[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Finally Saw The Grand Canyon and It Wasn't What I Thought

Yesterday, I was flying to a conference and the pilot announced we were flying directly over the Grand Canyon. I've never been to the Grand Canyon and got excited.

This is what I saw. From that height, seeing the Grand Canyon was actually boring. I don't think that was Grand Canyon's fault, though.

The 22,000 foot view isn't always the best view. People are often told not to get stuck in the weeds--and that's true. But you also make mistakes when you get so high level you can't see the details.

1 - Every grand dream needs to result into a specific step you can take next week. I know many people who have had dreams for their life that never left the "someday" category. I lived this way for years, dreaming about writing but never actually writing. Books don't just happen, they are the fruit of many small choices to write one more sentence.

2 - How you say something matters. "I want to get in shape" does not have the same power as "I want to lose one inch off my waistline by the end of next month." Being more specific is like sharpening the edge of your sword.

3 - Leaders who cast vision and set culture can't ignore the day to day details. Your noble speech and innovative ideas have to translate into the computer systems and financial incentives and dress code of your organization (to list a few examples). Your people live on the "ground" of your company, not 22,000 feet in the air. 

Maybe I was sensitive to this because I when we flew over the Grand Canyon, I was working on a round of final edits for my leadership book about a leader who ignores the details (and pays for it). But this experience reinforced one of the big insights that has shaped my life:

Every great idea eventually degenerates into hard work. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

3 Options When Facing Social Pressure

Most people first notice the power of peer pressure around age 12. And for a while it pretty much rules our lives--these are often our hardest years.

"Social pressure is the mother of all stupidity." --from Crucial Accountability

And peer pressure doesn't go away at the end of high school. Truth be told, we aren't so very different than we were in junior high. Most of the same longings, fears, impulses and questions burn inside of us. But we do have one key difference: We can be aware of peer pressure. We don't have to be ruled by it.

Three options when facing social pressure:

1) See it coming--and fight it. Decide what is most important and go for it. Don't ask around to see if others approve. And for the really big stuff, be prepared to leave people behind if they don't want to go with you. Some things are too important to subject to a popular vote. You'll never regret doing what's right.

2) Harness it for your own benefit. Surround yourself with people who value what you think is important. Create peer pressure to do the right things. Want to be a better parent? Hang around great parents as much as you can. Exercising friends can inspire you to finally exercise, too. 

3) Find another source to satisfy your longings. The bad news: Those longings that woke in you as a child aren't going away. They are who you are at your core, shaping your life in ways often overlooked. The good news: There are healthier ways to satisfy every longing. And nothing frees you from peer pressure like having your heart be extravagantly loved by God. A Twinkie isn't so tempting after I've eaten an epic Easter dinner.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Seeing Your Own Culture Is Like Seeing Your Own Posture

Culture: The assumptions and habits of a group. Your organization's culture (whether your job, church, family, or group of friends) is the unconscious thinking (the assumptions) and unconscious actions (the habits) of the majority of the people.

Your culture promotes some people to power and marginalizes other's opinions. Your culture makes some decisions happen fast and makes some complicated and slow. And all cultures have this impact--not just good or bad cultures. The question is which people and decisions are impacted, not whether people or decisions are impacted.

The first step in shaping culture is moving it from unconscious to conscious awareness. Before I can shape my culture, I must be able to truly see my culture. Too often it's like seeing your own posture the way others do. You have to do extra work and use extra tools to get a clear look at yourself. If you don't understand what's going on and why, you can't change it.

Can you clearly describe the culture of your organization? For example...

What topics does the leader NOT want to talk about?
Who are the heroes?
How is conflict viewed?
What exactly does "on time" mean? 15 min early? Right as it starts?
What roles are seen as most and least important?

These are just sample questions to get you started. Getting clear on you culture might require a lot of thinking. But it's so very worth it. The culture you have is already shaping everything else.

Being ignorant of your culture doesn't keep it from shaping you. It keeps you from shaping it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 Ways To Grow Faster By Increasing Self-Awareness

Increasing your self-awareness is like pouring jet fuel on your personal growth. It requires the courage to take an honest look at who you really are, not who you want to be. But let's assume for this post that you are brave enough to really see yourself as you are (which is a big assumption).

How do you learn more about who you are? If the core problem is that we are biased to only see what we want to, how do we get around our blind spots?

