today without failure.

It’s never the failure or mistakes that are the issue, its our willingness to own them and evolve, learn and expand from them.

Thomas Edison framed it simply:

I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.

Reposition for risk taking.

There has to be a whole sale shift of the language and mental concept of failure over to learning and discovery.

Re-language failure and right or wrong into discovery, innovation and creation.

It’s not actually the pursuit of failure, it’s integrating the concept, the mental model to hold what you think and know how to do, “lightly;” understanding it will change, evolve or shift.
You have to start out with an aspiration, an inspiration of something that is important and feels like a stretch—it will loosen up your ego and give you more mental and emotional dexterity to create and change.

It is important to negotiate the conditions for risk taking so the expectations are aligned to support stretching, taking risk, brainstorming and exploring. Removing the “who’s right and who’s wrong.

A POV is not “I’m right, your wrong,” It is a point…of…view.

This is very IMPORTANT: set boundaries around criticism (there is no such thing as constructive criticism) feedback, however is very powerful. It’s the way nature and human biology works—its called the feedback loop. And it is fascinating—the removal criticism over to feedback seems to shift the immune system over to healthier risk taking, empowerment and accountability. Wow, big surprise.

Shared characteristics of individuals that embrace risk taking.

·      They are aspirational; aligned with a greater purpose than the activities or transactions of the day.

·      They have high expectations about life.

·      Higher EQ: empathetic, insightful, self aware with strong emotional boundaries.

·      They are determined; they carry a passion, a drive, a hunger, a belief.

·      They are curious about the unknown; they ask “why” more often.

·      They crave adventure, creative tension, discovery and learning more than having the right answer.

·      They have a natural high degree of self-trust

·      Change is interesting and an adventure—not something to fear

Highly innovative organizations also share common characteristics.

·      The organization’s Mission is like the DNA of everything they do.

·      The brand leads: what we are doing is bigger than just our technology.

·      Money is a by-product of creating value first.

·      Organization is more political savvy than political.

·      Avoids paralyzing bureaucracy.

·      The culture carries a zeal for something bigger.

·      Leadership talks the talk and walks the talk.

·      High personal empowerment, ownership and accountability.

·      Clear about the “why” behind the “what.”

·      Cross disciplinary thinking, team environment—your only as good as the partnerships you build.

·      People are viewed as talent not staff.


10 Principles for Stimulating Real Creativity and Growth

1.    Allow experiences to change you. Growth and change are the natural laws of the universe, without it things stagnate, erode and atrophy. Growth doesn’t happen to you—you lean into it, embrace it and embody it. It is the willingness to be changed by events.

2.    Don’t care about good. “Good” is easy and simple to agree on. Growth is not supposed to be easy. It is a path of discovery into the unknown. Being safe with good will never allow you real growth.

3.    If you have the answer, ask another question. Don’t fear the wrong answer. It is what will lead to the right question. Let go of needing to be right and you will discover your brilliance and growth.

4.    Find joy in experimenting. The great life changing discoveries through history were part of learning how to experiment, ideate and explore.

5.    Coast and pause. Step back from anxiety and fear-based expectation and wander off the path. Reflect on an arbitrary thought or insight, have a conversation that is not rational and allow yourself to play with an idea or opportunity that presents itself.

6.    Leadership is not sitting in the corner office. Learn how to be influenced by others. Great leaders know first how to follow.

7.    Think out loud. Don’t be afraid to ask a “stupid question.” Growth is stimulated and animated by the desire to understand and the ability to be vulnerable. Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his ability to question, not give answers.”

8.    Get into the world. Your world is not Reality TV, the cool boutique, Facebook or texting meaningless chatter. It is being engaged in experiences in the broader world that are dynamic, different, immersive and up-front and personal. They should make you feel alive—slightly uncomfortable and energized.

9.    Who do you spend your time with? Spend it with people that make you think, laugh and feel. People who are authentic with you and don’t feed your ego with gratuitous appeasement.

10.  Be Fearless. Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to move in the face of it with courage and compassion. This is what influences and impacts the world around us and causes things to shift. Be that force.

The Killing of Cecil Exposes the Fear of Powerlessness

The killing of this lion has brought forth a level of vitriolic rage that is a flash point in our collective consciousness as it exposes a deep grief around the cascading loss of our humanity as seen by so many acts of violence—both physically and ideologically.

I think this killing represents a fear of inadequacy and powerlessness that this man and many other men like him experience deeply; one that money, position, power and sex can’t squelch.  

For Dr. Palmer, the predatory aggression of taking down a creature more powerful than himself is a way to alleviate this sense of powerlessness he's trying to disguise.
As a person of the male species I have been pained and bewildered watching the distortion of male power that is exhibited through corruption and violence from these wounded and scared men.
The very term “trophy hunting” is alone an expose into this fragile sense of power identity. If I kill a majestic creature, one that is regarded as regal, commanding, loyal, powerful and is iconic in the kingdom of animals; am I now a more majestic creature? Am I emboldened with more male prowess to be regarded as kingly and admired with great respect? When I take down something powerful like a lion or elephant, am I now seen as powerful?

I think it's the opposite. We have a deep knowingness that acts of aggression and disrespect are usually indicators of fear and insecurity. To claim our power, we distort it by disempowering something or someone else.
Real power is the ability to experience our majestic-ness, our sense of awe, and pride by watching and appreciating these amazing creatures and helping to steward the environment we share with them.
In the midst of our rage about the killing of Cecil the Lion—what is actually a collective grief—we continually and soulfully desire connectedness, wholeness and sacredness. I think of it as the courage and integrity of our humanity—the true form of power.

Being Seen

Walking the streets in Mumbai on a recent trip to India gave me the opportunity to have one of those experiences where my senses were evoked and awakened. 

Passing through one of the bustling intersections I slowed my gaze, really observing the posture and expressions of other westerners as they took in the theatre of colors, activities, noise and smells. I observed the locals attempting eye contact with the tourists as they passed, only to be met with dulled facial expressions and avoidance of eye contact.

A wave of insight and perspective engulfed me as I recognized the virus that infects most of us, where we don’t see or don’t recognize our humanity in each other. 

I subtly shifted in that moment and smiled to an Indian couple that I noticed looking at me. Their faces lit up with delight, beaming smiles appeared and their demeanor relaxed as we really saw each other. I was filled with a profound level of energy, humility, confidence and clarity about what it means to be present.
Most of us, particularly in the western world, navigate our daily lives in an over-mediated, filtered and disconnected state from the real-ness of the world around us. We end up seeing people and events as meaningless objects and transactions. Instead, we have the opportunity to create a level of connection with our amazing humanity and that kind of presence is real power. 

Action: Take the time today to make intentional eye contact with someone. See how your connection with that person deepens.