Tag Archives: reflection

Thrivability: A Sneaky Awesome Little Book About Innovation

thrivabilityI just got done reading Jean Russell’s new book, Thrivability, from Triarchy Press. In my opinion, this is perhaps the most compelling book about innovation that’s been written in the past few years – and it’s not even expressly about innovation. But it can help you think about all the assumptions you make about society and the environment in which you’re embedded – assumptions that, when relaxed, can open up new ways of thinking that will help you more effectively innovate.

Here’s the review that I’ll be publishing in the January 2014 issue of the Quality Management Journal. In the meantime, I encourage you to read Jean’s book — and please share your comments below! I want to know what you think about it.

               “Thrivability,” or the “ability to thrive,” suggests strength, grace, health, growth, and sustainable value creation – all in one word. In this book, Jean Russell articulates over 20 years of knowledge and insights she’s gleaned from delving into this one concept from the perspective of multiple disciplines. The end result is a book that is unique, richly textured, and achieves its stated goal: “to equip you with tools to see and act in ways that enrich your life, your community, your business, and our world.” As a result, this book contributes indirectly (yet profoundly) to the expanding body of knowledge on innovation.

               The book is structured in three Parts: Perceiving, Understanding, and Doing.  The first chapters encourage the reader to critically examine his or her external environment, the assumptions that are inherent to the economic and political systems within which we are embedded, and the individual stories that we use to construct our expectations about ourselves, our capabilities, and others around us. It does this by emphasizing the importance of storytelling and narrative – to imagine ourselves in the context of a story that inspires us about our world, rather than fills us with fear. To be successful at this, we must first learn how to look at our world and the people around us with compassion and acceptance. This, according to the author, will help us generate new perspectives on existing situations, and open us to new possibilities for improvement.

               Part II, on Understanding, explores how we can shift our beliefs to help create more positive, productive, connected environments and organizations. A large part of this section reflects on the psychological influences of social media and how this is changing the ways we identify opportunities and even the definition of “success” itself. For example, in education, grades are losing their significance as society recognizes that complex creations are more effective measures of accomplishment than passing tests. Part III, on Doing, focuses on tools and techniques to enliven creativity, enhance trust, and break through limiting beliefs and blocking situations.

               This book has essential insights for both academics and practitioners in quality-related fields. Most significantly, Russell’s work can help us envision the new world in which we might soon find ourselves, where the search for meaning and compassion for others (and our environment) take precedence over profit and capturing or creating new markets.

What #BIF9 and Burning Man Taught Me About Transformation – Part II (via Deming!)

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Even the phones at Burning Man tell you that you’re in Black Rock City, NV

In Part I, I described some observations from my experiences at BIF and Burning Man, and alluded to the notion that I might have uncovered a very simple “secret sauce” they share. Here are the observations:

  • Both communities consist of active and engaged participants who could be considered “innovation junkies”. Whereas the BIF crowd focuses on more traditional organizational and social innovation, the Burning Man crowd spans the extremes of experiential innovation (through art, technology, interactions with other people, or even just figuring out how to navigate life in the Black Rock Desert).
  • “Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects” (#RCUS) is the norm in both environments. First, the “unusual suspects” seem to be attracted to opportunities to be inspired and get their brains re-wired; second, the participants in both environments seem predisposed to the notion that serendipity is working on their behalf — and they let it happen.
  • People at both BIF and Burning Man tend towards non-judgment, seeking to appreciate and learn from their differences (rather than to resist, deny, or challenge those differences).

The common thread is that both environments have something magical designed into them, and this is the secret sauce: the push to drive out fear. Many of the BIF storytellers have been through Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and make themselves vulnerable so that the audience can vicariously (and often emotionally!) experience their transformation; at Burning Man, you’re stripped of your usual identity and thus unburdened from the fear you might carry as a result of having developed that identity over so many years.

When quality guru W. Edwards Deming formulated his 14 Points decades ago – principles for managers to transform business effectiveness – he expressed that the purpose of the points was to enable everyone to work with joy. One of the points (my favorite one, in fact) is to drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively.

