Willa Nehlsen – “How do we live in comfort but not extravagance?”

I  had the pleasure of leading a StrengthsFinder workshop with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. Willa Nehlsen was one of the participants. When Quixote Consulting leads a strengths workshop, we focus on finding the passion each of us has in our work and connecting with a sense of purpose – of doing our good work for the benefit of something larger than ourselves. Willa and I spoke after the program about how she was retiring soon and how to engage both of these paths to happiness in a very direct way.

Then I wrote a series of blog posts about the oil spill and she wrote to me, “The human race has clearly won the fight to live in comfort with only a few threats from nature; how do we learn not to overshoot and destroy nature and ourselves? How do we live in comfort but not extravagance?”

That got me off my seat! Here is my interview with Willa in two parts. First is her thoughtful take on moving more directly into a passionate life in retirement. The next provides great inspiration to use less.

Willa Nehlsen on Retirement and Living Your Passion sound clip

Willa Nehlsen on Using Less by Living in Comfort, Not Extravagance sound clip

Willa’s Three Favorite Books:

  1. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
  2. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  3. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges

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Are you practicing the right thing?

Are you practicing the right thing?

Q: Is quantity or quality more important?
A: Yes!

Quality – are you practicing the right thing?

Quantity – are you practicingthe right thing?

Summary:
Are you practicing the right thing?

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The scariest and most effective thing your team can do

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When you’re too busy and the work demands you speed up, slow down.

When the same way you’ve always done things is no longer working, don’t keep doing it but faster.

Stop.

The pause is laughed at/feared. It’s viewed as unrealistic.

Yet it’s the pause, and only the pause that gets most teams to the next level.

Pausing in the middle of ‘working stupid’ (and if we’re stressed we’re working stupid) gives us the only opportunity to ‘work smart’.

Our brains literally function better with a pause. We access the cortex – our smarts – instead of being driven by the amygdala to just speed up today’s treadmill.

It’s energy that gets the work done, not time. Time is created equal, but not energy. Energy comes and goes and “we hate one another” does not help energy. Nor does “barking orders”.

If you’re too busy to have an agenda for a meeting that you get to people before the meeting, I’m here to tell you you’re too busy to have that meeting. Cancel it and do something productive like going for a walk.

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Seven To-Do List Tips using the Perceiving MBTI preference

If you have the MBTI Perceiving preference you often find To Do lists hard…to do.

You can do To Do lists better. Try these tips:

1. Get Curious

Ask ‘what’s engaging my curiosity within this To-Do list? If you follow the items that most speak to your interest, you’ll enjoy what you’re doing more, which makes you more effective.

2. Quality Counts (How > What)

Place a new column next to your To-Do items that says ‘quality’. Write down how you’d like to complete a task, not just the quantity of tasks. For example, ‘file my receipts playfully’ or ‘gracefully’, ‘exuberantly’, or ‘pretending I’m a musical robot’, whatever quality will get you interested in a looming mundane task. We all want a richer quality of life, and that can start with this moment by placing ‘process’ on the same level of importance as ‘product’.

3. Don’t Use Them If You Don’t Want To

To Do lists may go against your grain. You may struggle with them, thinking you ‘should’ use them, only ‘highly effective people’ use them. Well, it may be a good time to let the war inside be over on this one. People who prefer perceiving would leave doors of opportunity open rather than finishing and closing one. The very idea of completing a To Do list, as much as you may long for it to be otherwise, goes against your nature. You don’t have to use them –  I won’t tell anyone.

4. Use the Small Size Tool

There are times when the pain of a task sitting there for a prolonged period of time undone is greater than the pain of following a To Do list. Compose To Do lists task by task, breaking them down into really small chunks. Remember this is just a tool in your tool box; the list exists to serve you and your productivity, not the other way around. Use a prioritized, uncluttered doable list to complete a necessary task and then put the To Do list away.

5. Free Time Each Day

Give yourself some time each day during which you are guided by your natural inquisitiveness, free from a To Do list. This will feed your perceiving preference, and will allow you to be more comfortable when you do live in the land of the To Do list.

6. Take the Weekend Off 

If by the weekend you’re ‘To-Do Listed out’, you can be courageous and declare a ‘To Do’ list-free day or days. Allow yourself to amble out into the world in the unstructured way that best suits you. If you live each day all day by a To Do list, you’re going to end up drained, edgy, and dissatisfied because it’s going against your preference. If you find you enjoy your ‘To-Do List-free’ weekend move the concept out into parts of your work week.

7. Play with Judging 

If you’re feeling playful, want to stretch, and want to grow– Use a To Do list in a case where you wouldn’t ordinarily think of using one, give yourself a time limit and get the task done. If it’s a repetitive task, time yourself and see if you can maximize your efficiency. Tick your tasks off one by one in the most satisfying way you can. If you find yourself delighted by your productivity and feel lighter from having gotten a task or two off your back, you now know the joy of judging. You could even finish a task early, well before it’s due. Try something new and see how the other half live.

