The Gift of Pete Seeger

Greetings. Pete Seeger was an American original. Truly American and truly original. A man whose music and life struck at the heart of what has made our country remarkable and struck at the gaps that keep us from reaching our full potential. His passing leaves a void, not just in the world of folk music in which he was one of its most popular and hopeful voices, but in a society striving to be as caring and hopeful as possible. Many of you will remember some of the songs he wrote including “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” which have found their way across the world.

Pete Seeger believed in the power of music to bridge divides between people and places. He also believed in the dignity of every person, the importance of protecting the environment, and the necessity of conscience in standing up for the things that matter. I’d like to think that whatever our politics are, we all see these as essential (American) beliefs in our civic, social, and business lives.

In fact, I would guess that all of our companies and organizations would be much better off if more of us viewed life and the world with the gift of Pete Seeger. More people who believed in:

The value of every employee.

The need to appreciate and protect all of the resources we use.

The importance of standing up for what is right and holding ourselves to a high standard.

The necessity of finding the right song to bring people together in order to make a difference.

pete090504_250

And I would also guess that all of our companies and organizations would be much better off if they had more people who brought new ideas and perspectives to the work we do and the challenges and opportunities we face. Ideas and perspectives that would cause us to cast a wider and much more inclusive net, stretch our thinking, and imagine more powerful and more collaborative possibilities.

We win in business and in life when we dare to sing together. And when our very nature is to stand up for the things we believe even when it isn’t always in our own best interest.

Cheers!

To a New Year Filled With Possibilities

A few years ago as I was wandering through the “Self-Help” section of a well-known local bookstore I noticed a young woman who seemed more than a bit perplexed. Catching my glance, she smiled and said: “I know that one of these books could change my life. I just don’t know which one it is.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. So I smiled back, buying a bit of time to think through her predicament. And then I said, with the half-baked logic of an amateur sage: “You know, we’re all in that situation. Only you’re smart enough to realize it.” A response that was more thoughtful in retrospect than it seemed at the time.  “Thanks,” she replied, “I don’t feel quite so foolish now.”

I haven’t seen her again and can only hope that she found what she was searching for. Maybe it was a book on one of those shelves. Or an idea, or another person to connect with, or a story, or a quote, or a lesson from another culture, or a spark of inspiration from an unknown source that gave her the right direction to follow. Or maybe she ended up discovering it somewhere other than the bookstore. On a journey halfway around the world or on a walk through a familiar park. During an episode of a popular TV show or a day spent at an art museum. In the words of a favorite song or the experience of a concert held in a grand orchestra hall. In a lecture on a subject she knew very little about, or a familiar sign posted along a busy neighborhood street. In the mysterious ritual of someone else’s religion, the best practice of a renowned corporation, or the daily life of a creature from another species.

The fact that she was looking curiously to fill a gap in what she knew—to find her own missing piece—was the essential first step. It’s a step that too few of us ever take as individuals, companies, and organizations, or even as communities and nations. But a step that reminded me of just how close we all are to unlocking our real potential. If only we dared to be curious and open to the world around us and all of the strangers in it—in order to find something that could make the essential difference.

Woman reading in books in a bookshop

Each day we pass by literally hundreds of people, places, and things that could change our lives, but we never take the time to notice them.  In our rush to get from Point A to Point B, we walk past strangers who know things we’ve yet to discover. We walk past stores, offices, galleries, libraries, and even billboards with powerful insight to share. We observe or ignore holidays and events filled with meaning. We stroll through new or familiar places failing to look below the surface to figure out what makes them remarkable. We watch movies, listen to the radio, read a newspaper or a blog, or search the web without seeing the real brilliance in an idea that could matter to our life or the success of our workplace or the place we call home. All because we have forgotten how to be curious and open and, lacking confidence in this innate human talent, we are unable to believe that important ideas abound and that we can be more remarkable simply by connecting with them, understanding them, and combining them with what we already know so well. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

January is a perfect time, despite the unseasonably cold weather, to make a fresh start. Our chance to reengage with the world around us in a brand new way. Our chance to understand not only the necessity of strangers but the power in all of us to do work and live lives that are filled with even greater meaning—and to become more remarkable at the things that matter most.

As humans we have the amazing abilities to be more open and to dream, imagine, learn, share, collaborate, innovate, and grow. And together we can reinvent our companies, organizations, markets, communities, relationships, and ourselves. Simply by finding our missing pieces.

So commit to making 2014 a year when you and your colleagues get out there and find the idea or the stranger that could change your lives.

I’m certain that you can.

Cheers!

This post was adapted from The Necessity of Strangers.

