Thursday, August 26, 2004

His name was Forrest ... Forrest Gump

Well, I just returned from a 9-day, 8-night working engagement in the Windy City - what a great town! I met some of the most interesting and engaging people and feel the need to tell you about two incidents in particular.

I work in Chicago with an innovation and creativity company called SolutionPeople (check them out at, and, on occasion, I'm called to Chicago to work in the Thinkubator, their creative meeting space, facilitating and coaching groups of business people to think outside the proverbial box.

Well, on this trip, I had a weekend stay, so I did the touristy thing on Sunday and took the city trolley tour. One of the stops was at Navy Pier, so I got off the trolley and decided to walk around for a while. I found myself at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Restaurant, and, wanting to take advantage of the beautiful weather, asked for a table outside. I was told it would be a 25-minute wait. Since I was by myself and had thought to bring a book along (Rich Karlgaard's "Life 2.0" - check it out at, I was perfectly content to sit on the bench in front of the restaurant and read.

As I opened the book, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, that someone had taken the seat next to me on the bench. I didn't really think too much of it until I got to the right-hand page of my book and happened to see those white Nike tennies with the red swoosh - the kind Forrest Gump wore. I followed the shoes up to see Forrest himself sitting next to me! (Well, maybe not the REAL Forrest, but a pretty darn good imitation!)

I proceeded to have a really interesting conversation with Forrest, and learned a lot about Forrest, Junior and about Lt. Dan, all the while trying to get this guy to give me some "real" information about who he was and what he did in "real life." He never once went out of character, but I sensed he was answering some of my questions a little more thoroughly than he might have had I not been so persistent.

As I left him to go get my table and have lunch, it occurred to me that Forrest really has some pretty profound messages to share with the world, so I asked my server to have Forrest come back over to my table and answer a few more questions for me. I told him I was a speaker and had a presentation to give in a couple of days. He told me, in his wonderful southern accent, that he did some motivational speaking of his own, and that he would be happy to e-mail me some information.

So I'd like to share with you some "GUMPtion" direct from Forrest himself, as presented to me by e-mail, direct from Chicago, by way of Tennessee (where the "real" guy lives). This is just a SHORT summary of some information he is putting together for his own book, so I'll share more nuggets in the future.

GUMPTION is a word from the Scottish dialect that can be defined as commonsense, initiative, courage and enterprise. When Winston Groom chose “Gump” as the surname for Forrest, he was summing-up Forrest’s character traits. Forrest Gump has GUMPTION!!!! His I.Q. may be lacking, but this deficit is more than made up by his God-given abundance of commonsense, initiative, courage, and enterprise. He is not bogged-down in a negative vision of the way things are. Instead, he sees them optimistically as they could be. He looks for the good, and he finds it!!!

I'd also like to share another blog for you to check out. It's I met these guys at the class I facilitated in Chicago. They're a lot of fun, and people to stay in touch with. If you're at all interested in marketing and branding, you need to check them out.

Thanks for hanging in there with this long post - I'll work on brevity next time.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Living on the Edge

At lunch with my friend Gail today I was reminded about how important it is for me to be me. That might sound funny, but I've been struggling with what Gail helped me see to be a paradox: two seemingly conflicting views, each of which I hold sacred.

Here it is in a nutshell: I'm finding myself drawn to living my life on the edge, or, as my friend Susie says, out on a limb. When I looked up the definition of "edge," it fits so well with what I'm feeling drawn to. Here are some definitions:
A thin, sharpened side, as of the blade of a cutting instrument.
The degree of sharpness of a cutting blade.
A penetrating, incisive quality.
A slight but noticeable sharpness or harshness: His voice had an edge to it.
Keenness, as of desire or enjoyment; zest: The brisk walk gave an edge to my appetite.

The line of intersection of two surfaces: the edge of a brick; the table's rounded edges.
A rim or brink: the edge of a cliff.
The point at which something is likely to begin: on the edge of war.

The area or part away from the middle; an extremity: lifted the carpet's edge.
A dividing line; a border: a house on the edge of town. See Synonyms at border.
A margin of superiority; an advantage: a slight edge over the opposition.
A provocative or discomforting quality, as from audacity or innovativeness: “Over all, the show will have a grittier edge” (Constance C.R. White).

The other side of my paradox is wanting to hold space for people wherever they are - to accept wherever their level of understanding allows them to be. I sense that I may be making people wrong if I encourage them to come closer to the edge when they are perfectly content living in the middle. I don't want to push my own agenda, so I don't say what I feel drawn to say, and I pull back - put up and shut up - or worry about what others think of me, or wonder if I've said too much.

As Gail reminded me today, edges can be sharp - and if you live on the edge, you run the risk of getting cut.

But I'm also reminded that there probably are far fewer rules for living on the edge because far fewer people have been there to offer their experience or advice. When we're living on the edge, we make an agreement to make up the rules as we go - to roll with the punches, to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again, but with new determination, and new avenues to explore. There are no promises that anything is going to be right or perfect or successful when you're living on the edge, only that you have a personal stake in the outcome because you're creating it.

So what's the answer to the paradox question? Can you hold two seemingly contradictory beliefs sacred? Time will tell for me. But the clarity I gained from having this conversation is priceless. Thanks for lunch, Gail - and thanks for the food for thought.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This

Yeah, but how often do we let what Momma said keep us in the past? I've heard so many people recently bring up this comment, courtesy of their mothers and their childhood: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

OK, so there's something to be said for being courteous and polite. But to withhold communication because you don't think what you have to say is NICE? Come on.

If you want to read more about how nice really isn't so nice, read Lynn Woodland's article about "Minnesota Nice" at It's not a new phenomenon, but here in the upper Midwest, we tend to rely on our past to keep us right smack dab where we find ourselves today ... and have tons of good reasons and excuses for staying put.

The best way I know of to get beyond "NICE" is to be authentic and honest. Sometimes that means telling someone the truth when they ask what you think about their new haircut. Or when they ask you for feedback on yesterday's board presentation. How NICE is it to say nothing because in your interpretation, honest feedback might not be NICE - and let your colleague or significant other or whoever it is, go on doing the same thing over and over, wondering why people aren't responding in a different manner?

If we can figure out how to be authentic in our conversations, and how to really be present and LISTEN, we can be better salespeople, better bosses, better colleagues, better coaches, better athletes, better brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents, in short, better people.

Give it a shot - what do you have to lose?