It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Greetings. Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, the revered American baseball player and accidental philosopher, died last week at the age of 90. Baseball fans will remember him for his remarkable career as a catcher for the New York Yankees during one of the sport’s golden eras…a career that included being named an All-Star 18 times and the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times, 14 World Series appearances, and 10 World Series titles. And many will say that on one of the greatest teams in sports history, and one packed with much bigger and more glamorous stars like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford, Berra was the real catalyst for the Yankees incredible success.

Yogi Berra

But baseball fans and non-fans will also remember him as an exceedingly likable guy with a rare gift for saying delightfully memorable phrases that rarely made sense and often spoke to the very nature of life and what it means to be human. Within the joyful absurdity of his “Yogi-isms” there seemed to lurk keen insight, not only for our personal lives but the lives of our companies and organizations.

Here are some of my favorites which I remembered fondly upon hearing of his passing:

It ain’t over till it’s over.

It’s like deja vu all over again.

The future ain’t what it use to be.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.

You can observe a lot by just watching.

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.

Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.

Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.

Many of these have a valuable message for the challenges we often face in our collective work lives. And given the work that I do to help companies and teams explore and unlock genius in themselves and the world around them, I will always have a special connection with the notion that “You can observe a lot just by watching.” In fact, I am convinced that part of our challenge as adults and organizations is to do a better job of “watching,” paying attention, being present, and rediscovering how to be curious about all of the ideas, insights, and possibilities that we pass by every day but somehow fail to notice.

Words to live by from a slightly unusual business guru. And words that will hopefully be remembered for a long time to come. After all, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And that’s a long time into the future from now.

We win in business and in life when we try to not take ourselves too seriously. And when we find joy and inspiration in crazy ideas that are filled with wisdom.

Cheers!

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!

The Necessity of Strangers

Greetings. On a beautiful fall morning in 2006, a walk to the school bus with our daughter Carly, who was nine at the time, would challenge my thinking about life and the real keys to personal and business success. It was a walk that my wife and I made almost every school day, but on this particular morning, Carly and I would pass someone we’d never seen in our neighborhood before…a middle-aged gentleman who looked more than slightly disheveled, somewhat distraught, and, from my overly protective parental perspective, potentially dangerous. So once we were out of listening distance, I turned to Carly and said: “You know sweetheart, Mamma and Papa won’t always be able to walk you to the school bus. So we’d like you to promise us that when you are walking by yourself you won’t talk to strangers.” It seemed like an important and necessary thing to say, especially at that moment. And it was something my parents had told me when I was Carly’s age at a time when the world was a whole lot safer.

Yet I could never have imagined her response as she looked up at me and said: “But Papa, if I don’t talk to strangers, how will I ever make new friends? And how will I ever learn new things?”

Her simple words would quickly challenge me to recall all of the “strangers” who had changed my life in some meaningful way.

Kid's Photo

Sara, Carly (w/ the trombone), and Noah on a fall day.

And they would also spark the idea for my new book, “The Necessity of Strangers,” which should be available wherever thoughtful books are sold by the beginning of next week. The book begins by sharing the special magic of some of the most important strangers I have ever met and then asks readers to think about the most important strangers in their own lives and the powerful roles that strangers might play in our future success by:

  • Sparking new conversations and new ways of thinking
  • Inspiring new possibilities
  • Given us fresh and honest input
  • Opening new doors, and
  • Helping each of us to discover and unlock more of our unique potential.

 

In the weeks ahead I’d love to use the book to start a conversation with all of you about the necessity of strangers and I’d also love learn some of your stories about strangers who have made a difference in your lives. And I’ll plan to share lots of ideas and practical tools to help you and your companies and organizations to connect with and learn from the right strangers.

We win in business and in life when we get past our aversion to strangers. And when we come to realize that strangers are more vital to our personal and professional success than we ever imagined.

Cheers!

What’s Your Big Question?

Greetings.  Socrates was, by several accounts, a very clever and noteworthy guy. Which is interesting, because he rarely shared much of what he knew.  Though he did know how to ask a pretty smart question, and that turned out to be his claim to fame…the good old "Socratic Approach."  Ask a very important question that sparks an equally important conversation.  

Kind of gets you off the hook for having the right answer.  But that's okay because there are times–actually a lot of times–when we don't really know the best answer to the most important questions we face.  And that's a perfect time to ask a friend, colleague, or total stranger for a bit of help.

So imagine this.  That we ask everyone in our companies and organizations to identify the key question or questions that keep them awake at night and that are essential to their success.  Questions they face right now that are at the heart of achieving their objectives and moving us forward as an enterprise.  And then we ask them to make their questions public.  To write them on a bulletin board or the wall next to their office, cube, or other workspace for everyone to see along with a request for ideas, insights, and perspectives that could help them to answer their question or questions in new and far more powerful ways.  An invitation for co-workers to stop by, connect, and share their best thinking on the topic even if it isn't their area of expertise.  Because they might have a very different view based either on the work they do for us or some other aspect of their life which they are passionate and knowledgeable about.  And they might have new frameworks that could stretch our thinking–if we are open to it.

Along with an offer to return the favor.

And all that's required is a simple and honest invitation, and a corporate culture that really believes in sharing knowledge and possibilities.

Question Mark

We win in business and in life when we ask the right questions.  And when we are willing to ask for help in our search for the right answers.

Cheers!

P.S.  Speaking of questions, today is the U.S. Presidential election and a chance for all of us to decide if we believe the country is heading in the right direction.

While I won't pretend to know who will win, I will ask the most important question: "Have you voted?"   

Innovative Products That Matter

Greetings.  In the past week an Israeli entrepreneur named Izhar Gafni has been getting a lot of attention for an invention that could quite literally move the world forward.  His cardboard bicycle, build from 95% recycled cardboard (and other recycled materials) and costing $9 to build, could suddenly make transportation affordable for hundreds of millions of low-income people around the world.  At a mere $20 each, this bicycle offers a "game-changing" solution to the challenge of mobility in many places.  

An experienced designer of automated production processes, Gafni believed in the potential value of unusual and under-appreciated materials.  He became excited about the potential of cardboard–a material made out of wood pulp and invented in China more than 600 years ago–and spent four years working to "cancel out the corrugated cardboard's weak structural points."  Then he figured out how to form and finish the cardboard into a working and durable bicycle that could be produced and assembled anywhere.  This meant that a business would not have to rely on finding places with the cheapest labor.  Instead, these bicycles could be built anywhere creating a whole new production model.  And they have the added benefits of being environmentally-friendly and requiring little or no maintenance. Initial plans also include creating a motorized "urban bike," a smaller model for children and even low-cost wheelchairs using this new technology.

The cardboard bicycle project is a powerful reminder of how great creativity and determination can be used to build products that make a compelling difference in the world.  Which begs the question, what do you and your company know that could be applied to rethinking an important global challenge?  And what would happen if all of us took the time to use our best ideas and expertise in ways that could make the world a better, safer, healthier and more mobile place. 

Cardboard-Bicycle

We win in business and in life when we apply new and better thinking to problems that really matter.  And when we see great possibilities in the ideas and materials that other people throw away.

Cheers!