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March 2012

Finding inspiration by jumping into it

Every day, every week, I seek inspiration to understand my role and why I do what I do. I have learned I need personal experiences to lift my eyes and my mind to the greater purpose of my work. When you look for something, you usually find it! Waiting to be inspired is the couch potato approach to life. The "maybe something interesting will happen today", is the lottery ticket approach to life.

The pursuit of inspiration is a relentless and inexorable process. My own journeys toward the inspirational light have taught me that the most powerful inspiration does not come from famous speeches or philosophical books. It comes from a closer examination of self and the lives of people you encounter. My search for inspiration is not on the internet or by endless referrals. I find it occurs when I open my eyes and see what is right in front of me, the people, their stories, the challenge, the cause and of course the unmet need. The fuel of this process  is accepting and pursuing the natural invitations in life. I do agree to meet with and go to, almost anybody and anywhere. WaimeaBayBeachI truly believe the Ubuntu philosophy that we become what we experience and who we meet.

Here are the top excuses to avoid experiences or meeting people:

I am too busy. (I have a complete life)

I am tired and need time to myself. (I am lazy)

This is not a good time for change. (I am never ready)

I am uncomfortable meeting new people and doing new things. (I am afraid)

I have nothing to offer others. (I have a lack of self confidence)

I hear these excuses almost everyday. It makes me want to scream. Because these are the same people that tell me that they want more! They want to grow! They want to advance their lives and the lives of others! This conflict of words, thoughts, and ultimately actions leads to horrible consequences. Mostly regrets and a sense of falling behind your dreams and goals.Cliff-Diving-Oahu-Hawaii05 We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And we can't let "good enough" be our goal. And we can't let all of the warning signs disrupt our journey.

As I say all of the time, the "Wait and See" strategy is the most personally damaging tact one can take. You the know the endless hesitation to jump into the moving waters of life. One of our favorite places is the north shore of Oahu--Shark's Cove, Haleiwa, and Waimea Bay. Beautiful waters and beaches. In Waimea Bay there is a giant rock just off shore. Dozens of signs warn visitors of the prohibition and dangers of jumping from the rock. Yet every day you go there hundreds of people of all ages and shapes are climbing and jumping from this rock. Some do high dives called "suicides" and others jump in feet first. But inevitably there are a few people young and not so young who freeze on the edge of the jumping off place. People on the rock encourage them and people in the water tell them it is okay. But they stand there for what seems like an interminable time. One young person stood there for 5 minutes! Then, they jumped in from various perches over and over again. It is that first leap that can be the hardest. Once you realize how exhilarating it is, how warm the water can be, and how it strengthens self confidence--you need and want more.

Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building the wings on the way down. --Ray Bradbury

Waimea rock jumpingThe process of taking little jumps leads to bigger jumps. Jumps in your relationships, your career, and your overall satisfaction with your life.

Look around you and pursue what interests you, what is different from you. Reach out and get to know people you encounter. Find out what they do. Go and see it. All such experiences open our eyes to something new. And each one of these moments informs you of what you value, care about, and want to pursue. Every answer creates more questions. If you think you know it all, then you know nothing. Learning what we don't know is the greatest leap of all.

Otherwise, when you open your eyes you may only see your couch and your cubicle! Yes, being comfortable is important. But complacent?! But regretful?! And unfulfilled?!

If you don't jump into inspiration that is right in front of you. How will you get inspired?

Start by doing what's necessary, then what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. Francis de Assisi

Thanks for jumping and reading. John


Standing for the silent

If we don't stand for something we will fall for anything. anonymous

It's interesting to consider for whom and for what we stand! I meet people who can't answer this question. But we ALL stand for others whether we like or know it. Our ancestors, our families, our heritage, our organizations. Our brands, our trajectories, our futures and our destinies are grounded in the histories and values of the past. All of us have silent partners, silent beneficiaries, silent supporters, and silent investors. But do we remember and represent them?

I was reminded of new and different silent groups who we benignly ignore or forget. People who we know about but don't understand. In our defense, there are just too many "less fortunate" and "victims", and "people in need." It overloads our capacity for emotions and empathy. And frankly, exceeds our guilt bandwidth.

I met the silent this week. People who literally can not speak and or advocate for themselves. People who need help or their memory triggers our human desire to help.

I visited an extraordinary special education school called College View Elementary. It is a comprehensive treatment program for 4 to 22 year olds who cope with and live through serious physical and mental challenges. When we think of special education, we might think about a student with learning disabilities, possibly autism, or a physical impairment who are being mainstreamed. The vast majority of these students can not communicate verbally and most will never be mainstreamed. They were and are silent, and very much alive. Young people trapped in a bodies and minds that restricts their ability to express themselves. The parents of these students, the staff of the school, and their community of friends have to stand for the silent everyday.

