Let Your Freak Flag Fly

People don’t trust what they don’t see. You can tell your people that they are safe with you til you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t have blue in your hair, they will still think they have to stick to strict standards of conformity.

I’m not saying you have to literally dye your hair. I’m saying that if you want a creative team who feel safe speaking up, who trust you will have their backs if they mess up, who believe they can bring any wacky new idea to you and you will listen and help them find the part that will work – then you need to be a little wacky too. You need to show your vulnerability, and admit when you make mistakes. You need to wear mismatched socks sometimes. You need to show that you are your own person with your own peculiarities, and that you welcome the peculiar parts of other people too.

I spoke to an image consultant once who told me the blue in my hair had to go if I wanted to get corporate clients. I said no way! I’m advocating for people to show up as their whole, unique, creative, and messy selves at work. I want people to feel safe to be weird and silly as well as focused and capable. I want people to bring all their ideas, not just the conforming ones. This is how we will survive, with the creative ideas to solve complex problems coming from all the people bringing all the weirdness together and seeing which parts work. Cutting part of us off in order to fit in does no one any good.

This is part of my mission to change the world of work. I want people to feel safe being themselves. I want people to feel safe bringing up new ideas. We need the creativity that comes from disparate things coming together. If all we show up with is the same as what everyone else has, we will come up with the same solutions everyone has already come up with. So please – let your freak flag fly. At least a little. Let the other freaks know that you’re their kind of freak, so they can feel safe being weird around you. We will all benefit in the end.

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Trust

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How would you characterize trust?

I led a workshop today in which we discussed what was needed to allow us to collaborate. The biggest model made was about trust.

As you can see in the picture, the wheels at the bottom are small, and the elephants they hold up are big. The whole thing is precarious. The elephants are both going the same way as long as trust holds, but if it falls apart the whole thing will collapse and the elephants will no longer be working together.

This sounds a lot like how trust works. Sometimes something real gets in the way of trusting – someone says something hurtful, or doesn’t do what they say they will do. Sometimes it’s all based on the stories in our heads – the something that is said is experienced as hurtful even though it’s intended to be positive; there was some misunderstanding around who was going to do what. Collaboration takes constant communication, which sometimes means revealing the hidden scripts in our heads that shape how we see the world.

I love these LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops because you can get a wealth of meaning into a simple model. With a good story behind it, all the details mean something, and the model is a compelling and vivid explanation of something someone experienced or thought.

Has trust ever felt like two elephants balancing on tiny wheels to you? What happened? Did the elephants stay together, working in synch, or did they start pulling in opposite directions? How does your group keep trust together?

Pleasure Is The New Gratitude

Does it sometimes feel like a chore to come up with a list of things you’re grateful for? Like you’re in a perfectly good grumpy mood, and someone wants you to say things like “I’m grateful for hot running water” and then you feel like a jerk for not being grateful for something that some people lack, but at the same time you’re annoyed that someone is challenging your status quo?

Now, what does it feel like to step into a hot shower? When you feel the warmth on your body, breathe in the steam, feel the dirt and sweat washed away, feel your body caressed by the water? Isn’t that delicious? I believe that intentionally enjoying pleasurable moments like that is a lot like gratitude. The good kind of gratitude where your heart feels full and happy, not the one where you feel judged and inadequately appreciative of all that you have.

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Noticing things that feel good in your day is also a means towards mindfulness. Noticing the flavor of the food you eat – yum! – or the softness of cat fur, or the laughter you share with friends, or the relief of sitting down after a long walk – all of these things that feel good also help us be present in our bodies, aware of the moment, present and happy.

I love touching soft things. Furry things, smooth things, velvety things, all sorts of things that feel soft. The lovely thing is, I can enjoy the brief moment of softness even on a day that’s not going so well. I can remember that the world is not endlessly bleak, and that there can be moments of light even on the darkest days. That is what a gratitude practice does too. There are reasons to be grateful even when the cat barfs on your new shirt and the toilet clogs – at least the car is still running, at least there’s food in the pantry, we are warm and safe right now.

