Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Handouts

So the government’s giving us all a handout.  Does it seem a little like bribery to you?  Like sticking a bandaid on a heart attack? 

I’m no economic expert, but I sure do wonder where all this money comes from and how come it’s not being applied to our national debt or any of the other piteously crying needs.  Of course, I’m also totally against the lottery and other forms of sanctified hoodwinking.  Who do they think we are?  They throw us a bone and expect it to placate our complaints.  They think we’re too stupid to know the difference.

The fact is, we are pretty stupid and happily accept these handouts and then happily spend them and even forget our disgust with the ruling party for a while.  We are sheep, and we will do anything for money.  We’ve still not managed to find any greater motivation.  And while we play with our new toys, gas prices continue to rise, the Iraqi war goes on, people continue to starve the world over, and what the hell is happening with the ridiculous health insurance question?

Take a peek at Seth Godin’s blog today.  Our laziness, as a people, endangers business and the economy; but its worst impact is on our own worth as human beings and thus our own personal happiness. 

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Listening practices for business

So how does listening manifest in business?  Two basic ways:  listening as the foundation of customer relations, and listening as the structure of management.

Hopefully, we’ve all experienced the business that listens well to us as customers.  Soliciting customer input, attentiveness to customer problems and needs, adapting products to suit customer preferences are all examples of proper business listening.  This extends to affiiates and vendors, as well; the business that’s continually seeking a more perfect segue, that adapts to create win-win deals, and that stays wide open to new opportunities from the outside is a business that’s likely to benefit significantly from its listening practices.

What about listening as it pertains to management, staff relations, and the productivity of your organization?  Managers that are careful listeners will anticipate problems and respond to needs in ample time to steady any dangerous situations.  So listening is an important ongoing daily practice for leadership. 

The performance evaluation is a venerable tradition that’s often neglected, especially in small businesses, but it’s a listening practice that can make the difference between a happy staff and a restless one.  At least every six months, management and staff should share a tete-a-tete, during which feedback is freely given on both sides, and the discussion spills over into personal life as it relates to work.  The opportunity to communicate the simple ‘here’s how I’m doing’ is invaluable, and without this regular ‘checking in,’ managers quickly lose touch.

Now, the truly advanced operation will include even more obvious listening practices.  Here are some outrageous suggestions that could very well become standard in the business of the future:

  • Each day starts with t’ai-chi, yoga, stretches or other physical enlivening of the entire staff together.
  • At several regular intervals throughout the day, a bell is rung and all staff keep silence for one full minute.
  • At least every six months, staff retreats are held off-site, and include meditative, teambuilding, and discussion activities.

Please note that these suggestions apply as well to the solopreneur as to the fully staffed business.

If we plan to survive in relative happiness as the 21st century progresses, we’re going to have to narrow the alienating gap between our existence in business and our lives as individuals.  We can use listening as the path to wholeness as we seek the synthesis of who we are with what we do.

Listening and emptiness

In my post the other day, I identified listening as an essentially female characteristic.  Allow me to clarify:  it is a characteristic of the female, and the female as well as the male exist in varying measure within each of us.  A business that values listening values its female-ness but is not necessarily run by the fairer sex.

Listening is female in that it is emptying out of self, allowing an inner hollowness so that information can freely flow.  In order to be a good listener, you have to silence yourself, and your crazy monkey thoughts.  You have to have enough confidence in existence to let yourself be an open receptacle without fear of annihilation.  You have to see yourself in context with your surroundings, a puzzle piece but not the whole picture.  You have to be continuously open and compassionate.

Did you read “A True Story About a Chair?”    While the industry analysts pull their hair out over how to solve company issues, a lone woman from the communications department returns to simple basics of listening, and rocks the business world. 

Listening requires dedicated ongoing practice in quieting yourself.  Bear in mind the important truth: we are given two ears and just one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak!

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up the week with specific ways your business can listen.

