Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who will teach you to succeed?

Yesterday, I was reading about research in affective forecasting. Affective forecasting is the predictions we make about the emotional impact of a given scenario: e.g. how would you feel if you won a million dollars? According to the research, the chances are that you would be less happy than you think you would. Apparently, human beings consistently overestimate emotional impacts - good and bad.

It's only one of a series of judgments we make consistently that are less than accurate. Typically, we also attribute behaviours to character more than to circumstance (we say "he's a jerk", instead of saying "he must have had a bad morning." This means that we believe that individuals have more control over their behaviours and circumstances than is probably true at any given moment. It means we attribute our own success to our brilliance and hard work when it is possible that we were simply in the right place at the right time.

This is the great fallacy in hoping that someone else will teach us how to achieve the same kind of success s/he has achieved. Teachers are supposed to know what works and why it works, and be able to communicate that. Most successful people do not know precisely why they have been successful. Especially when they are sure that they know. So what they teach us, even when they are genuinely interested in teaching, is of limited use. This may be why it is so rare for the disciple to outshine the master.

So the people who have had success are unlikely to "teach" you to succeed. And yet we need (and have evolved) to learn from other people's experience. How do we do that if it is not by being "taught?" Who teaches you what you need to succeed?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Dangling my feet over the edge


I am back from Tuscany, a land of hills and mountains and towers. During my time there, I climbed a tower only to find that gazing down from steep heights still gives me vertigo. It's hard for me to watch my kids lean against railings, much less sit on them. I know that many people sit on the edge with excitement. I also know that they are excited because they are confident that they will not have to cross that edge, certain that they can dangle their feet without jumping or falling.

There were trees growing at the top of the tower I climbed, the tower in Lucca. Looking at the picture, it is easy to imagine that it was taken from a look-out in a park on the hillside. It was taken from the top of the tower; I reached the top by climbing a series of progressively more narrow and twisty steps. Somebody made the tower and planted the trees.

The top of the tower is the perspective of the holiday; an artificial interruption we use to gain different perspectives. We pause, look down and around, and think about whether our "trip" back to our real lives will feel more like a descent, a spiral or a fall downwards. When we get to the bottom of the stairs, the end of the holiday, we see with double vision: our lives as they look from the middle, our lives as they look from the distance.

From the tower, we are more aware of how many different paths intersect our own, and how easy it might be to change our path. We are aware of the movement around us that is hidden from the ground. We are aware that to stay in one place is not to avoid change, for we see from the top of the tower that the scene is always changing around every possible position. The place we reach when we climb back down is not the place we left.

So I sit this morning, dangling my legs over the edge of my time in Italy, and taking one last look at the panorama spread out before me, learning again in my own experience what clients experience each time we take them out of their lives and into our courses, making even the familiar look different, showing them rooftops and paths not taken.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I'm on my way to Italy!

My family and I are off for an adventure in Tuscany, so posting for the next two weeks may be infrequent. If I can get to a computer, I will post now and then as I reflect on ways of anchoring wonderful travel experiences back into other goals and plans. My intention is to fully enjoy the trip while I live it and to ensure that it is a reasource for me in the days and weeks that follow.

Among the many things that excite me about this trip are the opportunity for incredible sensory richness - a feast for the tastebuds, eyes, touch, sound. I am looking forward to the sound of Italian, to listening to another language with all the absorption I have learned, allowing myself to know a language as potential rather than foreign, allowing myself to respond to rhythm and pitch and expressiveness, free from the leaps of logic that come with too much content.

And I am excited about art that will pull me out of myself and into bigger models of the world, of cities that were ancient when Arthur was king of Britain, of hills and sunshine and laughter. Excited about having my experience and modeling the experience of my sons as they reach out into the world. So many opportunities to enjoy experiences beyond my own while also thoroughly living my own experience.

What will be different two weeks from now? I will step back into my life, my work, step back into the stream that is and is not the same stream. I will have new memories of resourceful states, a new sense of possiblility, a renewed faith in how joyful a thing it is to build on the experiences of other human beings - the ones we meet, and the ones who lived in different places and different times and left their footprints in arts and roads and buildings.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Referrals, community and business that thrives

Have you ever bought something that was great value and not wanted to talk about it? Maybe you found a piece of clothing that looks much more expensive than it was. Maybe you got a great haircut at a strip mall. Maybe you learned public speaking at a course but want everyone to think you are a natural.

I once was the editor on a self-help book on how to ask for referrals. Within the context of the book, it was all relatively straightforward. If you provide a good product or service at a good price and then ask for referrals, people will give you referrals. There are many businesses when that is true, at least some of the time.

Referrals are a great way to do business. Obviously, they help a business grow. Less obviously, they are hugely important to consumers. When we tell other people about good products and services, we make them more widely available and more competitive. The level of the marketplace rises. When we hear about good products and services, we purchase more efficiently and with more confidence. Referrals are a win-win proposition.

Unless we fear that giving the referral reveals something about us that we would rather stay private. Then we hesitate to give the referral, and to support the business that did the good work. As much as we would like to keep people in business who provide good value, we do not want to risk our own reputations or privacy to do it.

I run a business that struggles to get referrals from our satisfied clients. We have lots of satisfied clients. They take courses with us and begin to make changes in their lives. Those changes often snowball and become significant new goals and opportunities. Often, we hear their success stories at the events we hold to build community or by email or by phone. We are successful at keeping in touch. We are less successful in growing our business through our clients' success. Sometimes it is because they want to hold onto an "edge" that distinguishes them from colleagues who are also competitors. Sometimes it is because they do not want to acknowledge that something can have a significant impact on them without being easy to explain. Sometimes they are nurturing seeds that were planted during a course and won't take firm root for months. These are all good reasons.