So for this Thanksgiving holiday, we can make lists of things we are grateful for – and we can also enjoy the things we have to enjoy. The hugs of dear friends and family. The yummy food. Hot showers. Taking time to really notice and appreciate the things that feel good is gratitude repackaged – and delicious, too!

I Believe

I believe that having a seat at the table is not the same as having an equal voice.

I believe that sprouts need time and space to grow, whether those sprouts are tender new plants or fragile new ideas.

I believe that the still, small voice inside is the one most worth listening to, and that we have to get very quiet to be able to hear it.

I believe that everything, including mindfulness, can be used as a weapon by those who are acting aggressively, and that everything, including conflict, can be used as a tool for growth and connection by those who are acting with loving-kindness.

I believe that group dynamics are much more complicated than relationships between two people, which are complicated enough.

I believe that the stories we hear in our heads have a lot of power over us. It’s hard to see that they aren’t the truth, especially if the people around us reinforce them.

I believe that getting hurt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable will keep us from getting vulnerable again for a long, long time. I believe that from the outside it can be hard to tell if another person is actually feeling vulnerable. I believe we should always assume the other person feels vulnerable, even if they are acting brash.

I believe that connections between people are the most important thing we can create.

I believe that understanding, compassion, and acceptance are the most important tools a team has to create a space where everyone feels welcome and able to be vulnerable.

I believe that new ideas are vulnerable things. It doesn’t take much to crush the idea and the person offering the idea.

I believe that new ideas are necessary to move the world in a sustainable and healthy direction, and to create prosperity for the people doing the moving.

I believe that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, that being vulnerable is a sign of great strength, and that it takes courage to be open to change.

I believe that I can help teams find this place, where they believe these things too and can make their own spaces safe to be vulnerable and new. I believe I can help you.

When 7-Year-Olds Are In Charge

Imagine this: You’re around 7 years old. You are in a classroom. Your teacher asks you to come up to the blackboard to spell a word: Antidisestablishmentarianism. You’ve never heard of it, and have no idea how to spell it. How do you feel? Probably embarrassed at your lack of spelling chops, humiliated that you have to expose your ignorance, angry that you’re being put on the spot, afraid of being laughed at or yelled at….

Fast forward. You’re now an adult, in a business meeting. The boss has been hearing from the same three people for half an hour and needs a new perspective on the thing they’re discussing. They (I’m going to say ‘they’ instead of ‘he or she’ because it’s easier and I don’t want to imply all bosses are either ‘he’ or ‘she’ by picking one. I’m sorry for the singular/plural disagreement.) call on you. How do you feel? Maybe you don’t think anyone’s idea is particularly good, but you don’t have a better one to offer. Maybe you haven’t been listening because it’s been the same stuff over and over, and you’re thinking about lunch. Chances are good that your inner 7-year-old will take over – you’ll feel embarrassed to be put on the spot, humiliated that you have nothing to offer, angry that you had no warning, afraid of being laughed at or yelled at….

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The thing is, the boss had the best of intentions. They wanted to hear from more people, get more ideas, even the beginning of an idea to start a new conversation. But the person being called on is suddenly in fight/flight/freeze mode and can’t come up with anything intelligent to say. Everyone feels frustrated. No ideas come out. Another meeting wasting more time with no outcome.

Does this sound familiar? I know my inner 7-year-old comes out at times. Often when I need to do something very adult and responsible like call clients or speak on stage. I feel afraid and embarrassed and very, very young. It can be a real challenge to remember that I’m an adult now, that I’ve got this, that my inner child is safe, and my adult self can handle whatever comes my way.

In the meeting example above, often the person being put on the spot doesn’t have the chance to collect themselves before needing to respond. What can a meeting group do to help them out?

I’m so glad you asked! First of all, treat all questions and comments with respect and lightness. That is – if the boss yells at people for asking dumb questions, no one will ask questions. If group members grumble that their precious time is being wasted answering dumb questions, no one will ask questions. Then, when a single question could change the course of the company, no one will ask it and the company could go under. It really is that dire. Every question needs to be treated with respect – no put-downs, no grumbles, have a real honest desire to answer seriously. However, some questions are veiled grumbles or put-downs themselves, and these don’t need to be taken seriously. But you can’t put them down either, or the more 7-year-old-inclined of the group will retreat. So humor and compassion are key.

