Thursday, 29 November 2012

Conquest or Consensus?

I drive a certain type of person nuts.

But that's okay, cause they drive me even more nuts.

How long has it been since you flirted with someone?  Know what's interesting about that kind of interchange?  If you think about it, it's adversarial.  It's me vs. you.  A power play - you're trying to jostle for position - who's the wittiest, who can make the other blush, who can take it closest to the line without crossing, or who can cross the line the furthest and get away with it.  I mean, it's all friendly, of course, but it's an eye contact, person to person style of conversation.

Ever worked with or been friends with a person who had to be right?  Every conversation is an argument to be won.  They are not to be outdone.  They will not concede their opinion for the sake of moving forward in the conversation?  You feel like you walk away from any chat you have with them as the loser, even though you weren't trying to play a game.  This is another conversation style that is by definition adversarial.  You're staring someone in the face, and SOMETHING's gotta give. 

Who's gonna look away?  Who's gonna do it?  Loser.

There's probably a time for those kind of conversations.  But I daresay it's a lot more rare than it needs to be.  I mean, if you need to prove to your dog that you have the authority to tell him he can't pee on the area rug, sure.  But dude.  I'm a smart, confident, capable adult, who has a valid opinion.  Do. Not. Try. To. Defeat. Me.

I had an experience today, where I was in one of those eye-to-eye conversations, and we kept on bouncing off each-other.  Then something really cool happened.  Somehow a change happened - slight redirection of the topic, and suddenly we weren't nose to nose, we were shoulder to shoulder, on the same side of the argument, in agreement.  And the tension dissipated like someone opened a window and let a breeze blow it all away. 

This is a tactic we use at work from time to time.  When we have to disappoint a client, we find whatever way we can to approach it from their side.  To promise them that we will work with them against those circumstances that led to their expectations not being met. 

Anyone out there who likes getting beaten down?  Maybe it's my inability to see it from the other side (it's the opposite of my personality type), but it seems like a no-brainer that you will get farther in life by joining people on their mission and rowing a couple strokes with them than you will by conquering them. 

You may or may not be able to recognize your own conversation style.  We're pretty good at justifying our approach, without even really thinking about what our approach is.  But I bet you can pick out other people's style.  And what you could do is start to proactively approach conversations from beside someone instead of in their face.  When you see the great results, I bet you'll start to displace your old habits pretty quickly.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


I don't think you're allowed to self-evaluate your integrity.  I think the proof's in the pudding on that one.  But I will say that's it's always been a theme word for my life.  If you plant a flower in your yard, it's going to wither when it gets too hot or too cold.  If you put a rock out there, it won't.  It's gonna look the same whether it's a gentle spring day or a hailstorm.  The rock has integrity.  It stays the same regardless of the circumstances.

Steel is another thing that is said to have integrity.  The less impurity, the less foreign matter in the mix, the stronger the steel - the more integrity.  It's the same on the inside as it is on the outside.

Rocks.  Steel.  Geez.  I sound like a pickup truck commercial.  Also sounds boring.

So here's the challenge.  What does a human who has integrity look like?  My guess - they'll bring three things in line with each other: their thoughts, their words, and their behaviour. 

How do I get there?  Humans have this funny habit of having a perceived personality and then a blind side.  So when I speak, and when I think about myself, I speak and think as though I am the person I picture myself as in my brain.  However, my actions will belie the fact that I don't always measure up to the man I imagine I am.

The stronger your ideals, the larger the gap between your perceived self and your real self.  That's a toughie.  What's better?  Having strong values, or having integrity?  Is it possible that integrity actually means toning down your beliefs to something you can actually live up to?  Don't get me wrong - don't go all the way to the other side and say, "If I don't keep any convictions, I don't need to feel guilt for any of my actions."  That's cheating too.

You're creating a lot of stress for yourself when you're writing cheques with your conscience that your actions can't cash.  I think integrity means having a realistic impression of yourself - what you can and can't do.  And then not setting yourself up for failure.

