Thursday, April 28, 2005

Capacity vs. Potential

Have you ever heard someone say that you have a lot of potential? On the surface, that could sound like a compliment, but when you really start to think about it, what does that say about your current level of performance? If you have a lot of potential, does it mean that maybe someday you'll live up to it, but it's not happening now?

Maybe as a young person that's a great thing to recognize. After all, what do young people have to compare anything in their lives to? They haven't had time to develop too much personal experience.

But for those of us who have been around for a while, what are we waiting for? If we're still seeing ourselves in the eyes of potential, when might we choose to start living it?

That's what I see as the distinction between potential and capacity. If I've got a 12 oz. cup of coffee, that cup's capacity is 12 ounces. That's the maximum amount it can hold. If the cup is 100% full, it's (figuratively) living its capacity.

How many of us can say that we are living our capacity? Potential is somewhere off in the future. But is the future really sure? All we really have is today. So if we're living in someday, we're living in potential.

I've spent a good portion of my life in love with the potential - in personal relationships, business relationships, career opportunities - but have only recently begun to see that that isn't always the reality. The reality is right here, right now, today - the capacity.

I choose to live my life each and every day at 100% capacity, whether that's a 12-ounce cup or a gallon jug. I think as we grow and learn and evolve in our thinking and our ways of being, we move from the 12-ounce cup to the 20-ounce cup to the 32-ounce cup and eventually, wherever our capacity takes us. But it's not an immediate jump from one to the other. That's where we might get hung up.

"But he's doing more than I am." "She's smarter than I am." Comparing the size of our cup to another's can have us focusing backward instead of on the reality of the present.

Maybe the goal should be for each of us to examine our container (whether it's 4 ounces, or 12 ounces or 10 gallons) and determine whether we're living at full capacity. What is your 100%? If we can all figure out first what that 100% is and feels like, and then figure out how to give that - or just to be aware of how much of the percentage we're comfortable giving - we can find that place where we know we're doing our best.

Isn't that what excellence is all about? Doing our best and being happy with the outcome?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Two D's and the Two L's

I'm starting to discover - finally - why we have so much trouble with effective communication. It really has very little to do with our intention and much more to do with our biology.

People respond to anything they don't know with defensiveness. It becomes a physical response. You can see it in their posture and the set of their jaw. And it all goes back to that reptilian brain way inside our heads.

The reptilian brain is the oldest part of our brain, that part that gives us that fight-or-flight response to anything new or unexpected. That part of us is rigid, obsessive, compulsive and paranoid. It is the part of our brain that keeps repeating past behaviors, and doesn't learn from them.

Thankfully we do have two other more evolved brains in our heads: the limbic system, or the middle part of the brain, and the neocortex, or the most highly developed outer part of the brain. In terms of size, the neocortex makes up more than two-thirds of the entire brain. So why is it that the smallest and most primitive portion of our brain is often the one that takes over? Shouldn't we be able to override that instinct with our intellect?

Is it any wonder we humans get defensive in our communication style when faced with new information or unfamiliar subject matter or, worse yet, new emotional ground? We don't know how to listen because we're too busy defending. We're in survival mode and we don't know any better because we haven't practiced anything else.

What if you changed the rules for yourself and didn't get defensive when you heard something that went against your initial beliefs? What if you changed the rules of your game and didn't make it wrong that people get defensive?

We're humans, not reptiles. We have every opportunity and every responsibility to let our neocortex in on our communication. What if, as Jerry Hirschberg of the Nissan Corporation once said, we fight the 2 D's in our communication (Defensiveness and Debating) with the 2 L's (Listening and Learning)?

I'm confident that noticing which of our brains is responding to new information in a communication setting will start alerting us to new, more effective habits in our behaviors.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Power of Observation

I'm amazed at how much I can learn when I shut my mouth.

Perhaps the most amazing insight that's come from my recent book club experience is that I rarely do shut my mouth long enough to learn from others.

But two weeks ago I did take a step back, in the middle of the discussion (remember, discussion is from the same root as percussion and concussion) - and that's what it appeared to me to be: a discussion - and I realized something else about the situation.

Our book club is intended to be a dialogue where people suspend their assumptions and come together to contribute to the pool of shared meaning. But two weeks ago as it turned into what I perceived as a discussion instead of a dialogue, I started thinking about what I was observing in a new way.

I'm wondering if we as businesspeople ever have opportunities in our daily lives to be in a situation where we can practice dialogue. Where in our worklives are assumptions suspended for the good of the whole? I can't think of too many examples off the top of my head. When in our family lives does this realistically happen? How about our community organizations?

