Thursday, March 27, 2008

What's up with Macbeth and young men?

I was at McMaster last night for a performance of Macbeth. My son was acting, so I am not an impartial reviewer. He has always found me a tough but friendly critic. Last night, I enjoyed watching the way these young minds, mostly men, were interacting with the text.

Power is intriguing - always. Power and violence are especially intriguing to young men. Throughout their lives, as they remember them, someone else has had the power. They might have had strength or agility or intelligence, but they have never had power - not the kind of power that exists beyond a very small circle. Now, as they prepare to leave university and enter the world, they look up (especially the young men) and notice that they will one day look very much like the people in power. They will have power.

It is not an easy thought. To have power is to become one of "them." To live without power is to be vulnerable and, more importantly, to fail to live up to the potential they know is in them. How can they move forward until they know if they are moving into positions of power or away from them?

And so, they engage with power in the form of a play. Other people have written about power and sex and the human desire to believe we can take what we want without remorse or consequence. No one has done it better than Shakespeare. These are smart young people. They are honing their minds on the best. They are sharpening their edges.

They do not do it for pleasure. Like most of their audience, they do not enjoy the tragedy of blood that is Macbeth. They perform it to find out what it feels like to step into the shoes of power. They test their own responses, knowing that power is in them and wondering what it will feel like when it makes its way out into the world. They act - they act as if. They pay attention to the parts of themselves that scare them.

Sometimes we older folks sit in the audience and forget the point of the exercise. We think it is about entertainment or discipline. We think Macbeth and his lady are monsters. We know that we have not sought power, most of us - not the power of violence and not any other power either. We do not listen to witches. We miss the point.

The point is not to reject violence or power: the point is to sharpen the edge.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Two ways to be wrong about hypnosis

People are either intrigued or vaguely put off when they find out that I run courses in hypnosis. Much of the emotion comes from misconceptions about what hypnosis is and when it is useful.

Some people think hypnosis can be used to get people to do things they are not otherwise ready or willing to do. This is true in some ways. Mostly it is untrue. There's just not much evidence that neat hypnotic language patterns sneak in and influence people to do stuff that someone else wants them to do. There's not much evidence that anyone is always good at influence.

Other people think that hypnosis is nonsense. It is mostly about getting people to make fools of themselves on a stage. This belief usually includes a reluctance to consider unconscious processes or to consider that people make choices based on anything other than logic (or it's opposite). This is also not true. There is lots of evidence that there is a relationship between what we know (our conscious awareness) and what causes us to know (the unconscious processes that tell us what we think and what words to choose). There is lots of evidence that we do not always know ourselves and so it is possible that we are more or different than we think we are.

So, what is hypnosis? There is no absolute definition so I am going to make one up: hypnosis is the ability to create a special relationship between conscious awareness and unconscious process so that you can do more of what you really want to do. It is often facilitated by a hypnotist - an outside presence that guides the process of letting everything slip away except the awareness associated with one particular intention. It occurs naturally in people who focus their thoughts in order to focus their actions.

Hypnosis is useful when someone is ready to consciously take steps to achieve something that seems, for whatever reasons, to require more steps or decisions or strengths than that person believes himself/herself able to manage. It is a way of reaching deep inside oneself to discover that one has more abilities, more knowledge, and more will power than one thought. As a hypnotist, you develop the ability to help people pull themselves together, relax, and get results.

Does this mean that hypnosis is never manipulative? We all like to be manipulated sometimes, by people we trust. We all trust the wrong people sometimes, and we all try things that do not work out as we expect. Life is like that. Hypnosis is subject to the same conditions as all other relationships between the choices we make consciously and the conditions that produce them.

Hypnosis is not the magical ability to control others. And if it is nonsense, it is the best and most useful kind of nonsense - the kind that strips away pretense and presents us to ourselves.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Puzzle out the best connections

Most people enjoy puzzles - at least the ones that they solve. Put a jigsaw puzzle on a table and most of the people who walk by will find themselves drawn to adding at least one piece to the puzzle. Every newspapers carries crosswords and sudoku puzzles. Puzzles are a way of problem-solving for fun.

Another way of problem-solving for fun is to make connections between what you want and the best interests of the people around you. The challenge is not to manipulate others into giving you what you want. The challenge is to find the places where your puzzle and their puzzles overlap - the pieces that belong to all the puzzles. Those are the pieces that create great relationships - and great results.