If you are to fully embrace innovation, there is no room for fear! You must work towards fully being yourself, to push your own boundaries, and by extension, to push the boundaries of others, and to push the boundaries of traditional and accepted ways of doing things (“business models”). You are encouraged to own your own story, to TELL your own story, and to connect with others to help them identify with their own stories – and chase away the fear of being authentic, of being able to contribute to your greatest potential.

Why do we hold back? Why are we fearful? (I do it too, all the time.)

  • I am afraid you won’t accept me. I am afraid you won’t like me.
  • I am afraid you will disagree with my choices or decisions, and struggle with me or reject me as a result.
  • I’m afraid you won’t think I’m smart enough, good enough, worthy enough.
  • I am afraid that if you know who I really am, it might have consequences for my health or well-being (e.g. I could lose job, my reputation, my standing within the organization or community).
  • I’m afraid that what I’m trying to do – or be – just won’t work.

 

FEAR **IS** THE BOX.


To think “out of the box,” you must be living out of the box, and it’s an ongoing (and lifelong) process to do that.

I have not yet achieved healthy fearlessness as my steady state – I’m still awaiting bursts of my own personal transformation.  According to Ignite.me:

Joseph Campbell talked about the ‘Hero’s Journey’ whereby the hero is beckoned to enter an unfamiliar world.  When the hero enters this world, they are met with challenges, hurdles, and eventually a seemingly insurmountable confrontation which is achieved by using skills they picked up along the journey.  By overcoming this obstacle, the hero attains new self-knowledge which they can bring back to their people in the ‘ordinary land’ as their gift to the world.

Common themes of ancient mystery traditions are secrecy, death of the ego, participating with archetypal reality, and a rebirth of a new self.  The Eleusinian Mysteries took place over almost 2000 years and were shrouded in mystery from the uninitiated. Shamanic initiation often comes with the shaman being psychologically and experientially deconstructed and put back together.  Some tribal societies had rites of passage where children are ripped away from the bosom of the mother and left in the bush to learn how to become a warrior.  Rites of passage are transformational experiences where the old you is transformed into a new YOU.  That’s where we want to take you, and we create the container for that transformation.

What that means is that you may come as a journalist, or a chef, or a bike messenger, or a computer programmer but for the duration of our journey, you may choose to leave that behind to lose yourself in the present in workshops, dance, yoga, and celebration.  Transformation is disruptive and disorienting and actually occurs when past beliefs are shattered, habits are broken, and futures are rewritten.

By temporarily suspending fear, you create the space for transformation – the space for new experiences to redefine what you know and feel about yourself, and your interactions with other people and the world around you.

But this concept has been around for thousands of years… more on that tomorrow.

What #BIF9 and Burning Man Taught Me About Transformation – Part I

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Registration Desk for our “Transform Learning” Unconference at Burning Man 2013

I spent the last week of August at Burning Man, and two days in September at Saul Kaplan‘s Business Innovation Factory Summit (BIF-9). On the surface, these two events couldn’t seem more different – the former is a counterculture festival of art and technology and spirit in the middle of the barren Nevada desert, whereas the latter is a traditional conference with TED-style talks punctuated by opportunities for business-card networking — in metropolitan Providence, Rhode Island. 

So why did I emerge from each of these vastly different experiences with the exact same, buoyant, intellectually inspired feeling? I’ve been curious ever since my plane touched the ground at DCA last week, and I emerged from the jetway with the same bittersweet resignation that I’d need to return to the “default world” in the morning. Granted, there’s a little bit of overlap… Peter Hirshberg, one of my 2013 neighbors from Playaskool, gave a great BIF talk about “retribalizing the city” and specifically cited Black Rock City as the kind of vision for the future that might have been celebrated at a World’s Fair of the past. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, also briefly noted the shared vibe of the Maker movement, Burning Man, and BIF when he was on stage — a vibe he aims to capture in his Downtown Project in Las Vegas.

