What really matters, part one

Culture is the “it” of our current work moment. And for good reason, as Peter Drucker coined, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The way things get done in an organization — the systems, behaviors, and practices — guided by a set of values, define its culture. (And sometimes the values that are actually lived are not the ones on the website.) How we work together drives our personal engagement and performance, which in turn determines how well the organization does.

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Where have I been?

It has happened several times in the last few months — young leaders I’ve encountered calling out Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as inspiring, guiding, and causing them to change how they are navigating the world. The book even served as the basis for one company’s core values. Of course I’d known about it for decades, though I’d not read it — it seemed dated and sales-y — a sort of “to seem rather than to be” thing.

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Once upon a time… in your mind

The only thing we know for sure about the stories we tell is that they’re not true. Not completely, anyway. Our make-believe can range from getting the details surrounding an emotional event wrong to being unshakably sure of the stories we tell about ourselves that are often turn out to be mind-made.

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Clean up that mess

Integrity is such a big word. It’s the most common value people and organizations cite as “table stakes,” a have-to-have. We want to have it, we want those around to have it, we want our organizations to have it. It’s hard to live up to, especially when we’re challenged and our emotions get the better of us, and our blind spots can get in the way.

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Roseto, bunnies, and Google

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers begins with Roseto, a small town in the foothills of Eastern Pennsylvania, named for the place in Italy where its residents immigrated from. In the late 1950s, when heart disease was ravaging the nation — the #1 cause of death in men over 65 — men in Rosetta showed no sign of heart disease at 55, and were experiencing it at half the rate of the US at 65. A local physician, Stewart Wolf, discovered this, got to work conducting careful research, and brought in friend and colleague John Bruhn, a sociologist. Bruhn recalled, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were basically dying of old age. That’s it.”

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A river runs through it

A river is a wonderful metaphor for life — melting snow from a mountain, just a drop at a time, grows to a trickle that develops into a stream and before you know it, it’s a river full of life with blind spots, hairpin turns, exhilarating and sometimes treacherous rapids and waterfalls that instantly transform into brilliant still pools of water full of fish and teaming with birds and wildlife, all surrounded by beautiful vegetation.

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Not yet

The first thing I’ll say about Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is this is a must read if you’re raising kids. I read it after raising my kids. I offer a blanket apology. 

In the decade plus since this research was published, what Dweck calls a “growth-mindset” vs. a “fixed-mindset” has influenced school curriculums, organizational thinking and practices, parenting, sports, and relationships.

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The Spyce Boys

Four MIT robotics-obsessed engineering students had a complaint. Then they got to work. The water polo teammates were united by a love and appreciation of delicious and healthy food, and a frustration that it cost $10 to $14, out of reach of their student budgets. They called on their combined smarts, curiosity, swagger tempered by humility, and, not knowing any better, built proof-of-concept robotic woks in their fraternity basement.

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The Coach’s Playbook

At its core, coaching is a fusion of questions that open doors, deep listening, and keen observation used to help people find their own answers. It’s based on the belief that the best way forward lies within us, and that learning is more powerful and sticky when we figure things out for ourselves. And, we really don’t like to be told what to do… even when we ask to be told what to do. Just hang out with any two-year-old.

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That! Yes, that!

Looking up from the table in my office, there’s an entire shelf of books focused on how to communicate with each other including: Radical Candor, Fierce Conversations, Difficult Conversations, Crucial Conversations, and Thanks for the Feedback, I googled “most popular books on feedback.” One of the top hits was “48 Best Feedback Books of All Time.” Forty-eight?

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What’s the problem?

A big problem in solving problems is knowing what the real problem is. This is a constant in my work with individuals, organizations, and in my own life! Rule of thumb is that the problem we think we have usually isn’t the real problem. It takes some detective work to get to the root. And good root-finding can lead to good solution-finding.

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EGADS!

The credit for this one goes to Lucy Kaplan, the badass octogenarian teacher/coach and faculty member at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI) who is a dynamic blend of humor, compassion, honesty, and rigor. She artfully packaged one of the (let-me-count-the) ways our brains have of holding us back from doing what really want to do in an easy-to-understand acronym that helps us resist our resistance.

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The search is over

I was late to the game on this one. On second thought, when something is as useful and unique as this is, there is no “late,” only the moment of discovery. I discovered the book Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), and it’s non-profit outgrowth,  Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, (SIYLI, pronounced “Silly”) last year, devoured the book, attended a workshop, and spread the word far and wide.

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If what you do is who you are…

There’s a regular feature in the Harvard Business Review near the back of each issue that showcases a wide variety of people, from successful venture capitalists to small store owners. I just noticed it recently, read a couple of them, and loved the format — short, yet it painted an intimate picture of the person. Then I thought, hmm… this is a good way to shine light on what we do in our daily lives — to do a little “check-up” of sorts on ourselves. Is what we do in sync with who we think we are, or want to be?

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It just wouldn't leave her alone

Regina had just left Heath Ceramics (where we worked together) and quickly got consumed in consulting work, as she’s a known brand and strategy force, event master, and magazine publisher who is also fully equipped with a sturdy moral compass and set of values. All of these dots connect to her passions: bringing people together in meaningful ways, and how design and space shapes pretty much everything we do.

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Three things

Remarkable, really. And I thought it was just me until client after client who gave it a try reported how much of a difference it made to adopt the simple daily practice of writing down three things that went well, and what made those good things happen. This 5 to 10 minute habit seems to have an outsized effect — sort of like a personal “butterfly effect” — where a very small action can have a profound systemic effect.

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What’s in your commencement speech?

‘Tis the season, and I’m a sap for commencement speeches — I choke up, feel wistful, get inspired. People of note from all walks of life command the podium as the sky fills with flying mortar boards, offering dos, don’ts, and wisdom to the graduates. I find what they choose to share fascinating.

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Ya gotta wanna. Tim and Joey did.

I was eager to dig into my research paper for the coaching program at Columbia University. I wanted to discover ways to make tools for my clients really stick. You know what I’m talking about: you read a great book or take a workshop and have inspirational aha’s. You mark pages with Post-its and can’t wait to put it all to use. Only you don’t.

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That thing that keeps me from digesting my stomach lining

Jim and I were catching up as it had been a few years since we worked together. He is the founder and former CEO of Benetech, a Silicon Valley non-profit that has had far-reaching social impact through software for social good. He had been introduced to mindfulness and meditation through his participation in The Wellbeing Project and it stuck. When I asked him about it, he said, “Meditation? Oh, it’s that thing that keeps me from digesting my stomach lining on a daily basis.” Best explanation ever.

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