The Magic of Stepping Back in Time

Greetings. Ideas and inspiration often come from unusual sources. Like a warehouse filled with old furniture and memories. And this was exactly the case not long ago when our daughter Sara went searching for a few items to furnish her new apartment. In her search she came upon an old stamp album, published in 1928, and belonging to a gentleman from Westfield, Massachusetts, named Edward Pomeroy.

Stamp Album Cover

Now I should probably backtrack as some readers might not know that I am an avid and enthusiastic stamp collector, or “philatelist,” and have always viewed stamps as wonderful little journeys into the lives, cultures, histories, and geographies of other places and people. In fact, a few years ago I wrote a blog post suggesting that the world might actually be a better and more understanding place if its leaders collected stamps and in the process gained greater insight about other countries. So finding an old album filled with lots of intriguing stamps from around the world was a source of real delight.

But back to Edward Pomeroy who it seems was the secretary of a local stamp club and, as such, left in his album a wide variety of handwritten notes, news clippings, and meeting minutes describing the workings of the club, stamps and topics that were of particular interest, presentations made by various members about their interests and expertise, and an explanation of the club’s 10 cent monthly dues.

And while I found all of this fascinating, one note was especially remarkable. It explained how Edward was able to send himself a letter that flew on the Graf Zeppelin’s maiden flight to the United States. The note read:

For the Graf Zeppelin I had to send (my letter) to the Postmaster of New York City asking him to put it on a boat in time to reach Fredrichshafen by April 18, 1930. After reaching Germany it was put on the ‘Graf’ which went from Germany to Brazil then to United States which was delivered to me day after.”

And in his letter, adorned with a $2.60 Graf Zeppelin stamp, he enclosed the postcard pictured below that read:

He who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”

Words that strike at the heart of what it means to be human. Words that underscore the central challenge in all of our efforts to create organizations and cultures that consistently learn, grow, and innovate. Words that, in 1930, literally flew across the Atlantic as part of a history making voyage when the world of commercial aviation was in its early, daring, and formative years. And words that might have been lost in the dust of an old building had Sara not discovered Mr. Pomeroy’s stamp album and a small part of his life.

One more powerful reminder of the power of curiosity and the potential to find ideas and inspiration in the most unexpected places.

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We win in business and in life when we wander through old warehouses and age old lessons about innovation, progress, and community.

Cheers!

To a New Year Filled With Possibilities

A few years ago as I was wandering through the “Self-Help” section of a well-known local bookstore I noticed a young woman who seemed more than a bit perplexed. Catching my glance, she smiled and said: “I know that one of these books could change my life. I just don’t know which one it is.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. So I smiled back, buying a bit of time to think through her predicament. And then I said, with the half-baked logic of an amateur sage: “You know, we’re all in that situation. Only you’re smart enough to realize it.” A response that was more thoughtful in retrospect than it seemed at the time.  “Thanks,” she replied, “I don’t feel quite so foolish now.”

I haven’t seen her again and can only hope that she found what she was searching for. Maybe it was a book on one of those shelves. Or an idea, or another person to connect with, or a story, or a quote, or a lesson from another culture, or a spark of inspiration from an unknown source that gave her the right direction to follow. Or maybe she ended up discovering it somewhere other than the bookstore. On a journey halfway around the world or on a walk through a familiar park. During an episode of a popular TV show or a day spent at an art museum. In the words of a favorite song or the experience of a concert held in a grand orchestra hall. In a lecture on a subject she knew very little about, or a familiar sign posted along a busy neighborhood street. In the mysterious ritual of someone else’s religion, the best practice of a renowned corporation, or the daily life of a creature from another species.

The fact that she was looking curiously to fill a gap in what she knew—to find her own missing piece—was the essential first step. It’s a step that too few of us ever take as individuals, companies, and organizations, or even as communities and nations. But a step that reminded me of just how close we all are to unlocking our real potential. If only we dared to be curious and open to the world around us and all of the strangers in it—in order to find something that could make the essential difference.

Woman reading in books in a bookshop

Each day we pass by literally hundreds of people, places, and things that could change our lives, but we never take the time to notice them.  In our rush to get from Point A to Point B, we walk past strangers who know things we’ve yet to discover. We walk past stores, offices, galleries, libraries, and even billboards with powerful insight to share. We observe or ignore holidays and events filled with meaning. We stroll through new or familiar places failing to look below the surface to figure out what makes them remarkable. We watch movies, listen to the radio, read a newspaper or a blog, or search the web without seeing the real brilliance in an idea that could matter to our life or the success of our workplace or the place we call home. All because we have forgotten how to be curious and open and, lacking confidence in this innate human talent, we are unable to believe that important ideas abound and that we can be more remarkable simply by connecting with them, understanding them, and combining them with what we already know so well. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

January is a perfect time, despite the unseasonably cold weather, to make a fresh start. Our chance to reengage with the world around us in a brand new way. Our chance to understand not only the necessity of strangers but the power in all of us to do work and live lives that are filled with even greater meaning—and to become more remarkable at the things that matter most.

As humans we have the amazing abilities to be more open and to dream, imagine, learn, share, collaborate, innovate, and grow. And together we can reinvent our companies, organizations, markets, communities, relationships, and ourselves. Simply by finding our missing pieces.

So commit to making 2014 a year when you and your colleagues get out there and find the idea or the stranger that could change your lives.

