When we think of a graveyard, we associate it as a final resting place of our bodies. It is really final at that point. It is the end of the possibility for any idea that the deceased ever had to materialize. This is a harsh reality but it could be argued there is an even harsher truth – that ideas die in our brains long before the body does.
We are all familiar with the phrase “elephant in the room” – an unspoken negative stimulus in a situation that everyone is aware of but with little recourse on how to handle it knowing all the while that the ‘elephant’ is compromising the integrity of the best and often obvious solution to the issue at hand. Every organization and team has a mutation of an elephant. There are indeed some elephants in our own homes. There are many strategies out there on how to deal with, or at least work through these elephants. However, I’d like to offer a challenge to whether the elephant is in the room as an existential threat or whether it is a reflection of what our brain interprets as an insurmountable and too risky a threat.
Last week I spoke at my favorite conference to an audience of peers in the Human Capital space. I spoke on Happiness and presented some cutting-edge neuroscience on the topic and argued for its relevance in the workplace, not just outside it, as a key lever of human performance. I shared studies starting from about 100 years ago that began to explore the correlation between happy employees and workplace productivity. There is indisputable evidence showing both correlation and causation that you can google search. Yet, it is a taboo subject and as such, the workplace has abdicated that responsibility to outside its walls. Continue reading
Ask yourself where you had your last few innovative ideas? Ask someone else where they had theirs? You are likely to get a broad spectrum of responses ranging from a coffee shop, a shower, to an offsite retreat and a walk on the beach. The very fact that there are so many geo-spatial locations implies that geography has little to do with innovation. Why then would we design an “innovation center” or assume a conference room of sorts or any other workplace space is where innovation would occur? Or that a certain technology or tool is required for what ultimately is a cognitive function? The truth is that innovation occurs in our brains when a conglomerate of variables come together. It is the same with collaboration which is a form of innovation where the thoughts/ideas in one brain need to be complemented with those of another to produce a better outcome than had each one done it one its own. I understand that a ‘space’ might be one of those variables but it hardly is an important one. Take for example a 2-hour problem solving collaborative innovation meeting in a conference room at work with say, twelve very talented people in a company meet led by the leader of that team. Let’s say that in the first hour, the meeting has gone reasonably well but the boss of the leader decides to enter the meeting. It is likely that many if not all of the twelve would suddenly ‘feel’ different about sharing their ideas or thoughts because the boss of their boss is now in the room. They might feel some anxiety or apprehension and decide to be more cautious than earlier. In this scenario, nothing much has changed. It was the same problem that had to be solved, in the same room, in the same time with an hour’s progress already made yet everything had changed. That ‘everything’ was a neurological and subconscious assessment of a new threat that subsequently compromised their ability to collaborate and innovate. The result was no real solution was achieved. Did the innovative or collaborative skills of the twelve suddenly disappear (they existed in the first hour) or was the skill still there but replaced with a more powerful motive to self-preserve? I think most of you would conclude it is the latter.
Advances in neuroscience continue to give us both clues and validation on many theories posited by philosophers, great leaders, and psychologists. In several recent studies, it is now conclusive that our happiness, that chemical state of being with higher levels of dopamine and lower levels of cortisol, is less a function of happy activities and more a function of the power of negative experiences. Anecdotally, I had uncovered this when I interviewed over 60 people with Stage IV cancer for my book Is Today The Today
, written in 2001. To a person, irrespective of age, gender, life lived, I found what these folks wanted to tell me on their dying beds had more to do with their regrets than their successes. They wanted me to know what had held them back, the negative experiences they had foolishly carried for so long, and how they wished others’ would not make the same mistake. Many other books and research corroborate what I learned.
We continue to learn amazing things about our brain. You know, the organ that makes all decisions, that processes all experiences, stores all memory and ascribes value to every activity and possession. Through digital imaging, scans, and virtual reality, we can simulate any experience and map what neuropathways are stimulated. We can now conclude that the brain’s default disposition is to process everything from a threat perspective first. It is not to value love, relationships, creativity, business collaboration and innovation. In other words, we are not inherently designed to do great things despite having an infinite capacity to do so. We are designed to protect ourselves from emotional, financial, corporate, intellectual and physical threats, and will do it subconsciously without hesitation. Continue reading
This article has wonderful strategies to change your workday to help you be more productive. The average leader spends almost 65% of their time reading emails each day. That alone should warrant serious concern in how we work.
