Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

Asian wisdom

Stephen Shapiro blogged yesterday about a fascinating concept: one derived from an Asian expression saying that you must learn to divide before you can multiply.

“Where can you multiply by first dividing? Where can you give a slice of your business to someone else? How can you grow your business while creating more income for others? ”

Now isn’t this a typically iconoclastic Asian viewpoint, smashing our Western preconceptions? Amazing the depth and breadth of their teachings, at long last available to us.

The every-man-for-himself, imperialist model we’ve revered for centuries in the West teaches that in building wealth and power, you amass the wealth and then gain power by dividing its benefits among your minions. The Asian tactic suggests the opposite: divide what you have amongst your supporters and then work to multiply it.

If we follow this different teaching, we are not sole owners of our businesses. We build wealth and power cooperatively, and not in a heroic solo struggle. Even – or maybe especially – if we are poor, even scrambling to survive, we share our can of beans and from that liaison seek to enrich. If we are rich, it’s an accomplishment we share with supporters and cannot claim for ourselves alone. Wealth then becomes a way to unite, as opposed to a way to isolate.

In what ways do you share your assets? Do you find yourself hoarding? Are you afraid of others who may steal your glory or your stash or your stuff? Do you spend more time protecting yourself than opening to yourself and others? Maybe it’s time to cop the Asian attitude, give it all away, learn to divide, and then allow it to come back to you multiplied.

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Speak out!

It’s fairly common for me to make promises and then find myself shocked that I so boldly put myself out there. Committing, yesterday, to being more entertaining in this blog was a rash move. I’m a normal person, with my share of friends. They see me as a thoughtful and educated individual, but hardly an entertaining one. Back in another life, I was a member of an improvisational theater company, and they put me on the dark side of the footlights because that’s where those who lack the funny gene belong.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to laugh. Humor is a saving grace of awesome magnitude. It’s just that fabricating the amusing story or telling the well-balanced joke is not my forte. It seems to me (from my admittedly biased outlook) that the reason I have any friends, the reason I can attract and keep the loyalty of good people is that I love to ask questions. And people love to answer them.

We get so little opportunity to tell our stories. Oh yes, there are millions of blogs manifesting the daily quirks of individual lives; but how often does anyone look us in the eye and ask about our experiences, or our opinions, beliefs, fears, loves? 99.9% of the time, though we may ache to speak, society prefers that we cork it. We have little interest in the lives of others, unless we can profit from such knowledge. A person who unceasingly talks about himself is universally disliked. And people who are genuinely interested in your individual viewpoint, for its own sake, are just about non-existent.

But the reward in asking questions, for me, is allowing that experience of speaking their lives to the people with whom I come in contact. The relief they feel is palpable, and I assure you it is an immeasurable joy to provide the opportunity. Human nature very badly needs to express, and this – I believe – is THE major challenge of our time. After the de-humanization of industrialism, healing lies in finding ways to know and express our individual truth; and figuring out how to live peaceably on a globe heavily populated with others who have as much right as we to this healing.

Oh brother, here I go getting all deep and serious again. Let it rest. Only let me ask you a question, dear Reader (I think there’s one or two of you out there). This blog generally addresses small business concerns, leadership issues, and how to use creativity in practical ways to bring you better success in life. I would like to know: In what ways are you creative on a daily basis? (This means things you practice all the time, not your Sunday painting or the ad you designed last week.) It’s my interest to give real solutions to real problems, so I can definitely use your help here. Subsequent posts will report your responses, and celebrate and enlarge them.

Connecting, or not

There’s another side to the argument I presented yesterday, where I claimed that the lack of buzz around one’s blog is not a reason to quit it. A few days after Godin asked if anyone’s listening, David Armano returned this question: “Have we thought about talking back to people or are we really just interested in telling our stories?”

Not much is so laughable as a harangue carried on in a vacuum. We’re here on this plane together, and we are responsible for one another, and success lies in serving others. We all know people who can’t talk of anything but themselves, who have no skill at listening, and who are so self-absorbed as to be useless to anyone else.

