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.

Play Is Good Business

https://i1.wp.com/www.mymcpl.org/_uploaded_resources/legos_0.jpg

As you probably know by now, I’m a geek when it comes to communication, connection, play, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and teamwork. I’m not so fluent, or interested in, business, marketing, finance, and other MBA related subjects. So it was odd for me to pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review this month. They cleverly put LEGO® bricks all over the cover, so that it would catch my eye. Surprisingly enough, there were a number of articles in it that aligned with my areas of interest and expertise. So I thought I’d share some of them with you.

There is an article that talks about the diversity of work styles and perspectives based on brain chemistry. By talking about Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, Deloitte can help people understand each other better. One of the things that intrigued me about this article is the notion of “cascades.” “Once ideas, discussion, and decision making start flowing in a particular direction, momentum keeps them moving that way. Even if diverse views exist on the team, they probably won’t change the flow once it’s established, as people often hesitate to voice disagreement with an idea that gets early visible support.” (HBR March-April 2017 pg 54)

In order to prevent cascades, it’s helpful to start out getting ideas from the minority views. And it’s especially important to hear from your sensitive, risk-averse, introverted people. They will not stick their necks out to challenge what feels like a waterfall landing on their heads.

(One reason I love the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is that it helps introverts and extroverts play on a level playing field. Just saying.)

Later in the magazine there’s an article called “Strategy in the Age of Superabundant Capital.” There are two passages that intrigued me: “When capital was scarce, companies attempted to pick winners. Executives needed to be very sure that a new technology or new product was worthwhile before investing precious capital….With superabundant capital, leaders have the opportunity to take more chances, double down on the investments that perform well, and cut their losses on the rest. To put it another way, when the price of keys is low, it pays to unlock a lot of doors before deciding which one to walk through.” (pp 73-74) This jives with what I’ve been saying about needing an idea incubator. It’s easy for ideas to be rejected quickly, sometimes even before they are spoken. But having a lot of ideas may be the best way for a company to survive. Therefore it needs to be safe for odd ideas to be spoken, and for tender new sprouts of ideas to grow before being subjected to scrutiny.

Also in this article: “But great ideas don’t just materialize. They come from individuals and teams with the time to work productively, the skills to make a difference, and creativity and enthusiasm for their jobs. As long as companies continue to focus too much attention on managing financial capital, they will devote far too little to ensuring that the organization’s truly scarce resources – time, talent, and energy – are put to their best use.” (p 75) Yes! People matter, and their ideas matter, and fostering creativity helps the whole organization succeed.

And finally there is the article “Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions.” The CEO of Charles Schwab says the CEO bubble takes two forms: “people telling you what they think you want to hear, and people being fearful to tell you things they believe you don’t want to hear.” (p 78) His solution is to get out of the office, and talk to people around the whole organization. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t even plan to learn it. Many leaders don’t want to be wrong or appear wrong ever, and will defend decisions that aren’t working. More successful leaders are willing to admit to mistakes, and to pivot as needed. “Innovation always involves at least an implicit acknowledgment that you were wrong about something before….The question for leaders is how to go about embracing the notion of being wrong.” (p80)

If innovation is so painful, if learning what you don’t know means hearing about problems and places you were wrong, it can be difficult for leaders to hear what their people know. One reason I like LSP is that it puts the problem into the form of a LEGO® model, instead of the form of the person across the table. Since people can only ask questions about the model, not the people, it makes it easier to bring up places that need to be looked at without making anyone wrong. A good facilitator will also keep the conversation positive – not where someone screwed up, but how we can move forward given what we know now. And play can help make being wrong, or not knowing, not be a crime.

I love finding support for my ideas in a very traditional business magazine! I hope this inspires you to pick up something you wouldn’t normally read, to see if there are any ties to things you are interested in. And I hope that this gives you some confidence that there really is a solid foundation in reality and business for my somewhat new-agey and woo-woo ideas!

Practice Makes Perfect

My Dad is a professional musician, and he has always had issues with the saying “Practice makes perfect.” He prefers to say “Perfect practice makes perfect.” After all, you can learn a mistake really, really well if you practice it a lot.

https://i1.wp.com/www.netanimations.net/mz_5086667_bodyshot_175x233-1.gif

There’s a lot of pressure on a person though, if they have to have perfect practice. After all, the reason you’re practicing is that you’re NOT perfect yet. In fact, perfect is practically impossible to achieve.

So the question becomes – are you keeping yourself small because you’re afraid you’ll make a mistake?

I don’t know about you, but I hate making mistakes. I hate feeling stupid, embarrassed, flawed, and unreliable. I hate feeling like the other person is looking down on me, or dismisses me, or is going to actively campaign against me with a private twitter war or terrible reviews on Yelp. (Not sure I have that much power, but my fears are strong.)

