Your Big 3 Changes This Year

New Year’s resolutions do not mean much to me since I don’t celebrate holidays. I have the freedom (and responsibility) to transform my life at any time, not just when a calendar flips. Here are 3 big experiments I am working on this year…

1.  Leaving Social Media Behind.

This is a big challenge for me, especially since I rely on social media to help distribute blog content. Still, I find Facebook and other services are not contributing to my life. If anything, they offer collections of complaints and negativity from people I honestly do not know well. I complain enough for everyone in my life. There is no need for additional support from Facebook “friends”.

Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social feeds, I fill time with things like reading and actually listening to people. It is harder than it sounds. I am used to half-listening while perusing memes. Now, I am relearning how to become comfortable with being bored.

Almost all creativity, I think, starts with boredom, with letting our minds wander.

2. Embracing Creativity.

I have all but abandoned my creative side in my quest to be a better leader, thinker, and blogger. I used to write poetry (you can read some of it here) and fancied myself a burgeoning novelist. I am not a good fiction writer, though. I want to shore up that part of my life and explore creativity with a bit more maturity.

Both sides of the intellect are important to me: creativity and logic. I bet I will bring better, more innovative ideas to leadership and business challenges by reuniting with my creative side.

3. Loving my body.

I know it is cliché. We are encouraged to love our bodies. For me, this does not mean unconditionally. Especially since I value my mind, I am not happy with my excess weight and the sluggishness it brings. My mind resides in my body. Therefore, having a sluggish body means having a sluggish mind. How much faster and better will I think when my body is running properly?

When we moved to Tampa, I assumed having summer year round meant more physical activity and easily dropping 20 or 30 pounds. It didn’t work that way. Nicole and I are more physically active year-round but vegan options are not as healthy or plentiful as in Grand Rapids and Detroit. That was a surprise, but the bigger surprise is I have not lost a pound after living here 2 years and being more active. Instead, I have gained a couple of injuries my extra luggage doesn’t help with.

I am learning about body alignment and how our bones and muscles are designed to bear loads. I saw a specialist to help with Achilles Tendon pain. Jen Hoffman is an alignment and movement specialist with her own short, weekly podcast, which I recommend. You can check out her Healthy Moving website here. Jen taught me how our muscles are attached to each other, creating a domino effect when something goes wrong. To help with my Achilles pain, for example, I am actually working on my Psoas (a muscle in my chest…to help with my foot pain–it’s all connected).

I don’t believe in diets and I hate gyms. That means, for me the path to success with health is through education and lifestyle transformation.

I am focusing on better alignment and eating better (and less) food. I am also experimenting with eating at different times (I used to eat dinner about an hour before bed). Being comfortable with feeling hungry is a struggle for me, as well, so I am embracing that feeling more often. I know those 20 pounds won’t drop fast but I’m not giving up until my body feels great again. Plus, I’m getting older, which means I lose muscle and bone mass faster than I used to.

 

Those are my current 3 big life experiments. They should carry me well into next year, when I will create more experiments. Living an experimental life is probably the best choice I have made, and one I encourage anyone to embrace. What experiments will you run in your life this year?

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Why Do You Have to Work THERE?

I look back at each day and figure out one life lesson I learned. I share each of those lessons on this blog. Here is today’s lesson…

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I used to run a successful sales team. When I moved to Tampa, I had to give up my job and find new work. While in that position, I had to hold back the promotion of one of my managers and risk losing one of the company’s best team members because they did not live in the district they were applying to manage.

Many companies cling to archaic work paradigms, such as physical presence=results, and miss the big picture (which is results=results).

The company could have promoted that manager (the manager did earn a promotion to my position after I moved away). The company could have kept me as well. They simply chose not to. It worked out great for me. I’m not complaining, just making a point:

It is difficult for a company to find extraordinary talent. It is NOT difficult for extraordinary talent to find a company. There is always work for talented people. The only question is whether talented people will choose to work for YOU.

I am happy my situation worked out the way it did–I have another great job now but I never understood why it had to be that way.

This week, I watched another leader nearly pass up an amazing candidate for because the person did not live in the area. I was dumbfounded, but still, I recognize that most leaders think in a very “local” sense. They believe remote work is a privilege to be earned and distributed to those “worthy”. This is exactly backwards in my opinion. The privilege, for a leader, is having the best person possible on their team. Personally, I wouldn’t care if my team members live on the moon as long as they figure out how to do excellent work.

Being location-ambivalent means I have a tremendous advantage over my competitors. I can pull applicants from all over the world, not just the 20 mile radius from the office.

If you think about it, most non-entry level work today is “knowledge work”–reporting, strategy, and communication rather than manual labor–flipping burgers or unloading trucks (Both things which obviously require physical presence).