Next, reassure the person who is staring at you like a deer in the headlights that their answer isn’t life or death. Ask them to start a conversation, not have complete answers. That’s what the team is there for – to come up with a stronger answer together than anyone can do on their own. Is anything feeling off for you? Do you have any concerns? What sounds right about this plan? In your experience, will this work? Tell us about your doubts. We can help flesh it all out.

Note how different this is from: if you see a flaw in the plan, it’s your responsibility to fix it. Or, if you think there’s something wrong, what do you think is the right thing? These types of responses make people much less likely to say anything. Too much pressure, too much responsibility, too much extra work.

Another strategy: assume any problem or mistake is just data, not failure. People do NOT like to fail. Having one’s mistakes scrutinized is very painful and likely to bring out the 7-year-old in us. Having one’s mistakes seen as information about what works and what doesn’t takes some of the sting out of it. And seeing that data as a piece of a new brainstorming session can help move it into a positive new idea.

Leaders who are sensitive to the emergence of our inner 7-year-olds can make a world of difference to the people who follow them. People who assume everyone around them is as tough as a Navy Seal will squash new ideas left and right. People are just grown-up little kids, at least some of the time, and having our inner children be respected and not humiliated will bring out loyalty and great new ideas. I pinky promise.

Vulnerable Post

Hi everyone, I want to share something somewhat vulnerable with you today.

I’m really excited about the work that I do. I get to help people be heard, show up fully, add creativity and innovation to their organizations, feel valued, and ultimately change the world. A one-degree shift in direction can take you miles and miles away from your original destination, so the shift from being quiet to speaking up can make a profound difference in a person’s life.

The reason I care so deeply whether people get heard or not is that I grew up not feeling heard and afraid to speak up. From birth, when I was put into an incubator (my twin brother and I were 5 weeks premature), I have been looking for a way to connect with people and not finding it. I found walls, not loving parents. So I stopped trying to connect.

In my growing up years, I tried very hard to be the person I thought my parents wanted me to be. It seemed to me that every time my insecurities or extra sensitivities got triggered, I was told to toughen up or brush it off. Every time my most tender parts got bruised, I felt like it was my fault for being this way and I’d better change. So I tried to become the person everyone seemed to think I should be. I stopped crying. I ate my feelings away. I tried so hard to be the person they seemed to want.

By the time I got to high school, the advice “just be yourself” was gibberish. I had no idea who I was, and I was pretty sure if the real me surfaced everyone would run away screaming. By college when I got a therapist, she said something about emotional connection and I said “what’s that?”.

The price for all this was pretty high. I was extremely depressed. I thought it was normal for teenagers to wake up not wanting to live in their own skin that day. Everyone said adolescence was tough – but apparently not everyone wanted to die. Thank all the powers that be that I found a good therapist before I acted on it!

When I entered the work world, I was in therapy, but I still didn’t know who I was, or how to speak up, or how to value my own opinions. I didn’t think my unformed and uncertain ideas could stand up to challenge or scrutiny, so I didn’t say them. Maybe I could have changed the course of my employers for the better, but I didn’t believe I was worth listening to.

I’m not there any more, but I remember what it was like. That is why I feel a bit vulnerable offering my services now. I would like to offer 15 free team engagement assessments before the end of the year. I am also looking for 15 places to do a free lunch-and-learn.

I care deeply about this work because how a person shows up can make a huge difference both in their own lives and in the trajectory of their business. I don’t do therapy, but I do help people think with their hands. I level the playing field so everyone has to think before speaking, and I make sure that everyone speaks. People leave feeling like their ideas and opinions were heard and integrated into the decisions that got made. Morale goes up. Engagement goes up.  Productivity goes up. Happiness goes up. People are more cooperative, more inclined to give extra effort to making their shared solution happen.

I don’t always like to admit how personal all this work is. Work should be business-like, right? But it’s deeply personal to me to get the quiet voices heard.

If you support my efforts to bring all voices to light, could you please forward this to anyone you know who is struggling with a team? Please help me find 15 teams to talk to for free about how well they are working together, and 15 businesses that want to have me give a free lunch-and-learn to help their teams grow. Before the end of the year we could change the world!

