Month: October 2014

What If?

Tamie Folley over Pikes Peak
A few weeks ago I wrote about How Come, a phrase that has helped me understand my own thinking process and all the inferences I make along the way. The corollary to that is What If. I use How Come to understand a conclusion I (or others) developed. I use What If to imagine a different possible future.

Ask Through the Fear

Years ago I was consulting to a large manufacturing company and we were talking about how to make the organization way more efficient. They had just lost a major contract accounting for about a third of their business. As a result, their operating costs were way too high for the level of production they could sell. I was working with a group of folks from around the company to figure out the future and there was a lot of fear in the room. As we talked about that fear, the largest theme was, “if we get more efficient, will I lose my job?” With that level of personal risk at stake, the willingness to find great solutions was, let’s say, limited. These folks were legitimately concerned for their future and they had played the What If game. What If we get more efficient…then I will be unemployed…and that is scary.

We took a break and my colleague Jon Thorne briefed me on our next step. “We are going to play the What If game, but we are not going to let them be lazy about it.” I learned a lot from Jon, and this was a big one. We went back into the room and asked the team, “So, what if you lost your job…what would happen next?” And what if that happened, what comes next? And so on.

As it turned out nearly everyone in the room had lost a job before in their life for one reason or another, and they were all just fine. In fact, many of them told stories about how losing that past job was a great blessing in their life that opened doors they couldn’t imagine.

Limited Beliefs

About a year ago, several of us flew our hot air balloons over Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. I mentioned the plan to a fellow pilot and asked if she wanted to join the flight. Her first response, as I recall, sounded like, “I could never do that, I just don’t have the experience.” In this case, she might have been right, based on the assumptions she was making. See, I was calling to ask if she wanted to go with me, not alone. Our assumptions about the world limit our willingness to engage in the possible. I asked, “What if I flew with you, would that change things?” When we reframed the conversation, she was all in.

I mean ALL IN. She was gung-ho to plan the flight, gather all the crew and equipment required. She executed the flight flawlessly and even wrote an article for our national magazine about the experience. She and I now have a shared experience that was so much fun and we have developed a great friendship. What she doesn’t know is that she did way more for me than I did for her. Sure, I brought some experience and knowledge to the table, but she brought learning and excitement that keeps me fired up to this day.

Your Next Move

Next time you feel the fear of a situation, play the What If game. Keep playing and asking What If until you feel your fear dissipating.
Next time you hear that internal voice say you just can’t move forward…ask what if I could.
What would it take to go out and seize the day?

Learning is State Dependent

Jim Kwik

I enjoy learning about learning. How do people learn, and what prevents them from learning? I was recently watching a video by Jim Kwik talking about learning and memory. He had a lot of great things to say about improving your memory. One thing that stuck with me was a comment that, “all learning is state dependent.” He was talking about your ability to learn and how it is impacted by your current state, emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. If that is true, and I think it is, then what do we do about it?

Recognize your state

Becoming self aware is a great idea, but not one attained by many. Although I am not “there” yet, I have found a few things that help me recognize my current state. I have found paying attention to my physical body gives me insight to my emotions better than anything else.

First, pay attention to pain. Do I have pain somewhere in my body? If so, where is it and how much am I paying attention to it? If we are focused on the pain in our body, we are likely not paying attention to the larger task at hand. Pain is a great reminder of where we are out of alignment with our health and our mission.

Second, pay attention to my rates. What is my heart rate, my breathing rate, and my digestion rate. Do I feel like my heart is racing and breathing is shallow? Is my stomach churning, or peaceful?

Third, pay attention to my posture. Whether I am sitting or standing, am I doing that in a natural, healthy way? Or am I sitting in some awkward position with my shoulders bunched up and my back hunched over? Since I spend a lot of time at my desk, this is a major issue affecting my state of health and natural flow.