Perhaps there’s a difference between telling your stories and making suggestions about lifestyle, but no need to split hairs here. Lack of conversation means lack of engagement. And failing to engage your listeners is failing at the root of the matter.

As Seth suggested, maybe they’re just not ready to listen. This is the thought that comforts every obscure thinker. While this may be a fact, it’s actually no excuse. If your message is as compelling as you believe it to be, it must be your mission to meet the minds of your audience, and make a connection where none was possible heretofore.

In short, no message is more important than compassion. I will take this as my mantra in the days ahead, and seek to be more fun and rather less intense as I continue these writings. Perhaps someone out there will be so kind as to let me know how I’m doing.

Whistling in the wind

“The tragic mistake of demographics and media planning is that they overlook the single most important issue: is the person you’re talking to ready to listen?”  – Seth Godin, about a week ago.  As usual, he has a knack for getting straight to the crux of the biscuit.

All my talk about personal branding and knowing your own special gifts is actually for personal benefit and will impact others only if they’re ready to listen.  The teacher arrives only when the student is ready.  You make thrilling discoveries and want to share your good news with others, but you experience only glazed over eyes and polite, dismissive smiles.

Or maybe you blog with passion and dedication but you’re simultaneously aware that no one is listening.  The true power of blogs lies in the comments, and you know this, but no one’s talking.

I believe there are two benefits to this reality.  One, knowing that your discoveries may well not translate to anyone else keeps you humble.  Your discoveries add to your personal riches, but do not automatically add to your power in the world.  You may, for instance, broadcast the benefits of using drawing in business communications, but you must not expect that anyone will be able to hear you.  The lack of popular understanding should in no way diminish your momentum; you must still speak your truth.  Just don’t do so in the hope of instant admiration.

The other benefit to whistling in the wind, speaking to deaf ears, or blogging for no one is that the lack of a dependent audience relieves you of social responsibility.  You are not speaking or blogging for anyone’s benefit but your own.  This doesn’t make it easier, because you’re even more challenged to discover truth as opposed to artificiality.  If you can’t count on your fellow humans for feedback and understanding, you’ll be looking to the spirit for guidance, which is what we should all be doing anyway.  You’re alone with the Divine, not a bad place to be.

…and counting

One hundred posts to this blog as of today.  Sheesh.  All lined up like a collection of shells gathering moss.  Collections are endearing, and a helpful way to focus thinking.  They are also useless, in a sense, and just sit around taking up space.  But a creative viewpoint will explore their quirks and wring them for their hidden sparkle.  Collections remember the past with fondness, while holding infinite hope for the future.

Business and drawing again

One more post about business and drawing.  It’s strange even to look at those two words together.  Our society makes easy connections between business and writing or speaking, business and science or math, business and research or analysis.  But referring to business and drawing sounds to us like combining seriousness with play, and how can that be a valid endeavor?

At this time of global shifts in everything, it’s appropriate to change up all our assumptions: to play with our seriousness and to be serious about our play.  Marketing’s concern is the whole person of its clientele, the heart and soul of customers as much as their intelligence.  Using traditional tools and approaches in marketing and problem solving limits the choices unacceptably:  our perceptions must widen far beyond  technical parameters and encompass factors that seem at first glance to be only distantly related to our issue.  Allowing ourselves to perceive this wider and more detailed picture brings us into contact with possibilities heretofore hidden from us. 

Using drawing – or shall we just call it making marks – puts us directly in touch with possibility, and a way of perceiving that makes accessible a new kind of objectivity and analysis.  The practice can be applied by the individual to dissect an issue or meaningfully use down time; it can be used between two people to assist in finding common ground and to clarify communications; and it can be used in groups to boost engagement and simplify teamwork. 