Bonus Tip: What Works For You?

There are really helpful universal hints to putting together an effective To-Do list (such as ‘small bite that can be taken in one sitting, physical action taken by you,’ etc.) that are well chronicled elsewhere. Keep your preferences in mind when working with that material. Many time management books and trainings could be more effective if they incorporated more information that appeals to perceivers. If the blanket advice is just to live a judging life with more organization, then roughly half of the population is being asked to live a life that’s not them at their best. Conversely, being told to ‘move with the cheese’ when change happens or to ‘play’ while at work will only really speak to the half of the population who are perceivers, and does a disservice to judging people. Filter the suggestions in this and all articles through your natural preferences. Act on what you’re excited about, and leave behind what leaves you unmoved.

Learn more: MBTI Team Quest - Discover and leverage the various ways your people make decisions, strategize and access information, using this organizational standard. Team members begin to recognize the strengths that other types bring to the team, and the power that comes from multiple types working together.

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All other airlines

The rental car shuttle was packed heading back to the Oakland Airport – every seat was filled. There were two stops. Stop #1 was ‘All Airlines Except Southwest’. Stop #2 was ‘Southwest’.

The bus driver stopped at the first stop and called out ‘all other airlines’. No one moved. He waited, then drove on to the Southwest stop and we all got out.

Is this what air travel has come to? What makes Southwest different? My reason is price, vibe, no major extra fees to get a decent window seat in the front half of the airplane and bags fly free.

This is positioning – you see where everyone positions themselves and then you decide not to live there. You find your own place, a different spot away from the crowd. All other airlines and Southwest

Living and acting from your passion does this. Your signature strengths are yours alone. There’s no one exactly like you in the world, there’s only you.

Simple right? But we also have in our ancestral brains the desire to hide, to not stand out. It’s safer that way. So we hide the light. We try not to be weird. We feel safe, but not happy. And we become replaceable.

If you were no longer here, who would miss you? Why? That missing will help you realize what makes you uniquely you. And when you know what makes you “you” you have a choice. Be like everyone else or be you. It’s scary stuff, I’m with you on that.

The first stop is ‘all other people’. Don’t get off. Stay on the bus until the next stop…you.

Learn more: 

Influence: The Power of Persuasion - How can we consistently capture an audience, effectively make a point and carry everyone along toward a goal? How can we influence an outcome, even if we’re not in a position of authority?

Customer Quest - What does it take to set a standard of excellence in customer care? What does the customer really want and how can you provide it for them?

 

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The Young Man and the Pipes – Jerry Roback Feels the Music in Vietnam

The Young Man and the Pipes – Jerry Roback Feels the Music in Vietnam
By Jerry Roback

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Jerry Roback served in Vietnam in the Peace Corps during the Vietnam War. Jerry has a huge heart and many stories from his time there. He continues to travel back to Vietnam to help the local people whom he fell in love with so many years ago. Brave and playful, Jerry is an inspiration to me – and one heck of a kazoo player to boot. Here’s a musical encounter he had with a boy who plays the khaen, an instrument in the harmonica family.

I don’t know where this kid came from. One minute there were a hundred kids jumping around me celebrating the hair on my arms and the look on my face, the next instant there he was, big as life standing right next to me playing his pipes. He must have been about 14 or 15 years old.  I realized that I had seen him before, hovering around the edge of the kids’ tribe watching me.  He didn’t have his pipes then. Back then, most of the adults were about 10 feet further back watching, friendly, but keeping their distance and he, like most teenagers, was in between. I couldn’t tell what he thought of anything or anybody. I just knew he was really interested in me.

It was my first day in an Ethnic Minority, Mountain People village in 41 years and yet I was quickly feeling like I was coming home. There is a straightforward quality to these people, not much subterfuge. They’re right there staring at your bald spot or your camera or watching when you slip in the mud crossing the river and laughing and pointing at you.

Laughter is both a great equalizer and a great re-assurer. I remembered this truth quickly because it has always been the experience that I have used to encourage myself to stay a little bit longer and go a little bit deeper into the strange new worlds I like dropping into from time to time. A little laughter goes a long way in those situations.

I know that if my paranoia kicks in, I’m in trouble. I won’t have the slightest idea what is going on.  I’ll think that the people are hostile or arrogant or out to get me or something like that, but with these people since I’ve been there before with them, I was giving myself more of a chance to clear my fear barrier.

Don’t get me wrong. I always try to look like I’m doing fine but the truth is that I’m not. I’m just hanging in there. The most credit that I can give myself is that I’ve learned to try to keep a part of myself out there looking for a good sign or a friendly wind to ride my way out of the scary place. This time the wind was going to be this boy. It’s just that I didn’t know it yet.