Here are five ways to learn more about yourself:

1) Take personality assessments. There are so many of these available. I take at least one new one each year, because they each look at a different aspect of who I am. Some are like getting X-ray while others are like an MRI scan. Google anyone of my three favorites below to take these for little to no cost--or ask me how:

  • Strengthsfinder
  • Meyers-Briggs
  • DISC

2) Send a survey to friends and family. What do you want to know more about? Is it your leadership, your people skills, or even what blind spots you have? Ask the people who know you best. If you want to make it anonymous you can use www.surveymonkey.com to send a free, anonymous survey. It's easy to create one there.

3) Reflect on the most satisfying moments in your life. Think back to when you have been most satisfied in your life. Write down a short summary of each experience. Maybe it was a great vacation or winning a championship or just a great book you read in your bed at night. Look for a handful of common themes. What do these say about what your heart responds to?

4) Think about your heroes. Who do you admire most? What about when you were a child? Who do you want to be like today? Write down the names and the first things that come to mind about each of them. What it is that made them heroes to you? What does that say about what you think is important?

5) Keep a personal journal. The seasons of my life I have wrestled with big decisions, been frustrated, anxious, or unsure, I have kept a journal. I sort of keep one now (you're reading it). But what I'm talking about is a place you can write down your raw thoughts. (Whatever it looks like, I do actually plan and edit these posts.) In my journal I wrote like I was talking to myself, reacting to my day or working through what was bothering me. Something about writing down my thoughts and feelings without any editing allowed me to think more deeply about them--to see them more fully. I can't tell you how many times I'd begin with a question only to end with the answer staring me in the face.

This is just a short list of examples. You can spend a lifetime getting to know yourself better. If you want an exceptional life, you will need to become a true expert on yourself. You are the only thing in your life that you truly control. You are your most important resource. Do you know how you really work? Maybe it's time to figure yourself out.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Learning Zone

If you want to learn, you have to get in the learning zone...

Where have you gotten too comfortable? 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Can You Really Make Your Brain Smarter?

A revolution has been going on in the area of brain science. About 10-15 years ago the idea that intelligence was determined by your genes was challenged. It started with a single research study showing that with a type of brain training people could increase their IQ. And it has exploded to hundreds of studies and dozens of books. Dan Hurley (author of Smarter) waded into the controversies and breakthroughs with one big question driving him: Can I make myself smarter?

Taking us on the journey with him, he explored all the methods for improving your brain. For example:

  • The Mozart Effect (listen to classical music)--proved to be false. Music can put you in a better mood and can help you on a test.
  • Exercise--proved to have real impact. Whether cardio or strength, exercise makes your brain work better. It is a physical organ, remember.
  • Lumosity (brain training games via app/web)--initial studies look very promising. With dozens of games, this company allows you to see improvement in your performance by playing 2 min games day after day.
  • Learning a new language--no improvement in any other area of brain performance could be found. You do know a lot more words, but that seems to be about it.
  • Learning a new musical instrument--seems to impact other aspects of intelligence. Several studies showed that this new skill has some crossover benefits to other skills.

The author picked seven things to try--those the research says have the best shot at improving brain function--and tried them for several months. Some he stuck with (exercise) and some he didn't (meditation). He took a battery of standard intelligence tests before and after...but I'll let you read the ending to see if it worked for him.

For me, there was one HUGE learning from this book. Hurley addressed the criticism that many scientists have made, namely that each of these brain training programs only gets you better at that particular test--that you can't improve overall intelligence, only get better at particular skills. I'd heard that enough that I came to believe it--like the book I read on memory training where a guy learns to remember long lists of numbers, but couldn't even remember lists of letters, let alone have a better memory in real life. Hurley shows that while this does happen when you use special techniques (like the memory guy did), these other approaches do increase overall intelligence.

I'm convinced. We can get smarter.

However, he does a good job explaining that there are limits. Genetics is still the largest factor in intelligence--we don't all start identical. We do get to add to whatever we started with, though. And the studies show that those who started with lower intelligence scores benefit the most from training--they can catch up some on those who started smarter.

Well written and important, if you're curious about the latest thinking on brain science, this is a great read for you.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Analysis AND Action (Better Planning May Be the Problem)

It's seductive to wait and plan rather than step off the cliff. Every day I spend analyzing, planning, preparing reduces my risk, right?