Correct your state

OK, so you noticed some things about your state – but who cares? What does it mean if my heart is fast and my breathing shallow and my shoulders tight and my stomach churning? Well, I don’t really know what it “means”. Interestingly, the deep and philosophical meanings are often not all that important. It is sometimes nice to have that clarity, but action can happen regardless. So, let’s talk about responding to the state rather than understanding it fully.

If you feel like you are not at your best state for learning, then try these:

  • Take a Breath. Breathing is so critical to life we can only afford to avoid it for a few minutes. However, we seem to avoid doing it well for long periods of time. A good breath starts with your nose and ends at your belly button. Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose, and let it fill your belly. As you feel the pressure to exhale, then do that…slowly. This brings oxygen to your blood (and your brain) and allows so much of your body to relax. Do it now, I’ll wait.
  • Get Balanced. If your posture is out of whack, fix it. Take just a minute and get as straight as you can. I don’t mean that stiff-as-a-board posture we think of from parochial school. I mean balanced left to right, front to back. The easiest way to do this while sitting is to sit in the center of your chair and wiggle your hips and shoulders a bit until they are loose. Then let them naturally settle to where they below. Now, work in that posture for a while.
  • Think Laughter. It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. I am not sure that is exclusively true, but I do believe it helps. While it might seem like a waste of time, take a few minutes to laugh. This might be finding some funny video online, remembering a fun experience, or telling yourself a joke. Whatever works for you – get a smile on your face and pay attention to how the rest of your body and mind responds.

These simple things can make a huge difference in your physical, emotional, and mental state. If you would like more exercises to improve your memory, go watch Jim’s video and pay attention to the 41 minute mark for his own exercise recommendations.

Your Next Move

The next time you are not excelling, take stock of your current state, then try these few quick techniques to get back to a place you can be great.

Let’s Talk about Money

talk about money
Money seems to be a very touchy subject in polite conversation. How much do you make, what does this job pay, what does that thing cost, can I buy a new pair of shoes? In our personal lives, and in our business communications, money does not need to be a sensitive subject. In my role at work, I coach church leaders about money frequently. Most often that includes how to communicate about money with the staff and congregation.

Talking about money at home

In my experience with business and church leaders, if they are not comfortable talking about money at home, they won’t be comfortable talking about it at work. I was once taught, “money is the primary cause of conflict in marriage.” At home, it is important to talk about money to ensure both husband and wife are clear about the situation and results of income and expenses. Although I could go into detail about this, I want to focus on money discussions at work.

Talking about money at work

Money is what makes business run, whether it be a “regular” business, or a non-profit. To quote a great leader I know, “Money is like blood…it is not why we work, but it makes work possible.” So, if it is so important, how does a leader learn to discuss money?

  • Learn the lingo. Learn the basics of accounting vocabulary. You can get this from your accountant, or an online course pretty easily. Take the time to understand terms like revenue, expense, COGS, profitability, net income, fixed costs, variable costs, and most of all – learn to read a simple P&L statement.
  • Get over the fear. People think about money a lot, so it is ok if some of that is out loud. Feel free to mention money and how you need it, how you use it, and how you give it away. I recommend starting in a safe relationship and discussing something on your mind. If you initiate a discussion about money, the other person is often relieved, not panicked. This is especially true when you are hiring people.
  • Define your boundaries. In your business, what about money is discussable and what is not. Is it ok to talk about what the company makes and profits? How about what you take home, or what we pay Julie? Then, feel free to declare those boundaries out loud. Just recently, we had a staff member ask about monthly profit and what appeared to be abnormally high expenses. As it turns out that particular expense was out of bounds, and they were told clearly, “Yes, we had a single extra expense this month but I can’t share with you what it was.” Perfect answer. Much better than dancing around it avoiding the conversation.

Your Next Move

Next time you find yourself dancing around the money subject, dive in. Break the ice with something like, “I want to discuss the financials of this situation. Would that be ok?” Have faith – it gets easier over time!

Simple or Simplistic?