The Power of Resolutions

Greetings. It’s the end of a very interesting year and time once again to make a bunch of resolutions that I’m not likely to keep. Resolutions that I know are really good for me but are likely to fall by the wayside in the press of a world filled with day-to-day responsibilities, pressing concerns, and new opportunities to learn, grow, and get over-extended. But at least I’ll begin the new year with a relatively clean slate and a renewed determination to eat less, go to the gym more often, get more rest, avoid unnecessary stress, spend less time in front of a computer screen, send fewer emails and have more real conversations, put my iPhone away when other people are around, be as nice as I can be 99.5% of the time, attend more social events, get involved in more causes I believe in, and make a conscious effort to connect with more strangers. I’m probably missing a bunch of things, but we’ll start with these.

I’m guessing that most of you are also likely to make your own resolutions. And I wish you good fortune as you work on the ones that really matter. And while I won’t ask what’s on your list, I’m hoping it includes a real commitment to connect with, learn from, and understand, people who are very different than you as a key to your business, civic, and personal success. After all, it’s the best way to stretch our own thinking and reach our full potential.

And if you’d like a bit more guidance on how to make this happen in the year ahead, I’d be honored if you found the time to read “The Necessity of Strangers.” I’d also be honored if you were willing to read it in an area of high visibility…where the likelihood of meeting an inspiring stranger is increased.

But most importantly, realize that there is real power in the act of making resolutions and beginning each year with a renewed commitment to do better, work smarter, care more deeply, and be more curious and open to the world around us.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

The Gift of Laughter

Greetings. The Navajo have a remarkable way of welcoming a new child into life. By holding a “First Laugh Ceremony.” According to Navajo tradition, a baby is considered to be part of two worlds…the world of the holy people and the world of the earth people. From the moment of its birth family and friends watch over the child waiting eagerly to hear its first laugh which is viewed as a sign that the baby wants to join his or her earth family and the broader community. It is also believed that the baby will take on the qualities of the person (or persons) who witnessed its first laugh. A first laugh that also gives the witness the honor of preparing a ceremony to welcome the child into the community.

At the “First Laugh Ceremony” guests bring plates of warm food to pass in front of the baby and the baby, with help, sprinkles salt on the food as a first sign of the start of a life of generosity and sharing. And many people believe that the salt is also intended to nurture the goodness in everyone who receives it.

It is a simple and powerful ritual that got me thinking about how we welcome new employees to our companies and organizations, new and prospective customers to our businesses, new students to our schools, new neighbors to our communities, and even new immigrants to our shores. Typically with a bit of hope and even more suspicion. And rarely with a laugh that quickly tells them that we regard them as a vital member of our collective enterprise.

And why not? Why wouldn’t we want to cut beneath all of the seriousness of life to incite and then share the gift of laughter? Why wouldn’t we want to get at the heart of one of the most powerful and positive human emotions to more quickly reach a deeper level of appreciation, acceptance, and connection with the strangers among us? And why wouldn’t we want to invite the person (or persons) who saw or sparked the first laugh to have the privilege of more fully engaging each new employee, colleague, classmate, or neighborhood into the life of our “community?”

The power of a laugh might be our greatest tool in efforts to build greater engagement, collaboration, and meaning in work and the rest of our lives.

Navajo First_Laugh

All of us, and all of our companies, organizations, communities, and nations need a steady influx of new people, ideas, energy, and possibilities. It’s the way we learn, grow, and reach our full potential. But we need a way to break down the barriers that divide us right from the start in order to begin long and meaningful relationships.

A nation of native people in the American southwest with a wonderful lesson to share. No doubt one of many insights in their rich past and present that we could all learn from if we were open to the possibility.

We win in business and in life when we are open to learning from strangers who are different than us. And when we never forget the simple power of laughter and the best of what it means to be human.

Cheers!

Nelson Mandela

Greetings.  There are so many reasons to think about and remember the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, but three things in particular strike me as I imagine what is possible in our work, personal, and civic lives. First was his remarkable resilience in the face of unthinkable adversity. Second was his firm conviction to the need for, and necessity of, reconciliation as a foundation for building a new South Africa. And, third was his unwavering belief in the value of everyone.

Few of us will ever confront the challenges Nelson Mandela battled, yet all of us will at some time confront adversity in business and in life. Will we have the courage and clarity to stay focused on what truly matters and move forward with strength?

Few of us will ever be called upon to reconcile with a government that imprisoned us and limited the rights and dignity of our people, yet all of us will at some time have the opportunity to repair business and personal relationships that went astray. Will we have the strength and willingness to forgive and make a fresh start?

Few of us will ever be called upon to empower an entire nation, yet all of us, and all of our organizations and communities, can only reach our full potential by appreciating and nurturing the talents and promise of everyone around us. Will we be a force for valuing and developing those in our midst?

Nelson Mandela

One of the most remarkable people on earth has passed on. And while he was a stranger to most of us, other than from what we learned by reading about him or hearing his words on TV, radio, in movies, or the web, he is part of our lives if we choose to do more than simply pause for a moment of silence on his behalf. In leaving a legacy of wisdom, courage, compassion, and action, Nelson Mandela’s life should inspire all of us to commit to being better colleagues, leaders, citizens, and strangers.

With gratitude.