stretch

Be An Explorer, Not A Tourist

I was in Bali in June last year, chasing some much-needed sun in the midst of the dark New Zealand winter. I took a surfboard with me, of course. Like about one million other people who had the same idea that I did.

I’d never surfed in Bali before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When I arrived at the beach on that first day, the swell was up, and it looked pretty awesome. Except for one thing: there were around 100 other surfers in the water, spread across the break like ants that had discovered a honey-smothered piece of toast on the ground.

I sat on the beach, feeling heavy in my chest, wondering how I was going to have a good time out there. I’d almost resigned myself to paddling out and being surfer #101, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another sweet looking break about 400 metres down the beach. Except that this one had only two people on it. Curiosity piqued, I picked up my board, wandered as slyly as I could down the beach, and paddled out.

It was perfect. The three of us spent a couple of hours riding countless waves that we had all to ourselves, while just down the beach the hoards were all bunched together on top of each other, fighting for a spot in the lineup. We couldn’t believe it. We kept joking to each other “shhh, don’t talk too loud, they might see us!”

Afterward, I got to thinking that it’s all too easy to go with the herd. Especially when you find yourself in a new situation. You can think: “well, that’s what seems to be the go around here. These people must know what they’re doing, so I’ll do that too.”

It’s the Tourist mindset versus the Explorer mindset. The Tourist follows the crowd. The Explorer watches what the crowd is doing and then makes up their own mind about whether they want to follow the crowd or not. The Tourist’s agenda is to tick the box. The Explorer’s agenda is to discover. The Tourist’s main concern is to stay safe (“don’t get lost, Myrtle!”) while the Explorer’s main concern is to create an interesting experience.

We have both mindsets available to us all the time, of course. The tourist mindset is useful to help us scope things out. But if we want to forge new and better ways, it’s not enough.

I reckon our world has too many Tourists and not enough Explorers. It’s too easy to accept ‘what is’, even though ‘what is’ is clearly not working as well as it could be. Explorers find new ways, show them to others, and help other Tourists tap into their inner Explorer.

Where in your life are you being too much of a Tourist, when you could be more of an Explorer? What would happen if you chose to dial up your Explorer?

Here are three ways to tap your inner Explorer:

  1. Do one thing each day that scares you (thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt)
  2. Ask yourself “what’s the normal routine around here?” and do the opposite (e.g. if you usually have meetings where everyone sits down, make it a standing meeting. Call it an experiment).
  3. Hang out with other Explorers. They’re infectious.

Back to my surf session. Maybe there were rules that I didn’t know about. Maybe the first spot I went to was known as ‘the place’ to surf in the area, and that’s where the cool people go. Maybe the spot I ended up surfing at was full of taboos and stories about the bad things that will happen if you surf there. Who knows? What I know is that I had a great, memorable surf and I felt the better for it.

Sometimes you need to separate yourself from the herd.

 

Photo: Digby Scott

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How To Deal With A Humpback Whale

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Dodgems, taken to a new level…

 

I’ve recently returned from my annual windsurfing trip to Gnaraloo, in the North West of Western Australia. Eventful as always, this year provided something extra special…

I was sailing out to sea at high speed, about 500m from shore, and was looking for the next swell to ride back to the reef. It was a particularly windy day with a pretty big swell running, and my senses were heightened. I had already had some pretty amazing waves in the session so far, and was feeling “in the zone”.

And a good thing too. As I was flying along, right before my eyes, a huge humpback whale emerged from the depths. It was no more than 15 metres directly in front of me, and, travelling at speed, I had no time to think. My instincts kicked in and before I knew it, I had come to a complete stop, had turned my board around, and was sailing away in the other direction. Needless to say, my senses were racked up another few notches! The rest of the sailing session was one of the best I have ever experienced, and I was on a natural high for hours afterwards.

The interesting thing is that, at whale time, I didn’t stop and ponder my options. I just acted in a flash. No time for panic, or “what if?” – I just did what needed to be done.

This experience got me wondering – does too much thinking get in the way of us really living? How often do we act from instinct alone? And how often do we bypass our gut feeling and defer to the slower process of reason? And what are we missing out on by doing so?