Listening practices

I talk a lot about listening in these posts, because it’s a huge part of successful business and a huge part of successful lives as well.  But it is not a well known practice.  We’re traditionally taught to work myopically towards our goals, to plow through obstacles, to attain against all odds.  The problem with this tactic is that it cuts us off from reality and we can easily find ourselves up the creek and paddleless.

The old way is grounded in the philosophy that man is the master of his destiny.  The new way stems from understanding that people collectively are responsible for the planet and for all our lifestyles.   We are damned individually, but saved only collectively.  This is a sophisticated understanding, one we’re only just beginning to assimilate.

Listening requires the ability to establish inner quiet, the willingness to observe without judgement, the personal strength to allow openness to any and all stimuli. 

Listening should be applied to your inner self, to the movements of your personal energies and emotions.  This can be done through quiet times, meditation, journaling.  And listening should be applied much more regularly in relations with others.  The Quakers teach an awesome practice in which the listener asks questions, but only those questions that will help the speaker, and never just to satisfy the questionner’s curiosity.  Such intense and compassionate listening is designed to honestly help the speaker.

In business, listening translates into several practices that benefit leaders and workers alike.  Making listening an important part of organizational structure means that the business

  • is keenly tuned in to customer reactions;
  • works smoothly and harmoniously with vendors;
  • anticipates personnel problems before they arise;
  • has a well-appreciated and confident staff;
  • tends to be tuned in to world events, and ready with solutions whenever possible;
  • can quickly respond to new opportunities because of an intimate connection to all working parts.

More anon on this subject.

Business and THE FEMALE

I grew up with sisters, no brothers, and though my own child is male, I still have many moments of utter disconnection with the male of the species.  My wonderful honey, for example, has no idea where it hurts when he’s sick: he just feels bad, and leaves it at that.  Or if he has a disagreement with his partner, it’s never an option to talk it out, one simply lets time callous over the injury.   I’ve had male bosses who will suffer huge losses rather than get to the root of interpersonal problems.

It’s a sort of Klingon thing, our inherited culture of mastery and dominance making such phenomena as tenderness and sensitivity verbotten in the most highly respected power circles. 

It doesn’t work anymore, of course.  Our world is now so complex that we must admit to all subtleties of the human condition or lose miserably in the business arena.  The female influence at very long last is taking hold and transforming the ways we structure working world relationships and decision-making. 

How do you synthesize efficient production with a dedicated attention to personal health and growth of your staff?  The revived respect for female viewpoints makes the job of management much more complex; but also, ultimately, much more profitable because it creates work scenarios featuring well-adjusted, confident, and energetic employees.

A particularly world-changing aspect of the power of the female in business is the value placed on listening.  I’m going to focus on this capacity over the next few days here, to get a better hold on what is meant by the term.

Bliss

In the glorious sunshine of a perfect Easter Sunday yesterday, we raked the dirt and scattered grass seed.  Waiting dormant in its big paper bag, the seed is useless until we broadcast it across the soil.  And this morning, I glance out the window and think of the joyful reunion of those little kernals with their native matrix, and the beautiful productivity that’s likely to result.

As we labored over our yard duties yesterday, it occurred to me that I am actually a happy person.  The thought does not come without a certain measure of guilt.  My intensely Christian heritage gives little value to personal happiness.  But, more hippie than Jesus-freak, I have maneuvered my life towards the things I love.  And now at last I am surrounded by the open country and kind people and can appreciate all the small gifts of daily life. 

The moral of this story?  Creativity is in large part a product of the right conditions.  We will grow like grass seed if we locate the proper soil.  If you manage to live in the kind of environment that’s most natural for you, your creative health and happiness will flourish.  Unlike our forebears, who espoused suffering as a noble lifestyle, I believe we are meant to achieve a constant, quiet bliss in life and all our efforts should be in this direction.

Ultimate motivations

Thinking about ultimate motivations this Friday morning.  Traditionally, we’ve relied on faith in the divine when all else fails to rouse our interest in daily living.  For many nowadays, though, religion just never “took.”  We had lost the ability to take things on blind faith.