But what’s the overlap? Why did both events inspire similar feelings in me?

Thanks to BIF-9 (and @AngelaMaiers), I remembered that I am a genius and the (default) world needs my contribution! And when Matt Murrie of What If? published his article yesterday on the Huffington Post, he provided another clue:  He reminded me that the spirit of BIF is easily captured by the phrases on those giant yellow slides that stay up on the screen in between BIF talks: think transformation, and try more stuff.

Think transformation! Try more stuff! And I’m needed… I’m an important part of all this!

That’s precisely how I felt as a resident of Black Rock City… and as a member of the BIF community sitting in the Trinity Rep theater. But the real secret sauce is… well, I’ll save that reveal for the end 🙂

First, some observations about the shared vibe between Burning Man and BIF:

  • Burners and BIFfers are, by their nature, “innovation junkies”. At a Burn, you are released into an environment where the normal rules and societal standards of engagement are temporarily suspended. The playa provides experiences that will snap you out of the way you thought life was, is, or should be. Want to send a postcard at the Post Office? OK, but you might have to do some cartwheels or tell the entire post office staff a good joke before they’ll take your mail. Nothing is impossible. At BIF, the same spirit prevails in the storytellers’ presentations and the conversations that happen over breaks and at dinner. I don’t have to be afraid of sharing crazy ideas with anyone in either group. I’m not shunned, looked at weird, or talked down. If anything, recommended refinements to my ideas will come with authenticity, insight, and a genuine feeling of support.
  • “Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects” (#RCUS using the tweetable parlance of Deb Mills-Scofield) is the norm in both environments. It is very difficult to wander around Burning Man without stumbling into unusual suspects (the guy who stopped traffic to give out hugs; the guy in the Superman costume who sprayed people with water so they could cool down; the people dancing with the giant jellyfish at White Ocean). BIF welcomes, with open arms, the same type of crowd but in different clothing (quite literally): the inspiring techno-matriarch, Deb Mills-Scofield (what I imagine Jane McGonigal will be like when she’s a grandmother — or as @sandymaxey beautifully observed, Deb is more like a “Fairy Godmother”), Amelia Friedman (who’s trying to help westerners learn widely used languages like Bengali), Evan Ratliff (who decided to create a story for Wired by “disappearing” – and then have people hunt for him), Jonathan Katz (who had a traumatic brain injury that wiped out his sense of taste and smell, and yet he works in a lab making new artificial flavors and scents!) and the girl who’s going to give me a numerology reading soon! OH!! And the guy wearing the nested alien suits at BIF. (Yeah, he would fit in well at Burning Man.)
  • At BIF and Burning Man, people tend towards non-judgment. In the “default world” it’s common to be criticized, ostracized, “tolerated” for your behaviors or beliefs, or (the worst case) expressly demonized, shunned, or outright excluded. At Burning Man, the principle of radical inclusion is honored as a core value of the community:

Burning Man is for absolutely everyone. Everyone. That’s what Radical Inclusion means. If you’re a starving artist, you should go. (if you want to, of course!) If you’re a plumber, you should go. If you’re a billionaire, you should go. If you’re a Saudi Prince that can only go if a turnkey camp is provided for you, please, please come. I’ll make you a sandwich. If you believe you’re a member of the class of people who actually deserve to be there, well then I definitely want you to keep going. One day, you’ll get it. Elitism in all forms distracts us from the truth of our common humanity.
— Dustin Moskovitz, inRadical Inclusion vs. Radical Self-Reliance at Burning Man

At BIF, I noticed that people tend to just naturally accept and honor differences – to get excited about differences, in fact – because if we’re different, we’ve got unique perspectives to share with one another! I met Jeffrey Sparr and Matthew Kaplan, for example, from PeaceLove Studios. They want to remove the stigma associated with mental illness so that people who need help are more receptive to getting it – and with support, can contribute their own gifts to society.

