Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mind reading

This is the link to Slate's weeklong issue on neuroscience this week (the pun in my title is theirs). I found the link on this blog:, which I started following after (I think!) it was recommended by Mike Murray on his blog:

This is the way the world wide web works: we begin reading one thing, and then follow different threads until we have covered much of the web (and maybe forgotten the thread where we started). Neural webs can be equally transient - some threads are as fine and easily broken as spider's silk. Yet we often remember (or re-weave) webs of startling detail - memories so vivid they feel like they are still happening; concepts that suddenly seem dazzlingly clear. As smart as the internet is, it does not always yield either the intensity or the stability of the webs we weave in our own minds.

So enjoy the links to reading about your brain - and enjoy the brain that is reading it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

just think. . .

Think about a process or project. Is it a means or an end? How do you know?

Think about a conflict in which you have recently been engaged, or by which you are being influenced. Is it a conflict about an end or about the means of achieving it?

Think about the last thing you accomplished working with someone you love. How often did knowing exactly what you wanted interfere with your ability to get it?

The trick for individuals is to decide how much to commit to the little picture: how clearly to decide what is necessary to get to a desired end. It's not hard to agree on big-picture outcomes: it's hard to agree on the next step to getting there, and the one after that. Those disagreements can blur the big-picture beyond recognition or they can polish it to a higher gleam. The difference is not in the actions you take. It's in the thinking you do when you bump into a difference.

The next time you are tempted to argue or bulldoze, stop yourself. Just think.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sales and expectations

As we wait for the first weekend when it truly feels like spring has arrived (promised for this weekend), it's a good time to think about how our expectations create filters for what we perceive. This isn't quite the same as arguing, as The Secret does, that we always get what we expect (the object of our attention). It's more like arguing that expectations create frames - like window frames - that determine some of what we see through them.

This weekend, we are running a training that goes from about 9 am to at least 6 pm on Saturday and on Sunday. Many people have a frame that says eight hours is a work day and nine hours is a long day. They also expect training to be draining - and a long training day to be especially draining. Some people only know that they have achieved something when it tires them out. Some people assume that training is related to the kind of physical work-out that really "burns." These people do not necessarily want to relax and rejuvenate: they want to feel the pain so that they can get the gain.

It is, of course, possible that a nine hour training day could feel like a nine hour cruise over quiet waters. It's possible that people can move forward without any sense of strain or discomfort. It's possible for progress to be as natural and effortless as the blooming of the buds on the trees as the sun becomes warm.

Is it possible for people who expect to be drained at the end of the day? Yes - once they are in the midst of the experience, their expectations may change. Expectations do change - even the adult brain is plastic, changing patterns and functions as a matter of course.

Is it possible for people who expect training to be draining to understand a promise that training will be refreshing? Probably not - until they have an experience that allows their expectations to be different, they cannot connect with challenges to those expectations. Given a cruise ship, they need to dive into the water and swim.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

who will you inspire this week?

A few of you who read this know that it is your job to be inspiring. Not just to teach or to manage or to coach - to inspire. Most of you probably don't think inspiring is in your job description. You might not believe it is in anyone's job description.

After all - inspiration has long been considered a gift - something that the universe or the gods or God (depending on your belief system) confers on a few lucky individuals at unpredictable times. To be inspired is to suddenly find fresh perceptions, new ideas, and the energy to create. It's a rare privilege and one that many of us simply assume we have to live without.

Except that we don't. Consider this: the people who are generally considered to be inspiring generally become more inspiring as time goes on. Mother Theresa must have started out as Sister Theresa. Great athletes were once beginning athletes. Great thinkers once got "Cs" on their homework. Einstein was a clerk in an office when he was inspired. He became an inspiration sometime after that. If inspiring is something that depends on a combination of achievement and development, then presumably it is a process we can study. If we can study it, maybe we can get better at it.

No one expects you to change the world this week. But there are probably one or two or a handful of people whose world you could change. There are probably people who could function better and feel better because you connect with them. Who are they and what do you need to be thinking now in order to inspire them when the time is right?

It's possible that inspiration is both a process and a gift - and that you have it in your power to give it now, even if you have not given it before.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Passion, Power, Product

This weekend, I will be thinking about the relationship between passion, power and the ability to tolerate uncertainty. W. B. Yeats once said that poets "sing amid our uncertainty." I think this might be true not only of artists, but of most people who create something signficant.

