Noah-isms: “Just Relax”

Greetings.  If you've read Surrounded by Geniuses or ever attended one of my speeches or seminars, you know that I have a keen interest in swimming and the evolution and innovation of swimming techniques.  It's a topic that strikes at the heart of what it takes to be curious and open to change.  And here's a link to a previous blog post that will give you a quick idea of why it's so remarkable.

Which makes me a bit sad when summer, and the summer swim season, draws to a close.  If you or your children have ever been part of this annual ritual, you know that it's a wonderful seven weeks of exercise, teamwork, practice, meets, slightly unhealthy food of the carbohydrate variety, amusing cheers, goal setting, and fun. And some years, there's even a chance to push oneself to achieve a very special and somewhat illusive personal goal.  So it was this year for our son Noah as he set out to break a 28-year-old team record in the 50-meter freestyle.  A record that once seemed beyond his reach but, after a winter of practice and the good fortune of growing three inches since last summer, now seemed almost possible.  And when he came within 0.25 seconds of breaking it during the second meet of the season his confidence and preoccupation with the record grew.  Adding to his sense of optimism was the almost constant encouragement of his coaches and teammates, and the periodic kidding of his parents.

But it didn't happen.  For the following four weeks–filled with slow pools, driving rainstorms, and an ear infection–he just kept missing the record by the slimmest of margins.  And each week he would overcome his frustration by committing to "work harder at practice" and "swim harder during the meets."  Surely that would be a formula for success. But it wasn't.  So Noah decided that he needed to come up with a different approach for the divisional championships–the final meet of the season and his last chance to break the record.  "There's just too much pressure," he told me one day while driving home from practice.  "Swimming should be fun.  All I really need to do is relax.  Just relax.  Then I'll be able to swim my best."  And so he did, changing his pre-race routine to include a big smile and a bigger sigh of relief.  Then diving into the pool at the appointed moment with a greater sense of comfort and positive energy.  Comfort and energy that would take him to the finish 0.70 seconds faster than the previous record.

And I started thinking about the importance of relaxing when our most important work needs to be done.  That maybe amid the need to have a sense of urgency and the need to work hard to prepare to be brilliant at the things that matter most, we also have a compelling need to get comfortable in order to hit our stride.  To relax, find our groove, and be at one with the challenge.  Sound advice for ten-year-old swimmers and industry-leading champions.  

We win in business and in life when we figure out how to relax in order to be at our best.  Now, as in the past, records are broken when we work hard, smile harder, take a deep breath, and dare to get wet.


Noah-isms: “Every Cloud is a Picture”

Greetings.  On a recent walk through our favorite park, Noah and I took a break to admire the clouds.  It was a chilly day but the beautiful mix of a bright blue sky and dramatic stratus (a.k.a., low clouds) made it a real joy to be outside.  And as we watched the clouds move by, Noah remarked in his curious way that:

"Every cloud is a picture."  

"I'd have to agree," I replied, quickly trying to figure out all the pictures that could be seen overhead.  "They can be just about anything," Noah continued, "but you have to use your imagination!"  And for the next few minutes both of us used our imaginations to survey a sky filled with possibilities: 

  • "An owl."
  • "A cheetah."
  • "A lady drinking tea."
  • "A map of Australia, and one of Madagascar."
  • "A smiling swordfish."
  • "A dog eating frozen yogurt."
  • "A Lamborghini."

And a lot of other things that appeared with the slightest change in the wind.  The Lamborghini was, no doubt, the most incredible.  But it was definitely there.  And all it required was a bit of imagination and a ten-year-old's great fascination with this amazing Italian sportscar.  

And then it dawned on me that if the sky was a canvas for our imaginations, why couldn't we create a similar canvas for our companies and organizations?  Why couldn't we begin each year with a bright blue backdrop filled with clouds, and continue by adjusting our eyes just enough to begin transforming our view.  A view that was only limited by our commitment to provide the most compelling value.  Or maybe we could start by taking a walk on a cloudy day and making a list of all the amazing pictures we discovered.  Then take that list and use it as a starting point for re-imagining the products, services, and solutions that would really matter to the customers we choose to serve.

A quiet walk, a sky filled with clouds, and a new call to unlock our genius.

Noah Cloud 2
We reach our full potential in life and business when we take the time to notice everything around us, and in doing so to let our imaginations take hold.  Maybe it's time for you to rediscover your genius by finding pictures in the clouds and possibilities in your everyday world.