Playing While Messy

I haven’t done a creativity game in a while, so I wanted to share this one with you. I like it partly because it takes something messy and turns it into something creative and fun.

Start with a stain on some paper. Maybe you put down your coffee cup. Maybe a leaky pen. I’m using a paper stained with grease:

The first picture is of the paper with the stain on a desk, the second picture is held up to the light to make the pattern easier to see.

The challenge is to turn this random collection of blobs into something different. Maybe recognizable, even. This is what I did:

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I looked at my little critter and thought it needed a place to live, so I kept doodling:

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I even gave it a friend in the lower left hand corner. A friend just as lumpy as it is, but without the dramatic coloration.

I would like to note that I am not a professional artist. I’m sure that some people could turn this into a work of art. I just doodle. If I can do this, so can you. You don’t have to share the results of your doodling, but give it a try. It’s a great way to open up possibility thinking – what could this random stain turn into? What do I see in it? How can I transform it? How can I bring out its essence? How can I play with it?

As I’ve said before, and I’m sure I’ll say again, creativity is like a muscle, and it needs to be exercised. The more creativity games you play, the more you practice open-ended possibility thinking  – the more creative thinking you have the rest of the time, too. So when your job, or your life, needs creative thinking, you will have more new ideas because of practicing creative thinking.

Another creative exercise – give your doodle a caption or a title. I find this challenging, which is why I’m including it! Maybe: Fluffy Finally Finds a Friend. Or: Yes, He’s Part Rottweiler and Part Dragon. What do you think it should be called?

Letting Go Of The Boat

Have I told you, my faithful readers of my blog, about my experience snorkeling in Australia? This was between 15 and 20 years ago, but it made a deep impression on me. (See what I did there? Deep? Get it?)

I am not a confident swimmer, but I manage in a pool. We were on a boat heading out to the Great Barrier Reef, and it was an hour across ocean to get to our snorkeling site. I was nervous the whole way. When we got there, everyone else jumped off the back, and I sat there crying, I was so scared and humiliated for being scared. Then a huge Maori Wrasse came up to the back of the boat to be fed, and I touched it as it went by. It looked me in the eye. I decided it was worth it to get in the water to see more amazing things like that. So I blew my nose, grabbed a pool noodle in one hand, my boyfriend’s hand (he’s now my husband) in the other, and got off the boat.

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After that, it was magic! I was flying over cities of coral and fish, soaring above the beauty and scurry of life under water. I didn’t get swamped by the waves like I thought I would, instead I floated on top and bobbed up and down. I didn’t get lost and pulled by the current too far to get back to the boat. My boyfriend and I headed back on time and got our snacks on our way to the next snorkeling site.

Many years later, I’m still talking about this experience. I’m still using it as a metaphor to remind myself that it’s worth it to let go of the boat. I might be scared, but what I will experience is so amazing it’s worth it to move through the fear.

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Just recently my husband got a charm made to look like that fish I saw in Australia, so I can keep a reminder to move through fear with me always. (My other charms represent, in order, my husband, myself, my son, and my business.)

I bring this up because I have been challenging myself with new and scary experiences recently. Yesterday I got interviewed on camera for a show that will be aired on an obscure cable channel that very few people watch, but clips will be put on Facebook and YouTube and people will see me. I don’t know how I did. The interview felt choppy and uncomfortable while I was doing it, but I think I said all the things I wanted to say. Maybe. I was nervous going in to it, and anxious going out. So far, it doesn’t feel like magic, I’m not flying over new cities of anything. But I’m proud of myself for doing it, and maybe it will help advertise my business. You, my faithful readers, are still keeping me a secret. What gives?

It is uncomfortable being scared. My shoulders have been too tight for weeks. I eat too little or too much. I can’t concentrate on work, can’t fall asleep at night, and my mouth is always dry. I understand why we avoid this situation! But I’m also proud of myself for stretching outside my comfort zone. Every time I do that my comfort zone grows. I’m more willing to snorkel again. I’m more willing to be interviewed on TV again. I’m more willing to try the next scary thing that comes along.