How do you know there is overlap? The joy of jigsaws and crossword puzzles is that we know there is a solution. The same thing is true of riddles: we know we can solve them because we know they have a solution. Can we know that there will be overlap between what we want and what somebody else needs or wants?

I believe we can. Partly, we can be sure because the human condition is one of change and even if overlap doesn't exist when we start, the act of looking for it is likely to bring it into being. Partly, we can be sure because being sure is useful. We may not always be right, but the belief itself generates good things.

So what do you have to lose? Start with the presupposition that every connection you make tomorrow can be good for you and good for the people with whom you are connecting. Then go ahead and get what you want - and move them closer to what they want, too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The most important sales tip

Sales is both an art and a science: there are lots of process-driven, metric-driven practices for measuring success in sales. If any of them worked perfectly, there would be fewer of them.

No one can say for sure that you will or will not make a sale on any given day. Occasionally, I buy something because I need it NOW. On those occasions, relationships don't matter as much as the availability of the product at a price I am willing to pay.

Most of the time, relationship is the only thing that matters. Without some kind of positive connection, I will not be around long enough to know whether or not your product is worth buying. When you connect with me - when you show a) that you are interested in connecting with me and b) that you are at least partly capable of understanding my priorities, then I am willing to think about whether I trust you enough to do business. If I trust you enough, we can talk about the product.

Of course, if the relationship is truly engaging, the sale will be made if I am qualified and you have a product I want. There will not be any need for dazzling gimmicks or giveaways. I will buy at a price that gives you a reasonable profit so that we can do business together.

If you want to sell to me, connect with me.

It's not easy but it's pretty simple.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Past Performance is No Guarantee

A friend recently asked me to remember what it was like to be on a winning team. Fair enough. I did win a provincial championship one year (playing soccer). It's reasonable to assume that I was playing on a great team, a winning team.

Except that I wasn't. We won sometimes. We lost quite often. We were interested in all the things that interest teenage girls. Sometimes that included soccer. We were not high performing.


We won.

One of the reasons we enjoy sports is that the high performing teams are sometimes out-performed by teams that have just enough heart and just enough luck to win a few games. They frustrate the high performing teams but they give the rest of us a special kind of excitement.

I coached a house league team of thirteen year old boys one year. They lost a lot of games. One father who spoke almost no English cornered me after a game we lost 9-1. He kept saying over and over "this not good." No kidding.


Everyone gets a shot in the playoffs and somehow we outplayed ourselves - and matched the other team. We won the game in penalty shots. We won the semi-final in penalty shots, too.

We did not win the cup: mostly, I think, because we were overwhelmed by the excitement of sneaking past everyone else and making it into the final.

Some of you, like me, are celebrating Easter this weekend. The Easter story is about sneaking past everyone's expectations and winning despite the odds.

Sometimes we surprise other people. Sometimes we surprise ourselves.

Past performance not withstanding.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Double edged swords and other blessings

I'm currently doing a lot of work on resilience - more than I would like in some ways. Working on resilience means beginning with the presupposition that stuff is going to go wrong. Or recognizing that stuff is going wrong. Either way, resilience is not entirely a desirable gift.

Unless you do not have enough of it. We've all been there. The days when we get knocked down and we have no idea how to get up again. The days when we look up and realize we have no idea where we are or where we were going. Those days.

On those days, we scrape together whatever resilience we can find - sometimes without worrying much about whether it's enough or where it came from. We take one step, hoping it's the right direction. We look in the mirror and muster some curiosity about what we see there.

It can seem that building resilience is like asking for trouble. It can seem like a good plan will get us by without the need for so much resilience. It can seem like we can cut corners.

We cannot cut corners on building our resilience. Life happens - to everyone - on a regular basis. You cannot predict exactly which obstacles, interruptions and distractions you will face. You can predict that something predictable or something unpredictable will arise and get in your way. You can predict that you will need resilience.

Fortunately, building it feels good. It is not like building resistance (which means hurting a little at a time so you will be prepared for the big hurts). Building resilience means finding a base and then bouncing on it.

Resilience means having bounce. And bounce is fun.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tulips on my desk

In the midst of an endless to-do list (even on Sunday afternoon), I stopped at the garden centre and bought two pots of tulips and one of hyacinth. Some of the tulips are just starting to bloom.

I replaced the dried flowers in the vases in my living room with pussy willows and lavender and roses. They sit under a print of one of our favourite parts of the north shore of Prince Edward Island.

