Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Someone asked me today if I could run a training that fosters resilience, so I have been thinking about resilience. I like the definitions that encourage us to think of resilience as a kind of elasticity. The Fantastic Four was one of a very few comics that appealed to me as a child. Remember the hero who could stretch and stretch and then pull back into himself. A very useful role model as heros go.

Viktor Frankl talks about the same kind of quality when he talks about the heroism of the concentration camps: the ability to remain resolutley oneself in the face of conditions designed to rob one of all individuality. The ability, finally, to assert "this is who I am" in the face of a world that wants to tell you who to be or not to be.

Can resiliency be learned? Yes. We can learn to know ourselves so well that we can get back into our true shape no matter how much we are pulled or distorted by circumstance. We can focus our attention and our intentions on having the kind of integrity that allows buildings to stand through hurricanes and rubber bands to bounce back and hold true.

Can resiliency be taught? Yes: by trainers and by everyone who reaches out and supports the efforts of any other person to find and know and maintain the self that expresses what Frankl might have called the unique meaning that only that person can offer to the world.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What I'm reading this week

I am a compulsive reader (yes, I will read cereal boxes if nothing else is available) and lately I have become the kind of reader who has several books on the go at once. This week, my reading includes,

The Wisdom of Crowds
by James Surowiecki

The Mind & The Brain
by Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley

The Wisdom of Milton Erickson
by Ronald A. Havens

The current issue of Fast Company magazine


Man's Search for Meaning
by Viktor Frankl

I recommend all of these as complementary explorations of how what we believe changes what we think and how what we think changes who we are in the world.

Here is a quote from Frankl:
"Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life. . . This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning."

How will your day change when you look at just one person and decide to notice how that person is living his or her unique search for the meaning only he or she can bring into the world?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

differences in learning

It's a real problem for lots of people: the way they learn is not the same as the way they are expected to learn. Someone has a perceptual difficulty.

For systems, it is difficult to perceive and adjust to individual difference. It is easy to pick on the education system. Often, the system we are picking on is based on our own memories of school: we are critical twenty or thirty years after the fact. Schools today are different: different not only from schools of the past but also from one another. Some are better than others; some are more expensive than others; some are just different.

We learn all the time: everything we say or do results in feedback that teaches us what patterns to expect in the future. This is not a matter of chance or of choice: it is simply what it means to be human. What we mean most often when we talk about learning is a variation of this general experience that occurs, most profoundly, between two human beings. We label one a "teacher" and one a "student" and that is accurate as long as we understand that both the teacher and the student are learners who share an experience of learning. At its best, this is an experience where the teacher and student learn through connection: their connection with each other and the connections they draw between content and context.

Notice that there is no such thing as difference in learning if the contract between the teacher and the student is that the teacher will identify the way the student learns and provide a context through which that will become the optimal way to learn the content. Put another way, if it is my job as teacher to respond to what you as student are learning, then I do not notice 'problems:' instead I notice feedback that means I need to adjust in order to learn with you.

Think about the teachers, formal and informal, who have had the biggest influence on your learning. Do you remember what they taught you? Do you remember the quality of the connection that allowed you to learn with them?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Maintaining connection & composure

It can be almost impossibly difficult to remain self-possessed while connecting with someone else. Strategies for identifying the state you want to enter and maintaining it are almost always geared to being able to control your breathing, rhythms, gestures and expressions. None of these things is completely within your control while you are connected to someone else.

In order to connect, we make choices that serve relationship more than they do our individual state. We change our tempo or tone to enter rapport, and trust to our outcomes to allow us to lead others into the tempo or tone that suits us better. Sometimes, our purpose itself requires that we change elements that might be important in maintaining our state. It does not always matter if I feel best standing up and moving around: sometimes I have to sit still in a meeting, or even during family night around the television.

We become aware of the tension between maintaining connection and maintaining composure - between relationship and state management - when we do not like the state suggested by the relationship. The tension is always there, however. The price of relationship is paid when the lines blur between personal state as an expression of identity and personal state as an indication of relationship. This is why it seems like we are different people at home in our living rooms than we are in our offices or in public spaces like restaurants, malls or parks. Each of us is a single, unified self expressed through a myriad of states and relationships: only the interweaving of all of them constitutes a self that is stable enough to seem authentic.

When we step back from relationship, we draw new lines around self and "not self." We allow ourselves to be composed: we design a state that reflects those lines just as an artist composes a picture or a musician composes a song. We pull different elements within ourselves into relationship by loosening our relationship with other people. We give up possibility in favour of stabilty. At least for the moment.

