Sunday, April 30, 2006

Influence and Ideas

Did you ever know anyone who was "influential" without having any ideas? While people of influence do not always have good ideas, they always have ideas that they believe are good. Their belief is so compelling that it comes to influence other people, to convince them to believe and participate in making the idea real.

People who know what they want are rarely short of ideas. Ideas come as naturally as breathing to them. The more they know what they want, the more ideas they have. Test this theory wherever you go this week. Notice that people who know what they want generate ideas and people who are uncertain about what they want are influenced by ideas.

This is a good thing: the influence of people with ideas can inspire us to reach beyond our own limits. It can give us faith when we need faith and motivation when we need to get moving. The influence of people who know what they want teaches us to know what we want.

What do you want? If you know the answer, what ideas are percolating that will move you toward what you want? If you don't know the answer, where will you find a model who can influence you until you are ready to influence others?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The life cycle of a working group

We know that groups have personalities: we know it through research in sociology, organizational psychology and business. We know it through experience. We are all part of groups that have recognizably different ways of perceiving and interacting with the world. What does group personality mean for the individual personalities that comprise a group?

We could begin with a theory. Instead, begin with your own experience. Think of a working group of which you are part - a collection of individuals engaged in work that has a common structure and purpose. Allow your attention to engage in a moment that is characteristic of that group, a moment in which you have experienced that group's personality. Notice the attitudes and actions of the group in that moment. Then allow your attention to move into your own experience and notice how you see, hear, and feel the world as part of this group.

What did you notice about the relationship between your own experience and that of the group? We know that individuals in groups behave differently than individuals acting and thinking alone. We also know that our experience of ourselves is both the same and different when we are part of a group. What we do is always a negotiation between what we expect to do and what the group expects from us. Another way of looking at this is to notice that we become aware of the parts of ourselves that fit the group.

At the same time, we are always ourselves, and a group personality does not mean that every individual in the group is a pattern for the group as a whole. In fact, group personality is usefully seen as an emergent system: a system with complex characteristics that emerges from the combination of diverse individuals. Think of your brain as a model for a group: each part of the brain has its own rhythm and function and yet collectively they form a recognizable identity: you. No one function represents you: you are the combination of senses and thought and experience that are processed in all the centres of your neurology.

As you wait to see where this thread of the blog is moving, notice yourself when you are alone and yourself when you are part of different groups.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Simple steps to significant difference

Recently, I watched a speaker patiently gather and connect with a group of disheartened and skeptical managers. His influence was a combination of a strongly formed outcome to connect and energize, and some very simple tools for effecting change. He asked people to move, and he gave them the opportunity to laugh at themselves and one another.

Studies show that more people fear public speaking than fear death or taxes. As much as human beings are designed to pay attention to one another, they are terrified of being conspicuous. They are afraid of being misunderstood or ridiculed or left frozen in the glare of the headlights. Public speaking accentuates those fears; it's not the only situation where they change attitudes and actions.

When we move, we displace the fear of being frozen in the headlights. As soon as we stand up, our spirits rise with our bodies. As soon as we change positions, we change perspectives. As soon as we move forward, we think forward. We give ourselves tangible evidence that we are not stuck.

When we move in ways that encourage us to laugh at each other, playing silly games or yelling funny slogans, we replace the fear of being laughed at with the pleasure of laughing together. When we are laughing at ourselves, we expect others to laugh, too. There is no shock of embarassment, no feeling of vulnerability, no awful moment of isolation. We say to ourselves and to those around us, "life is funny, isn't it?"

After playing silly games that involve laughter and movement, the managers addressed real issues with productive thinking - sometimes with answers and sometimes with questions. They set the terms for their success, and presented them with confidence. They left with lots to think about, and they left their leaders with lots to think about.

It's likely none of them noticed the simple tools that made the difference.

Laugh. Move. Move forward.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Significant influence

As you look back over your life, you linger over a few people who had a significant influence on how you shaped your life. Some of these will be obvious: parents, teachers, mentors. You will need sharper perceptions to notice people who were part of your life only briefly, people you met at a crossroads who made the slight difference that made all the difference.

Now look through the other side of the lens, and notice that you have had a significant influence in the lives of other people. Which of those influences means the most to you? Which would you change if you could?

Think about tomorrow and next week and next year. Think about the people who will have a significant influence on you, and the people you will influence. Make choices about the opportunities that are coming your way.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Have you ever said, "I was just wondering. . ." as if wonder were somehow vague and ineffectual.

