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.


The Value of Youth

Greetings.  Here’s an interesting idea from the worlds of municipal government, politics, and popular culture that should challenge us to think in new ways about our own companies and workplaces…

The City of Takoma, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C., with a population of roughly 17,000), is considering a proposal that would allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. It is based on the notion that it is very important to get young people involved in the local political process and that if we wait until they turn 18 we too often miss the chance to engage them as they head off to college, work, or move to a new community. And it is also based on a belief that having more people vote is a better way to gain broader input and make the right decisions.

Whether you agree with this idea or not, it raises an important question about how much we value the ideas, perspectives, and possibilities of our youngest or our newest neighbors and employees. The people who have the least amount of “relevant” work or life experience but who might also have a fresh approach to the problems and opportunities we face. The people who know the least about how our business or community operates but might be more open-minded about the need to do things in different ways. The people who have made the smallest investment in our future so far but might have the most to gain by finding a place where they can make a real contribution. The people who could provide the energy, enthusiasm, and dedication we need if we show them that they matter at a young age or from the very first day they arrive at work.

We tend as a society to believe that certain rights and privileges must be earned by age, tenure, training, discipline, and “paying your dues.” Or, as the comedian Woody Allen once said: “90 percent of success in life is just showing up.” But what matters most is the desire and potential to make a difference by challenging us to think in new ways and by prodding us to get with the program that is changing rapidly before our eyes. Young people are an essential part of the future in our communities and our businesses and organizations. Shouldn’t they also play a significant role in inventing that future?


We win in business and in life when we seek broader insight and engagement. And when we find it hard to make age or time on the job the key factor.


The Wonder of Burritos

Greetings.  There's always a line at Chipotle when I take our son Noah and his soccer buddies to any one of this fast food chain's locations.  No matter what time of the day.  No matter what location.  A line that often stretches out the door.  But no one seems to mind.  In part it's because the line moves rather quickly.  In part it's because there is a sense that the burritos are relatively healthy.  And in part it's because Chipotle's food is fresh, appealing, tasty and gives the customer a sense of engagement in its preparation.  But it's also because of the company's commitment to serving "food with integrity"–a commitment defined as "finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers."

And this combination has enabled Chipotle to literally reinvent the notion of "fast food" in an industry that has been synonymous with unhealthy, highly-processed and not particularly engaging.

So if you're looking for a new formula for success in your tired, saturated, highly-commoditized and established industry, you might want to spend an hour having lunch at Chipotle–and figuring out through your eyes, ears, noses, hands and taste buds the secrets to their success.  Then try to imagine how you might inject new energy, engagement and a greater sense of integrity in the work that you do and the products, services and/or solutions that you offer.  

How you might help customers to make a stronger connection with your belief in the right way to do the things that matter most.

Chipotle 2  

We win in business and in life when we combine our creative offerings with the highest values.  And when we wrap our most compelling value proposition inside the comfort of a warm burrito.


The Importance of Nicknames

Greetings.  In the children's story "Mr. Singer's Nicknames," James Kruss tells a tale about an insurance agent name Johann Jakob Singer who takes his first trip to the island of Helgoland.  Upon his arrival he is welcomed by "Thunder" Pastor Rasmussen–a popular local minister with a booming voice–and informed "that everyone who lives on Helgoland has an added name, a nickname."  

"How dreadful!" Mr. Singer responds, "I am sure I will not be awarded any nickname.  I am an honorable man who works and does his duty."

But little does he realize that from the moment his ship comes into view the locals have been studying him carefully and coming up with all sorts of nicknames.  And the fact that he is small, thin, stork-like, wears a pair of pince-nez eyeglasses and bright yellow spats, and represents the Society for the Care of Lobsterfishermen's Widows simply adds to their interest and creativity.  Yet he remains convinced that he will spend an entire week among the Helgolanders without being "nicknamed," and this conviction leads him to place a wager with the Pastor that he will leave the island simply being called Mr. Singer.  It's a bet he cannot win.

In fact, the locals seem entirely capable of coming up with an endless supply of nicknames.  Nicknames that their visitor will only discover on the last day of his trip.  But more importantly, nicknames that show their endearment for the things that set Mr. Singer apart and make him uniquely valuable.  

Which makes one wonder why Mr. Singer "dreaded" receiving a nickname in the first place.  And might make all of us wonder why we don't make more of an effort to create endearing and powerful nicknames for all of our colleagues–whether they are new to our island or have been there for most of their careers.  Nicknames that demonstrate in a humorous way our clear understanding of the things that set them apart and make them uniquely valuable to our current and future success.   

So why not find the time to collaborate in creating nicknames for everyone in your company or organization?  Nicknames they would be proud to possess and that would strengthen their connection with everyone else.  Nicknames that create greater energy and engagement.  

And to get yourself in the mood, why not read this delightful story as a team?  If you can't find it at your local library, send me a quick note and I'll gladly lend you my copy.

James Kruss

We win in business and in life when we take the time to notice people. And when we honor them with the true appreciation and respect that a thoughtful nickname brings.


Finding Your Passion

Greetings.  Looking for a way to unlock the real passion in all of your colleagues and team members?  If so, you might enjoy some valuable guidance on "The Five Keys to Personal Mastery" from a friend and colleague of mine named Dave Lent. Building on the work of George Leonard and his classic book titled Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, Dave has helped individuals in leading corporations and nonprofit organizations to discover what really matters to them as a means for achieving greater success in work and life.

He begins his workshops by asking participants two intriguing questions as a way to cut to the heart of things:

First, when was the last time you remember being electrified by something you were experiencing?  Something that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck, that gave you goose bumps, or took your breath away?

And second, assume you have all the money you will ever need. Enough money to support yourself and everyone you care about for the rest of your lives.  You've traveled to all the places you ever dreamed of visiting.  Now, how are you going to spend your time?

We rarely if ever ask these questions in business.  But if we did we might discover a broader set of skills, passions, and human "assets" that could be leveraged to drive even greater genius, excellence, and success.  We might even find a better way to connect with all of the members of our organizations and, in the process, create a stronger bond and greater engagement in meeting the needs of those we serve.  

Unless, of course, we are afraid to find out the answers.  Afraid to discover that our colleagues don't have a lot of passion for the work that we do or the way that we do it.  Afraid to learn that we are failing to capture the hearts and imaginations of the people we work with (and count on) every day.

To get a quick glimpse of "The Five Keys to Personal Mastery," you might enjoy this trailer for Dave's fascinating film…


We win in business and in life when we, just like the very clever folks at Monty Python, help those around us to "find their grail."  Sounds like essential work for leaders in today's world of endless possibilities and limited commitment.