So, what if I find a flaw in the steel?  A crack from an inconsistency in the formula?  Well, it's awfully hard to fix, isn't it?  Kind of like a cavity, you'd need to drill out any weak spots, so that you are grafting in to the solid, pure, good stuff.  Then you need to painstakingly layer in pure, molten filling that's made as solid as the existing stuff, or better, so that the weak spot is gone.  If that's my personality that we're talking about, that means coming clean about the weakness, making the appropriate reparations, and then painstakingly correcting my behaviour by changing my habits.

Sounds hard.  When I just write it out like that, I can see why it's mostly an aspiration.  But when you find a person who is this way - MAN is it ever amazing.  They say what they mean, they keep their promises, you know what to expect from them.  They aren't dramatic.  They are reliable.

Have you ever run into a football player, or a really strong person?  Even though they're made of the same cellular structure as you, chances are you bounced off them like you had just charged headlong into a tree.  Now picture someone who is like that mentally.  That's a person with integrity.  The real deal.

So, anyway, that's what I think integrity is.  I'd tell you how to get there, but I don't stinking know.  Just keep going, I guess.

Monday, 26 November 2012

I've Broken Up with Music

I'm a really clever guy.

When I'm writing about stuff 'in my ballpark'.  And since this is my blog, I have the luxury of sticking to that category.  So you all stay totally impressed. 

Right?  RIGHT?

But not today, because a weird thing happened to me the other day.

As you may have guessed by my last post, I'm experiencing stress these days.  And usually, when I drive in my truck, I listen to interviews with thought leaders who talk about the things they... lead... thought... in.  But when I'm stressed out, learning goes out the window.  So I switched it to the radio.

And then a song came on.  And I did something really uncomfortable.

I... felt...

When the song was done, I turned off the radio, and as I left the car, I felt a little cheap, like someone had just busted into my head and rearranged the furniture without my permission.  I actually found myself resenting the song for making me identify with it.

Which is weird for me, because I used to play guitar and sing in church, like all the time, and music was a huge part of my life in college and high school.  And now, I find myself feeling like it's for the weak.

Here's the best I can describe it:  I spend a lot of time working on my mental space.  Thinking positively, believing that bad luck is a golden learning opportunity, and that I can create (most of) the circumstances that will lead to my continued improvement and success as a human being.

And then that song came on the radio.  And it managed to get backstage and whisper a couple haunting words to the superstar right before the big performance.

I can't figure out if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Here's why: I am a hard worker.  And the way to get to the next step is not to sit back and let a song make you feel bad.  It's to put your head down, and work your ass off till you hit the next smooth patch and you can let off the pedals a bit.

Don't get me wrong.  This isn't a denial thing.  It's a persistence and inner strength thing.  I'm fully willing to acknowledge that hard stuff is hard.  But feeling bad is a waste of energy, right?  It is what it is, so deal with it.  Right?

Yet ever since this happened on Sunday, I've been kind of haunted by it.  Help me, friends.

What is music's role in this stuff?  I don't want to just sit around and mope.  What's to be gained from listening to a song that describes your negative state?  Can music be restorative?  That's a lot to ask!  People pay a lot more for cognitive behavioural therapy than they do for an iTunes download for a reason.

I was totally caught off guard by my reaction to that song.  I felt like it busted me feeling a way I wasn't 'supposed' to be feeling.  I want to hear your take on it.  Is music for the strong, or the weak?  Is it an escape, or is it edifying?  Of course there's good and bad.  But is there a role for it in all this?  Or is it a way that we let ourselves off the hook by giving our emotions some instant gratification?

Please comment below.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Restore Default Settings

If you think you're good at handling stress, try to solve a sudoku puzzle while someone taps their index finger on your forehead.

I heard an interview with Steve Shapiro - a speaker on innovation.  (Here's a TED talk that he did that really encapsulates the way I try to approach a lot of things in life.  TED talks are my way of feeling smart while not taking time to read books.  Kind of like that fancy feeling you get when you walk a little extra slowly past a Ferrari).  In the interview, he goes a little further into the principle that experts are at a disadvantage when it comes to creativity, because their neural passageways are so deeply developed in a particular way of thinking.  Any time they're faced with the stress of a challenge, they default to their old way of solving problems.