We have technology to free knowledge-based workers–Skype, Hangouts, Slack, GroupMe, email, FaceTime, SmartSheets, Dropbox, and of course, the phone. For example, I can just as effectively run a sales team in Michigan from Tampa as I could from Michigan. With video chatting, email, instant messaging, collaborative work folders, and screen sharing, everything is at my disposal virtually that was there physically.

Yet we cling to the notion that communication is only effective face to face.

There are many ways to have a stronger, more agile workforce built from a broader talent pool. There are many ways to retain your most talented people while maximizing their freedom and ability to innovate and drive transformation.

Sadly, technology and change is scary to many otherwise excellent leaders.

To me, it is a shame to see a talented person looked over for a leader’s lack of vision, but at least I take heart knowing they will undoubtedly find great work wherever they end up. Luckily, I was able to convince the leader who almost tossed out a great applicant to take a second look. Hopefully, when you are faced with the same quandary, you will think twice, too.

 

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If You Want To Change, You Have To Change

Each day I come up with a lesson learned in life and I share it. Here is today’s lesson.

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We fear change. I know I certainly do anyway. When something seems to be working (an old family tradition, a standardized training program, a ritual for good luck, a habit, etc.) we tend to cling to it, even when it has lost its effectiveness.

Smokers, for example, want to quit smoking, but do not want to change their habits. I would like to lose weight but I don’t want to change what or how or when I eat. Companies want better results but don’t want to change the way they train or communicate with people. It is natural to fear what is different. “Different” means “unpredictable”.

The problem is, if you do not change anything, then nothing will change.

We can not expect better results from old habits. It is true, sometimes we might falter, or even fail, but the difference between accepting “different” is that change brings knowledge, and knowledge brings enlightenment. When you embrace doing things differently, even your failures become foundations for learning how to succeed.

In other words, if you want to change, then you have to change.

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Office Spaced

Today’s Lesson: If you want to innovate, invite the Weird.

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Traditional office spaces suck.

Cubicle farms, desks with monitors, filing cabinets, pen cups, rolling desk chairs, grayish carpeting, etc… It is all designed to inculcate boredom and efficiency. At the same time, companies and leaders are chanting mantras of innovation, empowerment, work-life balance, transparency, etc…

These are opposing forces. Innovation does not come from maximizing efficiency and following cookie-cutter practices. Innovation is almost, by definition, messy and creative and sometimes a little destructive.

It is easy for leaders to say things like, “We want our employees to have fun and enjoy their work” but how would your top leaders react if your employees were truly embracing their creativity?

Look at your office space. Does it invite creativity? Your people might be weird but does their work space invite them to embrace their weirdness? Are they encouraged (through more than words) to pull forth the creative sides of themselves and blur the lines between “work” and “fun”?

For those companies still not ready to leave the office behind altogether and become a fluid, adaptable, remote work team operating more like a swarm than an old battleship, start by re-thinking your environment. What is weird about it? How can you encourage collaboration as creative play? How can you maximize people colliding (and thus ideas colliding) while also respecting quiet time and space for individual contemplation?

How can you make the “weird” normal and celebrate it?

Would it be weird if you walked by an office and saw a company vice-president sitting in lotus-pose on top of her desk, meditating?

Would it be weird if you were in a meeting where the notes and ideas were being jotted down in multi-colored crayons and pictures instead of words?

Would it be weird if two grown adults went running by your office after you heard someone shout, “Tag! You’re it!”

Would it be weird if you saw someone sprawled out on the floor, head on a pillow, taking a 15-minute nap in their office?

We do not associate any of those things to productivity but I challenge you to consider play, creativity, and rest to be the essence of productivity. The most innovative ideas of our time have not come from project management spreadsheets and TPS reports. They have come as flashes of insight, often in someone’s garage while they are tinkering, or as a result of a conversation in a bar, or having just awakened from a dream, or simply from quiet time in the bathroom (we all know we do some of our best stinking thinking there).

The obvious place to start encouraging the weird is in your office space itself. What would make your team excited to visit their work space each day? What can we do, as leaders, to have our team go home and talk about work and share their passion with their friends and on their social media (as opposed to sharing all the negative parts)?

Here are 3 easy ways to start. You certainly do not have to adopt this list but it might get your inner weirdness to perk up.

1. Look at the obvious and already successful model for inviting productivity and collaboration: Starbucks (or any local coffee-house). Starbucks is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think “weird” but it was the very fact that they were weird that made them famous. A coffee-house is weird in a good way. It has an open floor plan with often kitschy or eccentric local art and decor that invites conversation.

