Harvard Business Review included my article “Culture as Communication” in the Fall 2013 issue of HBR OnPoint. I’m very happy and flattered!
Want an intriguing program to listen to this weekend?
I do what I do is because I’m deeply committed to helping people live their full potential, especially when they have world-changing dreams. My background in business, entrepreneurship, and cognitive psychology gives me a unique set of skills for helping people whose personal and organizational lives are deeply entertwined.
One of my favorite clients started our work together saying, “my life is quite good. I have a well-paying job that I enjoy, colleauges who support me, and a great circle of friends.”
“Then why are you here?” I asked him.
He responded, “Because, I don’t want a good life. I want an extraordinary life.”
I was floored. That led to shiftng my emphasis from clients’ businesses to addressing their businesses and their lives.
Many years later, in 2012, I gave a TEDx presentation called Living an Extraordinary Life, documenting a 3-year experiment in living outside my bounds. Technical glitches made the video unusable, but I presented an expanded version of the same presentation with slides for the Harvard Business School Association webinar series a few months ago.
I’ve made the audio, the slides, and a synchronized version of the two available and want to offer it to my community. I’d love your thoughts and reactions.
Note that the MP3 file is tagged as an audiobook and can thus be listened to at 1.5x or 2x on an iPhone/iPod.
Do The Experiment With Me
I’ll be starting my Experiment again, and am offering it as a year-long coaching program to build a supportive community for others who want to join me. If you would like an invitation to the program, here’s how it works:
- Listen to the program and make sure it resonates with you.
- Contact me via the form on the web page to arrange a discussion.
- We’ll meet to explore your needs, what you have to offer, and find out whether you’re right for the program.
- If so, I’ll send along an invitation once the program and details have been finalized.
The way we frame things mentally determines how powerfully we’ll be able to handle them.
I auditioned for Spamalot at a local theater last night. After checking in, they informed me that I was in the very last audition slot. That gave me the “opportunity” to listen to my competition as they sang their audition songs. One by one. While I waited with growing trepidation on the cold, unforgiving wooden bench outside. Trying very hard to smile. (It was an acting audition, after all.)
Each person came out complaining apologetically. “When I performed that aria at Madison Square Garden, I hit the high C with so much more resonance.” Or, “gosh, I forgot all the words, so I just improvised new, rhyming lyrics riffing off of a 13th century Olde English translation of the Song of Solomon.” By the time it was my turn, I was a nervous wreck.
But then, some part of my brain found The Answer. As I stepped through the curtains into the auditorium, the thought came to me: “Forget auditioning. Perform. You have two awesome minutes on stage. Give the audience your absolute best!”
One Thought Changes Everything
Suddenly my attitude changed completely. When it’s time to step on stage, there’s no time for practice or judgment. It’s commitment time. By framing this as a performance, rather than an audition, my nerves vanished. I was suddenly alert and happy (I love performing, after all).
I walked confidently to the pianist, gave him my sheet music, and proceeded to sing my song confidently, dramatically, and with full attention on the small audience that just happened to be the directoral staff for the show.
Nothing about the situation changed except my thinking. An “audition” was scary. A “performance” was exhilarating. The right thinking led to a mental and physical state that let me give my all. Last time, I “auditioned,” was a nervous wreck, and didn’t get the part. This time, I “performed,” gave it my all, and had a great time. My all still may not be good enough to get the part, but at least I had fun performing, which I love.
I tried this again during the dance audition. We got to dance twice. The first time, I was a total wreck. You’ve heard of two left feet? I have seven left feet. And they’re all superglued together. It isn’t pretty. But right before the second dance, I thought to myself, “this is performance, not audition! You may suck, but give the audience the best you have to give.” With that change of attitude, I remembered the entire routine and made it through with all the grace and artistry I could bring to the combination.
We Can Choose Our Frames
How you think about situations before you deal with them will affect the options you find, the actions you’ll take, and how resourceful your mental state will be when you start to deal with them.
Next time you find yourself nervous, sad, angry, apprehensive, or anxious, try a new framing.