Noah-isms: “Be Thankful for Grandpa”

Greetings.  The weeks before Thanksgiving are a great time to pause and think about all we have to be thankful for.  And even in today's challenging economic environment, this simple "exercise" seems to put most things in perspective.  So when the topic came up on this morning's drive to school, our ten year-old son Noah was quick to point out that he was thankful for his family "because family is the most important thing."  And he added that on Veteran's Day, he was "really thankful for Grandpa" who at the young age of 85 is a very important part of our lives.  He then recalled a story that is part of our family's history and our collective good fortune, because none of us would be here today if Grandpa had not made it through World War II alive.  

Grandpa, a.k.a. "Fast Eddie," or now he prefers "Not So Fast Eddie", enlisted in the Air Force to fight in World War II at the age of 17.  He would become a Tech Sergeant and radio operator on a B-24 stationed in southern Italy.  From there, he and his crew would fly and survive 47 bombing missions over Germany, Austria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.  I mention "survive" because this was an assignment fraught with danger.  After slightly more than a month of flying, his plane–the "Forever Amber"–would become the lead plane in their ten plane squadron.  A distinction earned when the other nine planes were shot down.  But the flight of greatest interest to Noah has always been the one in which Grandpa made the wise decision to go to the bathroom.  To do this, he would have to leave his seat right behind the cockpit and head back to the catwalk of the plane's bomb bay.  Moments later he would return to his position only to find that his seat had been blown away by enemy fire.  Needless to say, Grandpa was very relieved that he had relieved himself.

"I'm very thankful that Grandpa had to go to the bathroom," Noah would conclude at the end of the latest telling of the story.  "That was genius!"

"I'd have to agree," I replied.

"Because if Grandpa hadn't peed he would have died.  Isn't that right?" he continued.  

"I'd have to agree again," I responded with real gratitude.

"And you wouldn't be here, would you Papa?  And I definitely wouldn't be here!  And that makes me always thankful for Grandpa."

That, and the fact that he's a wonderful grandfather.

Grandpa Photo

On this Veteran's Day here in the U.S., and on similar days in whatever country you live in, please take the time to show your respect to those men and women in uniform who sacrifice so much to protect us and defend the freedom we hold dear. And even if you don't always agree with the conflicts they fight in, always let them know that you honor their service above self.

We succeed in business and in life by being willing to do whatever it takes to protect those we choose to serve.  Maybe we can learn more than we ever imagined from those who are willing to put their lives on the line–knowing how fine the line is between life and death.

And heartfelt thanks to my Dad, the call of nature, and all of the veterans and active duty military personnel around the world who serve us.  May the year ahead bring you closer to peace.


Noah-isms: “Nothing’s Perfect”

Greetings.  Drives to Saturday morning soccer games are often a source of great inspiration.  Powered by a keen sense of wonder and possibilities, not to mention a chocolate-glazed donut overwhelmed by sprinkles, there is no limit to the insight that a nine-year-old can provide.  And so it was last weekend when, during a brief pause from inhaling his high carb breakfast, our son Noah said quite confidently: 

"You know Papa, nothing's perfect."
"Really?  You believe that?"  I replied.
"Not even your dog Ella?"  I asked.
"Or an amazing goal to win a soccer match!"  I continued.
"Definitely not!"
"Or a day without school?"
"Not even that."  
Though I can only assume that I was getting pretty darn close.
"Everything has something about it that's not perfect," he added.  "It's just not possible to be perfect.  Not even the sun or the moon or even a dog is perfect."
"Doesn't that make you sad?"  I wondered.
"Nope.  It's okay with me."

And then I started thinking about all the times as adults that we try to be "perfect." Unwilling to offer an idea or to sing a song in public unless we get it exactly right. Unwilling to take a risk or to offer a helping hand out of fear that we might mess up.  Unwilling to launch a new product, service or solution because its still a work in progress.  Unwilling to make needed changes in our company or organization because we haven't figured out the perfect way to do things.  


Maybe nothing is perfect.  And maybe that's the real magic of anything worth doing.  When we unlock ourselves from the burden of having to make things perfect, we rediscover our innate ability to ask important questions, try new things and imagine new possibilities.

Cheers and have an enjoyable and imperfect weekend!