Seven New Year’s Resolutions

Greetings. As I head back to the gym and grab a quick salad after a holiday season filled with lots of family, friends, food, and an occasional premium-quality malt beverage, I am keenly aware of my resolutions to exercise more, eat less, focus on the things that matter most, avoid taking on too many extra projects and volunteer assignments, live in the moment, and stress less about the things I can’t control. It must be a pretty good list, because it is almost identical to the list I made last year and at the start of every new year. And, with a bit of luck and a bit more effort I am guardedly optimistic about making real progress in the next twelve months.

The way I see it, resolutions are incredibly valuable…even when we can’t achieve them as completely as we would like to. Valuable in focusing our attention and best efforts on the important stuff. Valuable in giving us a better understanding of our real potential. And valuable in enabling us to better appreciate our own strengths and humanity as well as the strengths and humanity of others who are often very different than us.

Which suggests that making New Year’s resolutions might also be a good idea for leaders and organizations. Resolutions that focus our attention and best efforts on the most important stuff in our world. Resolutions that give us a better understanding of our full potential as enterprises. Resolutions that enable us to see the strengths, humanity, and value in all of our colleagues, associates, members, partners, and customers.

new-year-resolution-400x400

So here are my suggestions for seven important corporate resolutions that will, with the right attention and effort, drive greater innovation, collaboration, growth, and business success in the year ahead…

Resolve to:

1. Be more curious about the world around you.

2. Be more open to the ideas, insights, and perspectives of others, including strangers.

3. Imagine how your company or organization could become much more meaningful and valuable to your employees, customers, and anyone else you have the privilege to serve.

4. Take the time to know your colleagues better, discover their real talents, and find more opportunities to share knowledge and possibilities.

5. Take the time to understand your customers more deeply and find more opportunities to make them smarter and more successful even when they aren’t paying you to do it.

6. Communicate more effectively and more often with those around you.

7. Make an even greater commitment to the health and well-being of your community.

We win in business and in life when we resolve to be more thoughtful, innovative, caring, and remarkable in the year ahead.

Cheers!

The Power of Connection

Greetings. As you all now, I have a strong belief in the importance of strangers in our lives. I also believe that each day we pass by more than a hundred people who could change our lives, even if it was only for a moment. But in our haste to get to the next meeting, or run an errand, or simply get home from a long or short day at work we rarely take the time to connect. In fact, we rarely look up to catch their glance. So I was struck when I recently learned about the work of a New York City photographer named Richard Renaldi who also has a passion for connecting strangers and for unlocking the discomforts and possibilities that make us all human.

His work is fascinating. He identifies “random” people on the street and “asks them to pose in pictures together as if they were family members, friends or lovers.” And the results are quite surprising and inspiring. Results that were summed up quite simply and brilliantly by one of the women he photographed when she noted:

We are probably missing so much about the people all around us.”

Follow this link to learn more about his work and to see a short and thought-provoking video of the things that happen when total strangers come together. Then try to imagine how you and your colleagues might do a better job of connecting all of the strangers in your company or organization as the real key to greater collaboration, innovation, business success, and creating a more inspiring workplace. After all, you too are probably missing so much by failing to really connect with, learn from, and grow with the people around you.

richard renaldi

We win in business and in life when we take a chance and connect with strangers. And when we dare to believe in our own humanity and the humanity of others.

Cheers!

Stuff Happens, Eh?

Greetings. Some of you have been wondering why I haven’t posted in the last few weeks and I have to admit that it wasn’t by design. It was actually by accident.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of being a keynote speaker at the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) “Executive Leadership Forum” in Lake Louise, Alberta. It was a fantastic event in one of the most beautiful places on earth. It was also a great chance to share and exchange ideas on innovation, collaboration, and employee engagement with a thoughtful and energized group of association leaders representing a wide range of industry and professional organizations. As part of my presentation I asked the audience to be more open and curious about the world around them and all of the remarkable strangers in it. I suggested that we could all learn something important from anyone else on the planet and that the best way to spark new thinking and growth was to step out of the comfortable confines of our workplaces to explore and make new connections.