Food for thought…

 

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How To Keep Your Learning Alive

You know and I know that training courses aren’t where we do most of our learning. But how deliberate are we about ‘doing our learning’ the rest of the time?

Yesterday I wrapped up a leadership development programme that I’d been running over the past six months. Inevitably, participants want to know “how do we keep our learning alive now that the formal programme has finished?”

So, we brainstormed a bunch of ideas. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Get a mentor: Find a mentor from outside of your day-to-day environment to provide you with perspective and guidance.
  2. Be a mentor: find someone who’s interested in learning about how you do what you do. You learn a lot by mentoring – it challenges you to unpack what you instinctively know, and think about it with fresh eyes.
  3. Get exposure to different people: Seek out people that think differently to you. They might be in-the-flesh, or maybe you’ll find them in magazines, podcasts, on TV. Don’t judge right or wrong, good or bad. Be curious as to how they see the world they way they do.
  4. Share what you’re learning: When you learn something new, the best way to embed it is to teach it. Find an audience, share your insights, ask for their perspectives too.
  5. Write: get a journal, write daily. This isn’t to share, it’s to help you get stuff out of your head and make better sense of it. Seeing your thinking helps you shift your thinking.
  6. Get a coach: different to a mentor, a coach provides you with thinking space to make sense of your world, understand yourself better, think through your choices and plan your next steps.
  7. Have a ‘Beginner’s Mind’ project: Find something where you’re a complete beginner, where you have no sense of how to do it. Here’s a great post on how to do that.
  8. Try doing things differently: Example: sick of the way your meetings are working? Find ways to mix it up. Rotate the chair. Stand up. Stay curious about what works, keep evolving.

Here’s the model I use to teach this stuff:

Ingredients of Learning

Action: when you do stuff, you create opportunities to ‘bump up against the world’. I find the best actions are the scary ones, the ones on the edge of your comfort zone. They invite and challenge you to do things differently. Trying new things, having a Beginner’s Mind project, sharing what you’re learning are all examples of ‘action’.

Connection: similarly, connection with other people provides great opportunity for growth. Mentors and coaches are very useful resources. And, my colleague Nick Petrie and I think the real ‘accelerant’ in this circle is to get some Colliding Perspectives – the people who challenge your view of the world and offer a different one to consider.

Insight: this is the practice of engaging with what’s in your head and making sense of it. It’s about stepping back from game, and noticing the mindset you’ve been playing with. Seeing your thinking that’s guiding your behaviour. Perhaps exploring the assumptions you’re holding, and how useful they are. Trying on some new assumptions for size. Working with a coach and using a journal are both powerful ways to step out of the game to some deeper insights.

Deliberately combine these in ways that work for you, and you will keep your learning alive.

 

P.S. My theme for the year is “Be curious, be connected, be courageous.” Can you see how those three things fit the model?

P.P.S. If you’re curious about more of the thinking and research behind this model, check out the CCL whitepaper ‘Vertical Development Part 2’ by Nick Petrie (with input from yours truly). I think this paper provides some very practical approaches to accelerating development both for individuals, and organisations.

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Spiral Leaves picture by Sulabyrinth as seen on pragmaticmom.com

 

 

Avoid The Flat Line

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What’s better: when good stuff happens to you, or bad? Mull on that for a bit as you read on.

I’ve just spent three days on an emotional rollercoaster. I was attending a workshop with Thought Leaders Business School to help me sharpen my thinking for how I run my business. Hugely beneficial. But not always fun. I reckon I experienced the full range of human emotions, from elation to anger, and everything in between.

Here’s a cross-section:

  • The morning of the first day (full of swagger): “yeah, I’m energised and engaged. This is good”.
  • Lunchtime on the second day: “this is doing my head in. I hate this. This is bad”.
  • The end of the last day: “I’m focused and calm. This is good.”

What’s interesting about this is not so much the range of emotions, but the judgement I was putting on them.

For instance, at lunchtime on the second day, I was like a fly in a jar, bouncing around trying to get rid of the frustration and anger I was feeling. I wanted to run away to somewhere that gave me back that ‘good’ feeling I had on the morning of the first day.