Consider this defintion:


n 1: the feeling aroused by something strange and surprising [syn: wonderment, admiration] 2: something that causes feelings of wonder; "the wonders of modern science" [syn: marvel] 3: a state in which you want to learn more about something [syn: curiosity] v 1: have a wish or desire to know something; "He wondered who had built this beautiful church" [syn: inquire, enquire] 2: place in doubt or express doubtful speculation; "I wonder whether this was the right thing to do"; "she wondered whether it would snow tonight" [syn: question] 3: be amazed at; "We marvelled at the child's linguistic abilities" [syn: marvel]

Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

Wonder is a feeling that takes us outside our normal model of the world: we wonder at things that are bigger or better or more beautiful than we imagined possible. Wonder pulls us across a limit. And as soon as we step across the line, we know both marvel and doubt. Anything that is beyond imagining invites the possibility that other things exist beyond what we know or expect.

What if you flip the experience? What if anything that creates doubt also creates the possibility of something wonderful?

Try saying, "I wonder what he was thinking." And then really allow yourself to wonder at the unexpected connections and larger-than-life conclusions that could be part of the answer.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Springing up from half-forgotten goals

It's Easter weekend, the days are longer and warmer, and the first flowers of spring are appearing in gardens. Spring flowers seem to pop miraculously into being. It's easy to forget that the flowers that bloom in April were planted in the fall . . . or maybe they were planted many years ago. All year, they rest underground, waiting for this time and this weather to bring them out of the earth and into blossom.

In a world where it is often difficult to remember what we did last week, it's a great reminder to think about what we planted last fall. Let your mind go back to before the snow began, before the long darkness of winter, and notice what you were hoping and planning then. Notice what is coming to achievement now that started then. Notice and enjoy the achievements that have been growing naturally while you thought about something else.

Not all goals come into being after a long period of apparent inactivity. Some are more like the annuals that can't be planted until May 24, and need attention throughout their short life cycle. You can look forward to the almost instant gratification of picking them out half-formed and bringing them to full flower within weeks. Which achievements will you pick this summer?

Friday, April 07, 2006

collaboration and creating together

Collaboration is a slippery sort of concept. Weren't collaborators the people who protected themselves by siding with the bad guys during WWII? We have a way of turning things inside out so that only the dark side is showing. Have you noticed that if you say "it's a great day today," people are likely to reply "yeah. It sucks that I have to be inside all day." Collaboration is like that: a sunny day that people notice in terms of what they can't do.

Despite the language, we all want to co-create our reality with other people - sometimes the people in our personal lives and sometimes people whose talents and abilities complement our own and allow us to achieve more together than separately. We want to know that we are working toward the same thing, and even to enjoy the process. We want to influence and to be open to influence, simultaneously.

It's easier said than done. What does it mean to want the best for someone else? We use words like 'best' to describe an intention without prescribing the form it should take. Sometimes the results are that the 'best' we want is quite different than the 'best' they choose. Sometimes we take the safer route of specifying which 'best' we want to share: when we tell our children to do their best in school because we want the best for them, we accept some responsibility for getting outside information about what their best might be.

As a teacher, getting the best from students means giving them a little more than they can comfortably handle so they can discover that they have set the bar a little lower than their best. The approach is not without risks, and depends on my flexibility to notice their best and set a standard that is challenging and not discouraging.

Notice that there is an edge of opposition that inevitably creeps in to working for the best for someone else, a presupposition that one knows where to go looking for the best that is not always shared by co-creators. Then we make a choice between accepting their views or fighting for our own. Which may be why we hold onto the idea that collaborators are both valued partners and people who conspire against us.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Watching the lights come on

It's the time of year when (finally!) it is 8:00 pm and only beginning to get dark. If you were sitting at a window overlooking a busy road or a panorama of apartment buildings, you could watch the lights coming on. Some of them would be switched on as people enter rooms, and some would have been on for some time. You would only notice them as it grew dark outside.

Today I was coaching young people in an office without windows. And I was watching the lights come on - as realizations made their way from deep within to their eyes and their smiles.

Later, I spoke with a busy entrepreneur who is very, very good at what he considers important. He burns with a steady intensity, but the lights don't go on very often. His model is so tight that he can negotiate it in the dark.

I wonder if he ever sits in an airplane or a highrise hotel. And watches the lights come on.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The mysterious moment of choice

How do you make choices? You will notice, as you think about it now, that any choice is an edge: we can analyze how we collect information and we can analyze how we act on the choices we make. The moment of choice itself remains as mysterious as all of life’s absolutes. At one instant you are still choosing; at the next you have chosen. And like all of absolutes, the moment of choice demands that we use more than logic if we are to engage it and learn from it. We need to step into our experience of choice and use every element in the neurological web that represents that experience to glean the patterns that will allow us to choose more effectively. We need to allow the information we encode in our bodies, the connotations woven into our language, and our complex system of touchstones and guideposts to become part of a single, unified experience of what it means to choose.

Tell yourself that you will catch yourself in the act of making a choice tomorrow.