But the learning I can get through action is FAR more reliable than the imagining and assuming I am limited to do when I'm not testing my ideas in real life.

It doesn't have to be a big step. I probably shouldn't take a big step. But taking one small step and learning from it both moves my dream forward and reduces my real risks (through learning).

Likely To Struggle                            Likely To Succeed
Still working on the detailed plan      Action-oriented
Builds the full version first                 Takes small steps and builds on the way
Wants certainty before acting           Looks for growth through unexpected results
Keeps idea private                            Collaborates with many others

What's your next step? Maybe your plan is good enough. Maybe you know enough to take the next small step. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Power Of Pairs

Some believe creating great ideas, from science to art, is the work of a lone genius. Others argue that greatness emerges from a network, an environment that stimulates brilliance. (It's the ongoing nature vs. nurture argument.) But I recently read a book that says when you look closer, you find great work is the result of pairs.

There have been famous pairs, like Jobs and Wozniak founding Apple and Lennon and McCartney at the heart of the Beatles. But many of the great creators of history were part of an unrecognized pair. Van Gogh's brother did far more than send him money. He theorized and empathized day after day. They were roommates for a time and then constant companions for even more. Van Gogh's mental breakdown happened after his brother moved away and stopped playing his part in their pair. Picasso was only able to paint with the intense help provided by his live in mistress of many decades. She didn't just set up the studio and make the food, she helped him get through his near daily depression (the stories told of this by his friends are quite dramatic) and actually get into the studio to paint.

At the heart of greatness is two working as one.

My own life is a small-scale example to how powerful a partnership can become, including a friend who has partnered with me on leadership projects for years and another who is partnering with me to create a board game.

I do need to let you know that halfway through the book the author starts rambling, speculating on the nature of creativity and life philosophy. And by the end, when discussing pairs breaking up, he merely tells the stories of pairs who broke apart, offering no insights or framework to understand why or how to prevent it. If he had finished at the same level he started at, it would have been one the best books of the year for me. As it is, it's still worth reading.

And whatever the quality of the book, I'm convinced that finding a partner who can co-create with you might be the key to creating something great.

Have you ever experienced a true partner in creation? I have and it permanently changed my life.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chase A Great Idea With All You Have And You Might Miss Greatness

The popular story told today about innovation stars a genius (and the college roommate) who comes up with the next big idea. They work on it until it's perfect--in their garage, of course--and then launch their great idea to the world, achieving success.

But the real story of innovation isn't quite so simple. Recently, I got to spend some time with Frans Johanson, author of The Medici Effect and The Click Moment. Here's what I learned from him about innovation:

Goals get you moving in a particular direction efficiently. They're great for getting you to take action. So it's really good to have an idea, set a goal, and get started.

But goals should be held lightly. Many of the best innovations emerged as surprises on the way to somewhere else. You have to be both curious enough and humble enough to leave the strategic path you mapped out. You have to be willing to pivot.

Successful innovators don't have one big idea. They initiate far more projects than others. Many of those ideas don't go anywhere. But they learn a lot and keep trying things. Over time, a few of their ideas take off.

They key to being able to activate lots of ideas is to take the smallest executable step possible. Don't spend all your resources reaching for your first big idea. Take the smallest executable step that allows you to test your idea. Pause and learn. Then decide what your next step should be.

One small step at a time, learning at every single step, changing your idea many times...you too can be like the great innovators of our time. And, like them, maybe one of your ideas will take off!

Monday, February 9, 2015

How to Grow Your Character by Running A Race

I just signed up for the Savage Race. It's one of those ridiculous mud runs with obstacles. Yes, I know, I'm crazy. :) If anyone wants to run with me in race on April 18th, let me know. I'd love for you to join our team.

The Savage Race isn't for everyone. My wife isn't running because I married a wise woman. (One of us needed to have some caution.) However, while the Savage Race may or may not be your idea of a good experience, I think all Christians should consider signing up for an endurance event at least once in their life--maybe several times. If not a mud run, then a 1/2 marathon or long distance cycling event or any of the many other options.

I know, that's a pretty bold statement--and I'm pretty cautious about making "everyone should" statements. And there are always situations where this won't be true. For example, anyone with a physical disability probably doesn't need extra training in endurance. They could probably teach the rest of us all about endurance. But for those with don't deal with something like that day after day, training for and completing an endurance event might be one of the best ways to grow as a Christian.

