Connecting With Strangers

Greetings. Many of you have asked if you can listen to some of the ideas in “The Necessity of Strangers” and I’m glad to share this brand new and downloadable podcast from Vistage, one of the world’s leading organizations of CEOs and business owners. The podcast explores the importance of strangers in business success and suggests some fun, easy, and practical ways to connect with, and learn from, people (and organizations) that are different from us as a key to greater innovation, collaboration, employee engagement, and creativity.

Let me know what you think and, if you find the conversation valuable, please don’t hesitate to share it with all of your friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbors, customers, professionals you do business with, clergy, college roommates, yoga instructors, personal trainers, other parents on your child’s soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, or swim teams, and even total strangers.

Vistage Podcast – The Necessity of Strangers

And here’s a smiling picture of me to look at while you listen…

ASG New Photo 2013

And many thanks to Vistage and to Srinivas Rao, thoughtful host of the Vistage podcasts, for giving me the opportunity to be part of this great series.


The Genius of Nap Time

Greetings. When we were kids, nap time was an essential part of life and every school day. A chance to take a break, rest our minds and bodies, recharge our spirits, and keep the demons away. A time to journey far from the task at hand, if only for a matter of minutes, in order to possibly dream about new and even more amazing worlds.

And then one day we became adults and the notion of taking a nap became only a distant and comforting memory. After all, what company or organization in its right mind would want its employees to nod off when they could be slogging through all of the cool stuff in their in-boxes or struggling to stay alert in the day’s umpteenth meeting? Napping was viewed as the province of folks who were either total slackers, completely sleep deprived, or had a major iron deficiency.

Now the world, and particularly the business world, is changing, and none other than the Wall Street Journal is suggesting that taking a nap is possibly a good thing…and that “more naps, albeit short ones, might make for a more functional workforce.” And possibly even a more energized and innovative one. They report that there is actually an emerging art and a science to napping, and that new research in the field is more and more relevant to companies and organizations of all types.

It’s an interesting shift in our growing understanding of what makes people as productive and creative as possible… understanding that could provide remarkable benefits for workers and workplaces alike.

And that could change the parameters of what it means to be a great and supportive place to work.

Businessman sleeping at desk

We win in business and in life when we take the time to nap as a great way to recharge our batteries and our motivation to do the most important things in new ways.


Finding Our Forever Home

Greetings. It’s been six months since Vincent became a member of our family. And since the moment we picked him up, at a rest stop near the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, we have become more and more smitten with his furry, adorable, and appreciative self. In fact, there hasn’t been a single day when we haven’t thanked our lucky stars that we found each other…connected by the Flatcoated Retriever Society Rescue organization not so long after our last furry, adorable, and appreciative dog Ella died of cancer at the young age of eight.

As it turns out, we were Vincent’s tenth family and the end of his long and very challenging journey to find his “forever home.” A journey that took him to two “kill” shelters and many families before becoming available one last time. He escaped from the first kill shelter just after his brother was adopted, then spent time on his own in rural North Carolina where he was hit by a car, found, and then turned in to another kill shelter. There he was discovered and saved by a wonderful rescue coordinator hours before he was to be put to sleep. But a variety of health challenges including heartworm and some major infections which caused him to lose all of the fur on his underside, combined with being bullied by other dogs and even cats, left him bouncing from home to foster home and through a series of transitions that must have seemed increasingly routine.

And through it all, Vincent remained remarkably upbeat and resilient. In fact, the ad on the rescue website said that a trainer had declared him to be “close to the perfect dog.” It was a statement that must have surely caused prospective families, including ours, to wonder how a “close to the perfect dog” had been in nine homes. Talk about clever or hopeful marketing.

Yet all Vincent was looking for, and all that any of us are ever looking for, is the right fit and the chance to find a place where we can grow, prosper, and make a difference. In all of the relationships we hold dear and the places where we live and work.

After six months we can safely say that Vincent is “close to the perfect dog.” Sure he inhales his food, destroys plush toys, eats large clumps of grass as soon as I mow the lawn, steals a sock or two, occasionally begs at the dinner table, and is afraid of dogs, cats, turtles, cars, thunder, lightning, rain, odd sounds, and even his own shadow. And to be certain, we have spent a small fortune on vet bills and natural remedies intended to cure his last remaining ailments. But there is no kinder, gentler, sillier, happier, cuddlier, retrievier (probably not a word), more grateful, or more loyal sixty-five pound creature on the planet. And each day our appreciation for him and the amazing magic that he has brought to our lives continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

The phrase “forever home” is widely used by rescue leagues and animal shelters to describe their hope that the next family will be the right match and offer the stability and affection that a dog or cat so desperately longs for. And, just like Vincent and the millions of other turned in or abandoned animals in our midst, all most employees are really looking for is their “forever home.” Not in the sense that they intend to stay their forever, but in their hope that they will find a place where their strengths are appreciated, their defects are insignificant, and they can make the most meaningful contribution possible. That they will find a place, for as long as possible, where they will truly matter for who they are and what they can help us to become. A place that will take the time to bring out their own amazing magic.