So I say to you, please don’t be ashamed of having fear. And also, at the same time, I hope you find a way to move through the fear and do what you are afraid to do. There is a whole world on the other side of your fear.

One Uncomfortable Thing A Day

I am trying to build a business. A lot of what I need to do is uncomfortable, so I resist doing it. Call people I don’t know to ask them to do something for me? Definitely not what I call fun.

My mentor Jesse from Thrive Academy says that one’s success is directly related to the number of uncomfortable conversations one is willing to have.

Interestingly, once I’m in a conversation with someone I’m more willing to go for the uncomfortable questions. If I’ve established a connection with someone, I’m often interested in what’s underneath. Not always, and it’s not always appropriate to ask, but somehow it’s okay with me because we are in relationship, and we are together, and we are risking something that will bring us closer.

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Pick up the phone? Now that’s a different matter entirely. I’m alone, anxious, not in relationship, not sure who will answer or what they will say, unable to see a face, feeling cut off from all my sources of information. Not an easy position to be in, for me.

So I have started a practice – make one uncomfortable phone call a day. If I go into it knowing I will feel uncomfortable and acknowledging that, it’s somehow easier than if I assume I should be able to do it easily. I’m no longer wrong for struggling with it. In fact, I’m brave for trying it.

I often don’t do more than leave a message. I have never gotten one of those messages returned. The point is two-fold:  One, to plant seeds in different places. Eventually, the right person will hear my message at the right time and call me back. Two, keep doing the thing I don’t want to do. After a while, it’s a little less excruciating. A while after that, it’s almost easy. Almost. Seriously, it does get easier with practice and repetition.

I don’t know what is uncomfortable for you. Maybe it’s talking in public. Maybe it’s petting a dog. I encourage you to take a tiny step forward on a regular basis. You don’t have to jump into hugging a German Shepard – but maybe a pat on a nice placid beagle? Maybe not a TED talk, but speaking up in a team meeting? Tiny steps are still steps. Acknowledging yourself for taking those steps even though they are difficult is strengthening and empowering. You are awesome for trying!

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

You’ll never live up to their expectations.

Who are you to show up in a big way? Just give up.

You haven’t succeeded yet, so you never will.

Have you ever had voices like that in your head? I have them today. I have a presentation later today with some people who could potentially send me a lot of business, so my gremlin voices are extra loud.

They won’t like you.

You don’t have enough experience.

You always freeze. You’ll never be able to answer all their questions.

I know a secret about these voices – they are trying to protect me. They are trying to keep me in my place in my tribe, so I won’t lose tribal support and end up alone and likely to be eaten by a lion. They are trying to prevent extreme discomfort by keeping me in my comfort zone. And I appreciate their efforts! Only thing is, they’re a little too zealous.

I hope you’re not late with all that traffic.

You look frumpy in that dress.

You always forget something you need.

Here is my tactic for today:  Thank you gremlin voices! It’s so nice to know you are always there to keep me safe. I really appreciate your efforts. Only thing is, I don’t need you right now. I’ve got this. I’ve done it before, I know what I’m talking about, I’m an adult. You know what would be really helpful? Instead of tearing me down, build me up. Tell me all the things that could go right, not wrong. When I hear you start to talk, I’m going to make sure what you’re saying is helpful. OK?

No one wants to hear what you have to say. – Actually, I was invited to speak because they do want to hear what I have to say!

Your insights don’t matter. – Really? The last group I talked to thought my insights were helpful and even profound.

What makes you think you can succeed this time? – Well, I’ve been improving and learning and working for a while; now I have the support, confidence, experience, ability, systems, and knowledge  I need to thrive. And when I thrive, I can help so many more people! It’s win – win – win!

My gremlins start to shift into cheerleaders when I do this. I stop hearing the voices of everyone who has doubted me, and start hearing the voices of those who believe in me.

You don’t let anything stop you.

You have such a big heart.

Your smile lights up a room.

You are courageous and keep showing up.

You care so deeply about the people you help.

You got this!

People tend to find what they look for. What we pay attention to, grows. I refuse to let my doubts run the show today. I got this!

So do you.