Lake Louise

Following this suggestion, I decided to spend a few days after the conference discovering more of this beautiful corner of the Canadian Rockies. A few days to explore breathtaking mountains and glacial lakes that were still covered with snow, climb under a waterfall, hike to a remarkable teahouse, come within a few feet of grizzly bears, black bears with their cubs, caribou, elk, and bighorn sheep, and visit a natural and slightly remote thermal springs by the side of an icy cold river. And in the process, to meet a lot of locals and more fully appreciate the importance of strangers.

And that’s where the “accident” part comes in, because on the last day while climbing over some rocks on the way out of the thermal springs I took a bit of a fall. And while it didn’t seem like much of a tumble, I ended up dislocating and breaking my ankle and breaking my leg. Not the ideal way to end a trip more than 2,000 miles from home. But during the next few hours I could not have imagined a more helpful, supportive, and encouraging group of strangers. Strangers who were also at the thermal springs and who instantly rallied around my disfigured leg with a mix of concern, calmness, humor, and a keen resolve to get me from this remote place safely to the nearest hospital. Strangers who quickly came together to elevate my leg and my spirits, build a perfect splint, locate the nearest emergency transportation, and then help the EMTs to carry me up from the bottom of the canyon. Strangers who distracted me with their questions, stories, jokes, and optimism during the two and a half hours before the ambulance could get near us. And through it all, strangers whose kindness and passion for the word “eh” was a great source of comfort…even at the moment when one of them turned to me an said: “Dude, do you mind if we cover your leg up? It looks kind of disgusting, eh!”

We never know what we’ll find when we set out to explore the world around us.

Sometimes it is an idea that inspires new possibilities.

Other times it is a group of strangers who inspire us to see the upside of an accident and the real genius and compassion of others.

And always it is a chance to see ourselves in a different light.

Flying Home

We win in business and in life when we never stop exploring the world around. And when we use a bit more caution when climbing on rocks.

Cheers and thanks to new friends I hope to see again some day soon!

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!

Google vs. Humans

Greetings. There are many days when I worry that Google has become the “de facto” source of all knowledge. Students, including our own children, use it as the most essential “go to” place in doing homework assignments. They also use it as an easy first stop for answering most of the essential questions that arise in the rest of their lives including finding out about the best new artists, the latest movies, and things to do. Adults use it as a quick reference for insight on products and services, and to get referrals for the best neighborhoods to live in, the best schools to send their kids to, the best vacations to take, the best places to dine, and the best doctors to use. And companies of all shapes and sizes turn to it as the quickest and best way to research customers, competitors, and even prospective employees. Not that all the world’s information is owned by Google, but for most of us it has become the principal gateway for finding out about stuff that matters.

At the expense of humans.

Now I’m sure that there are humans at Google…very smart humans…but I’ve rarely had the pleasure to talk with them.

Remember the “epic” battle in 2011 between IBM’s Watson supercomputer and Ken Jennings, the exceedingly smart (or should we say “trivial” in a good sense) Jeopardy champion who had won on this gameshow an amazing 74 straight times? It was a battle to see if a computer was smarter at trivia than a well-versed human. Well Google has taken it a step further. Rendering all of us humans as somewhat deficient providers of knowledge.

And that has interesting implications for all of us.

Not that I find Google to be unhelpful. And, truth be told, I use it a lot of the time. But I’d like to think that I use it most often to find remarkable people and ideas to connect with and that it is simply the start of a process of being curious, learning new things, and then making new connections so I can start meaningful conversations with actual humans that increase my understanding, stretch my thinking, and enable inspiring collaborations.

Because in an era when all of us tend to rely on the internet and Google for more and more guidance, I still believe that real sparks and breakthroughs happen best when we challenge ourselves to engage new people…especially people with ideas, perspectives, training, and life experiences that are very different than our own.

google-search

We win in business and in life when we get beyond the world that sits conveniently at our fingertips and connect with others in new and compelling ways.

Cheers!