Monday, November 21, 2005

tough choices

The amazing thing is that we all say that there are choices we do not know how to make and yet, one way or another, we make them when necessary. How does it happen that we feel so strongly that we cannot do something that we quite evidently will do, one way or another?

Cynics would say that this is merely a way of ducking responsibility for doing what we want to do: that would be unfair. In lots of situations, we make the best of two difficult choices. Although they are not really ever two equally difficult choices. We make fine distinctions among things that are difficult to assign value in ways that can be weighed out consciously. It is the same thing we do when we look at two faces and notice that one is happy and the other is confused, even before we have time to look at the particular position of the eyebrows or the curve of the mouth. We notice a pattern and use it to discern a meaning.

At other times, we find a third way. Like the mother brought before Solomon, we say no to the choice offered us or we say no to the meaning that has been assigned to that choice. If you do not know the story (lucky you! to have evaded the pattern), two women claiming to be the mother of the same infant are brought before Solomon. Solomon decrees that the baby be torn in half and half given to each woman. One woman gives up her right in the baby so that the baby can live. Solomon then declares that woman the mother. In giving up her claim, she gains her child. Faced with a choice between renouncing her child or killing it, the woman simply changes the meaning of the renunciation. If she had truly not known how to make the choice, the baby would have been killed. Maybe.

The thing about stories - and choices - is that they only turn out one way. We do not get to know 'what would have happened if.'

It's probably a good thing. Think how many more difficult choices we would have if we could see all the alternatives we process in the backs of our minds.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The fascination of mixed signals

When I work with clients, I work from the presupposition that all behaviour has a positive intention and, particularly, that there must be some advantage to us in a behaviour we do repeatedly or we would not continue to do it. So what's up with mixed signals?

Friday night, I attended a performance of Henry V at McMaster University (check it out at It is billed as William Shakespeare's Henry V - a claim easier to make since Will himself is unlikely to object that the eding and performance are designed to work against his text rather than with it. When even the text's own ironies are treated ironically, what happens to the audience? The performance both does and does not take a strong anti-war stance: the text offers Harry as the only real leader and in subverting that, the performance looks ironically at all notions of both leadership and fellowship. Including the leadership of the performance and the fellowship of the audience.

One of the two things happens as a result: the audience cannot enter into the experience with the actors; they are not constituted as a group an so respond in patches, as individuals. Or given a different predisposition, they let their attention rest with what is accessible. The audience sheds tears for the princess and not for the nameless 10,000 who die. Is this the director being clever? Does he want us to notice how sucked in we are. . . how quickly we shed more universal ideals to sympathize with celebrity?

It is the easiest and most common thing in the world to send mixed signals. Even the weather does it in November. One moment promises mild, sunny calm; another brings hail or snow. In not committing, we are living the transitory nature of existence, keeping options open and paths clear. We are both connected and disconnected; not accountable for our visions or our actions because they may shift at any moment. We sample a little of everything at the table. We enjoy our own cleverness.

It is fun to be clever, even when everyone else is clever in precisely the same way.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What are you waiting for?

We experience life as a series of fluid states rather than as discrete bits of information, so that certain patterns of physical response are coded into our memories as the sensory correlates of a particular state. When we experience a particular pattern, we make connections to other times we have had the same experience, and often give the state a label. Waiting is a label.

When do we wait? Sometimes we wait when we want something that the world is not yet prepared to give us: we wait in lines, and waiting rooms, and for the mail or email that will bring us a resource or an outcome. At other times, we wait for ourselves: we know what we want and we know that we need to develop a resource or capability in order to achieve it. This is what most of our growing-up years entail: we wait to get bigger, we wait to get more mature, to find answers both outside ourselves and within ourselves.

Do you ever catch yourself waiting? November is a good time to notice waiting: it is no longer what we enjoy thinking of as fall, and we are in no hurry (most of us) for it to be winter. The world is both waiting and getting ready for the long wait until spring brings new growth. Do you know what has you waiting?

It's worth finding out why we notice a certain feeling that reminds us of waiting. Sometimes we are waiting for someone else and sometimes we are waiting until certain pieces fall into place within us. We need to know the difference if we are to move through waiting to doing. At the same time, we need to learn whether this is a time to respect timelines and the need to wait, or a time to break through inertia to action.