A coffee-house is a central place where people gather and chat while also working. There are tabletops of varying sizes for both group and individual work, couches centered around coffee tables, mellow upbeat music, coffee, tea, wi-fi, and plenty of places to both plug-in and unplug, not to mention outdoor seating. How many of your team members would appreciate some outside time on a warm, breezy day? With laptops, tablets, and smartphones at our disposal, why does work still happen in dreary, dark corners as if it is something shameful, to be hidden away from the light of day?

2. Replace leather office chairs and fake mahogany tables in conference rooms with end tables surrounded by bean bag chairs and Indian-style sitting pillows. Make sure each chair is a different color or type than the rest. If sitting on the floor is too icky for you, then go with high top tables and bar stools. Just get away from looking like a bunch of lawyers discussing politics.

3. If removing most office walls is out of the budget, consider painting them different colors. Have a red wall, a blue wall, a yellow wall. Splash other colors on them. Encourage your team to write their favorite lines of lyrics or poetry on the walls or paint pictures on them if they are artistically inclined. Free, local art! Create an environment both your team and your clients will go home talking about.

There are plenty of ways to make work better for everyone. Go nuts with embracing the weirdness secretly residing in your people, begging to be let out.

Make a nap room full of nothing but big durable pillows.

Make sure there are chairs, pencils, crayons, and swaths of paper or writing boards in the hallways for spontaneous meetings.

Instead of motivational posters, decorate the halls with dry erase boards to capture ideas or share stories as people walk by.

Play games. Instead of a project update meeting every Monday morning, how about a board game meeting every Monday morning?

Make your office pet friendly. How many employees would love to bring their dogs or cats to work? It is definitely a hassle but worth the joy on most faces when the pets come to visit their area (those who are allergic can avoid the pets or be told upfront that the office is pet friendly, or they can work outside).

 

You get the idea.

If you want innovation, start by inviting the space to be innovative. If you want boring, predictable, drab, mediocre results, then by all means make your business look like every other business… and you will be just like them.

 

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The Doctor Is In

Today’s Lesson: Patience is a virtue… until it isn’t.

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Our office dog, a charming Shih Tzu known as Doctor Monkey, knows how to get what he wants. Doctor Monkey knows where I hide the treats. He knows how to sucker me out of them, too. Those pleading eyes, the cute little dance with a slight, excited whine…

Doctor Monkey, to his credit, also knows when it is pointless to try. If he hovers around me for more than a few minutes and I am engrossed in my work, he half-heartedly tries a whine or two. If I do not respond, Doctor Monkey casually walks over to Bill’s office where he knows he has another opportunity to get what he wants.

Follow Doctor Monkey’s lead. Use your tried and true techniques to achieve success first. If they are not working, though, don’t keep hanging around waiting for magic to happen. Change your approach or move on to the next opportunity.

 

 

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Why We Resist Having a Better Life

Today’s Lesson: Change is supposed to be scary.

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Whether it is acknowledging we need to lose 10 pounds or being on the receiving end of a family intervention and hearing loved ones tell us we have an abuse problem, or just adopting a new strategy at work, everyone resists doing things we know we must do to effect change.

Even when changing something is clearly for the better, we run from personal growth before we embrace it.

It seems crazy, even counter-intuitive, yet smokers struggle to quit smoking, dieters rarely stick with diets, alcoholics fall off the wagon, and there is always someone in the meeting who thinks everything is a bad idea without having a better one to offer.

The surprising thing is, if you think about it, our resistance to changing our lives is totally understandable. Even with a small change like losing weight, our first and immediate reaction is to resist, as it should be. Think of how dangerous change was to a person’s life up until the last 100 years or so.

Trying to lose weight was crazy in a world where food was scarce and not eating when you had the chance might have been tantamount to you skipping your last meal. You could not be sure if your hunt would be successful today or if the fruit tree you found yesterday was going to be picked over by other animals or tribes today.

Venturing out of your cave home into new territory meant uncertainty about where or when you might next find food, shelter, or safety. Of course, staying in one place indefinitely also increased your chances of perishing. The longer you stayed in place, the more likely you were to be found by a neighboring tribe also fighting for resources and the more likely you were to leave clues of your whereabouts to other would-be predators.

Albeit reluctantly, our ancestors embraced change and eventually moved on, traveled, explored, and sought out novel experiences, but never before being overly cautious at first. Just as today, we resisted change at first but eventually accepted the necessity of change.

The next time you catch yourself reacting to doing something new or different with initial resistance (or the next time someone reacts to your suggestion of change with initial fear), remember it is normal. Just as we jump when we catch something moving in the corner of our vision and then calm down and smile when we realize it was our reflection in a mirror, it is expected that we react to change.

The important thing is, after the initial fear, to properly evaluate the potential good and bad of any change and then take appropriate action.

