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!

Connecting With Strangers

Greetings. Many of you have asked if you can listen to some of the ideas in “The Necessity of Strangers” and I’m glad to share this brand new and downloadable podcast from Vistage, one of the world’s leading organizations of CEOs and business owners. The podcast explores the importance of strangers in business success and suggests some fun, easy, and practical ways to connect with, and learn from, people (and organizations) that are different from us as a key to greater innovation, collaboration, employee engagement, and creativity.

Let me know what you think and, if you find the conversation valuable, please don’t hesitate to share it with all of your friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbors, customers, professionals you do business with, clergy, college roommates, yoga instructors, personal trainers, other parents on your child’s soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, or swim teams, and even total strangers.

Vistage Podcast – The Necessity of Strangers

And here’s a smiling picture of me to look at while you listen…

ASG New Photo 2013

And many thanks to Vistage and to Srinivas Rao, thoughtful host of the Vistage podcasts, for giving me the opportunity to be part of this great series.


How Boring is Your Job?

Greetings.  On a recent bike ride in Carroll County, Maryland, we came upon an interesting sign.  It's not exactly as it seems at first glance, but the sign did get me thinking about the importance of being engaged and doing work that is somewhat stimulating.  The sign reads "Boring Volunteer Fire Co." and it runs counter to my notion that firefighting is a dangerous but interesting (and important) job.  And it turns out that this 100% volunteer fire company has been serving the community of "Boring, Maryland" for over 100 years.

But let's stick with my first glance…

There are a lot of jobs that actually are "boring," unless we choose to make them otherwise.  By filling the boredom with a sense of energy, curiosity, and humor in order to figure out new and more interesting ways to get things done.  By taking the initiative to rethink the nature of our tasks and the real potential of our roles and responsibilities.  The bigger challenge is when we work in a boring company or organization.  A company or organization that is unable or unwilling to see the possibilities in every one of us and the work we do and, as a result, fails to give us permission to stretch, explore, and try new things.  In these places, efforts to inject new life into old jobs is a real battle that leads to only very small personal victories until we're able to find away out.

But what if companies asked all of us to become the entrepreneurs of our jobs?  To become more directly responsible for recasting them in ways that eliminated the boredom and produced remarkable results.  To unlock our genius in ways that delivered more compelling value for the organization and the customers we serve.  Now that's a "win-win" opportunity of the highest order!

We win in business and in life when we commit to bringing new energy and promise to the work we do.  And when the organizations we work for believe in our potential for genius.


Doing Well By Doing Good

Greetings.  Most companies talk about the importance of being good corporate citizens.  And many are regularly involved in efforts to improve the communities they operate in.  But I've been particularly excited over the last two years to watch one of our customers make social responsibility an innovative and "strategic" part of its business.  The company is CGI Federal, a leading government contractor based in Fairfax, Virginia.  It's core business is providing enterprise solutions and a wide range of essential managed services to Federal agencies, and it consistently earns high marks from customers for the quality of its work and the commitment of its people.  But it's also earning high marks for its growing commitment to the community, based on a clear and engaging strategy for volunteering and giving that is driven by the interests of its employees–or "members" as it calls them.

At the heart of this effort is a belief that people want to make a difference and that a company can and should be a catalyst for creating meaningful opportunities to get involved and "give where they live."  It's not only the right thing to do, but sound business practice.  To do this, CGI Federal forged a unique partnership with the Catalogue for Philanthropy, a very special organization operating in the Washington, D.C. area, that identifies and promotes remarkable smaller nonprofits that are making a compelling difference in their communities. These organizations often operate under the radar of big corporations, individual donors, and potential volunteers.  And, with limited resources, often have trouble getting the word out about their valuable work.  So the Catalogue acts as their "seal of approval" and provides tools to help them raise funds and build their marketing and organizational capacity.  In partnering with the Catalogue, CGI Federal made a financial contribution, but also organizes volunteer events for the Catalogue's "grantees," and has provided some of its top talent to redesign the Catalogue's website and many of the tools that are vital to these nonprofits.  In addition, the company provides support to members involved in community organizations.

It's worth noting that CGI Federal sees community involvement as "a way of life" that is an important requirement for a new generation of workers who want to be part of improving their communities.  The type of thoughtful members that smart companies would love to hire.  And, the bottom-line benefits of corporate social responsibility are equally significant.  They include:

Enhancing Recruitment Efforts–As word of CGI Federal's program spreads, it is becoming a real differentiator in attracting highly-motivated and concerned employees.  And current members are even more eager to recruit their friends.

Aiding Retention–Current employees are more likely to stay in the company longer when they see that it cares about its clients and its community, and encourages them to be involved in local initiatives that matter.

Greater Employee Engagement–Increased job and personal satisfaction leads to greater engagement and an even greater commitment to customer success.  


We win in business and in life by caring about those around us.  And giving our members a chance to make a real difference in the lives of those in need.  It's really no surprise that we do well by doing good.  


Is Everybody Happy?

Greetings.  In the middle of many family trips, it's not uncommon for a parent to ask:  "Is everybody happy?"  It's a simple metric and a timely way to gauge the relative success of the journey.  And we always hope to hear a resounding "YES!"  A whole-hearted endorsement of all the time and expense that went into planning and implementing the vacation.  Not that we should expect it, given the reality that we've brought along our favorite teenagers and pre-teens.  But what the heck, isn't it better to hear the gory truth along the way while there's still time to make minor or even major adjustments?  

And, since this is essentially a business blog based on the simple notion that we can learn from all aspects of the world around us…

Could it be that the "Happy Camper" measure is equally important to businesses and organizations of all kinds?

Absolutely.  Because there is a clear correlation between employee engagement, happiness, innovation, and business success.  Happy Campers–people who find challenge and meaning in their work, and are also given a chance to incorporate purposeful fun into their often frustrating work lives–are far more likely to stretch their thinking and effort to ensure that we deliver the most compelling value to the customers we serve.

Enter Alexander Kjerulf, a Danish author and consultant who helps companies to have fun.  Holding the title of Chief Happiness Officer, he believes that there is an essential connection between having fun and being successful in business.  And here he is, having a bit too much fun on his way to work…


To learn more about the power of fun in the workplace, check out his blog and his book, Happy Hour is 9 to 5, then commit to figuring out how to make "happiness" an essential part of your business equation.

We win in business and in life by striking a balance, and by using the magic of a smile to unlock our innate curiosity and genius.  Don't care if everybody's happy at work?  Maybe you should.