Human health, though, requires robust motivation.  Depression is lack of motivation, and as one who has experienced it I know the draining of life force when depression sets in.  Motivation is the energy that actually keeps us alive.

So where does it come from?  Your children, your pets, your lover?  Perhaps you point to Mother Nature.  I must humbly suggest that these are all beneficiaries of your motivation, but not causes of it.  Motivation is derived from individual creativity.  And creativity is derived from listening, curiosity, openness, generosity and all those other attributes I’ve been discussing in these posts.  These attributes – very unlike the old hook of, “faith” – can be consciously and scientifically developed.  I can use specific exercises and intentions to boost my creative abilities and thereby boost motivation.

So in case you have been thinking that my obsession with the many aspects of creativity is excessive, I offer this explanation.  In a very real sense, the development of creativity is your lifeline,  your fundamental motivation, the one thing that keeps you getting up every morning.

Defining the problem

I attended a local Chamber of Commerce meeting yesterday instead of posting.  It was a worthwhile expenditure of time, in that I may have located one or two business leads.  It’s not easy doing that kind of cold networking, especially early in the morning, but it has its rewards.  One’s daily routine becomes so entrenched that an unusual schedule seems an imposition.

It’s pathetic, really.  We cling so fondly to who we think we are, but the reality is that we can become someone different with the tiniest effort.

Jen at IdeaSpace wrote yesterday about solving problems.  The best way to locate new solutions when you’re stumped is 1) figure out a new way to define the problem and 2) realize the lens through which you normally view the problem and look at it through a new and different lens.  In other words, do not take your perceptions and definitions for granted!  They can change – and very fast, if you’re open to it.  Start with the foundation when faced with a difficult challenge: take plenty of time to define the problem from every angle before rushing in with tried and untrue quick fixes.

The group I joined yesterday morning is composed of traditional thinkers, for the most part.  Will have to try to rattle some cages as we continue to meet.

Cooperative capitalism

I’ve been enjoying reading other blogs I find that discuss business and creativity. Sig’s thingamy blog is a specially lively one.  I like this quote from a recent entry:

“There is no way around ‘being different’ – the core of creativity, an unavoidable part of business strategy and the source of success in a competitive market.”

The piece is about how working creatively sets a business apart from others, and thus ‘makes the competition irrelevant.’

Is such a thing as cooperative, as opposed to competitive, capitalism possible?  Because that is indeed what seems to be evolving.  We can market globally to any specialized niche, and this phenomenon outdates the old notion of killing the competition.  Seeking, identifying, and presenting your core interests and capacities as a business is what brings you customers; it is not so much necessary to outperform the competition as it is to strongly develop and articulate your unique offerings.  The popular notion  of ‘win-win’ solutions encapsulates the cooperative capitalism we’re fast developing. 

It’s not a bit easier to be successful under cooperative capitalism than the old way of competition, but it’s infinitely more peaceful and psychically healthy.  The main hurdle is for us all to re-learn the practices of the creative life, to return again to the vast riches of our individual natures.

Ah, basketball!

t1_0316_unc_ap.jpgt1_0316_unc_ap.jpgt1_0316_unc_ap.jpgMy team just won the ACC championship!  I love basketball.  What a truly impeccable expression of physical capabilities. 

As we cultivate creativity in personal life and business, we can learn a lot from watching college basketball.  The innocence and raw passion of the players starts us off at a high level of excitement; then the process pits this wild energy against a set of stringent rules.  The inherent tension sets up gripping drama that’s then played out to our immense entertainment through the course of the game.  Might and agility spar with strategy and sportsmanship, a breathtaking balance of strength and decorum.

Such is the stuff of creative business practice, as well.  The truly lively enterprise is the one that juggles the rules and iconoclasm, giving absolute power to neither alone, fully respecting the uses of each, and seeking equilibrium through working synthesis of realities and possibilities.