The Magic of Connecting With Strangers

Greetings. I spend most of my time helping companies and organizations to think and act in new ways in order to deliver more compelling value to the customers, members, and citizens they have the privilege to serve. And a big part of my work involves teaching leaders and employees at all levels to step out of their comfort zones in order to connect with strangers, from around the corner and around the world, as a wonderful way to stretch their thinking and possibilities. Strangers who might know something we don’t know or might be the missing piece to our most important puzzle.

As it turns out, connecting with strangers is also a great way to learn and grow as human beings, beyond the confines of our workplaces. And we can all do this simply by making a new connection with someone else based on a sense of curiosity and openness and a belief that we can be enriched, and even build a powerful bond, with practically anyone else on the planet.

So I was touched by the following video of a project that connects seniors in a Chicago retirement community with Brazilian students eager to learn English. A simple initiative that ends up creating even more important and magical outcomes. And while it has powerful implications for our social, civic, and work lives, I’ll simply suggest that it is a great way to start the week and leave you to find your own meaning in this three-minute story…

Just click the picture…

brazilian students

We win in business and in life when we discover the magic of connecting with strangers, and when we allow ourselves to make an unexpected difference in someone else’s life.


Doing the Opposite

Greetings.  On a recent drive, our daughter Carly and I were amused by a radio commercial for what sounded like the worst new TV show ever.  "How do they come up with these ideas?" I asked her, sensing that a media savvy 13-year-old was way more likely to have insight about today's popular culture than a father born in a time and galaxy far away.  "Oh, it's simple," she said quite matter-of-factly…

"They just take the idea from a really good show and do the opposite."

Now that's a cool idea I thought.  Not for creating bad ideas, but for creating good ones.  Why not take a really bad idea and do the opposite of it? 

Let's face it.  Some things in business don't work out as we planned.  In fact, some things turn out poorly.  A product or service that misses the mark.  A proposal that confuses the prospect.  A customer service improvement that makes the customer's life more difficult.  A software update that is decidedly unfriendly to users.  A new program or "benefit" that de-motivates people.  But instead of trying desperately to remove these bad experiences from our collective memory, why not embrace them as teachable moments and use them as the starting point for new and innovative thinking about how to be remarkable in meeting the needs of those we serve?

To get you and the geniuses you work with in the right mood, you might enjoy this brief clip from Seinfeld.  And you might also enjoy the chapter in Surrounded by Geniuses that's all about what companies and organizations can learn from watching reruns of this award-winning TV show. 


We win in business and in life when we learn from our mistakes, and when we dare ourselves to do the opposite of what we imagined in the first place.  It might be one more way to unlock more compelling value.


Politics as Unusual

Greetings.  It's mid-term election day in the U.S. and a chance for citizens to give their feedback to elected leaders.  It's kind of like getting a performance appraisal every two years for a host of things that are and aren't totally within your control. This includes a wide range of seemingly intractable challenges that require real leadership, innovation, collaboration, curiosity, open-mindedness, and even a bit of genius to resolve.  Skills that are in less than abundant supply judging by the behavior of most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.  But, then again, nobody's forced to be a politician.  Though the picture below did give me reason to pause and question the central premise supporting this blog and all of my work to help companies and organizations to unlock the brilliance in all of their people.

If you're a regular reader of the Surrounded by Geniuses blog you know that I believe everyone has the potential to be a genius.  But our current state of political discourse makes me wonder if this notion needs to be amended.  

In a very basic sense, politics should be all about customer service and delivering compelling value in meeting the vital needs of constituents, the nation as a whole, and the world we must figure out how to share. And, it should be about acting responsibly in using limited resources to address these needs in new and better ways.  Because politics as usual isn't helping us at all.  And the folks who sign up for the job–and the egos and special interests that drive them–rarely have this purpose in mind.  In a place that should be all about servant leadership, it's striking that we find so few thoughtful leaders.

Politicians are geniuses
We win in business and sometimes in politics when we focus on doing the right things with a spark of genius.  And when we never forget what really matters to those we have the privilege to serve.

Cheers and please make sure to vote!

Books Worth Reading: “Different”

Greetings.  If you read this blog regularly or even occasionally you know that I spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of providing unique and compelling value to customers, employees, and partners.  Now a new book titled Different, by Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon, offers some fresh thinking on part of this important topic.  Sharing her perspective and insight on well-known companies including Google, JetBlue, Swatch, and IKEA, she suggests three characteristics of brands that are truly different:

  1. They "offer something that is hard to come by."
  2. They "reflect a commitment to a big idea" and to being "different in a big way."
  3. They are "intensely human" and are "acutely sensitive to the complexities of the human spirit."

It's a thoughtful and enjoyable read that should spark your genius as you think about new ways to set your company or organization apart.

Different Book

We win in business by standing out from the crowd in ways that make a real difference.

Cheers and happy reading!

Real Time Weather Reporting

Greetings.  Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area my favorite radio station had an unusual and amazingly "accurate" approach to the weather.  At the same time every hour a roving reporter would stop someone on the street and ask them to tell listeners what the weather was like.  "Hi, I'm here in the middle of Union Square with Susan," the reporter would say.  "Can you tell us what the weather is like?"  "Sure," Susan would reply.  "It's a bit overcast and you'll probably need a sweater or a light jacket."  Making the weather both real and timely for anyone listening.

There was no sophisticated equipment.  Or detailed computer models.  No long-term projections based on a careful analysis of the complicated weather patterns forming continents away.  Just a regular person expressing their honest opinion about the weather based on first-hand knowledge of their immediate situation. Sure the weather could change in an hour or two because a storm was forming out in the Pacific Ocean.  But for now it was simply "a little bit overcast" or "cloudy and breezy" or "a perfect day to sit out in the sun" or "about to rain really hard" or "pleasant but not quite as warm as I expected it to be."  Real time weather provided by real people living in the moment.

It turns out that we need both approaches when trying to guide our companies and organizations.  We need the insight that comes from using the latest technology, looking at patterns, and plotting the data.  But we also need the feet on the street or, more precisely, eyes on the sky.  Folks who are paying close attention to what our customers and the marketplace are saying right now faced with today's challenges and opportunities.  We need a sense of the big picture as we frame our approach to innovation, creating operational efficiencies, and creating the most compelling customer experiences.  But we also need to have our hands and hearts on the pulse of those we choose to serve.  Always knowing that colleagues, customers, partners, and other shareholders are real people who plan for the future while they live and act in the present.


We win in business and in life when we think about the world in real time as we imagine a future filled with remarkable possibilities.  And that means never losing track of what really matters here and now.

Cheers and have a sunny and comfortable week ahead filled great success and a gentle breeze!