Then I met a couple of orphans from the Japanese tsunami. 2000 children and young people lost at least one parent on 3.11.11. One of the young people described his new commitment to become a search and rescue team member to help find people in the sea that took his dad. He will be standing for the silent.

Lastly, I went to an inner city elementary school and saw a presentation made by Kyle Smalley. It was one of the most powerful presentations I have ever seen. It began with 7 students standing behind enlarged photos of 7 smiling youth. Each student read a brief story of bullying where the young person in the photo was driven to suicide. Kyle then mesmerized and engaged the several hundred 8-12 year-olds in the audience with his authenticity and his folksy style. He told the heart breaking story about his 11 year old son Ty, who was bullied for two years. Ty could not take it anymore and retaliated and was suspended from school. His mother Laura took Ty home that day and Ty tragically took his life that afternoon.

With the help of friends they formed Stand for the Silent. Kyle and Laura have devoted their lives to Stand for the Silent in memory of their son Ty and to make sure that "no other babies suffer Ty's fate." Stand for the Silent aims to help us respect one another, to love one another, and to stand up and make a difference for those that have been silenced.

A new documentary film which comes out later this month, Bully, features the Smalleys and their work. SFTS PledgeSee it! It will move you to act and to act differently.

All of us stand for the silent, either wittingly or unwittingly. The "silent" are the vulnerable  without voices to advocate for themselves. The silent are those we have lost who inspire our work and our dreams. The silent are those we represent on a daily basis in the values we embrace and the good we attempt to do. If we don't stand for them, who does?

All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is for enough good people to remain silent. (inspired by Edmund Burke)

Standing for the silent also means we can not remain silent. We tolerate too much bigotry, prejudice, hazing, hatred, bullying and mean-spiritedness. Not talking about political correctness. Nobody means to hurt another, except the socio-pathic. But we each see, hear and witness things that need to be stopped--where a teaching moment can possibly save a life. We can not remain silent if we are going to live our values. Easy to say, but necessary to assert.

What silence will we break to advocate for another?

Which silent will we stand for?

Let's all take the pledge to help one another. To keep the silent populations who need us in our hearts, our minds and in our daily work. To stand and speak for the silent.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking through the right side of your brain

We all know that the brain is divided into hemispheres that govern our functions and abilities. While research has proven that both sides are involved in almost every human activity, each of us has a "dominant" side--a hemisphere we rely on a bit more than the other. Simply put, the left side is the more logical, rational, sequential, and numerical. The right side is more holistic, emotional, organic, and visual.

One of the many advantages I had growing up was I was raised between these hemispheres. My artist mother is a right brainer who taught us how to draw outside of the lines. My accountant father has a big left brain and taught us to analyze the data. As kids, it was confusing at times, but we learned the benefits of both points of view. It was funny to watch my mom paint and my dad price the paintings!

Brain Dominance Test  Are you a right or left brainer? Take this test.

What happens is you have a hemisphere that is stronger and you start to favor it. It becomes part of your identity and then others reinforce it by what they say and how they encourage you. And often this defines life choices you make, your educational path, your network, your job and career choices.Mc escher

Many years ago my mother encouraged me to read Betty Edwards, Drawing on the right side of the brain.  Can you draw what you see vs what you are thinking? I learned that through awareness you could engage the other hemisphere. You can change your preferences and abilities---and this alters the way you label and identify yourself. My drawing ability is still limited but I can see a lot more.

It is well known that regardless what hemisphere of your brain is dominant, you can be creative. Creativity is not determined by the hemispheres. It will be more determined by your network and your appetite to not accept the labels you give yourself or are assigned to you.  

A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. Steve Jobs

Jonah Lehrer's new book, which comes out later this month, Imagine:How Creativity Works outlines the forces and sources of creativity. Of course, there are many factors both environmental and personal that influence and generate creative thoughts. One of the most important of these factors revealed by this book is your network. Most of the most innovative companies encourage their employees to form "diverse networks" where they explore other disciplines and fields. Another of many compelling studies cited by Lehrer, is Martin Ruef's research on more than 750 Stanford MBA grads. All of them started their own companies. Those with "diverse networks" were 3X more creative. 3 Times! "Diverse networks" always mean networks that represent people who are different than you--ethnic, religious, political, geographic, occupational, age, economic and educational diversity.

Diverse always means different than you. It means different perspectives that you have to learn to understand. It means letting go of your assumptions.

