A “Collection of Opportunities”

Greetings. It’s the end of August and the start of a new school year. While I’m not sure where the summer went, I am very excited about the year ahead as our middle daughter Carly has started her freshman year at Beloit College in Wisconsin and our son Noah is starting 10th grade at a new high school that should be a better fit for his talents and approach to learning. And while I can think of many lessons from the first few days of school, I keep coming back to five words the President of Beloit said in welcoming the first-year students and their parents to campus a little more than a week ago…

Colleges are collections of opportunities.”

A simple and important notion about all of the possibilities that await students, faculty, staff, (and even families) in an environment filled with so many opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Some of those opportunities and possibilities are clear the moment you arrive on campus…a fun and engaging freshman seminar on a new and inspiring subject, a first meeting with your academic advisor, a poster in the atrium of the new science center announcing an awesome upcoming event, a chance to audition for the Fall musical, the prospect of making new friends from almost every corner of the U.S. and the world, work study postings that align with a possible major or a personal interest, a visit to the local farmer’s market, and the start to becoming a more independent person 800 miles away from constant guidance (or input) of well-intentioned parents.

There are also opportunities and possibilities that will become clearer as the semester and four years unfold…new and surprising relationships, favorite professors, the most awesome places to study or hang out, sparks generated by reading a new book or wrestling with a compelling question, a world of options for study abroad, and volunteer positions in the community that provide a chance to make a difference and even a bit of a reality check on an envisioned career.

beloit college-photo_17455.

Yes, colleges are “collections of opportunities,” and the young people who approach their time on and off campus with a sense of curiosity, wonder, openness, and humility are likely to be the beneficiaries of a remarkable gift.

But I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that colleges are not the only collections of opportunities we are fortunate enough to encounter. Or that our best chances to be inspired and stretch beyond our comfort zones can’t occur in our work and the rest of our lives. In fact, all of our companies and organizations would also be much more successful if they viewed their mission as providing a “collection of opportunities” for all of their customers and employees. Opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Opportunities to ask and answer important questions, take greater initiative, create and gain greater value, make more of a contribution, and even re-imagine what is possible. Opportunities to innovate and collaborate in new ways. Opportunities to be different and to make a compelling difference.

But in order to realize this mission we have to believe that, just like college students, all of us and all of our organizations are continually a work in progress in a world filled with opportunities. So why not think about how to bring the spirit and sense of possibilities of starting college into your workplace. It might be a great way to unlock the real genius in all of your colleagues.

We win in business and in life when we see the opportunities around us as a remarkable gift and college as simply one of the best starting points for capturing them.


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.


The Most Important Strangers

Greetings. For some “strange” reason I’ve become preoccupied with the value of strangers in our work and personal lives. It might have something to do with my new book, but even more likely is the fact that strangers have played such an important role in my life. Strangers who helped to nurture my love of learning. Strangers who suggested that the world was filled with limitless possibilities. Strangers who saw my potential at moments when I was a bit uncertain. Strangers who took a chance on my brand new business twenty-five years ago. A very special stranger who used his remarkable skill and even greater humanity almost twenty years ago to rebuild a defect in my heart that threatened my life. And the kindest stranger I ever met, who fortunately became my wife. Don’t get me wrong, families and friends mean the world to me. But I have also been blessed to have several important strangers cross my path at exactly the right time…people I humbly acknowledge at the beginning of “The Necessity of Strangers.”

As a result, I am always interested in learning about connections that people have made with strangers that have changed their lives for the better. So in today’s post I’d like to ask a very simple question in the hope that some of you will share your own stories, and that together we can create a movement to make our organizations, communities, and the rest of our lives more open to strangers and people who are very different than us.

So here it is:

What strangers have made an important difference in your life?

It’s not a question most of us think about very often, but I’m betting that most of you will be surprised by your answer and more likely to appreciate the powerful role that strangers could have in your future success.

And maybe I can use another post to share some of your most compelling and meaningful experiences with other readers…while assuring your confidentiality.

We win in business and in life when we are open to new people and new ideas. It’s how we learn, grow, and create greater meaning and value.


Reinventing Waiting

Greetings from Sweden where innovation is almost everywhere. Today I’d like to share a few observations about public transportation and its role in Swedish life…

As one might imagine, public transportation is more widely used here than in the U.S. where most Americans spend an awful lot of time driving to work alone. And there are lots of very compelling reasons why Swedes rely on a remarkable assortment of buses, trams, trains, boats, and even shared bicycles. Reasons that include public transport’s central role in the design of cities and regions, its abundance, quality and reliability, and the high cost of driving an automobile. Still, this is a somewhat more reserved society and jokes abound about the challenges Swedes face when participating in a “shared” enterprise like commuting. Some of you have probably seen the following meme…

Swedes at the Bus

While it’s not entirely fair,  it isn’t entirely off the mark. A lot of Swedes do like to keep to themselves or at least have a bit of “alone” time. But then, a growing number of Americans seem to go through life attached their iPods and earphones and more than slightly oblivious to the world and people around them.

But back to our story…

Even great public transportation requires people to wait sometimes…a reality that has sparked some exciting new ideas. In the town of Hallinden, local officials have installed games like “Tic-Tac-Toe” and mirrors at bus stops to keep people amused and even encourage them to interact until their bus arrives. It’s a simple and clever way to deal with one of the greatest challenges of adulthood: DWELL TIME. A challenge that adults around the globe struggle with in a wide variety of settings that include standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to see a doctor, buying tickets for a concert, and being put on hold by the phone company…not to mention waiting for your least-punctual family member to be ready to go anywhere.

Tic tac toe

And in the city of Umea an energy company has installed phototherapy lights powered by renewable energy at bus stops to counteract the darkness in winter that has often been cited as a leading cause of depression.

Two creative ways to reinvent the challenge of waiting that could spark your thinking about how to make your company or organization’s dwell time more meaningful.

We win in business and in life when we don’t keep people waiting. Or, when we make waiting a time to learn, play, and become more energized.


Books Worth Reading: “Mindset”

Greetings.  If you haven't read Carol Dweck's fascinating book "Mindset" yet, it's well worth your time.  In it  Dweck, a renowned psychologist currently teaching at Stanford, addresses the popular notion that talent and our innate abilities are the real keys to success.  Instead she argues that, while talent is an important part of the equation, the real key to success in any field is having the right mindset.  She distinguishes between having a "fixed" mindset–one in which we believe that our intelligence, personality and character are carved in stone–and having a "growth" mindset–in which we perceive that our natural talents are simply a starting point that can be developed through our own efforts.  She then shows how people with growth mindsets can develop a habit of learning and personal improvement that enables them to reach higher levels of achievement and greater results.  And she also shows how all of us can develop a growth mindset even if we don't start out with one.  

It's powerful insight for businesses and organizations looking to learn, innovate, unlock the genius in all of their people and prosper in challenging times.

Mindset 1

We win in business and in life when we are committed to learning and growing in order to reach our full potential.  While ability matters, our attitude and mindset might be way more important.