Which shouldn’t be too much to ask. In fact, isn’t it in our best interest to make this happen?

Vincent Photo x

We win in business and in life when we find a place where we belong. A place that recognizes from our picture, or an ad, or a first encounter that, even with all of our flaws, we too, are “close to the perfect dog.”


The Importance of Experiments

Greetings. Most of us are familiar with the world of school science fairs. We participated in them as children, and look forward to attending them when our kids are old enough to test the laws or the boundaries of nature. At their best, and even their worse, science fairs provide the opportunity for inspired and curious young minds to put learning into action by following a logical process of discovery around a subject of interest. If this sounds like something that might make sense in your company or organization, don’t lose this thought because we will come back to it in just a moment.

Recently I had the great joy of attending the science fair at our son Noah’s middle school and spending an evening wandering through hallways and classrooms where the scientific method and America’s future seemed alive and well. Young people enthusiastically explaining their ideas, why they chose to work on them, the hypotheses they pursued, and the results of their well-planned or even last-minute investigations of biology, chemistry, physics, and a host of everyday challenges that might lend themselves to new and innovative perspectives. Noah, in keeping with his love of sports and animals, decided to test whether humans or dogs worked harder when they ran. To do this, he had five friends run a set of sprints and measured the change in their heart rates as a result of vigorous exercise. He then had our new dog Vincent and a friend’s dog run their own set of sprints, throwing a ball just the right distance to copy the humans and then measured the change in their heart rates. It helped that the dogs where inclined to retrieve. And he concluded that humans work harder than dogs when running the same distances.

One of my favorite projects was an awesome invention by a seventh grader named Gregory who decided to explore behavior modification in dogs. As many of you know I adore dogs, but I realize that they are not without flaws. One particular issue is the reality that their pee can destroy a lawn. And Gregory was seeking to solve this challenge with a creation he calls the “Furinal.” Quite simply, his invention is an elaborate garden urinal designed to get dogs to relieve themselves in a designated place by offering the inducement of a treat. When a dog goes to the bathroom in this device it sets off an electrical and mechanical chain of events that results in a treat or food being dropped into a small bowl for the obedient hound’s enjoyment. While the details might require a bit of tinkering, the invention was clever and practical…though I’m not sure if it will also require a dog psychologist at the outset.


All of which suggests the importance and power of experimentation tied to our innate ability to be experimenters. Yet how many companies and organizations consistently ask all of their people to experiment or test new ideas? And how many also create regular events to shine a spotlight on everyone’s ideas and everyone’s attempts to learn more and make a compelling difference?

Not many at all. Instead most of us believe that innovation is the domain of a limited number of people who, by virtue of their roles or their training, are best suited to creating breakthroughs. Rather than inspiring everyone to give it a go.

We win in business and in life when we create a culture of experimenting. And when we take the simple idea of a science fair out of the classroom and into the rest of our lives.


The Power of Getting Out of the Office

Greetings. Not long ago Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused a stir when she announced that starting in June the company’s employees would no longer be allowed to work from home. Her “decision” flew in the face of a growing corporate trend, especially among leading tech companies, toward telecommuting and the idea that giving people the freedom and flexibility to work from home, or from their local Starbuck’s, was not only good for morale but good for business.

Speaking at the “Great Place to Work” conference, Mayer acknowledged that “people are more productive when they’re alone,” but suggested that “they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” Adding that “some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.” In an importance sense, she is absolutely spot on. But she, and most leaders on both sides of this issue, are also way off the mark when it comes to understanding where innovation comes from. And here’s the data point that should matter most:


Ideas that are typically found somewhere beyond the confines of our workplaces or our dining room tables. Ideas that are typically discovered when we decided to explore the world around us rather than hang out in an office meeting or at our laptop or tablet on the kitchen counter. Ideas that beckon us, and our colleagues, to get out of our comfort zones in order to take a fresh look at the genius that is around us–in the work of another company, the galleries of a local museum, the bustle of a thriving city street, or the solitude of our favorite hiking trail. Ideas that challenge us to scratch beneath the surface of another industry, culture, walk of life, or corner of nature to discover new ideas, insights, and possibilities.

And then, after proper reflection, to come back together to collaborate, innovate, grow, and make a compelling difference.

Working from home might not be the best answer for a company like Yahoo!

But neither is working from the office…at a time when their real challenge and ours is to be way more open to new, different, and more remarkable ways of doing things.


We win in business and in life when we challenge all of our colleagues to get out of the office. And to return with new perspectives and even better opportunities to change our worlds.