Hurry up please. It's time.

It's time for spring. It's time for maple sugar and pussy willows and puddle-stomping. It's time for mucky yards and raindrops and grey skies and blue skies. It's time for knowing that life shoots up in us at the least likely moments.

Hurry up please. It's time.

It's time for vibrant signs that we do not need a new beginning - because what we want has been biding its time and waiting for us and with us.

Hurry up please. It's time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How many people do you really like?

A young man accused me last week (in writing, not in person) of mistaking him for being more intellectual than he is. Than he thinks he is. I am unshaken in my belief that he is clever and enthusiastic and funny and capable. He will find as he gets older that he is not only not smarter than lots of the people he would dismiss today, he is also smarter than he thinks he is.

It is rare for me to meet anyone who is open to learning and not like them.

When was the last time you looked around and noticed how many people you really like? It goes against our hard-wiring: we are more easily able to notice the people who hurt us, the people who endanger us, the people who make us afraid. We like the people we like without thinking about it. Sometimes we like them without thinking about them.

Think about them. Let yourself notice that even though nobody is perfect and there are things you would change, you like lots of people. Just as they are. Just as you are.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What we can't see

I was thinking about seeing and believing this week. It's funny how the concept sticks, even in a world where seeing should not mean believing. Much of what we see - at least what we see on screens - is fabricated. It's an elaborate game of make-believe, often even when it pretends to be true.

It's not so much that we believe what we see as it is that we find it hard to trust what we cannot see. And there are at least three categories of things we cannot see. The first is easy: things we cannot see because they have no tangible presence in a physical world. This category includes abstractions - like love or justice - and it also includes everything that is not real or present at a given moment.

The second category is more difficult. I was reminded of it this morning listening to a brain scientist describe her experience of a stroke. She said she remembers looking at a business card and seeing only pixels: her eyes picked up the information but her mind refused to make sense of it. When the information in front of our eyes does not connect with the rest of our experience, we simply cannot see it.

The third category is outside our awareness but not mysterious. We all have blind spots: metaphorically (probably) but certainly we have real physical blind spots. We are not aware of them, because our minds fill in the information that our eyes cannot see.

If you are working with someone who cannot see something that is obvious to you, ask yourself:
1) Is what you are looking at in his/her blind spot?
2) Is what you are seeing so far outside his/her experience that he/she cannot makes sense of it?
3) Is what you are seeing not there at all (is it information that fills in your blind spot or invents enough information to allow you to connect with something else you are seeing)?

There are good reasons why two people can look at the same picture and see different things.

Essential Services

I heard a news item today about a possible strike at the TTC. A local news station was doing a survey: “Should the TTC be an essential service?” The consensus seemed to be no.

It made me wonder what would make a service essential. People without cars need to get to work - often more than the people who can afford to drive cars.

I imagine most of us think that the surgeon is essential to our surgery. We probably even recognize that the nurses and technologists are essential. We want to be confident that life support machines will support our lives when needed.

We do not always remember that the janitor is also essential to a successful surgery. We remember only when we hear the statistics on how many people die after successful surgeries because hospitals are not as antiseptic as they should be. Viruses and bacteria spread quickly unless they are cleaned to death.

Who kills the germs when the janitor cannot get to work?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Just a touch of spring

Do it. Buy tulips and daffodils - or shiny new golf balls. Treat yourself to a pedicure - as if someone were actually going to see your toes. Walk through a garden centre.

March is not spring in Canada. Not usually and certainly not now. No matter. Pretend. It's easy.

Drink lemonade or eat a popsicle. If absolutely necessary, find the blender and make a marguerita.

Put spring into your step by taking a step toward spring.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Late nights and early mornings

What generates enough energy in you that you willingly work late nights and early mornings?

Of course sleep is important. There is a limit to how often we can burn the candle at both ends. But sometimes we do.

Something gives us the energy. Something keeps us moving.

When we are lucky, it's the work itself. Whether someone assigns it to us or we create it, whether we have a deadline or an inspiration, the right work generates energy. Our passion, our attention, our will power is fueled by good work.

We know now that the brain gets tired from being underused: when it is stimulated, it produces resources.

Eventually you will be tired. You might be really tired. Your body will tell you its time to let unconscious process do its work more quickly than it can while you are awake.

But what a rush it is to work late because you love the work.