Let me be very clear, I'm not suggesting this for the physical benefits. Sure, it will be good for your body to do long runs or rides. But the mental and emotional work required to complete a long, grueling experience is far more valuable--and longer lasting--than a better body.

Keep in mind that I've never enjoyed distance exercise. I always chose sprints or sports (when I bothered to exercise). I'm saying this as someone who is doing what is unnatural me--and growing tremendously because of it.

As you train for the endurance event, each exercise session gives you practice choosing to do uncomfortable things in hopes of a long-term reward. Each day your sore muscles complain, but you exercise anyway, strengthens your ability to make difficult choices in other areas of your life.

See, at the heart of Christian maturity is perseverance. If you want to be more godly, improve your ability to endure.

Hebrews 12.1-3
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

James 1.2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Romans 5.3-4
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

There are a lot of verses like this, but I think you get the point.

Endurance training for you body can improve your emotional endurance, too. You don't have to wait around for real life troubles to practice perseverance. You can grow that aspect of your character on purpose. You can increase your endurance so you're ready when a hard relationship moment happens. Besides, having more physical energy makes all this easier, too!

What is your way of increasing your endurance ability this year? If you don't have one planned yet, maybe you should come run with me! :) But whatever you do, don't just sit around and wait for endurance to come to you--go get it.

Monday, February 2, 2015

How Did Tim Reach His Dream?

What's holding you back from chasing your dream? Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure you have more options than Tim Harris. But he still tried--and achieved it. See if you can spot the key to his success in this 3 min video.

Did you notice what the key to his success was? I think it was the people who believe in him. His friends and family did more than just encourage him (though encouragement is powerful). They partnered with him to live his dreams--spending time and money helping him get there.

It became their dream, too.

Who are your dream-partners? Who can you be a dream-partner to? Maybe the crucial piece you're missing is a partner (or an entire team of them).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What I Learned From Sailboat Racing

As a college student I learned how to sail small boats. But last week was my first encounter with the world of championship sailboat racing. As a part of my work with Chick-fil-A, I had the chance to spend a day on the water, watching a world class sailboat racing team race in the Quantum Key West Regatta. Sailboats carved white lines in the brilliant blue-green ocean, sails snapping in the warm breeze.

If you can get past the unfairness of this being something I did for work (not my normal trip, I can assure you), there is a lot to learn from my experience.

The crew of Delta, a 32' single mast sailboat, allowed me and my camera crew to ride on their coach boat to film and ask questions of the coaching staff as the crew warmed up, then raced two courses. These pictures aren't from a brochure. They're what I snapped from my camera phone--no color adjustments or zoom required.

Yes, yes, we really need to move on from how unfair this is. :)

After the race I had the chance to interview Linda Lindquist-Bishop, a multiple-time world champion sailboat racer and a world-class leadership consultant when she's not on the water. High performance in any environment, she said, requires pressing through adversity to the benefits found on the other side. When we avoid difficult conversations, we also avoid greatness. Rather than run from a challenge, champion sailors learn to lean into it.

Her team practices this in the planning before and debrief after each race. And they practice this principle on the water--all sailors do.

See, sailboats don't just open their sails and go where the wind pushes them. Sure, running with the wind is awesome. When facing that way, these guys would add another sail (the "spinnaker") and fly across the water. But the race isn't just one way spring. They had to complete multiple laps, often turning directing into the wind.

How does a sailboat move forward with the wind blowing the wrong way? They call it tacking. By turning the boat at a sharp angle to the wind, they leverage the physics of the boat (one part reaches deep into the water below the boat) to transform the pressure on the sail into forward motion. (That's all the physics we're going to cover.) And they zig-zag across the water to get to their destination.

But tacking isn't easy. In fact, the wind pressure is so strong the boat can tip over unless the crew "hikes" by leaning as much of their body out of the boat as they can, with only the tactician and helmsman allowed to lift their head up to see what's going on. ("The head weighs 10 lbs," I was told, "and every pound counts.")

Have the winds of life changed on you? Don't let it push you the wrong direction. Get a team around you--every pound counts--and lean into it. You may have to zig-zag, but you can get there. You can still win the race.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Getting Your Kids To Open Up--It Starts Young & Trivial

I was trying to get my son to go to sleep last night. This is NOT easy to do. He got my night owl genes so going to be when everyone else does is hard. He's just not tired yet. And being three that means he makes a lot of noise and wants a lot of attention during that window. So when he started to tell me something, my instinct was to shut him down--to reminder him (again) that he's supposed to be laying quietly in his bed.