I’m glad I didn’t. Instead, I checked in with a mentor, who helped me to stand back and see that what I was experiencing was pretty much normal. I began to realise that my angst was a signal that I was at my learning edge. I was being challenged to examine some of my beliefs about what I was about. And a part of me didn’t want to do that. My mentor encouraged me to sit with the feeling, be curious, and let go of everything needing to be OK.

And of course, that made all the difference. If I didn’t stick with it, I doubt I’d have grown from the experience, or got to the focused and calm mindset I had on the third day.

Back to the initial question. A trick, of course. Loaded with judgemental words. Better, good, bad. It’s not about what’s better. It’s how you use the experience.

Our western culture has a meme, and it goes like this: move towards ‘good’, move away from ‘bad’. I say “No”. Life will throw you ups and downs. That’s what makes it interesting. Flat line = death.

Those highs and lows are where the opportunities lie to show what you’re about. How you use those experiences, how you grow from them, is what makes you, you.

Savour the peaks, embrace the troughs. And avoid the flat line at all costs.

 

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Do You Need Confidence, Or Courage?

 

Lately I’ve noticed a little trap that people can fall into. One they set themselves up for. Like so many barriers to our own success, it comes down to a choice of words.

That choice is between ‘confidence’ and ‘courage’.

Example: A client says she needs to build up the confidence to put a contentious issue on the table with her executive team. I ask her does she need confidence, or courage?

What’s the difference, you might ask? Surely we’re talking semantics? Let me suggest otherwise. (more…)

Are You A Heat-Seeking Leader?

I’ve just spent the past week meeting with a range of leaders to debrief their 360-degree feedback. They work for the same organisation, which is going through a sustained period of huge turbulence and change (sound familiar?) As the week unfolded, I noticed an interesting theme emerging: the leaders who were rated the most effective in this environment, by far, had similar patterns in their own backgrounds. More specifically:

  1. They’d experienced a significant degree of change and stretch in their own careers
  2. They’d made sense of their story and drawn strength and wisdom from it to apply in the situation they found themselves in now

Let’s break these points down a little more:

First, their career paths weren’t linear. Their backgrounds included multiple roles in different industries, often in different countries. While their career paths told a story of ongoing evolution, as most resumes do, there was something deeper at play. Their changes weren’t forced upon them – they created them themselves. There was something in their stories about the courage to break away from the norm and pursue some sort of calling, even though they knew it’d be difficult and scary. I’ve noticed that that’s been a pattern of mine in my own career. Taking the ‘road not taken’, as Robert Frost would say.

Road Less Travelled

 

Second, they were able to articulate what they’d learned from their experiences – they could tell their personal stories of change. Stories about learning to be confident and resilient in the face of the unknown, about learning to be compassionate with themselves and others, about discovering their where their real talents and passions lay. In short, stories of self-awareness and discovery. And, I suspect, because they’d integrated their experiences into their identity, they were able to more confidently lead themselves and others effectively in the testing time they found themselves in now.

I observed a certain ‘unflappableness’ about them – not detachment; on the contrary, they were purposeful and passionate about making a difference – but more that they were like the person who steers the whitewater raft – there’s craziness all around them, but they’ve been similar situations before, and have a deep confidence in their ability to navigate the volatility. My guess is that you’ll agree that our organisations could do with more of this ability in this in our VUCA world.

These people are what I’d call ‘heat-seeking’ leaders – they’ve learned that discomfort and challenge is good for their own growth, and they seek it out rather than avoid it. And it’s something that you can do too, starting today.

If you think you could do with a bit more confidence about how you lead yourself, and others, through the turbulence you’re experiencing, try these ideas out:

  1. Remind yourself that you’ve experienced change all your life. Tap into your pivotal experiences – what have they taught you that you can draw on now? I’ve written specifically about learning to tell your story here – use the tools to help you.
  2. Get back in touch with your own purpose or calling. What it is that drives you forward each day, how do you want to make a difference? Listen out for the clues. Write them down. Use these tools to help you.
  3. Cultivate the habit of taking the first step, the one you don’t want to take, into the challenge you face today. Don’t plan it all out. Just step forward. David Whyte’s wonderful poem ‘Start Close In’ gives wise words here.