If you're not sure what you are waiting for, try this. Think of a time you were waiting for someone else. Notice how that feels. Think of a time you were waiting for something to change within yourself. Notice how that feels. Now ask yourself, which is it this time?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

just a touch more

Have you used or heard the expression "just a touch?" It usually means just a small amount, as in "the sauce needs just a touch more salt" or "yes, I'd like just a touch more coffee." I imagine that there are places in the world where this equation of touch with a small amount would make no sense at all. It makes sense here and now because we rigorously limit the experience we have with touch.

Ironically, the more we limit our ability to touch each other through social rules, the more we learn that touch is as important to our development as all our other senses. For many years, we have known that babies deprived of touch do not thrive. Increasing numbers of studies with premature infants have established that touch helps them grow and mature. Other studies have explored the effects of touch-deprivation on seniors. Throughout our life, it seems, we do better when we are able to make use of all of our senses, including our sense of touch.

What is the difference between touching things and touching people? Skin to skin contact is important for babies. It's interesting to think about all the things they are calibrating as they are touched. Like all the sensory systems, touch is multi-dimensional: it gives us information about pressure, temperature, texture, rhythm, and electrical charge. And this information changes quickly. Think of a time you were walking and holding hands with someone. As you enter into that experience, notice all the changes in your hand as you move forward. Even if the touch is held, it is different.

Most of the time, touch in our experience is light and quick: we hug or kiss socially, shake hands, or bump into each other as we reach for the salt across the table. It is "just a touch." As you move through your day today, notice when you touch, how long it lasts, and what would change if you had no sense of touch.

Notice, too, the effects of just a touch more salt on your food. Precise adjustments mean small variations for big effects.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ripples and Snowballs

"I know it should not bother me. It's just a little thing." Have you heard this (and said this) many, many times. How do you know the difference between a little thing and a big thing?

Not only does life have a zany tendency to turn little things into big ones, some of them grow like ripples, losing power as they gain magnitude, and others grow like snowballs, increasing in both size and force. Sometimes we drop a pebble into the pond, and sometimes we drop it off a skyscraper.

What if size really doesn't matter? Even the smallest step towards an outcome could drive success; even the smallest good deed could really do good. Everything would be a potential leverage point.

Everything is. We cannot always foresee the consequences of words we say in passing, of daily tasks done well or not, of turning our eyes to catch the sun on the last golden leaves. We live with the knowledge that small mistakes can have big price tags. It is more useful to know that small intentional acts can make a big difference.

What is the smallest step you can imagine taking in the direction of something you really want?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A business partner and more

We were having lunch today, when a colleague said, "it's great to have someone who is a business partner and more." It is great. I have a business partner who is also a training partner and a good friend and frequently my coach as well. Sometimes I learn from him and sometimes I learn from working with him. We back each other up and we open each other up to new perspectives.

Everyone who trains in integrated thinking wants to be professional 'and more.' They all want to enhance their lives by changing their business behaviors, to add a palette of personal qualities to an essential competence. They all want to work with people who are professional 'and more.' This does not mean confusing business and personal lives. It does mean accepting themselves and others as people who have many different roles to play and a common identity to bring to all those roles. It also means accepting that the "and more" part often contributes strengths or perspectives that would be missing if a business colleague were not more than a business colleague.

Are there people you have chosen to have in your business life that you would not welcome into your personal life? Consider why you have made this choice. How do you know where the limits of your business will be in 3 months or 3 years or 3 decades? If you can imagine needing more, consider whether this is the time to go looking for it.

Within the boundaries of different parts of our lives, we are free to experience connection with others as deep and meaningfull and productive. If there were no boundaries we would not have this freedom: that's why we need to know the difference between a business partner and a neighbor. And sometimes, we need to change the boundaries, to push out the limits and create space for something more.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Just one right answer

A friend in grade two is struggling with his math homework, and I wonder if the problem is maybe that he is not happy with being limited to one way of thinking. In arithmetic, there is a right way and all other ways are wrong. Some children find that unduly limiting. Why is there only one way to count or to subtract? Why do you always get the same answer to the same question. Kids succeed quite often by asking the same question until they get a different answer: they ask until "no" turns to "yes."

Later, there is comfort in knowing that there is sometimes only one right answer. I remember my first week in university: a week in which we attended lectures before choosing classes in which to register. At the end of the week, I picked Calculus over philosophy: I wanted a class where I could verify that I had the right answer.