If you’re going in to a “critical negotiation,” try a “new, mutually profitable relationship” instead. You’ll stop concentrating on the risk and instead you’ll start finding ways you can both benefit from the relationship.
If you’re on a “failing project,” start thinking about “a chance to rescue something good.” You just may find a way to use what you’ve learned and built in a new way that makes the project successful.
If you’re dealing with an “obnoxious, unreasonable person,” try connecting with “a good-hearted person who has really poor social skills.” Seriously. You’ll find your attitude changes.
Try explicitly reframing stressful situations. Are you fooling yourself? Maybe. But maybe you’ll fool yourself right into finding better, more resourceful ways to handle your challenges.
I’m in awe. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of big corporations. I think they often (but not always) dehumanize the people who work there. They can ruin communities in the name of efficient and cost-cutting, and they distribute wealth in truly bizarre ways. But… But… They’re amazing! Not just a little amazing; they’re frickin’ mind-blowing amazing!
Today I was getting lunch at Subway and the regional manager was there helping them tune up their processes so they can deliver the same quality as measured by customer feedback as several thousand other franchises. Not only do they do it today but they will do it every day going forward, rain or shine.
Have you ever thought about that? How incredible it is? There’s never before been a civilization that could do that on such a scale once, much less thousands of times. And we take it for granted that any large company will be able to scale like that.
And the things we do… Building the ancient pyramids is considered a Wonder of the Ancient World. We build buildings that are a thousand times more complex and sophisticated, on a regular basis. We rarely even ask “is a half-mile high building feasible?” Of course it is. We’ll find a way to do it; the limitation we focus on is funding. We know we can master the technological challenges. We know we can get the supplies made to spec. We know that we can coordinate the hundreds or thousands of people it will take to pull it together. And that’s unprecedented in human history.
The modern corporation has taught us to create systems larger than any one person could ever create. It has taught us to create flows of materials and information that span the globe, enabling us to coordinate people and projects on a level that can change the whole planet. And most astonishing, these organizations keep working even though the people who comprise them come and go. Popular business mythology aside, our ability to create and share process has made our achievements largely independent of any single person. The skills and abilities reside in the structure of the systems as much as (or more than) the individuals.
Tomorrow I’m sure I’ll be back to battling the not-so-nice parts of business. But today, I celebrate the corporation, an invention that has raised the human race to levels of accomplishment we have never before dreamt of. Savour it. Appreciate it. Enjoy it. Because it has enabled you to live in the most extraordinary time ever in human history.
Is business anti-ethical by nature? I’m reading an article today about how it’s in no one’s business interest to help protect consumers whose cell phones get stolen. Cell phone companies make more money when a customer’s phone is stolen, since the customer has to buy a new one. Furthermore, this logic applies to all cell phone companies, so even though it’s technically possible to permanently identify and deactivate a stolen cell phone, no player in the industry has the incentive to implement the technology.
Given that the technology certainly exists to disable a stolen phone, and customers spend hundreds of dollars on a phone, is it ethical for the cell phone providers not to help stop this, when (a) they could, and (b) they are the only people in the system who can?
This is a case where business interests and consumer interests clearly diverge. It’s a rather extreme version of Frito-Lay designing Doritos to give a rapidly-vanishing burst of flavor that psychologically hooks eaters into eating another chip. They know it’s unhealthy for people to stuff themselves on refined carbs, but they create a product designed to encourage exactly that. The cell phone companies, by not implementing theft protection, are encouraging cell phones to become the high-cost, high-tech equivalent of Doritos.
(How’s that for a tortured metaphor?)
I’m of mixed minds on this one. On one hand, I don’t know that it’s fair to force the phone companies to implement theft-protection on their phones, even thought it would stop an entire category of crime. But at the same time, no one else can do it, and I don’t know that I like the precedent of saying that business interests trump the societal interests of eliminating an entire category of theft and black market trading. (At the end of the day, I believe that we allow business to operate to benefit society, not the other way around.)
What do you think? Should phone companies add anti-theft technologies to their phones? Why? Is it morally/ethically appropriate on the part of the government/consumers to require companies to act? Is it morally/ethically appropriate on the part of the companies not to act?