I have been struggling with this for almost my entire adult life. I have a ton of good friends who will recommend a book, send an article, talk about a new video or seminar they attended where they learned all kinds of new things about life, being parents, being spouses, being a leader and so on. I have done my own share of this as well. Like so many, I enjoy a new perspective on the same challenges. After a while though, when all this learning translates into nothing more than a few days of change and a quick revert to the old self, it begs the questions: What is the real purpose of learning if not to grow? Is it possible to become so enamored with the learning itself that the celebration of it that becomes a mere smoke screen for the lack of growth? With the abundance of learning channels, has learning become just intellectual and spiritual entertainment?
Last week I spoke to a professional sports team. During the Q&A portion, one of the athletes asked me which was worse during the game – thinking about what happened earlier or thinking about what needs to happen next. My response was both – as both would keep you from being fully focused on the present moment where he would need to be at his absolute best to get the most out of his skills. Continue reading
Earlier this year, I completed the design of a psychometric Happiness instrument. It’s an online self-assessment on a personal Happiness score with subsequent feedback on areas to focus. Last year, I was struck during a global leadership conference at all the speakers and breakout sessions by the similarities in everything being said/discussed. I heard there are about 200 leadership books/articles published each month and hundreds more blogs and such. What became evident was that there is no shortage of what a good leader is, what it takes to be a good leader and how to grow to be a good leader. I have argued before that perhaps it is not leadership skills that leaders lack but in fact, something much simpler: Happiness.
This anecdote has been told before. I heard it again last week and struck by how powerful the lesson still is. The CEO of a global freight company often travels to many cities. In lieu of having a fancy limo pick him up, he has a randomly picked local truck driver from his company pick him up from the airport to take him to his hotel. Continue reading
I have the awesome role of observing people in all kinds of roles in the workplace. I sit in on meetings, conference calls, one-on-ones, executive meetings, board meetings, planning sessions, lunches and dinners in dozens of companies from all industries and sizes. In all these day to day time-consuming activities, conversations are universal. One person or more is sharing their perspective on a business matter. Styles are very different but the substance of all them is essential the same. They are mostly transactional, as required in many cases, which is a great disguise for communicating either the real thoughts/emotions or being vulnerable. This is a shame because little progress is often made and decisions take much longer. More importantly, the great passionate and innovative solutions are suppressed. I share these observation often and they are met with the question “so how should we be talking?”
Lost in the 24-hour news cycle world we live in is the amazing work being done in Neuroscience. We are literally living in the golden age of neuroscience with unprecedented research in what I consider one of the most fascinating mysteries – our brain. We now know that we live a significant portion of our lives in … our brain. Life experiences are diverse but it is the mostly subconscious and reflex interpretation of these experiences that consumes how we live, respond, behave and manage future experiences. Continue reading
As we deservedly celebrate Independence Day in the US, like so many countries celebrate their own independence days, it is worth revisiting what independence means and all the mutations of it. There is independence from colonialism, independence of association, of worship, of speech, of travel and of other pursuits. These are legitimate victories worth celebrating and were often acquired at a harsh cost. People lost lives, were imprisoned, beaten, abused and such like during the process leading up to the day of acquiring aforementioned freedoms. I would like to argue there is an additional freedom worth fighting for in the same manner. It is Emotional Freedom.
I rarely do this but in this case, I am proud to share a new book by James Lawrence, aka The Ironcowboy. In 2015, he completed arguably the most incredible physical human feat – doing 50 Ironmans in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. One Ironman is a combination of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and concluding with a full marathon, 26.2 miles … in one day.
I have argued before the wonderful metaphor that athletes and sports are for all of life. They are a microcosm of work life, personal life and challenges inherent in both where we need the best out of our bodies and minds. This book is inspiring in a unique way with access to what it takes to set impossible goals, not just stretch goals, and to achieve them. “Redefining Impossible” in that context is a great title of the book.