Though radical, this concept is not at all fanciful.  I picture people routinely slipping into mark-making as they converse, having become habituated to accessing this non-linear way of perceiving.  We have been imprisoned by our left-brainedness, and we will discover new worlds of possibility by loosening those bonds through drawing.

Drawing in meetings

David Armano talked on Logic + Emotion a couple days ago about brand as Facilitator, as opposed to brand as Broadcaster.  The implications of this distinction are manifold, and I can’t begin to dissect them here, so go to David’s blog if you want to explore.  For now, I want to point to this distinction as a reason to use visual expression in business.

By nature, some of us are broadcasters and others are facilitators.  Translated to a higher level, we are moving currently from an age of broadcasting to an age of facilitating.  This is not to say either can be dispensed with, but one or the other tends to hold sway in any given era.  If a nation is a world power and a champion broadcaster for a couple centuries, over the following few centuries it is likely to morph into a facilitator role as a different nation takes power. 

In the US of A, major change seems imminent, and we wonder what the role of facilitator involves.  So far it seems to manifest in such phenomena as higher fuel costs, an increase in political involvement, and the creeping “free” economy.  It seems we are being challenged to face the music: to account for our immense energy consumption, for our leaders and their mistakes, and for our commercial recklessness.  In business today, it’s necessary to give generously before you can get.

I’m abbreviating here, but it’s time to get to the point.  If facilitation is what’s required for our country and our businesses, consider how it translates to your daily work and communications.  Consider, for example, how to run your meetings as a facilitator rather than as a broadcaster.  If you have any faith in your staff, facilitating their interactions should bring nothing but satisfaction and success.

And if you’re unsure how to facilitate your facilitating, use drawing!  Keeping in mind that you’re using drawing for the benefits inherent in the activity, and not in order to produce a pretty picture, approach issue discussions in meetings by asking staff to draw, individually, in small groups, or as a whole group.  Practice using the language of drawing in place of the spoken word, at least for short periods of time.  Get a roll of newsprint and tape long pieces of it on the wall, and put a hefty supply of markers within reach. 

As manager or group leader, you’ll want to absorb and analyze the drawings that are produced, and as a group you will draw conclusions from the activity.  There’s no need, however, to save these creations.  Make a few mental or written notes, be sure the group senses they have made progress, and then move on.  After a month’s worth of meetings that include drawing, notice your group’s morale and energy levels as they enter the conference area.  Because you have opened for them the doors of perception through visual communications, it’s very likely that the pervading mood will elevate and a can-do attitude will prevail.

Marks on paper

See, the thing about drawing is that since we have so totally neglected it, when we put it to even the most tentative use now, we open floodgates.   On a very hot summer day, if you jump into a pool the shock of the coolness jettisons your awareness to another dimension.  Drawing can be like that. 

Very often when we seem to have issues they are actually not issues at all but limitations in our awareness.  New technologies prove that by imagining aides to everyday work – things that simply remove limitations – we can and do create them.  The same applies to lifestyles, beliefs, goals and concepts as well.  If any of these seem disjointed, out of whack, not-quite-perfect in whatever way, consider whether refreshing your awareness is what is required. 

Something’s wrong, hard to put your finger on it; or maybe it’s easy to name the problem but you’re stumped on its solution.  Rather than pronouncing the situation impossible, the factors unworkable, and the frustration of it all more than should be asked of an honest human being; rather than leaping to the conclusion that you’re being dealt with unfairly, take a small step back and sit down with a clean (or not-so-clean) piece of paper and writing tool, (pencil or pen or lipstick if necessary) and without forethought apply the writing tool to the paper and let it move.

Here’s a hypothetical example:  you have an appointment with a potential buyer whose interest in your product is lukewarm.  You wonder how to present your company in a way that will make this buyer take notice.  In addition to all the usual preparations (research them, prep irresistable informational materials, etc.) you also take five minutes to draw, to put your thinking in visual terms, to move your consciousness to a higher vantage point so you have more awareness at your disposal.

What do you draw in those five minutes?  The range of possibilities is infinite.  Perhaps you scribble aimlessly, just following the whims of intuition while thinking about your upcoming appointment.  The result will reveal where your concerns lie.  Or maybe you make a picture (and remember, this is not art!) of your potential buyer, and this will reveal your assumptions (which may or may not be true).  Or possibly you diagram the relationship between you and the customer, and include present and future schematics.  Looking at this product of your five-minute drill will most likely send you back to the drawing board with several brand new ideas.

It doesn’t matter what you draw.  I repeat, it doesn’t matter one iota what you draw.  The miracle is in the drawing.  The discovery is in making one mark, which leads to another, and another.  That’s all, but it’s enough to leverage your awareness to new levels of power and inspiration.

Please draw

Are all you business leaders, managers, and salespeople out there aware of Dan Roam’s new book, The Back of the Napkin?  I listened to a panel discussion with this author and several others, though I’ve not yet read the book.  Today, I’m suggesting that anyone involved in commerce who could use a new approach should pick this one up.

The nugget of brilliance at the heart of Roam’s manifesto is that we are visual beings and that we respond with unprecendented engagement to pictures.   If this seems an obvious notion, why is it that our adult world traffics so little in pictorial communications?  We may surround ourselves with visuals, pictures on the wall, cool screensavers, movies.  But we seldom if ever use our human capability to draw. 

It’s one of my main rags in life, that we so rarely cultivate our natural gifts: our abilities to move, and sing, and draw.  So it’s truly heartening when the urgings of so many creativity experts are ratified in the business world through vehicles like Roam’s book.  Future civilizations will look back at this time as one when humanity at last began to realize its full potential.  The progress made possible by the wheel’s invention is minor compared to the evolution we will achieve through full use of our natural capabilities.

Roam’s idea, in a way, is a simplification of the mind map; it’s not a new concept, but it’s presented in a nicely accessible form through the book.  Would you like your business challenges to be a little easier to handle, your relations a little deeper and more fun, your communications more clear, your progress more obvious?  A great place to start is with your own visualizing; just pick up a pen and start making marks.

More on focusing

Yesterday’s focus on focus raised a big topic, which I’ll continue just for today.  We human beings struggle mightily with the question of focus.  Inasmuch as we have private rights to our own thoughts, we like to think we each individually decide where to place our focus.  To some extent this is true, and by applying stern discipline, we can select and cultivate focus that brings rewards we seek.  We can focus on work, and see some profit increase.  We can focus on losing weight, or building muscle, or learning a new skill, and earn rewards for our efforts.

Indeed, we have tremendous power to achieve through intense focus.  The difficulty surfaces when we see, however, the limitations of focus.  The tool is only as useful as the choices we make.  We may chose, for example, to focus on increasing business profits through hard work.  And while we may achieve our goal to some extent, we suddenly realize that by focusing intently on working harder, we have been blind to new methods that provide shortcuts to the same success.  Focus, in other words, can obstruct clear view of opportunity.

Maybe you focus hard on losing weight, and indeed the pounds drop away.  But in the process, you turn a deaf ear to your soul’s lonely outcry and ignore the oppression you feel from dieting.  You end up thinner, but now there’s a new problem: chronic depression.

So focus is a handy tool, but it can be deceptive.  It can trick you into thinking you’re in charge and invincible.  Which is a great feeling for the short term, but simply untrue in reality. 

Focus is like the drugstore magnifiers we aging boomers all use to boost our fading eyesight.  It’s a wonderful tool that lets us pretend we can see with accustomed clarity.  We do well not to forget, however, that the larger truth is that we’re slowly going blind, no matter how powerful the tool makes us right this instant.

In the end, practising focus and learning to use it intensely and well is a seriously helpful way to achieve your goals.  And then, letting your focus go, dropping it completely in order to open to new information supercedes your focus.  Focus, like the rules of a game, is best practised and then forgotten.