What I’ve come to realize recently is – I hate playing small even more. I have a big message for the world. I want to get every voice heard, empower everyone to speak up, make every meeting a safe space to show up. Playing small doesn’t serve my future clients, doesn’t tell people it’s safe to be themselves, and doesn’t let me be myself.

If I want to take up more space and be more visible, I have to expect that I will make mistakes. I have to learn to live through the wash of heat that floods my body, making me feel uncomfortable and like I’m in front of the firing squad. It’s not actually life or death. And this, as with any other skill, takes practice.

How To Live

I’ve been thinking about the systems people put in place as guides to life. Some of it is religion. Some of it is aphorisms or sayings to keep in mind – do unto others as you want them to do unto you, for example.

So, what do I live by? I was born Jewish, and I still feel a part of the Jewish community. And, there are a damn lot of rules about how to be Jewish. I don’t follow a fraction of them. In the end, though, what are all those rules about? How to be fair. How to be kind. How to be healthy. How to be grateful. (I feel a need to put an aside here, because from experience someone will come up with a rule that doesn’t meet these guidelines and tell me that I’m wrong. So, just know I’m being somewhat general here.)

I actually feel a lot of affinity for the Wiccan motto: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Doing no harm is difficult! Almost everything harms something. Eating a carrot harms the carrot. But if the focus is more on whether eating the carrot harms the earth, then growing food and eating it can still be done with care and reverence. And it shows us how much we are all connected, that all of our choices have consequences. Is using that plastic bottle harming the ocean? Maybe we should find out.

I like that the next thing is – do what you will. There are so many people telling us to do what they want us to do. I love that freedom to explore what it is we feel called to do inside – as long as it causes no harm. We can’t give in to the impulse to kill, hit, or destroy, but we can build a block tower just so we can knock it down because we want to experience that destruction. I think so many of us are not giving our gifts to the world because we are afraid to show our true colors. What if all of our differences and gifts and preferences were admired and supported? What if everyone was called to do what mattered most to them?

I think there is one piece that is missing. I don’t want it to be a law, since it’s sure to backfire. But I think a reminder to find gratitude and joy and love in everything around us is important. When I focus on things I’m grateful for, I see more of them. When I focus on things I’m resentful about, I see more of those. I know which way I feel better, and can be of more service in the world! In fact, I only want to be of service when I revel in the gratitude and joy and compassion and connection. When I feel resentful, badly treated, or not respected I don’t want to be of service. I want people to serve me! It takes a pretty big mind shift to inhabit the world of abundance and happiness rather than pettiness and greed. I know if someone told me I had to make that shift, it would push me further into the world of resentment. But I think it’s very important as part of a world view.

And so, my simple (yet complex) structure to serve as a guide to life:

 legostepsconcepts

Smart Hands

One of the reasons LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® works is that it lets us think with our hands.

https://i0.wp.com/www.calliopelearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/handsperson.jpg

What does that even mean? Well, when challenged to build an idea, you  might not know what to make. How can you portray courage? Or fear? Or maybe the problem is that you don’t even know what you want to say? What is the idea you want to have? If we allow our hands to start picking bricks, we can figure it out as we go.

Let me tell you a secret: I almost always believe it won’t work – just before it does work. I was trying to demonstrate for someone how this happens, so I started clicking some bricks together – and I felt I had to tell her I had no idea what I was doing, since I had no idea what I was doing! I felt a terrible panic that it wouldn’t work, she would see I’m a fake, and she wouldn’t hire me. But then, the miracle happened: I started talking about what I was building, and suddenly the meaning was clear. I was building a base for something to stand on, but the base wasn’t completely solid. There were places it could tip. It didn’t always, but there was my insecurity made visible, I was afraid I would tip over. She could watch it happen, the way random bricks suddenly became a story with meaning.

Some artists know they can trust their hands. Probably hair dressers and makeup artists too. People who doodle sometimes find meaning in their drawings. But those of us who work with computers don’t have that experience of letting something take shape between our hands, and develop meaning as it does. LEGO® bricks are a great place to try it out, since no one will get hurt in the process, and it’s sort of fun to see what happens. There’s something satisfying about clicking the bricks together, even when the meaning is slow to materialize. I encourage you to give it a try! (And tell me about it – I’d love to hear your experience!)

Fear and LEGO®

I do what I do to bring people together. I work with teams of people who don’t trust each other and don’t understand each other, to help them understand and trust. I am passionate about bringing people together because of my own early experiences with isolation and feeling like no one had my back. And all of my experiences have shown me that having a diverse population with diverse thinking will give stronger, more creative, and more cohesive decisions – even if it takes longer to get to those decisions.

Today I am very sad about the divisions in our country. I write this the day after the election. It is clear that there is a huge divide in our country, and that the people on both sides don’t trust each other. That in fact each side thinks the other side is deluded at best, and outright terrorists at worst. There is so much fear, hate, mistrust, anxiety, and outrage that there is very little room for love, compassion, hope, gratitude, or trust.

When I was volunteering as a community mediator in the early naughties (I got trained in 2001) I always had a moment when I couldn’t see how the two sides would ever come together. They were too angry. Too hurt. Too fearful. Time and again, what brought them together was acknowledgment of common ground. A chance to be heard. A chance to hear. A chance to talk about mistakes made without using that as an opportunity to punish or lose a lawsuit. Having that safe space where admitting error was not the same as admitting guilt. Safe space held by trained facilitators who could help the two sides see they were not so far apart on the things they really valued.

I think in the end the people in this country are not so far apart on the things they value. We all want to feel safe. We all want to have a job we don’t hate that will support us and our families. We all want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have very different ideas about how to get there – do guns make us safer, or less safe? – but in the end we want the same things. I hope that when the dust settles, when those who lost have licked their wounds and those who won have stopped gloating, we can find a way to see the places we have common ground. I will happily bring my LEGO® bricks to anyone who wants some help in bridging the gap between us – this is sacred work and we can’t let anyone keep us from it.

Visual Stories

2016-10-29-17-03-02

What does a skeleton with a pink flag on its head in a treasure chest mean to you?

The person who built this was reflecting on the gifts that making friends with her own mortality could bring her. So many other stories are possible – uncovering the skeletons in one’s closet; or climbing out of the dungeon where others have gotten stuck; or facing the death of a loved one; or a transition of some sort, an ending and a beginning. In LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® we always let the builder do the interpreting, since everyone brings their own point of view to every story. Having a visual makes the person’s story easier to understand and easier to remember.

I’ve been challenged to think about my stories recently. My stories about myself have often had me in the role of victim, but there are so many other ways to tell the story.

tower3

If this model were my story, I could be burdened with too much to carry. Or I could be a martyr holding up the world for other people to live in. Or maybe I am holding up my piece of the world just as everyone else does – a little crooked, but not more than I can handle.

In a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop, we only ask questions of the  models, not about the people telling the story. So we can ask what significance there is to the minifigure being split in half to hold up the tower. We can’t ask if the person has a split personality disorder, or if they feel powerless, or if their head is really that hard. We can listen as the person explores why s/he built it that way – sometimes they know, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s significant, sometimes it’s merely structural.

Our stories can make us miserable or happy. There is road work being done outside my house while I type this, and I have a choice between being irritated at the constant noise and difficulty getting in and out of the driveway, and being grateful that the gas lines are being upgraded to something safer so the whole neighborhood won’t go up in flames in the next earthquake. I can shake my fist at the men holding signs saying STOP and SLOW for keeping me from getting where I need to go, or I can be grateful they are keeping everyone safe while there are workers in the road.

Sometimes we don’t even realize there is another story available. I appreciate the visual aspect of story telling with LEGO® bricks because it helps us see more clearly what other stories are possible in the same situation. Sometimes just being asked about something we built can help us realize there is something we want to say about it, or that our opinion has changed about it. It can help us realize how much of our situation is our story about it.

 

Life Without Play

Does this sound familiar?

In a meeting, person 1 states position 1: “I think we should focus our weight-loss product on a way for people to track calorie intake.”

Person 2 states position 2: “I think we should focus on and track burning calories.”

https://i1.wp.com/praveeniperera.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BusinessMeeting.jpg.png

You are sitting there, disagreeing with both of them. You think: “Every time I try to track what I eat or how I exercise, I gain weight. The only way I’ve ever lost weight is when I focus on doing the things that most support me and make me happy, and then I naturally eat less and move more. But I don’t want to share this because I don’t know if I’m typical, and I really don’t want to make myself vulnerable in a work situation.”

Now everyone else at the table is either agreeing with and backing 1 or 2. A few people are quiet. Your boss asks if anyone else has anything else to add. This is your chance, if you want to take it. You could say that what people really need is a way to track what makes them happy, since people don’t always know. Or you could say that focusing on weight loss gives the impression that people aren’t okay the way they are, and adds to the epidemic of anxiety and depression in our society. But boy, that would put the spotlight on you. Do you speak up? Probably not.

Almost every meeting has people not speaking up. When people don’t share what they really think, the whole group suffers. But with all of society aligned in one way, how easy is it to offer a different opinion? Even if it’s actually only the people in the meeting, not all of society. Even if it’s really only the few people who are speaking up, not everyone at the meeting. It still feels like courting death.

Now, let’s picture something else.

IMG_9563

There is a bin of LEGO® bricks on the table. Everyone is asked to build an aspect of what they want their new product to be. You build that you want it to make people feel good about themselves. You build that it should support the emotional needs of the people who use it. Other people build that it helps people to live healthy lives, that it keeps track of things that are hard for them to keep track of on their own, that it increases connections between people. Everyone puts their own ideas together with other people’s ideas, and in the end there is a rich discussion about what will help people connect and feel good. You have the chance to offer ideas about letting people know they are okay the way they are, and people like it. You don’t have to speak up into the stark silence, people are asking you about the models you built (not about you) and you can elaborate in a meaningful way without making yourself super vulnerable.

This is why I love LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. It fosters these rich discussions without leaving individuals at risk, and it gains access to all the diverse thinking available in the group. What group are you part of that could use some play?

The Gremlins Of Change

inspiration-newsprout

I am trying to change, and wow is it tough.

There is a part of everyone that wants things to stay the same. I know I’m not unique in this – there is comfort in knowing what to expect. Part of the process of change is being willing to be uncomfortable. And oh, how I long for that comfort sometimes! Enter the gremlins.

I want to step fully into my power. I want to live and breathe the values I bring to my clients, finding the path forward through play and creativity and community. And the gremlins in my mind say if I’m this uncomfortable, it must be wrong. I must be false.

I want to support my family on what I make in this business. I want to let my husband off the hook of having to support us and take a job he might not love. The gremlins say if I haven’t been successful yet, I never will be. I can’t be. I’m not capable, I’m not worthy of success, I’m fooling myself to think I can be more than I am.

Choice itself is difficult. Everything I choose means something I did not choose. I have so much trouble choosing I usually have all the desserts rather than picking just one, and then I feel bloated and sick. I often stay stuck. The gremlins on all sides chatter at me, making a case for every thing, settling on none.

But look at that new growth. It couldn’t be there if the limb had stayed.

The life force is strong, it wants to find a way. And I keep finding myself doing the things to move my business and my life forward. I walk every morning. I network with new people. I find places to speak about my business. I blog. And the gremlins are also strong. I overeat. I hide in the house. I don’t make the phone calls I’m supposed to make.

What I’m coming to learn is that sometimes I can’t trust my own thoughts. I need outside input to figure out which branches to prune to make room for new growth. I need someone else to identify which thoughts are gremlins and which are healthy (if uncomfortable) progress. For any change to stick, I need a tribe of people who believe in me and can see the change before it happens. People who have been through their own transformations, or who are going through them now. When all I can feel is the stasis of a tree trunk and the grief of a missing limb, they can see the new growth sprouting and the huge potential there.

Thank you to all who are part of my tribe. I couldn’t grow without you!  May your gremlins subside and your new growth thrive.

What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas

I just spent a weekend in Las Vegas with my husband’s company, celebrating a milestone. It’s a very interesting place. It is a fantasy land for adults, where people can feel rich, successful, important, sexy, tipsy, and without normal restrictions on their behavior. Instead of seeing Mickey Mouse or Lightening McQueen come to life, there are scantily clad women with drinks, and slot machines making kachinging noises that sound like money and magic.

I find it interesting that some people feel like they have to be in this sort of situation to be able to play. Inhibitions are lowered through drink, lack of sleep, and slogans like “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” so they can feel safe doing something different. The range of ways to play is pretty limited, though. Drink, sex, gambling, shopping, and watching shows are the primary options. We had a chance to go hiking in Red Rock Canyon, which is another form of play, and one I prefer. There is dancing and swimming available too, although these also lean towards the superficial.

What if all of these means of play are actually attempts to feel connected, heard, and valuable? What if all the showing off of skin and expensive clothes is a way to attract attention, if the sex is a way to make a real human connection, if the luxury is a way to feel important? And what if there are other ways to get there? Finding ways to actually talk with the people we interact with could help us feel connected. Hearing others and feeling heard happens not through being a high roller or sitting in a VIP box, but through the sort of play that levels the playing field and lets everyone learn about each other with curiosity and non-judgment. We feel important when our ideas are heard, valued, and used if they fit. Not just when we have marble floors and Egyptian cotton sheets.

My point is that bringing LEGO® Serious Play® to a group of people who work together can help everyone feel important, heard, connected, valued, valuable, and validated. Without the expense of a trip to Vegas, without losing money gambling, without throwing up from drinking, without seeing each other as flesh to buy and sell. And without needing to bracket it away so that it stays in Vegas. Play can be part of everything, connection can be renewed, communication improved, relationships grown, potential maximized.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the weekend away. It’s fun to go on vacation, and it’s fun to spend time with my husband without our kid around. The company threw a heckuva party Friday night, and then a heckuva party Saturday night, too. Given my design, the way I’m wired, I enjoyed the parts where I talked with people more than the parts where it was too loud to hear. I also enjoyed the creative and unexpected touches – the mermaid in the swimming pool, the monkey dressed like Elvis, the acrobats. But I’m glad that I don’t have to go to Vegas to feel connected, important, or creative, and I don’t have to leave that part of me there when I come home.

Image