As a personal example, after having a rather open and vulnerable conversation with Greg Satell and his wife Liliana over beer and oysters (where I shared some things about myself that I ordinarily would be completely hesistant to admit to anyone) — Greg’s body language told me he was clearly a little bit uncomfortable. For a moment, I thought I’d misjudged the openness of the BIF crowd. I started to feel hesitant, weak, as if I’d miscalculated and really shouldn’t be making myself vulnerable. But then he spoke up: “Well, I can’t say I feel the same way for me, but if that’s what works for YOU – I’m glad you’ve figured out a way to make it happen.”

Greg’s response, for me, encapsulated the secret sauce of BIF, of Burning Man, and of transformation in general… which I’ll talk more about in a day or two in Part II.

(Ahhhhhhh… the anticipation! Yes, I’m doing this on purpose.)

Continue to Part II —->

Expressing Your Needs

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

Achieving quality (re: ISO 9000 para 3.1.5) is all about meeting stated and implied needs.

But our society has conditioned us not to freely express our needs to friends, family, and others; after all, if we need something, the marketing should have worked already, and we should know where we can go to willingly exchange currency for the means to satisfy that need. And Google is always happy to help us find new places to buy things.

But in a gift economy, open expression of needs is critical. When I was at Burning Man, it became habit to express my needs at any given time. After all, if I needed something, I relied on my network to pass the message along – and ultimately connect me with the people who could help me out with the resources that I needed. (I found a great pair of knee socks this way. I gave away a beautiful black jingly bra, several rolls of toilet paper, several gallons of water, and a giant canister of naphtha gas this way.)

Steve Pavlina points out that there is probably a vast audience of potential partners and co-creators who, at any time, are ready and willing (and happy!) to meet your needs. It’s just that you haven’t broadcast those needs and so the people who would be happy to help you meet them are still in the dark. No one knows you have those needs, so no one can say hey! I’ve got gifts that will help you meet those needs.

How often do you have genuine needs in your workplace, or your life – and it’s very likely that others could help you meet those needs – but you just have NO clue how to find people that can help out? Or maybe you just don’t know how to start the conversations? Or maybe you’d like to ask, but you get into self-defeating spirals where the voice on the inside of your head is telling you they probably don’t have the time… you don’t want to be an inconvenience… you don’t want anyone to feel taken advantage of… you don’t want to impose on anyone.

It feels very awkward to express that you would really like help or support from someone else. It feels weak, maybe. But that default feeling of weakness or not-enough-ness is NOT REAL. It’s just what we’re conditioned to believe is true because of the effect marketing — and the consumer-driven economy — has had on us since birth.

I have needs too, and I don’t know how to find people that will help me meet my needs. I am VERY happy to help them meet THEIR needs. So the first step is for me to start getting comfortable with expressing my needs – and being open to the people who will show up to help meet them. For starters, here are some of my needs:

  • I need someone to cut my hair across the back every month or two – straight across! – which I don’t think merits the $30 fee most salons charge. It takes 5 minutes from anyone who has a steady hand and a pair of scissors. (I can provide the scissors). Usually I get my mom to do it, but she’s several hours’ drive away. And I desperately need a cut. I would love to trade anything – or help with your statistics homework – for a straight-across cut.
  • On the same thread, I’d like to find someone who will henna the underside of my hair. My friends and I used to henna each other all the time in high school and college. Now, I have no henna friends… and a head in need of rainbow flavors about every 3 months.
  • I need non-aloof “girlfriends” (can be any gender) to share mutually beneficial great ideas, pointless and short-lived whining, and happy hours with. This is not to imply that my current suite of friends and confidants is inadequate in any way – I just want to make sure the supply of these people is large and diverse enough so that I can tap into it whenever I need to.
  • I need a photographer (preferably in consultation with “girlfriends” who can dress me up) to take headshots for blog + future journal articles. Preferably including dragons and/or some sort of flame throwing or fire breathing (which is why I can’t get the creative services department at work to do it – no dragons, no fire). Because, you know, I like things like that.
  • I need artsy Burner-type friends in Harrisonburg who want to create a “virtual commune” with me. We can share resources and moral support. If you have a venue where we can all get together and spin fire occasionally, that would not be bad either.
  • I need a regular Wednesday afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old. Must be totally trusted source (so I need to have known you for a while).
  • I need an occasional Monday afternoon/evening and random wildcard afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old.
  • I need someone in Harrisonburg to refer me to a great family physician or osteopath who will give me what I need to manage chronic sciatica – the result of a injury from surgery over 10 years ago. I’ve been to my old family doctor and several chiropractors already. No one has a solution – the doctor says I’m too young to be feeling like this (you’re right!! I AM!!) and the chiropractors swear they can fix me, but so far, they have only made it worse. As a result I live in almost constant background pain, and it interferes with my ability to think.
  • It would be great to have someone to massage my sore right foot. I have at least one person who will do it, but I feel bad asking, and he’s always working. I say “massage” – but what I really mean is “press that spot on the top of my right foot that releases the pain in my head really hard“. 
  • I need someone to help me grocery shop, cook, and eat healthy. In exchange, I’ll support your grocery-purchasing needs (after all, if you’re cooking for me, you might as well be cooking for YOU too!) I just need instructions, because I am helpless at the grocery store (the site of many panic attacks) and overwhelmed by the entire prospect of eating – which is why, when left to my own devices, I just don’t eat. There are too many possibilities. Note: Cooking partner has probably been identified – within hours of expressing this need.
  • I need someone to force me to go to Bikram Yoga Harrisonburg at least several times a week. Note: This will depend on getting adequate and reliable childcare. Maybe you need someone to force you to go to yoga too. Want to team up and make it happen???

Help??

And more importantly – how I can help YOU?

When Your Ideas are Met With Resistance

bm-survivalHas anyone ever opposed your ideas? Punctuated your plans? (This could be something you’ve experienced at work, or just in the regular course of life.)

Has anyone encouraged you (subtly or not so subtly) to remain entrenched in the status quo? To not “rock the boat”?

Yeah, me too.

Usually, when people question my ideas, plans, or approach – I’ll step back. I don’t want to be perceived as pushy, or aggressive, or anything other than basically nice and considerate of other peoples’ positions and feelings. I like to work in the shadowy background, producing what is meaningful to me, while others focus on what is meaningful to them – never the two paths to meet. If I’m working on projects or products for clients or customers, I defer to them entirely – using my experience or expertise only to guide or inform the process of discovery. I don’t like conflict, but when I do, I’d rather it’s between two OTHER people or organizations – and I’m just in the middle as the broker, attempting to fuse the two positions into a cohesive and mutually agreeable vision.

Sometimes, though, you can’t avoid being one of the parties in conflict – and as a result, today I discovered the blessing of opposition.

In the Summer 2004 issue of Journal for Quality and Participation, Thomas Berstene discussed “The Inexorable Link Between Conflict and Change” — explaining how conflict can facilitate transformation, that is, “the passing from one place, state, form, or phase to another.” He notes how every organization has examples of how constructive conflict can lead to positive transformation, if that conflict is honored for its potential value. Most significantly, he describes the cultivation of power as a means to resolve conflict, by “achieving self-interests without inflicting force on others.”

Cultivating power requires four things:

  • Authenticity. Being totally, completely, unabashedly true to your own needs, desires, and aspirations.
  • Synergy. Cultivating relationships so that you can work in harmony with (most, if not all) others.
  • Inner Strength. A sense of calm, and a higher level of peace and resourcefulness – you know you can come to a positive conclusion!
  • Quality of Being. The “experience of joy, ease, and serenity that derive from identification with one’s authentic Self” which renders these individuals “able to focus their attention on the current situation without dragging in history or resisting what might happen.”

I just got back from Burning Man (more on that later – MUCH more, in fact) so I’m nestled firmly in the womb of my power. All of the cobwebs that have clouded my mind and psyche for the past five years have been whisked away. I’m calm. I trust.

I’m unwilling to be anything other than true to myself right now. There’s just not enough time in this life to be otherwise.