I’m left with questions about how our organisations could attract and develop more deliberately heat-seeking people, and cultivate a culture that includes that heat-seeking aspect. What would it be like it that was the norm? What would it take? Questions for another post, I think.

For now, let’s keep it focused on what you might do differently for yourself, as all change starts here. And let’s let Robert Frost give us the final words:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—  

I took the one less traveled by,   

And that has made all the difference.   

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Being on the Edge

So, I’m in Taipei right now. As you do. Yesterday I spent the day working with a group of up and coming expat Kiwis, teaching and exploring strategies for charting successful careers as global citizens. The group was engaged from the word go, and the discussion was lively, rich and productive for the six hours we were together. A couple of hours into the work, I noticed something about myself: I felt like I was actively playing the ‘facilitator with a plan’ role, and at the same time, I felt like I had no control of where it was all going! In essence, I felt ‘on the edge’. Kind of like riding a roller coaster, but with a loose steering wheel attached.

Reflecting back on that now, I’ve realised I’m pretty much always on the edge when I’m doing my best work. For those of you who know me, this might come as a surprise. I’m known by my clients as someone who’s quite ‘zen’ – I got two identical two Christmas Cards from clients last year with ‘Zen Dog’ on the front. But it’s not usually how I feel!

Zen Dog

I should define what I mean by ‘the edge’. It doesn’t mean I’m on edge in a negative, antsy sort of way. Instead, it’s about being fully present to what’s going on in front of me, and responding to that. Not worrying about what might happen next, or how I’m coming across. It’s about being willing to move to wherever seems right for the person or people I’m there to serve.

Yesterday, did I just show up and see what would happen? No. I had a plan of what I thought would be useful to cover during the day, and some ideas about how to do that. And, I was willing to throw that all out if it didn’t work for the group. It was like being a jazz musician – you’ve got a basic structure and maybe some ideas, and at the same time, if you want to really get the groove going, you’ve got to notice what’s unfolding and go where the music’s going. When you do that, that’s where the magic happens, and, I think, that’s when you feel most alive.

How many times have you planned and rehearsed, and then, when it comes to ‘performance time’, you’ve allowed yourself to throw the script away, and just be in the moment? How did that feel to you? What difference did that make to you, the conversation, the people around you? Wouldn’t it be great if you could create more times like that?

Let’s have a look at some of the ways you can get to, and stay at, the edge more often:

1. Do the work up front. Plan, practice, think it through. Sweat it. There’s no getting away from this. Lay down the neural pathways so you can access what you need, when you need it. Do what it takes.

2. Focus on what you can influence. There’s so much stuff you can’t directly influence or predict when working with people. So focus on what you can. Which is essentially your attitude, your language, and your behaviour.

3. Back yourself. Remind yourself of times when you’ve been in similar situations where you took a risk, let go, and you became just that bit more alive. Maybe your first date? Your first trip overseas? We’ve all taken risks before – which ones paid off for you?

4. Focus on your ‘why’. What’s your highest intent? Define it, and keep coming back to it. For me, it’s often quite simply to stop someone in their tracks, and have them say to themselves ‘that’s got me thinking!’. Make your ‘why’ your mantra.

5. Seek out discomfort. I’ve never been to Taipei before. I don’t speak Mandarin. They don’t speak English. Am I going to stay in my hotel room for four days and order room service? No way! The more I get out there and lean into the uncomfortable, the more I learn, and the more strengthen my comfort with discomfort.

6. Listen to your instincts, and follow them. Develop the ability to notice what is happening in the moment, and what that’s telling you. Start by using the rule of good listening: ‘two ears, one mouth, use them in that proportion’. Allow some silence in your conversation, notice what you think is happening, and put it out there to test whether others see that too. And go from there.

7. Have someone to help you go to the edge and stay there. We’re social beings that do better when we have someone there to support and and challenge us. Who’s in your network that you can connect with to remind you of the six steps above?

Now I’m off to explore Taipei. I have a map, and some rudimentary Mandarin. I’ve been to plenty of foreign cities for the first time before, and I know how to keep my wits about me. That’ll get me started. Let’s see what happens – it’s not the destination, it’s the glory of the ride!

 

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