Most times it’s like that with us people. If we give each other half a chance somebody is going to help us, give us a wind to ride our way right out of whatever it is we are afraid of. If you don’t believe me or if you don’t play your part in this beautiful dance of reassurance much anymore, you need to get out into the world where the nice and friendly people live and let them remind you of how to do it and how to be it before it’s too late for all of us.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist but let’s face facts – these are times when the most courageous, valuable folks around are those with a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. The people causing all of the problems are the ones of us who don’t believe in the wind or carry the twinkle in our eyes anymore. And, believe me, I’m talking to myself on this one!

On this day, it was just about when I was beginning to wonder if I ever was going to catch a wind or even if such a wind existed when I felt this hard nudge in my side and heard this sweet sound coming into my ears. I looked down and there he was playing those beautiful pipes. I knew right away that I was going to find the wind that I was looking for.  In fact, I already knew that it had found me. I could feel it in my bones. The peace and the love of life, and the reassurance I was looking for was blowing right out of this young man’s mouth and right up into my ears through those sweet sounding pipes.  All I had to do was listen.

I was just starting to wonder where he was going to put the cigarette he was holding so that he didn’t burn himself when I noticed myself leaning in closer to him so that I could hear the music better.  I knew he wasn’t going to burn me or himself with the cigarette because it was already a part of his hand, 14 years old and it was just a part of his hand. About then I realized that the story on me was that I was simply trying to find one more thing to worry about to keep from letting go. Thank god I got over that!

By now we were really leaning into each other like two lost brothers coming home. You know how music can get you like that. Everyone around us was listening. I realized that this boy was an honored musician in the village. How young he was didn’t matter. He had earned his spot by playing the hell out of those pipes. I was moving to the music. We were leaning into one another, shoulder to shoulder. I noticed he was looking at me, looking deep into my eyes while he played. I stayed right with him, leaning in, looking deep into his eyes right back. This went on for quite a while and then he looked a question into my eyes. I believe that he answered his own question then because he looked inward, gave himself a little nod, stopped playing and walked away. I never saw him again.

I felt the music dancing around inside of me and immediately began spreading my own magic.  It was easy. I was infected. I was saved and cured all in one, and all I wanted to do was pass it around and so I did.

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Agile barnacles

Leaders want their teams to be more agile. Change happens more quickly than yesterday, and tomorrow it will be moving faster than today. They want their people to be able to respond and move quickly.

Meanwhile, team members have issues with other team members. There’s cynicism and suspicion of more change initiatives. There’s low-level stress from trying to do more with less for so many years.

Every team has barnacles. Old stuff has grown over and attached to the team ship, slowing it down. Curiosity has calcified into certainty.

Teams usually want to skip over this stage and leap into agility. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. The barnacles will continue to get in the way until they’re acknowledged and addressed. And people don’t feel valued…until they’re actually valued.

If you want to be agile, first face the barnacles.

Learn more: Emotional Intelligence Works – EQ is twice as important in contributing to excellence as IQ and expertise combined. Learn how to effectively manage your emotions and those around you for sustained success.

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Three To-Do List Tips using the Judging MBTI preference

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You can do To Do lists better if you have the MBTI Judging preference. Try this:

1. Get Structured 

You probably have a high level of comfort with lists so the more structured you are, the greater your chance of success. Hone your To-Do list skills through reading and attending trainings.

2. Use Them Everywhere 

Don’t be alarmed if your love of To Do lists spills over into non-work aspects of your life; this is your natural inclination. You can pack a lot of fun adventures into a too-short vacation, which is a wonderful trait. Just be sure to nicely tell your loved ones about your preference and that there’s a reason why you are who you are.

3. Exercise your Perceiving Side 

Once your work is done, try allowing a small amount of time to be as unstructured as you can stand to be. Try showing up as late as you can stand for something (pick an event for which it doesn’t really matter whether you’re on time or not). Leave part of a To-Do list undone on purpose.

Bonus Tip: What Works For You?

There are really helpful universal hints to putting together an effective To-Do list (such as ‘small bite that can be taken in one sitting, physical action taken by you,’ etc.) that are well chronicled elsewhere. Keep your preferences in mind when working with that material. Many time management books and trainings could be more effective if they incorporated more information that appeals to perceivers. If the blanket advice is just to live a judging life with more organization, then roughly half of the population is being asked to live a life that’s not them at their best. Conversely, being told to ‘move with the cheese’ when change happens or to ‘play’ while at work will only really speak to the half of the population who are perceivers, and does a disservice to judging people. Filter the suggestions in this and all articles through your natural preferences. Act on what you’re excited about, and leave behind what leaves you unmoved.