And from this vantage point, I’ve discovered the blessing of opposition!

Today, it became pretty clear that some projects that are important to me are experiencing some resistance from others. That’s OK – maybe they don’t understand why my projects are so important to me. Maybe I can explain it to them. Maybe I’ll never be able to.

But instead of stepping back, this opposition unexpectedly, unashamedly rebirthed the dragon in me.

The opposition to my approach quickly – and with tsunamis of emotion – clarified, for me, what I believe in – the essence of what I think is really important.

And now I know what I believe. I think I knew it before, but now my gut knows it, and my body is ready to live it. I’m committed to what I believe. I’m willing to give up everything to follow what I believe.

And that’s what makes today starkly different — and entirely more colorful — than the potentials I embodied yesterday.

Google Docs to Markdown Converter: A Gateway Drug to Getting Your Books on LeanPub

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Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Following in the footsteps of fellow ASQ Influential Voice John Hunter (who published Management Matters on LeanPub) — I’ve had the intention for the past couple years to write my next book using LeanPub too.

There’s only one problem: LeanPub requires that you prepare and format your book in Markdown. I know Markdown is not that hard, but in order to move forward with it, I would have to find at least a couple days without distractions to get my head into it and start flowing with that approach. With work and kid’s-school-schedule and my travel schedule, this has been darn near next to impossible.

Until today! I found an article that shows how you can convert Google Docs to Markdown using a simple script.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I am convinced this huge productivity booster will be the gateway drug to getting my books onto LeanPub.

 

Peripheral Visioning

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Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Somehow, some way, over the course of too many years growing up staring into a computer screen — my eyesight became much-less-than-perfect.

Only I didn’t know it. I thought everyone lived in a slightly hazy, cloudy world, where all the colors naturally blended into postmodern mosaics of distant trees and mountains. It was never a problem for me until the day about ten years ago that I was headed east on I-64 into Charlottesville, and coming over the hill into town, struggled to identify what that giant number on the speed limit sign was. I squinted, closed one eye at a time, and figured that the number was probably 55… so I slowed down. Then I realized:

They probably make those speed limit signs big enough for anyone to see.

I got scared, and drove straight to the walk-in eyeglass clinic, where I explained my predicament. They quickly made room in their schedule for an emergency appointment. Usually afterwards, they make you wait 24 hours to pick up your new glasses, but with my 20/400 vision, they wouldn’t let me leave without them. Fortunately, my eyesight could be corrected to almost 20/20, which was nice. I walked out of the store with my new glasses on — and into an amazing, sparkly new world! The trees all had individual leaves on them!! Cars were so shiny! I could read license plates — from MY driver’s seat!

But immediately, I recognized how I’d managed to drive for all those years with bad vision!

Because I couldn’t really see what was ahead of me, I just focused my vision off and to the right side of the road, on the ground. I kept the road and the cars in my peripheral vision, so I could easily sense where they were, and make accommodations. If I tried to look straight ahead, I got frustrated quickly, emotionally wrapped around my own axle, because I couldn’t see any of the detail… and ultimately, that state of being wasn’t safe for driving. I couldn’t focus on what I was worried about, or I’d be a danger on the road.

Not long after that, I realized how effective a strategy this was in my work — because there’s so much change and uncertainty, it’s impossible to look directly ahead of you and see clearly. And that can be scary and unsettling! My solution was: if there was some big goal I was trying to achieve, the best way to reduce my angst and qualm my (sometimes very subtle) emotional stranglehold on myself — was to focus on something else. Something just as important, maybe even something that contributed to the main goal, but something I was not quite so emotionally wrangled by!

I starting calling this my “peripheral visioning” technique. It actually helped me achieve my primary goals – because by consciously setting my primary goal to the side, and focusing on something related to it (or maybe in support of it), I was still making progress but I wasn’t experiencing as much stress. And as a result, I was more open to the serendipity and the chance encounters – with people and with information – that helped me make progress on the primary goal!

Set an intention, get your ducks in a row, and then get out of your own way by focusing on something else!

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