I’m certain that you can.

Cheers!

This post was adapted from The Necessity of Strangers.

Word of Mouth

Greetings.  There are three types of people in the world.  Those who absolutely adore breakfast and think it's the most important meal of the day, those who don't like breakfast, and those who aren't sure if they like breakfast or not.  I'm probably somewhere in the middle.  Sure I'd like a perfect bowl of oatmeal and some fresh fruit to start the day, but some days seem to have a mind of their own and the only recourse is a bar of some sort–grabbed and eaten on the run.  The challenge is to find a bar that's actually healthy and tastes great because some of the offerings found at our favorite stores are loaded with junk or taste like sawdust.  

So in my never-ending quest to scan the globe in search of new ideas, inspiration, genius, and now 190 nutritious and portable calories, I happened to stumble upon Carman's "Classic Fruit Muesli Bar."  It's a product made in Australia by a young entrepreneur named Carolyn Creswell who's turned her passion for muesli into a growing international business.  And I have to tell you that these bars–along with their equally delicious "Apricot and Almond" siblings–are fantastic!  In fact, I've already told over a dozen friends, relatives, colleagues, customers, and partial (as opposed to total) strangers about them.  Now I don't typically promote products on this blog, but I decided to do this to make an even bigger point about the power of word of mouth.  The power of creating something so unique, healthful, and "delicious" that it stands out from the crowd and inspires people to tell everyone they know (and don't know) about it.  Which begs the vital question:  "Do your products, services, and solutions inspire customers to spread the word?"  And, if not, "Why not?"  

Because the value of word of mouth is key to the success of any business.

As a side note, many of you are probably asking:  "What in the world is 'muesli' anyway and how did it ever find its way onto anyone's breakfast table?"  The short answer is that muesli is an uncooked breakfast cereal that combines rolled oats or another whole grain, fruit, nuts, seeds, and spices.  It is exceedingly popular in Europe, parts of the U.S., I'm assuming Australia, and with everyone who works at your local health food store.  It was invented around 1900 by a Swiss physician named Maximilian Bircher-Benner who used muesli as part of the treatment for his hospitalized patients.  And it's not that hard to make your own special blend by following one of the many recipes found on the web or in healthy living and eating magazines.  Though making a fantastic muesli bar is another story.   

Carmen's Muesli

We win in business and in life when we create a meaningful buzz about the things we have to offer.  And when we incite those around us to sing our praises.  Maybe it's time to take a different look at the potential of your products, services, and experiences.

Cheers!

Inspiration Unlimited

Greetings.  If you happen to live just about anywhere in the U.S., tomorrow is a great day to test your innovative might.  Because it happens to be the 6th annual "Museum Day," an event sponsored by Smithsonian magazine in which more than 1,000 great museums in almost every corner of the country are open for free. And all you have to do is follow this link to find a museum of interest, download a pair of free tickets for you and a friend, relative, or colleague, and set of for a day of discovery.  Rarely has the chance to be inspired been so easy!

You can visit the…

  • Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City
  • Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore
  • CDC's Global Health Odyssey Museum in Atlanta
  • Wizard of Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas
  • Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
  • American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
  • Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain, S. Dakota
  • Alaska State Museum in Juneau
  • American Jazz Museum in Kansas City
  • Adler Planetarium in Chicago
  • Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock, Texas
  • Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu
  • World Kite Museum in Long Beach, Washington

Or any one of an almost unlimited number of other great museums, all with the potential to help spark your innate curiosity, thinking, learning, and genius.  So this weekend, why not challenge yourself to have fun by exploring, learning, and thinking in new and exciting ways?  Who knows…you might even discover some powerful ideas for improving the performance of your company or organization.

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We win in business and in life when we look for ideas and inspiration in the world around.  And when we commit to spending a day in a great museum.

Cheers and have an exciting weekend of exploration!

An Olympic Moment of Genius

Greetings.  The Winter Olympics are now in full swing after an opening day tragedy, some changes to the luge course, and a curious lack of snow.  They also brought a wonderful opening ceremony filled with amazing technology, wonderful music, and an inspiring tribute to the vast beauty of Canada and the rich traditions of its "First Nations" and their people.  After an initial few days of engaging stories and performances, there’s plenty to capture our attention. 

But the story that stands out for me, and should cause all of us to think a bit differently about the simple connection between genius and humanity, is the victory of Alexandre Bilodeau in the men’s freestyle moguls event.  A victory that was as much about family—and learning from our differences—as it was about a brilliant and somewhat unexpected sports achievement.

In victory, Bilodeau was quick to acknowledge the real source of his inspiration—his older brother Frederic who has spent his life competing against cerebral palsy.  While the disease has taken away much of his ability to walk and speak, he has never lost his ability or desire to dream, smile, support, learn, create art and challenge the odds.  In interviews before and after his gold medal performance, Alexandre talked about how Frederic's remarkable will made it impossible for him to ever give up, even when he lacked the will to practice and stay focused.  In an era when so many sports personalities are so full of themselves, these two brothers have given us a very different picture of what competition and success are all about.  A picture based on caring, respect, and the belief that there is genius in all of us.

Bilodeau Brothers

We win in business and in life by learning from others, and by discovering the remarkable gifts and abilities of everyone around us.  When was the last time you dared to be taught by someone very different than you?  Maybe it’s time for all of us to have a greater appreciation for the people we often stereotype or ignore.

Cheers!