Creating a Meaningful Impression

Greetings.  Shortly after arriving in Sweden we attended a fantastic concert in a beautiful old church in the city of Lysekil.  The performance brought together two very talented singers and songwriters for an evening of traditional Swedish music, jazz and even a few popular American songs (depending on your age).  The artists were Lisa Lovbrand and Goran Fristorp and in an era of iTunes and YouTube you can check them out with a click of your mouse or a touch of your smartphone.  

And while the music and the evening were delightful, one other thing struck me about the performance.  A very large heart that hung in the church.  A simple but powerful symbol of the essence of spiritual life for many people.  And something I kept thinking about throughout the evening.  As well as a perfect compliment to the skill and passion of these two artists for their craft. 

All to often I find myself walking into the generic offices of companies of all sizes and getting only the sense that they have interesting taste in furniture.  Stylish and well-lit reception areas that provide no real clue about what the organization does and what it stands for.  No compelling notion of the thing or things it believes in and the things that matter most.  No way to quickly gauge its passion–if there is any–for its customers, or its people, or the problems it tries to solve or the power of innovation and collaboration in making a real difference.  Just the latest and most trendy colors, the hippest new chairs, an attention grabbing reception desk made from the finest woods or the shiniest metals, and a big question about what they believe in.

When all it would take is a simple heart hanging from the ceiling.  Or a picture of someone whose life was changed for the better by their offerings.  Or a photo of a team of employees proudly demonstrating the value of their latest technological breakthrough or community initiative.

Assuming, of course, that they really believe in something other than selling stuff and making as much money as possible.

Concert

We win in business and in life when we make very clear the things that matter most.  And when we bring heart to the people we work with and the people we serve.

Cheers!

Clearing the Air

Greetings.  We've just arrived in Sweden for our annual pilgrimage to the land of Vikings, Nobel Prizes, marinated fish, universal healthcare and blond people.  On the way here we changed planes in Frankfurt–a large and busy airport connecting flights and people from around the globe.  And it was interesting to see how many of these people either enjoy or are addicted to smoking.  So many, in fact, that the airport authority, in collaboration with the very wonderful people at Camel, have created an amazing number of "smoking zones"–clearly an attempt to allow this group of customers to smoke while maintaining a somewhat "smoke-free" environment for the remaining customers.  And it was even more amazing to see that these zones included a lovely sign that says "inspiring creativity since 1913."  

How's that for trying to rebrand a company and product that might not be major contributors to improving life on the planet.

Not being a smoker I can only imagine how delightful it must be to light one up in one of these "creativity" chambers, surrounded by so many strangers with whom have at least one thing in common.  And I can also only imagine the number of remarkable ideas that have been generated by people stretching their minds in such a concentrated and smoke-filled environment.

But as I looked at these smoke-filled rooms I couldn't help wondering about all of our companies and organizations and how often we not only allow, but condone, bad habits.  Habits that hamper innovation and collaboration, and work to suck the air out of the room whenever an employee or team of employees suggests some very new or different way of doing the things that matter most.  And how often corporate cultures conspire to resist new people and new ideas by putting up smoke that drives us to continuing the same behaviors and ways of thinking we've always had in the name of conformity parading as progress.  Or how we put up smokescreens in the hope of avoiding difficult issues and difficult questions.  

Because it's better to get another fix than to rethink the way we do things. 

Camel Station

We win in business and in life when we take the time to clear the air in our companies and organizations.  And when we give everyone the real opportunity to have a fresh start in bringing new ideas forward.

Cheers! 

Getting Beyond Stereotypes

Greetings.  Let me start this post with the following joke:

What did the Black guy, the Latino guy and the Asian guy all have in common? 

Believe it or not, they all liked cantaloupe.

Probably not what you expected.  Because all of us have been conditioned to think about people in terms of the stereotypes–both good and bad–that we hold.  And these stereotypes tend to come out at parties, picnics, bars, other social events and even at the office when we think it's okay to be funny at someone else's expense.    

Which is probably why I find this joke, or anti-joke, and others like it to be so very helpful in thinking about people, innovation, collaboration, leadership, learning, the customer experience and the real keys to business and personal success.  And I also find it to be more than slightly funny.