Still. We run a complicated business. We offer people experiences that help them to connect with more of their perceptions, to alter those perceptions to produce states and behaviours, and to influence others in positive, powerful ways. There is no 2 second sound bite that will do justice to an experience in which people learn from the best that is in them. We need clients to talk about their experiences and refer others to our courses so that our business can stay alive. If the community is to thrive, it has to nurture the business that supports it.

How often have you returned to a store or restaurant you particularly liked, only to find that it has closed its door? How many people did you tell to try it while it was open? It's not enough to visit once in awhile: if we want access to interesting products offered at good values, we need to support the businesses that provide them.

How many referrals have you made this week? You have more influence than the ads during the Superbowl. You can make a difference to the people you refer and the businesses you support. Try it and notice how good it feels to participate in a community of value.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What do you do?

It's such a standard ice-breaker we often answer it quickly and move on through the formula. In most conversations, "what do you do?" means "what is your job?" It's a simple question that poses complex challenges to those who are unemployed, self-employed or not wrapped up in their employment. The answer is supposed to be one or two words. For some of us, seeking the answer is what we do. And that's a complicated circle.

I run a small training company with my partner. So far, so good. Although the company runs me as much as I run it. And my partner is my business partner and also my training partner. Those are two separate roles. Very few people teach with a partner, so that's an answer that requires more questions.

Usually, the next question is "what do you train?" The answer to that varies according to the company I am keeping. NLP is an acronym for neuro-linguistic programming, a wild-west sort of approach to understanding how to influence yourself and others to change in ways that meet your goals. Having been born in Calgary, I am sympathetic to wide-open spaces and the pioneer spirit. I recognize the limits and the opportunities of challenging boundaries and inviting people to experience more of their lives. And I also recognize that there are no guarantees in the wild west of an unregulated, undisciplined collection of practices spread largely through word of mouth.

So what I do is only partly to train NLP. It's also to do what NLP was supposed to do (and has largely forgotten): to search many different fields for models of excellence and find out how individuals and groups have understood themselves in ways that allowed them to act effectively. At any given time, that includes helping our clients notice the difference between the way they think and behave at their best and the way they think and behave at other times. This allows them to learn from themselves as models: to understand their own strategies for succeeding on their own terms and then to grow, change, or replicate those strategies.

So what I do is different than what other people do who use the same language. We no longer train NLP: we use NLP to train people to perceive relationships: to see the part in terms of the whole and the whole in terms of its parts. This sounds more complicated than it is. Team leaders use integrated thinking to understand how each member of a team contributes to overall performance. Teachers use integrated thinking to ensure that each student learns while the group as a whole is engaged and learning. Managers use integrated thinking to leverage their contribution to the organization. Sales professionals use integrated thinking to connect with customers in ways that build their business.

We teach integrated thinking because it allows people to feel better, to do better, and to be better to other people.

It's a lot to put into an answer to a simple ice-breaker.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Too much stress

Some tension allows us to stand: too much pulls us apart. In between, small differences create high performance or enormous pain. We are not finely tuned machines, we human beings. We change moment by moment in unpredictable ways and the degree of stress that motivates us depends hugely on what we perceive as possible in one particular moment.

We have all heard stories of incredible feats achieved under incredible pressure. We know about the mother who saves a child through strength or endurance beyond anything that is normal. We know about the business pulled back from the brink of disaster by the entrepreneur whose passion outlasted all common sense. We know about disasters that create communities.

We know the other stories too. The stories of those who crumble when one more thing goes wrong. The stories of those who despair because an obstacle was just big enough to put something special forever out of reach. The stories of those who cannot live on the edge, waiting in hope and terror on the moment when everything is feared because nothing terrible has happened - yet.

Most of us do not go mad, or do not go obviously mad. Most of us do not despair conspicuously, although Thoreau noticed that "most men live lives of quiet desperation." He also noticed: "In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high."

Each of us has to decide, not once but many times, whether it is better to fail at something high or to keep our desperation quiet. No one is immune from the strains and pain and struggle of the body under stress. No one is immune from jobs that require more, from communities that do not seem to see or to care, from injury to loved ones and injury by loved ones. Every new hurt gives us a moment in which to ask: "is this too much?" And in each moment, there is the chance that this new hurt, however small, changes everything.

Sometimes we are merely stubborn. We defy the stress by promising ourselves just one more moment, just one more step. And when we look up, we might as well look high.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What are you waiting for?

It's spring. The grass is bright green; the trees are starting to be green; the sun is sometimes warm. All winter, you have been promising yourself and others that things will be different once winter is over. It's over now.

Now we start the season of avoiding things until fall. "All I want to think about is having a great summer" we say, as if having a great summer meant the endless days of pools and playing fields we remember from early childhood. "All I want to think about" we say, as if we cannot think and enjoy the sunshine, the warm weather, the long days. "All I want" we say, forgetting all the things we want that we are putting on hold until fall.

What do you want from your life? Why do you want to perpetually put off what you want for a day when the weather will be better, the price will have dropped, the timing will be more convenient? What if you decided to do something this morning, this evening, this week? Something that you have promised yourself for a long time. Something that will require your energy and reward you with more energy. Something that you will love.

What if today is the best day, the day most appropriate for learning, for doing, for enjoying?