I have learned not to pre-judge a source or to under-estimate a person. Everyone has talent, power, and ideas. Approaching every meeting, encounter and experience with expectations can destroy the opportunity to see and hear something new.

Who you know and talk to determines what you know and what ideas you will have.

 How diverse is your network? Probably not enough. How will you reach out to new people with new and different perspectives?

  • What you read matters
  • Who you interact with at the organizations you belong to
  • Your propensity to attend events outside of your affiliations
  • The frequency in which you engage in discussions with people with different perspectives
  • Doing things because it it is interesting not obligated

A diverse network is never really complete. Because you evolve and your needs evolve. What sparks insight and innovation changes.  What is diverse  to you changes. So to remain creative and fresh you have to have a network that constantly enhances your world view.

 

When we reach out to new experiences and connections, it sparks creativity. Your potential to  offer solutions increases and your appreciation for other points of view rises. The world becomes more interconnected and interdependent. And your opportunities to contribute expands.

 

We can not let our dominant hemisphere dominate our identities and our choices. Creativity is within everyone. You need to open up your mind to new sources of ideas and inspiration by breaking out of a network that looks and sounds like you.  

 

Thanks for reading. John

 


What are we racing to?

Aaaaah to be a student. Yes, I know we are all students of life--that's what old people say. :) But to be an enrolled student in higher education where the postponement of reality and the grappling with, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" is a full time job. Most students think they are the disadvantaged ones. They mistakenly envy those who are finished with their formal education. Students labor under the wrong assumption that they have no real influence over their futures and are mere pawns in the bigger chess game of the worldwide economic landscape.

Those of us who have graduated, know that the lucky ones are those still within the ivy covered walls. That being a student is one of the most powerful, invigorating, and creative times in one's life.

Youth is wasted on the young.  George Bernard Shaw

Perspective is everything.

I had a series of encounters with undergrads and grad students at two of my alma maters, UCLA and USC, where I recently led class discussions. Not sure I could be a full-time professor, but I have always enjoyed and gained from these interactions.

Those of us who have taught know that the future lies in these classrooms. That fertile minds and grand ambitions lurk behind those youthful eyes. Yet for obvious reasons, these students crave something they think those who have graduated have--certainty about their futures--a career. Ha!

The students discount their freedom, their options, their overall power to choose a path. They are often straddling what is prudent and rational (a stable job that provides a good living and what their parents have told them) and the interests and ideas that throb within them (their emerging passions and talents).

Inevitably, I am asked over and over again, in different versions and phrases--"How do you know? How do you know what the right path is?"Race car

One bright eyed and ambitious young man blurted out, "Is your passion within you or do you discover it?" This is a great question. And like all important questions, the answer is a resounding YES! :)

We underestimate what is within us--what is within others. Is is definitely within you, but you have to discover it too. You discover it by the friction you have with the world. The friction of taking chances and taking on challenges that interest you. By meeting people who are doing these things. By intellectually exploring these matters that seem to matter to your heart, mind and soul. By pushing yourself to new realms of understanding about the world and your role in it. By focusing on the growth not the gain. On the process not the promotion. On the wisdom not the wealth.

And how do you do this with a sense of urgency and not stress?

Most of us have discovered that finding THE Career is a fossilized artifact of the previous generation. Today, looking for a career must be replaced with finding oneself, then one's role.

The origin of career is basically a racecourse from the french and a wheeled vehicle from the latin. So it is like a NASCAR race. You go as fast as you can in circles trying to finish first but never getting anywhere.

Those of us who have learned this the hard way, including myself, know that you don't want a career but a vocation. Vocation literally means "calling". To find one's voice and spiritual path.

Back on my student's question. This is never a pursuit done in total solitude. It requires the power of connection and experience. To understand your suffering and the suffering of others. It is about the larger meaning of your life. It demands a network of opportunities and a mentor or three. It requires you to follow your ideas and interests that emerge as your passions. By listening to the voices within you, you will hear the whispers of your calling. You ignore these voices at your peril.

Passion is an itch that needs to be scratched and never goes away. It feels good when scratched but just persists. It is not just the source of joy but the source of great discomfort. That is what surprises people. They are looking for happiness and they find passion and passion is not pure joy, it is the essence of your life. It usually is triggered by the needs of others. And all needs are painful. Passion is discovering who you are and what is your purpose.

Being in front of students, I am reminded of the opportunity that is within all of us to discover who we are. To respond to our inner desire to help others and become the best we can be. I want to keep the student within me alive (the secret formula for eternal youth:).  So I can steer my vocational vehicle along a path paved with passion instead of doing circular laps in a career racecar.

Where are you going?

Thanks for reading. John