Do we cycle between these two all of our lives? Sometimes being mature means recognizing that there is only one answer and moving ahead in that knowledge. Sometimes, it means knowing that there are always alternatives and opening our minds to explore them. Both positions hold equal measures of hope and doom, and both are right and wrong at different times and in different situations.

Think about a situation with which you are struggling. Is there one right answer that requires your acceptance or are there multiple alternatives that require your exploration? How do you know? Whichever you assume, think about the other possibility and notice what changes.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I'd rather be lucky than good

I have grown up (still working on it!) listening to my dad say, "I'd rather be lucky than good." Often, we say it with a grin, either to indicate that we're not quite as smart as someone else seems to think or, alternatively, to suggest gently that we're not quite as smart as we ourselves think.

Most of us would rather be lucky than good; luck suggests that the universe is arranging itself to suit us. Good suggests that we are working hard to accomodate ourselves to the universe which is not nearly as much fun. Good sounds like hard work with an undertone of virtue. Lucky suggests not only that we are ready to enjoy ourselves; it suggests the world is ready to play with us.

How do we get lucky? Intent helps. In order to get lucky, we have to think lucky: we have to be ready for the opportunities that come our way. In order to get lucky, we have to be confident that whether we direct our attention inside or outside, into the past or around the present, we will find something worth seeing and enjoy it. It's not that we need to deserve our luck (that would smack of being good), it's that we have to accept it.

Each of us is blessed with as much luck as we are willing to let into our lives. It's packaged in all those processes that guide our words and actions before we have time to think about them. Much less time to be good.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Outcomes and lifelines

We all risk getting caught up in a negative spin when we realize we have made a decision we now doubt. We all have walked through this particular storm: each of us has made some decision that had different consequences than we intended. We all face tests for which we are inadequately prepared. Sometimes, we simply make a mistake. Sometimes we do and believe what we think is right and get a much different result than we anticipated. Suddenly, there are wrong turns everywhere we look.

If we are to keep our heads instead of losing them, we simply make a choice to choose a still point on the horizon: one thing, however small, that we can still want. We choose an outcome, not because we are confident we can achieve it but because we hope that it will anchor a lifeline to lead us out of the storm. Like the rope that guides the farmer from the barn door to the house during a blizzard, an outcome gives us something to hold when even familiar territory becomes dangerous.

Each moment we have a choice: we can think about what we fear or we can think about what we want. Outcomes are not as mesmerizing as fears, and they do not grow as quickly. They are also a little standoff-ish, willing to wait for us at a distance instead of drawing us in. That's why they are reliable: the steady spot on the horizon that lets us set a path.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The simplicity of influence

Why do we assume we have to be clever in order to be influential? We often talk as though the smartest people are the most likely to get what they want, as if influencing others were a puzzle that only the best minds could solve.

Watch out world. The creature who most often bends me to her will is not clever. She may have untold intelligence, of course. Since she does not share a language with me, it will remain untold. But there is little evidence that she could solve even a simple puzzle. Like how to find the treat under the towel.

My dog is wonderfullly influential. Her influence is not in her brains. As tempting as it is to say it's in her heart, many would object to attributing human emotions to a dog (probably the people who have never been owned by a dog). The key to her influence is focus. Although she might not be smart, she is focused.

When I walk in the door, nothing is more important than having me rub her tummy. When someone else walks in, nothing is more important than making enough noise to scare them away. When there's food on the table, nothing else exists for my dog. She always knows exactly what she wants. And when she doesn't, she goes to sleep.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Room for friends

I have missed posting lately because I have been away celebrating my son's 18th birthday and graduation from high school. Both events spotlight the importance of friends in his life. If we were to describe him simply by talking about his roles at home and at school, we would miss one of the central forces in his identity. The forty or so young adults who gathered to celebrate with him this weekend are extensions of various aspects of his personality: they represent an amazing diversity of resources from which he will draw as he faces the challenges of his first year of university and his first long steps towards his adult life.

What will happen in that adult life that will make it so easy for him and others to talk about "home and work" as if that were all the possibilities? Raising our families and finding satisfying work that pays enough to meet our family goals both take enormous energy. As life tasks, they are compelling, sprawling, exciting and scary. They can occupy so much of who we are, that we assume that friendship was just a stage we went through in preparation for "real" life.

How do you make time and space in your life to gather the unique, diverse resources offered by friendship? How will those resources equip you to reach for your goals at home and at work?

Take a moment and think about the people who extend your identity, who challenge and support you without belonging to you in the way that family does, or owning your time the way work does.