But then, I guess you don't have to be an expert for that, do you?  Isn't that what we all do?  I'm usually a pretty chill guy.  At the best of times, that means most stress is water off a duck's back for me.  But when the shit really hits the fan, I tend to stray further down the spectrum and become downright avoidant.  Some people have tendencies to speak before thinking, that they can keep in check until something stressful happens.  Then they revert back to that old habit.

If you rounded a corner and came face to face with an angry tiger, your brain would short-circuit the 'logic and reason' side of your brain.  It goes straight to the fight-or-flight, instinctual side.  Your behaviour is much less voluntary when you have adrenalin running through the old meatloaf.

When I was in my last year of high school, a friend of mine (best friend of a number of my best friends) committed suicide.  Being my avoidant self, I watched from a bit of a distance as all of my friends dealt with it in different ways.  Sometimes it was vice - drinking, smoking, sexuality.  Sometimes it was spirituality.  Sometimes it was relational - some avoided others, some veered more to the needy, paranoid side.  All my friends were (and are) wonderful people, who I wish I was in more contact with.  But it was a fascinating learning experience to watch people develop coping mechanisms at that young age.  And some of us are still leaning on those same coping mechanisms today. 

If you've ever lost someone close to you, you know what grieving feels like.  It feels like stress.  You feel like you literally spilled your guts all over the pavement, and yet people are expecting you to carry on, working, interacting, being friendly.  And you just feel like you have "BASKET CASE" stamped on your forehead.  So when your guts are out, a little germ can become a deep seated infection.  Because eventually you are able to gather them back together and tuck them back, roughly where they belong.  So the decisions we make when we're under big stress or pain can be very crucial.  The strongest memories are linked with emotion, so those coping mechanisms develop fast and strong.

So, when you're under stress, just keep an eye out.  The first thing you'll find is that your desire for creativity diminishes.  If you're a musician, a planner, a performer, a salesperson, watch your passion dwindle.  Then, watch to see what you start to 'default' toward.  I bet you already know.  If not, I bet your best friend or spouse does - this is often the 'blind side' of our own personality, that we "on purposedentally" overlook.  Do you distrust people?  Is it suddenly extremely important that the boots are on the right side of the closet and the shoes on the left?

And the crazy thing about coping mechanisms?  They don't have to be vices!  Or better put, ANYTHING can be a vice when it's used as a coping mechanism.  Exercise is great - until you're doing it obsessively, to the detriment of your relationships.  Healthy eating is great, until it becomes a diet, and then an eating disorder.  Blogging is great.  Unless it means you're ignoring your 4 year old. Wait.  Shoot. 

Just kidding.  He's already asleep.

Do you know what your "Default Settings" are?  Hey - God Bless You if you've had a charmed enough life that you haven't had to find out, but I bet most of us have an inkling.  A healthy idea might be to make yourself aware of what they are.  You're going to be doing them whether you realize it or not.

Stress happens.  It can't be avoided.  But part of being prepared for it is recognizing your default settings, and not letting them go unchecked.  Allowing those bad habits in when you're stressed is like planting a seed deep, deep in your mind.  It can grow in there for a long time without you noticing, once you cover it up.  But you may start to see it crop up in all sorts of odd places with time.  Don't let those patterns get too ingrained.  Brains are like a wagon trail - the more times you go down the same path, the harder it is to get the wheels out of the grooves if you decide you don't like it anymore.

Is it just me or do I speak in pictures?

So what's your story?  How do you spot a rut in your actions?  What defaults do you reset to under stress? What tips do you have to recognize them?  To re-train yourself?  Comment away!  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A better way to do business.

I'm going to apologize ahead of time if this sounds sales-y.  All I can do is speak from experience, and my experience comes from where I work.