It is okay to fear change at first. Just be sure to remember it is a natural reaction and it is both okay to feel fear and okay to let it go.

 

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You Are What You Seek

Today’s Lesson: You are like gravity. You attract the people, situations, feelings, and life surrounding you. If you see nothing but despair, inequality, and suffering everywhere you look, consider looking for better people, situations, feelings, and lives to surround yourself with. 

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Scrolling through social media posts is something I find myself limiting more and more. I like to see what friends and family are up to but I can only take it in small doses. The overwhelming majority of posts, in my opinion, are really just complaints (including mine, including this one!).

Some of us are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, etc… to find and share everything we think is wrong with the world. Articles on people we never met who died, links to rants about politics, racism, sexism, posts challenging people who do not agree with our religion (or non-religion), pictures of the stupid people we saw or dumb things we did today, stories of abuse to people, pets, or the environment… the list is endless.

It is all like a cloud of poison, spreading and permeating gossip and negativity into the world. I get it. The world is not perfect and some people want to change it (most of us just want to complain about it, though, because actually changing it is hard and we are busy coming up with new complaints). Consider, however, how much of your life is spent seeking out what is wrong with everyone else’s lives.

Some people just seem miserable all the time. I feel for them. My life is not perfect by any means. I am always working to improve something, but generally, I do not seek or mostly ignore hate, bad parenting, tasteless humor, and anything that ends with -ism (racism, feminism, sexism, theism, environmentalism, etc.). Because I avoid these things and actively work to keep them out of my life, they are not part of my world (much).

I am not advocating living with rose-tinted lenses. I know there are real problems in the world, but unless we are individually actively and actually addressing them (which means doing more than sharing articles or sending what is essentially hate-mail to everyone, which means sending it to no one), I recommend taking the timeless advice grandmothers have given for generations: if you can’t say anything nice, then do not say anything at all.

It is okay to either not have an opinion or to keep one to yourself.

In the modern world, that may mean using a simple guideline to structure your world more positively. A good start for many is to simply un-friend or un-follow the people, organizations, or brands who are not making your life better. If they are not contributing to your life, then consider what they are contributing to.

You are what you seek. What world will you choose to live in today? 

 

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You Can’t Change Who You Are

When it comes down to it, once a (cheater/ jerk/ addict/ liar), always a (victim/ downer/ cynic/ sucker). After all, a zebra can not change its stripes. You can try but in the end, you can not really change who you are… right?

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Sure you can. Just try harder.

The idea that any of us are forever stuck in an impermeable mold is patently absurd. When we are born, there is no blueprint for who we will become. If there was, someone born in the ghetto would never rise to fame as a singer or actor, and someone who born wealthy would never have to file for bankruptcy.

People change all the time. As I assimilate new information, I act on it. An over-simplified example: Nicole absolutely hates it when I roll my eyes during a conversation. I have built up that bad habit for years but that does not mean I can never overcome it. Once she explained why (it is disrespectful, dismisses what the other person is saying, and bad manners), I considered the information and now I practice not doing it.

Eventually, I will no longer be practicing and will have respectfully listening on auto-pilot.

By the same token, Nicole knows I feel the same way about the liberal use of a certain finger and she practices not throwing casual gestures my way or in my presence, particularly among family. It only offends me but she makes the change because it pleases me, and we enjoy seeing each other content.

Change does not have to be for another person, however. The point is only that anyone can change anything about themselves if they want to. What people mean when they say, “You just can’t change some people” is “Change is difficult and some people do not want to bad enough to make a difference”.

But that is only an excuse, not a law of human behavior.

 

Today’s Lesson: If you want to change something about yourself, then change it.

 

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A Diary of Broken Records

What is a diary, really?

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I found a couple of my old journals and started paging through them. It was interesting. I barely recognized the person writing or the events described as belonging to me (some were as recent as 2010–the last time I attempted a journal).

It is surprising how much an important event (important to me) can consume my life and transform my thinking, and it is surprising how a small event I might barely remember can have a big impact years later.

It turns out most of my journal entries, though, are a catalog of complaints or reasons to pity myself and I am glad now I gave up the practice.

In fact, the most surprising thing I found in reminiscing was not even in any of the entries themselves. It was how different a person I was then from who I am today. I have a completely different internal dialog.

So I tossed out my old journals.

Rather than cataloging my complaints and mistakes, I find it is more fulfilling to reflect on one lesson I learn each day. Pulling one lesson from every day is far more powerful than pushing a bunch of complaints to paper.

Today’s Lesson: A diary is something we rarely look at and, really, is mostly a record of our complaints. Maybe a better way to reflect on life is to look at all the good things we do each day… and just repeat them.

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