We're such a society on the go that everything is "hur-hur-hurry up" (I've been listening to a Mandy Patinkin CD and the song "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" just came to mind - that's a line from that song). We've been forced into situations where we have to fight to be heard. If we don't ram our ideas in there, we'll be lost in the shuffle. So even when we say in our book club that this is a dialogue, this might be the only place people have been allowed to participate at that level, and all our experience is in discussion.

This past Monday I was reminded that even in love-based workplaces, we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop (see previous post). Is it any wonder we would be hesitant to trust a new group? When have we had a chance to practice?

Maybe it's time we formed groups of people who want to practice dialogue. Maybe right up front we state that intention and then hold each other to that intention. That might mean reminding those who fall back into discussion mode (that more competitive, fear-based mode of communication) as well as those who hesitate to share anything (again, a fear-based mode of communication that comes from previous experience).

Of course the second part of effective communication is listening. But when are we ever taught how to listen?

It's amazing how powerful speakers can become when listeners hold space for them to be powerful just by the way they listen. Each time I deliver a keynote speech or present material to a client, I'm only as effective as they allow me to be by their listening.

Powerful listening is powerful even in a one-on-one conversation. Try suspending all judgment and opening up a space for someone the next time you have an opportunity. I'm betting you'll be amazed at what you hear!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Uncharted Wilderness of a Love-Based Workplace

You really do have to have a savage beast inside of you to even have the desire to go out on a limb, rock the boat, follow your heart and any other cliche you can think of when it comes to bringing your whole self to the workplace.

It's crazy to think about being that vulnerable, human, transparent, authentic and real with co-workers and bosses whose job it is to chew you up and spit you out, right?

I hold out hope that we're all in desperate search for the workplace that will allow us to be ourselves and use the unique gifts and talents we've been given. Maybe that sounds like Pollyanna, or pie in the sky, or like I'm a hopeless optimist, but someone's got to hold up that end of the argument in order to come to something in the middle.

I started thinking about this topic again at the book club discussion I've been part of recently. The book we've been reading is called "Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right" by Joseph Badaracco, Jr.

At our last gathering we discussed love-based vs. fear-based organizations and whether it is "easier" to work in one or the other. One person actually said it was easier to work in a fear-based environment because she knew what to expect. In a love-based environment, she was expected to be more creative and bring more of herself to work, which caused a lot of trepidation and second-guessing. "How can this be? It seems too good to be true. When is the other shoe going to drop?" were the types of comments she suggested came up for her co-workers.

Our discussion group determined that even though the management or leadership would like to create a culture of love and support, the individuals involved in the organization still bring their wounds and baggage from other situations into the space, and end up remaining cynical and resigned even though that isn't the intention for the organization.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but it was a different response than I anticipated, given my desire to create love-based organizations. If we achieve that result, we still need to address the reality of the baggage some choose not to get rid of (or don't know how to get rid of).

This is a brave new world for people who are committed to stepping into the unknown. Our basic humanity would beg us to remain on familiar ground, even though it's no longer comfortable ground. We'll choose uncomfortable familiarity over the unknown, even if the unknown will give us more of what we so desperately seek, though we may not be able to successfully articulate what that is within in this new realm.

That's the beauty of taking the plunge, however. There are other brave souls who have made the venture before us and are forging the trail through uncharted territory of love and work. It won't be easy, surely, but what that's significant is easy?

"I wouldn't give a nickel for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I'd give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." - Einstein

I'm with Albert. Anyone with me?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It's All About Context

Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.

The first time I heard this quote, I thought it was rather depressing. I remember thinking that if we don't expect anything from anyone, they will never rise to any level of accountability.

But the more work and study I've done in self-awareness, the more I see that this is really a very positive statement. Who am I to set an expectation for someone else according to my standards anyway?

If I go into every encounter with an expectation, I'm sure to be disappointed. After all, as a recovering perfectionist, I see much more clearly now how difficult (if not impossible) it is for anyone (including me) to live up to a level that by its very definition is impossible to achieve.

In my understanding of this context, having a clear-cut expectation uncovers a level of attachment to an outcome which should look a certain way.

What if we gave up attachment to how something should be done or how it should look, and instead concentrated on our commitment to having something happen? If we're committed to or taking a stand for something we believe in, and if we can give up how it should look, we can keep our determination without setting ourselves up for disappointment.

In my Landmark training, I've learned that when we create a possibility for something to happen, the very nature of that context is one which, even if the possibility fails, will lead to a new possibility. If we create an expectation instead, the failure of that expectation will lead to resentment, disappointment, and stoppage.

It's all in the context and the spirit with which we create.

I'm committed to giving up attachment and expectation and shifting my view to one of possibility. What do I have to lose except disappointment? :)