Ever get those moments of transcendence?  Where you stand back and realize that something very ordinary and day-to-day that you take for granted is actually really amazing?  I often get those when I say bedtime prayers with my son, and I realize that we are SO blessed to happen to be born into one of the most comfortable, prosperous places on the face of the earth.  We didn't choose to be born here.  We found ourselves here, and as a result, we have the opportunity to live one of the most comfortable existences in the HISTORY of HUMANKIND.  Unbelievable.

On a slightly less cosmic scale, I'd like to share something really unique that I'm a part of.  I just call it my job, but I happen to be part of a completely new way to do business.  A better way, I daresay.

Anybody remember that documentary, The Corporation?  Where they talk about how North American law gives Corporations the same rights as humans, but none of the responsibilities?  And as a result, corporations act like sociopaths, but cannot be penalized or imprisoned?  Who is a business accountable to?  Shareholders.  And shareholders tend to be pretty brash.  Like, if you have a bad quarter, they dump your stock and buy Apple.  Or just Apple products, depending on what your stock was worth.  This results in corporations sacrificing tomorrow to turn a profit today.  It's like drinking coffee instead of getting enough sleep.  It works for a bit, but in the end, it's damaging.

It makes me think of carpet and paint.  Because everything makes me think of carpet and paint.  But also because of these 2 stories:

Imagine a company that makes a LOT of paint.  Like 100,000 gallons a year.  They start by making a pretty high quality product.  And they charge as much for it as people are willing to pay.  But out of that budget, they have to pay for a big sales staff, a TON of marketing, a complicated distribution system, and a corporate jet.  And because they're already charging as much as they can, what do they do to make a little more money?  Cut costs.  And how tempting is it to squeeze the quality of your product?  I mean, half a cent per gallon isn't much.  When you multiply it by 100,000 gallons it adds up, but the paint quality doesn't suffer that much, does it?  Well, no.  Not the first time.  But that's a dangerous game.

What if a company decided to turn that whole thing on its head?  Instead of going big, they went small, and their philosophy was to put the BEST ingredients in the paint, regardless of cost.  Then they killed the sales force and the distribution chains, and the 100,000 gallons of inventory.  Well, not literally KILLED the sales force.  Just never hired them.  Then, they let companies buy into a management group, and they get to market and sell the paint themselves.  Now, instead of 80% of the money going into the business and 20% going into the actual paint, those numbers flip, and almost all the money the company makes goes into putting the best ingredients into the paint.  Big paint companies could never TOUCH that - too much overhead.  People are only willing to pay so much for a can of paint, and they have to mark it up to pay for their bulky organization.  Suddenly, the fact that it's a small paint company becomes this company's biggest strength. And they're in paint heaven, because they get to use all the geeky cutting edge paint technology everyone else says is too expensive!  Read more about this company here.

Okay.  Now imagine this story:  Imagine if the shareholders in a corporation weren't traders and gamblers.  Imagine if they had more skin in the game than just a few bucks in stock.  Imagine, say, that the corporation was a flooring retail organization.  And imagine that the shareholders were all owners of family-owned flooring stores throughout the world.  Now, if the president of that organization had a suggestion that would cost the business money in the short term, but in 5-10 years would put it in a much better position, do you think the shareholders would be a little more receptive to the loss?  That they wouldn't dump and run?  No way!  They'll get behind it and see it through.  Because they've got a lot more invested in that result.  They're not worried about the opportunity cost they're sacrificing by keeping their money there, because they've built the business with their own hands - it's directly related to their ability to succeed in business.  They're ALL IN.

Here's a model that makes the whole system a lot less parasitic.  Decisions are made with longer term vision, and the end result will benefit the customer, the supply chain, and the industry.  I think a lot of people would agree that the system is broken.  A lot of people don't realize that there are already successful alternative models out there.

Zoomed in, you might not be able to tell that we do things any different than the next guys, but this is a whole new way of doing business.  And every once in a while, I zoom out to 5000 feet, and realize how lucky I am to be involved in something so unique.