But just in time I remembered something important: If I want my kids to tell me what's going on in their world when they're teenagers, I need to listen to what's going on in their world long before they're teenagers.

Evan just HAD to tell me something. So--this time--I did a good job asking what it was. 

"Spencer [a boy in his pre-K class at school], he, he, he [searching for the words]...he got a Power Ranger costume!"

This was said with great importance. In Evan's world, you can't get much cooler than the Power Rangers.

"Whoah!" I correctly responded.

"Yeah," Evan continued, saving the best part for last. "And it is a RED costume!"

"Power Rangers are cool," I said.

Evan nodded sagely, as if I had just spoken a deep truth of the universe.

But it wasn't a deep truth. It was trivial and, let's be honest, completely uninteresting to me. And I haven't always responded with interest and connected with his little heart. He probably won't remember this conversation or that Spencer ever had a Power Rangers costume. But I hope he will get used to telling me about what's going on in his life. I hope we establish a pattern of sharing thoughts and feelings and what's happening with his friends.

Since I want to have those discussions when's he older, when those things really matter, I need to have those discussions when he's younger and the topics don't really matter. I've seen too many parents who don't make time to listen to the trivial things their little children want to share. They inadvertently train their kids to not bother them with that silly stuff. But it's not silly to the kids. It's the stuff of their life. Then when their kids' life issues aren't trivial, the parents wonder why the kids don't want to share.

Great conversations with your teenagers starts by talking about red Power Ranger costumes--at 9:45pm at night, in Evan's case.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Urgent Vs. Important - Know the Difference And Avoid the Trap

Getting anything truly meaningful done requires doing what is truly important, not what is merely urgent. Knowing the difference between urgent and important tasks is one of the most powerful skills anyone can have.

It's a universal truth that's been discussed by sages for centuries. But this phrasing comes from Stephen Covey's book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. And this is far from the only great idea in that book. That is one of the best books I've ever read--whether you're interested in leadership, productivity, healthy living or general people skills. It is a MUST read.

In the chapter on Urgent vs. Important, Covey warns against "the tyranny of the urgent", where the aspects of our life that demand attention force us into a state of constant reaction. Phone calls and emails and people stopping by our door...we can spend all day responding to urgent requests. But while they may be urgent, they aren't all important.

Often, the most important thing you could do isn't urgent at all. Some crucial things, like personal development and long-range planning and creating a whole new system rather that fixing the error (yet again) can always be put off one more week. But those are the kinds of tasks that change the game.

If you want to be successful--in any field from parenting to IT to preaching--you must cultivate the discipline to walk past the urgent issues which are screaming for your attention and sit down in the corner with the quiet, but important projects.

What important project have you been ignoring because it can wait? When is the next time you could take the first step to deal with it?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My Simple Plan for a Super Year

Every year I make a plan--a life plan where I dream about what I'd like to be true of my life by the end of this year. And I always change the plan as the year goes on, because I learn new things and thanks to life's surprises. The plan isn't final, it just gets the ball rolling in the right direction. And then I set up some habits (with reminders) and put key action items on my calendar that will move me toward my goals.

I've done something like this for years. I've even coached others through this process for years. Some years I've used very thorough, multi-layered methods--spending lots of hours defining lots of areas of my life differently. I learned a lot in the process and if you've never done that, I highly recommend it.

But this year I'm taking a simple path. Whether you're an old hand at life planning or brand new, maybe hearing what I'm doing for 2015 will help get your year started a little smarter.

I'm asking two questions about myself:

1. Who do I want to be? (What character qualities/heart conditions do I want to be true of me?)

2. What do I want to accomplish? (What special projects, financial goals, company targets, etc do I want to see happen?)

And I'm thinking about these questions in two time frames:

1. For both questions above, what is the answer when I think 5 years down the road? (I do this first, to push myself to really dream and go for what I really want, not merely what I think I can manage to accomplish in the short-term.)

2. If that's true (my five year dreams), then what can I do in the next 90 days to step closer toward my list of dreams? (This is where the habits and action steps emerge.)

I've been thinking about and praying through these questions for a few weeks, steadily adding ideas and making those ideas more specific and measurable. And so far I think 2015 could be the best year of my life yet.

Who do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish?