On a recent trip to Kaua'i, I had a chance to learn a lot about the water, survival and some great life lessons. (My last post had one of those - about assessment and evaluation.)
One great life lesson I learned was about water safety and how to react in a difficult and life threatening situation; how to survive being caught in a rip tide.
The first instinct we all have, when we are caught in a powerful force of nature that is dragging us away from shore and safety is to swim against it. We are in a battle to ensure our own survival - against an OVERPOWERING force of nature.
What I was told is that if you get caught in the rip tide, don’t swim against it! You want to swim parallel to it, until you reach the edge and can then you can get out. (See the picture above for clarification.)
The biggest mistake people do then when they get free of the rip tide, they start to head back to shore. The rip tide is still there, and if you go directly back you'll get caught in it again and dragged out to sea AGAIN. What you want to do is swim parallel to the shore for a while, then head back. This will allow you to get clear of the strong currents at the beginning of the rip tide that can pull you in again.
As I thought about that - I had to ask:
What issues do we all get caught in, and how do they lead us out to sea?
What do we do to get out of them?
Are we frantically swinging against a tide to try to save ourselves, or are we calmly accessing the danger and discovering tactics to overcome adversity?
And, does our plan work? Should we have swam parallel to the shore longer before we go back into the fray?
1. Identify the rip tide. What is it that is dragging you out to sea? Can you swim against it?
2. Use the shore. Identify your guiding principals, and use them to navigate your way out.
3. Access the danger. Spend time identifying how strong the force is that pulled you in. Then after getting distance, head back to the safety of the beach.
Be safe out there.
I recently had the opportunity to take a paddle boarding lesson in Kaua’I with an experienced surfer. There are a series of blog posts coming up regarding this instance, as I found it pretty fascinating. If you are ever on Kaua’I, take a lesson from Bear Bubnis; http://www.kauaiadventurefitness.com
The first thing we learned was to respect the ocean. A few visitors a year lose their lives to the waves by not paying attention, and by not respecting the ocean for the awesome power it has. We started the lesson with some simple water safety.
Bear told us to spend 5-15 minutes looking at the water:
These simple safety lessons made sense to me, and make me question how often we all look at the warning signs in our everyday work.
And we can learn to respect the power of these forces, and be prepared for them.
Ask Bear. He’ll tell you all about it.
Public speaking is an art. As someone who provides multiple speeches every year, I have a chance to see many of other speakers.
Inevitably, I see the same thing. Like this article in Forbes, the same mistakes are made over and over. You can see the coaching that someone has been told, and the little things that a speech coach did to quell the speaker's normal responses: they walk in a straight line from one side of the stage to another, they try to have flashy graphics, and they start with a joke of some sort (which often does not work as well as planned.)
From my work as a professional Actor - we train to engage an audience. We practice bringing a personal connection, carrying the rhythm and tone, changing the speed to make emphasis.These are all part of the tools of our trade. And it takes years to master - one ToastMaster class is not going to make you a dynamic speaker overnight.
As with all practices, it takes perseverance, training and practice. And it shows when someone has spent the time, and invested in their presentation. It makes us, as listeners, feel respected.
So next time you have a big speech coming up - consider it this way: You are a world famous actor, and these are your lines. You might win an Oscar/ Tony for this role, so you want to prepare for every possible scenario, and stay on message. And most important, you want to be willing to improvise based on unforeseen changes in the situation and make it all seem like it was planned.
So be prepared for your next presentation. Take an acting class.
An article in Forbes magazine asked 'What is the #1 problem every leader has and isn't aware of?' Author Mike Myatt poses that it is problem solving - plain and simple.
When most leaders are asked to self evaluate their problem solving skills, they judge themselves as great fixers. The question is, what do they measure themselves against? In Kraig Kramers CEO Toolkit, he lays out simple tools to help leaders measure their organization. 12 over 12 moving monthly averages and other tools help to measure progress, so that you spend more time looking for why something happened rather than what to do to fix the issue. As everyone says, you can't fix what you don't measure.
Ask yourself: What skills do you employ? They can be simple tools like Kramers, or they can be more esoteric tools. I have even taught recent workshops using Benjamin Franklin's Moral and Prudential Algebra. Anything that helps you to look at both sides, start to consider options and weigh potential actions against each other is all you need. And there are a wealth of resources for leaders if they choose to employ them. It really comes down to what works for the individual.
So begin to identify your toolkit for problem solving.
In a recent report from USC, researchers discovered how being funny changes your brain.
They showed a cartoon from the New Yorker, and asked participants to create one funny caption, and one un-funny caption. Meanwhile, they performed MRI scans on them to record their brain activity.
“What we found is that the more experienced someone is at doing comedy, the more activation we saw in the temporal lobe,” said USC doctoral student Ori Amir, who led the study with Irving Biederman, professor of psychology and computer science. The temporal lobe receives sensory information and is the region of the brain key to comprehending speech and visual cognition. It’s also where abstract information, semantic information and remote associations meaningfully converge.
In contrast, the amateur comedians and non-comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions like planning complex cognitive behavior and decision-making.
“The professional improv comedians let their free associations give them solutions,” Biederman said.
Many business leaders ask me what they can do to create more independent thinkers and problem solvers in their organizations. Now the answer is clear: Send them to an Improv Class! The more experience they get, the more they will rely on making new connections between items and creating innovative solutions.
For information about having an improv class for your organization, contact Andrew for details.
What do you like doing?
What are you great at?
What does the world need?
What are you paid to do?
And where do those things coincide?
For me, it's teaching. Teaching a subject that I am passionate about. Watching the small transformations on people's faces when they suddenly realize a truth about how they work. These things get me out of bed in the morning.
Teaching is also a vocation I fought against for years. Both of my parents were teachers. So I went to school for acting. I got a masters degree. I run a company. And, I teach. When I sit down and think about all the things I do, the one that brings me the most joy is teaching.
So ask yourself - where do those questions coincide for you? And how does that answer change your views on what you do?
When I was in graduate school, my teacher, Steve Pearson, used to say that each individual creates their own method of working. The idea is that there is no single way to learn; we each have to figure out what works for us, and then take that path. I never quite understood the power of this lesson until recently.
This week I have been facilitating a variety of workshops for various organizations: Valve Software, Amazon, Space Needle LLC, and a few others. On every workshop, when I introduce an exercise for the group, inevitably there are a few people who work to ‘solve’ the game. They look for how to accomplish the task, in order to move onto the next task. It is a linear, goal-oriented mindset that appears to value winning and accomplishment over knowledge and problem solving. What tends to confuse people is when I describe that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to do the exercise; the point of the exercise is to ‘do it’ and have an experience that draws correlations to our everyday habits. The exercise is about bringing awareness, not solving a problem.
As a teacher, I understand that my job is to give people the tools to find their own way, and teach them not to do what I did, but to create their own way of working. Telling someone the Five Best Methods for Productivity might be easily digestible (and highly profitable), however it doesn’t create true productivity. When people hear these lessons, they might change for a week or two, but they will revert to the practiced habits of the past. I have found that when people discover their own five methods of being productive - meaning the five that work for them based on their own experiences - then they actually do make lasting changes.
As an actor, and an artist, this is what we learn from our acting teachers. We constantly practice to see what works for us now, in the stage of life where we are now, knowing that what worked last week (or even last night!) might not be correct for today. Another wise acting teacher once said that each performance of a play must be 10-15% different each night, as each day always presents a bit differently. We strive to find what is relevant for this moment, so we can be present in our work, and not trying to “solve” the play.
So – the next time you find yourself placing the same solution on an issue to “solve” the problem, ask yourself:
By staying present and focusing on the lesson, rather than rushing to get the gold star of accomplishment, you can create real productivity – one that works for you.
When I speak to CEO's I get a lot of questions about reframing the idea of "Planning" and instead using the word "Preparing." I know that a 'Strategic Prepare' doesn't have quite the same ring as a 'Strategic Plan', and that is a shame. I do believe that the word 'Plan' sometimes sets people up for failure.
More often than not, plans have benchmarks that can fail: 'We will achieve goal X by this date.' When a company does not make those goals, the plan then becomes null and void, and people tend to say 'Well, this is no longer a useful plan....' This is why I encourage CEO's to use the idea of preparing rather than planning: If I prepare for the future, then whatever obstacles I encounter are a part of the next steps. There are no mistakes, and no reason to scrap the plan, just new information to add to the outcome.
One tool I have taught is in this process is the pre-mortem. It basically says that before any big action or implementation, you have a meeting to discuss its failure. The pretext is: It is now six months or one year in the future, and this has failed miserably. The question is: why? Why did it fail? What caused it to fail? What were the events leading up to its eventual demise? By looking at the possible reasons why something will fail, we can begin to be prepared for the issues that might affect its success. This can even go as far as life or death to some professions, as detailed in the book 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" by Col. Chris Hadfield. The years of planning, and simulations of what could go wrong in space, help to prepare astronauts to be ready regardless of what does happens. It also trains them to be ready when unforeseen events take place - and to treat them these events the same way as in the simulations they encountered. The level of preparation for space travel is intense - and necessary. It is never a straight path, or one way of accomplishing a task, and any unforeseen event could possibly cause something catastrophic.
So the next time you are seeing out a plan for the future, ask yourself what you are doing to prepare for the unforeseen events that could derail you: things that can make you head in new directions, and help you stop being reactive to issues, and instead be proactive to managing your desired outcome.
Click here to contact Andrew for more information on his workshops and coaching.
I have found a classification of people in the performing arts called 'accidental administrators.' They are the people who trained to be actors, or directors, or some specific aspect of theater, and ended up being the person in charge of the organization. When I ask these people about their journey, I usually get the same response; they decided to do the things that no one else wanted to because these things had to be done.
So they became the accidental leader of an organization. They didn't plan, prepare or desire to be the person in charge. They just found themselves there because of who they are, because of the type of person they are.
Sometimes this leads to a level of Imposter Syndrome, and even malcontented staff surrounding theses individuals who say 'who put them in charge?'
The answer I tell those disgruntled workers is: You did. And they did. They chose to make the organization work, because it had to be done and no one else would do it. They saw what needed to be done, and did it.
When companies begin - the lines between job descriptions and duties are fairly fluid. Individuals need to do what must be done to make a new organization survive. As a company grows, it's needs change and everyone must adapt to the constant changes. Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as making a commitment to code everyday, which is a goal he has had to step away from as the realities of being the CEO of a large company change.
The main quality I find from these accidental leaders (and in full disclosure, I identify with this group) is that they adapt to the needs of the changing organization as time goes on. Accidental Leaders are still leaders, and they are not stuck in amber waiting for the next ice age. They listen, react in real time, and adapt to the changing situation either by training themselves, or finding the support they need to make a dream come true. They are quintessential problem solvers, who see the end result and goal and reach for the dream.
When you are hiring, how can you identify these individuals? Look for the person who has been doing work outside the scope of their training. That shows they are doing whatever they can to be successful. And test them on problem solving. The ability to adapt and change in real time is a key skill.
How can you develop these skills in the staff you already have? Provide training in the skills of improvisation. It can lead them to higher levels of listening, critical thinking and problem solving as well as leadership development.
Don't let accidental leaders believe that it is all coincidental that they are where they are. It is who they are that makes them leaders.
For more information and workshops of Leadership Development - click here for Andrew's workshops.