So that's one of many reasons I still look forward to work almost every morning, after over 7 years on the job.  There's a lot to get behind here.  You should check it out.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Aaaaand, ACTION!

I had a great conversation with an old friend tonight.  We talked about making the time to identify priorities in your life.  That's a great idea.  If you haven't already, you should do that.  Like, now. 

Once you know what you're good at, what you feel called to do, and what gets you fired up, and you've listed them by priority, you will be ahead of a solid 50% of the population.  So congratulations.  If you're reading this to gain some value, throw that in the fanny pack and mosey on.  Because I might just talk about myself for the rest of the post. And I'm going to justify it by venturing a guess that I'm not the only one who sucks at what I'm gonna talk about.

I've been talking with my wife a lot for the last 6 months or so about a project I've been thinking of taking on.  The other day I was telling her my brilliant idea, and she asked me if I had spoken to anyone who could actually make it happen (ie. a financier, or someone such as).  Kinda stopped me in my tracks.  See, in my head, there's, like, a LOT of groundwork to be done before you make that step.  But in reality, THAT step is the difference between whether you're DOING a project, or whether it's just a pipe dream.  And to be honest, almost all of my projects die before they ever exit my mental preparation stage. My mental cutting room floor is like a barbershop of horrors for genius ideas.

Meanwhile, at home, we had a great weekend.  No major plans - but after a busy week, Silas and I got to spend 2 solid days together.  So what did we do?  Well, I don't really know.  Okay I kind of know.  I took Silas to places while I half-assedly (yup I just worded that) interacted with him while giving the rest of my attention to facebook, twitter, and screens in general.  Screen-sucking, apparently, is the upcoming term for this.  I was that dad who was there, but wasn't really there.  And I did it to Caryn too.  Fortunately, she's perceptive (and sensitive, and bold) enough to call me out on it.

Anyone remember the post I did a while ago, where I used the quote, "It doesn't matter if you save the whole world, if the people that matter the most to you think the least of you."  I think that's actually a medley of quotes from John Maxwell and Rabbi Schmuley... 
Here's my point:

You can live a failure of a life regardless of how great your philosophies are, if you forget to PLUG YOUR BRAIN IN TO THE REST OF YOUR BODY!!!

Go ahead and have big ideas.  They don't make you wise, or even smart.  Because if you don't act on them, they are dead.  I can tell people that Caryn and Silas are the most important things in my life till I'm blue in the face.  Would I jump in front of a car for them?  Philosophically, yes.  But here's where I'm going to challenge you (and me): if I can't even fold down my stinking laptop screen when they address me, how exactly do I think I'm going to magically have what it takes if, by some random chance, I actually do have to make a snap decision to sacrifice myself for my family?  Also, what does it matter if I do, at that point?  If I've ignored my family my whole life, the most that will result out of me jumping in front of a bus for them is that they MIGHT forgive me.

So here's my challenge:  I've been challenging myself, when I have a clever idea, to DO something about it immediately. Something that exists outside my own brain: send an e-mail, call someone, make an appointment, submit a proposal - ANYTHING.  Speak that idea into reality.  Once that idea is out there, you can't kill it on the cutting room floor.  If you really thought it was so smart, here's your chance to find out.  It doesn't take much to get the ball rolling.

And when it comes to my family - there's the idea of being a good dad, and then there's the action of being a good dad.  Guess what?  If I spend 24 hours with Silas, and ignore him for 20 of them, our relationship isn't strengthening.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Perhaps I need to exchange my romantic idea of what 'sacrificing for my family' is for a practical idea.  Like turning of my damn phone and looking at them when they talk to me!  Chances are that's going to happen a lot more than me having to jump in front of a bus for them.

I used to think that wisdom meant that I would have lots of amazing thoughts floating around inside my head, and that, as I share those thoughts, people might start to line up and seek out my sagely advice.  I'm starting to realize that true wisdom is evidenced by a skillfully lived life.  Wise people have great ideas, just like we all do.  But what makes them wise is that they implement them.  And their lives reap the benefits.