Learn more: MBTI Team Quest - Discover and leverage the various ways your people make decisions, strategize and access information, using this organizational standard. Team members begin to recognize the strengths that other types bring to the team, and the power that comes from multiple types working together.

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Two boys playing with $100,000,000

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Dunkirk Director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema are everywhere in behind the scenes photos of the filming. It looks like the $100 million movie that two boys filmed. That’s the two of them in the water next to the plane in the photo above. Hoytema is the bearded man on the left and Nolan is the blonde man on the right.

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After all the preparation for filming – I’m sure it’s a long journey from idea to writing to funding to first day on set – the arduous task of actually filming the movie is like finally arriving at your favorite playground. They weren’t letting anyone else do the fun part – the actual doing the work, filming the movie. And that was where they played with their creativity. Story after story in interviews told of ‘never been done before’. Like Roger Bannister’s miracle mile they turned impossible into reality.

It was not easy. Hand in hand with ‘never been done before’ is ‘how do we do this’? Trial and error involves a lot of error to learn. In a $100,000,000-spending high stress situation there’s a lot riding on success. And the water in the English channel is not known for its balmy temperatures. 59 degrees Farenheit is normal for June. Most of the movie was filmed outside in the real original Dunkirk locations. Weather was unpredictable and rarely cooperative.

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Towards the end of filming production moved onto a set for some of the water scenes. Many of the crew and producers were relieved that everything just got easier – controlled environment, temperature, no worries about rain, tides, waves.

But not Hoytema. “On days like this Chris and I would look at each other and say, ‘I don’t like this.’ It’s warm, the water is acceptable in temperature. This is all too convenient and it’s all too nice. [Laughs] It’s something you have to learn to live with.”

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Play isn’t meant to be easy. Too easy, too ‘convenient and nice’ and the fun is drained from it. Play is meant to engage us, enthrall us, take us over. To finally be immersed, joyfully engaging a challenge.

If you want to play more, you might look for the places that are difficult already and bring in the play element. Or if you’re really brave, look for your equivalent of $100,000,000 on the line. Take the leap and jump in. The water’s either fine or (hopefully) cold enough to shock and excite you into play.

Posted in Change, Leadership, Passion | Comments closed

Six Leadership Lessons from Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk director/writer/producer Christopher Nolan (Batman Trilogy, Interstellar, Inception) didn’t say these lessons out loud. Always pay more attention to what a leader does than says. I gathered this advice for leaders from watching the expansive special features on the Dunkirk DVD set.

1.     Keeping doing the parts of the job you love

Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema are everywhere in the scenes of the filming taking place. It looks like the $100 million movie that two boys filmed. Leaders often move up through the ranks in a company. They’ve had a lot of jobs. But when they get to the top, they’ve only got one job. Don’t forget the part of the work you love to do. And spend time doing it. Don’t let go of something that grounds you to the work and your passion.

2.     Put your imprint on it

Nolan likes using real film, not digital. He wanted natural lighting. He wanted IMAX. He wrote the story. And he was completely hands-on in every aspect. One of the actors tells how Nolan looked him over on the first day of shooting and told him the boots of his laces were tied incorrectly. British soldiers in WWII tied them differently.

3.     Make it real

Minimal CGI, no green screen. No patina of colors . The film wasn’t even scanned digitally to add stuff in later.

He used real ships, real planes from WWII where possible. And he used real kids (18-21 years old) as lead actors. There were no 40-year old infantrymen running around. When the bombs went off on the beach, those kids didn’t need to act, they were scared.

And the actors that portrayed pilots were actually up in the air while they were in the cockpit. A real pilot was in the section behind them on the plane actually flying it.

4.     Go first

Don’t make any of your people do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. Nolan was first in line to go up in those antique planes, first in the water, first to jump off of something, all of it. Go first and you’ve captured hearts and minds.

5.     Decide what you want to do…then figure out if it’s impossible or not

Nolan wanted to film in IMAX format and he wanted the action handheld. AND he wanted to film on the wings of the planes in the air. The IMAX format cameras are over 50 pounds, not exactly handheld-worthy. And they’d never been brought up in the air the way they used them. Like Roger Bannister and the 4-minute mile we now know these things can be done.

6.     Listen to and lead with the passion you were born with

Nolan grew up with this mythology – the most inspiring retreat in modern warfare. He’s lived with this story since he was a boy. And in the special features he’s everywhere – up in the air in an old Spitfire plane, in the water, jumping off a ‘sinking’ ship, everywhere. His passion came to life. Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema reminded me of two excited boys running around in charge of a movie that cost $100 million to make.

Christopher Nolan won his first Oscar for Best Director for Dunkirk. He earned it by leading with passion.

How will you lead the change you want to make today?

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