In these days of swirling technology and overall busy-ness, many of us want our lives to be simpler. The Simple mantra is becoming the rallying cry of churches, businesses, families, and individuals. But what does that really mean…”Simple”?

Well, I decided to consult the oracle of Google and I learned Simple is defined as

Easily understood or done, presenting no difficulty.

Don’t we all wish life were that way?

Is it Simple, or just Simplistic?

On the contrary to having a simple, clean, elegant solution to a problem, we often resort to simplistic solutions. By definition, Simplistic is to treat a complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are. Another thing that caught my eye was a synonym of simplistic… “superficial”. I have recently read a couple books on being simple, like Insanely Simple and Getting Real. Both books celebrate, and even idolize, the goal of being simple.

What’s the Difference?

If you are motivated to create simple solutions or simple processes, you might be tempted to go the simplistic route instead.

  • Simple is complete and elegant, Simplistic takes short cuts and leaves major things out
  • Simple is often the result of that “Aha!” moment, Simplistic is the result of fatigue
  • Simple is beautiful and catches on quickly, Simplistic is met with tons of questions like, “what about…”

Your Next Move

Next time you have a desire for Simple, but find yourself cutting corners, feeling fatigued, or ignoring other’s challenges, stop. Stop and listen to their input, take some time to refresh, and design a complete and useful solution. Once a solution is complete, then the Simple will be revealed.

How Come?

ladder_of_inference This past week, the Coaching team at Church Community Builder was brushing up on the Ladder of Inference. The Ladder is a concept that describes how humans make conclusions about our world. For a quick intro, I love this video from Trevor Maber. Recognizing the concept of the Ladder can be helpful in understanding how you or others think, but what about “short circuiting the ladder” as Trevor mentions in the video? I find the best way to diagnose and change your own inferences is to practice asking “How Come?”.

How Come

How did I come to this conclusion? In linguistics we learn that words often elicit specific responses. In this context, the word How elicits a process response in our brain. That is helpful because we want to know the process (the Ladder) I used in getting to my latest opinion, feeling, conclusion, or action. To take the time and think through what led me here can open the door to self awareness. I recommend asking your self How Come several times in sequence and just pay attention to the response you get (from yourself). In fairness, this might be best done in private the first few times or you can raise some eyebrows while talking to yourself.

The other day, I was irritated with my mechanic. I had taken my truck in for service and the result was a large bill, larger than I could afford. At the top of the ladder, I concluded they were an unethical bunch. So, I asked, “How did I get to that conclusion?” With several cycles of that question, I was able to find these Ladders at work:

  • He is unethical. (so, How Come I got there…)
  • He is out to get me, and my money. (so, How Come I got there…)
  • He is recommending some preventive services I don’t think I need. (so, How Come I got there…)
  • I can’t afford this stuff…money is really tight right now.
  • I just never seem to get ahead.
  • I wish I hadn’t spent so much money earlier this year.
  • I have really failed at managing our money.
  • …and on and on.

Notice here that the top of the Ladder is an attribution about the other guy and his character. Then, as I start to work down my Ladder, that character flaw is reframed to be more about the situation, then eventually about me and my character. The bottom line is I know my mechanic is ethical and trustworthy, and he just touched a nerve in me that triggered my Ladder.

As a result of working myself down the Ladder, I was able to come to a very different opinion about his recommendation, and feel much better about the interaction.

Why not Why

There is a temptation to replace How Come with Why. I would caution against that. Again, back to linguistics. The question Why tends to elicit defensive postures. “Why did you do that?” “Well, because I felt like it.” Recognize the emotional difference if you ask your self, “How did you get to that conclusion?” vs. “Why did you do that?”

Maybe it is just me, and I feel better with explaining the process rather than defending the position.

Your Next Move

Next time you notice you are making a conclusion about the world around you, ask How Come. This is particularly powerful when you are making a judgement about another person. From the video, think of that other driver, the jerk. Talk yourself down the Ladder and give that other person a chance to reveal some extra data.

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