Too often we are quick to pass judgment about other people based on their cultural backgrounds, personality types, jobs or roles, training, politics and a host of other things that make them "different" from us and unlikely to be the perfect colleagues, collaborators, bosses, business partners and potential customers we hope for. And if they happen to be strangers we are likely to place even greater emphasis on these stereotypes as instant deal-breakers that keep us from engaging them and gaining their perspectives and insights.

Even though we are all very similar.  Similar enough to connect as humans if given the chance.  And different enough, if also given the chance, to add real value in stretching our thinking about the best ways to solve pressing problems or create new opportunities.  But not different because of our stereotypes.  Different because of the unique richness of who we are and how and what we think.

So just as we should cast a wider net in our search for ideas, we should also cast a wider net in our openness to connecting in meaningful ways with a broader circle of people–in our own workplaces and beyond.

Cantaloupe-vitamin-c-lg 

We win in business and in life when we get beyond stereotypes.  And when we allow our unremarkable similarities to open the door to our remarkable differences.

Cheers!  And if you'll excuse me, I think I'll have a slice of cantaloupe.

The Power of the Unexpected

Greetings.  Our middle daughter Carly, who is currently in the ninth grade, has a new favorite joke that she loves to tell to family and friends.  It goes like this:

There were two muffins in the oven.  The first one turns to the other and says "It sure is getting hot in here."  To which the second responds (with a sense of astonishment) "Look, it's a talking muffin!"

Now I know it's not the deepest or most sophisticated joke you've ever heard.  But it is a joke you can tell to anyone…unless they have a clear aversion to muffins or to talking muffins in particular.  More importantly, it becomes even funnier as Carly tells it, because this simple joke causes her to crack up with each new telling.

Which causes me to think about this joke in a whole new light…or maybe a couple of new lights.  First, there's something wonderfully contagious about laughter and we probably don't have enough of it in our companies and organizations.  

Laughter that breaks the ice in challenging situations.  

Laughter that connects people and helps to build teamwork and collaboration.  

Laughter that energizes us to stretch and think in new and more compelling ways.

Laughter that demonstrates our shared humanity in good and difficult times.  

Laughter that is simple, honest, positive, a bit goofy and only offends the relatives of talking muffins.

Second, we need to continually surround ourselves with people who are quick to spot the "obvious" that most of us fail to notice.  People who are less concerned with the essential challenges we face and way more focused on the unique talents we might have for solving them.  People who can readily recognize and encourage the remarkable abilities or their co-workers and our organization. People who, by their nature, can quickly spot something different and unexpected that also happens to be meaningful.

Muffins

We win in business and in life when we take a totally different look at something that seems obvious.  And when we use that unique vantage point to create a world of new possibilities.

Cheers!

Leaping Ahead

Greetings and Happy Birthday to everyone born on February 29th.  You've waited a long time to celebrate so make sure to have the best day possible.  After all, your next real birthday won't come for another four years.  Yes, it's another "Leap Year" and a time for the rest of us to set the calendar straight by adjusting for the odd fact that our days are only 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds long.  It's the amount of time that it takes our favorite little planet–known affectionately as the "Earth"–to rotate on its axis.  And a year, in case you're wondering, is actually 365.2425 days long–or 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds.  But who's counting, other than the Gregorians?

Though we should be counting for another important reason.  Because it turns out that the idea of "Leap Year," and having an extra day, is a great way to think about achieving greater business success.  And a great way to challenge us to view time as a gift.  Especially when it always seems to be in such short supply, and when we struggle to "find the time" to focus on the things that matter most.  What if we could commit to giving ourselves and the geniuses we work with an extra day to pursue ideas and projects that have great potential but are too often confined to the back burner?  What if we could give ourselves an extra day to question the way we do things in order to make them better?  To pause in the midst of business as usual to take a fresh look at our products, services and solutions to make sure they deliver the greatest value.  Or a fresh look at the customer experiences we provide to make sure we truly engage, inform and empower those we have the privilege to serve.  Or to take a fresh look at our organization's culture and the results of our attempts to enhance innovation, collaboration and learning.

Simply by giving ourselves, more often than once every four years, the gift of a day well-earned by a business working overtime to compete on a spinning planet filled with challenges and opportunities.

Leap-year

We win in business and in life whenever we take the time to be more remarkable.  In fact, it should be a cause for celebration!

Cheers!