We often associate passion and power with the ability to produce - to create tangible results. Whether we are talking about performers, athletes or business leaders, the people we admire for productivity are also people we celebrate for their passion. We associate passion with power: the ability to focus on something with energy, intellect and commitment drives both activity and creativity. At the moment, this connection is being widely promoted as "The Secret" to success - it's as if the ability to hold a thought with enough intensity produces real outcomes.

It's worth remembering the other side of the coin. The ability to hold a thought with intensity often produces unintended consequences: people go bankrupt because they forget to pay bills, lose families because they forget to build relationships, and inspire outrage because they forget the need for connections. Successful people almost always have more than one story of spectacular failure in their experience.

It's possible that passion does not create certainty: it's possible that it allows us to live with uncertainty. It's possible that the real secret is this: we all sing amid our uncertainty if we are going to sing at all. Those of us who succeed, succeed because uncertainty does not stop us.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Finding Lost

Lost is the latest series to sweep my household; it began with the teens and is spreading, so that I am intrigued. The people in lost know they're lost because their plane crashed on an island. The point of the series, however, has more to do with how lost they were before they boarded the plane. It's symptomatic of life in the 21st century.

You only know you're lost, however, if you have some stable point of reference that sometimes tells you where you are in relation to where you want to be. If you don't know where you're going, the old saying comments, then one road is as likely as another to take you there. So when we say, as we say when we tune in to watch Lost on tv, that we are all lost, we are also imagining that we know what it is to be something other than lost.

How do you know when you are lost? You know because you have an expectation of knowing where you are in relation to where you want to be. The question is not: is it possible to find that stable reference point? The question is: where and when can you locate that stable reference point in your life? You only know you're lost if you know how to be clear about where you are in time and space. You only know how to be clear if you have experienced it.

You have experienced it. Take a moment, and notice all the ways that you are experiencing it now. Notice that you are often 'lost' because you crave better precision in your ability to locate where you are in terms of where you want to be. If you were really 'lost' you wouldn't know it.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Nike is often right

Quite often, the best changes do not take time: they take intention. If you want to make a difference, just do it. Decisions are all made in the blink of an eye. One moment you are undecided; the next you know. While it seems that our neurology encourages a process where we evaluate our decisions before acting on them, the process need not take long. Decide; do an ecology check on how the decision fits into the rest of your life; get busy.

It's a good message for Easter Sunday, a time when a long period of thoughtful, difficult dormancy is marked by rebirth. It's true in the Christian faith; it's also true as nature wraps up winter and moves toward spring. Winter is not a waste of time; it is a time of preparation. Once the earth is prepared, it's time to launch into spring. Before we know it, we will all be complaining about how warm it is and enjoying evenings that seem to stretch out forever.

We have started our launch into the new season with a brand new site design for our website. Check it out at If you're in the GTA, plan to join us for an event or course. If you're ready to make a change, consider a practitioner program. Committing to change is the biggest step in reaching it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I really am a suburban housewife

Yes, I am literate, articulate and occasionally fun. I read the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, lots of books and blogs on neuroscience and marketing and psychology, some science fiction, some Christian works, and poetry when I can make some space. I teach people at different stages in their lives to tell their own stories and to listen to other people's. I believe that work does not have to be different than play. I am a partner in a small company. And. . . I am still a suburban housewife.

Some of my friends tell me that they would never think of me that way. Some of them have seen my house, and know that it does not always look like a wife lives here. However, there does seem to be a bias against the intelligence, passion and playfulness of suburban housewives.

Unlike many of my friends, I have spent most of my life in the suburbs and know quite a few women who live their lives here. They are often quite amazing. Some of them have high energy levels, a commitment to community and lots of talent in various fields. Now that my kids are growing up, I miss the other soccer moms. While some of them acted a lot like - well, like suburban housewives - many of them acted like amazing women who took raising their kids seriously and tried, a little desperately at times, to carve out enough space for themselves to stay alive intellectually and emotionally while working 24/7 as moms.

Now I'm looking for new communities. One place I'm testing the waters is Squidoo. You can visit the lens I started today at

Monday, April 02, 2007

laughter when you least expect it

"Playful" is not an adjective most people would connect with a small, rural, very traditional Presbyterian congregation. Yet early Sunday morning, a minister I know walked into an empty sanctuary. His congregation was hiding in the basement to celebrate April Fool's Day. They were playing - with each other and with him. Several hours later, he was still laughing.

I am reading a sci-fi novel about a world that has the same word for "work" and "play." Like children, the people of that world devote themselves to doing what they want while enjoying social connection. They think, produce, and serve - and call it all play. Oddly, the book doesn't give me much of their sense of humour. Only people who can laugh mix up work and play.

What keeps work and play separate in your life?