Category Archives: Play

The two illusions of being behind and catching up

Being behind feels bad. Catching up feels great! Both are powerful feelings, and I wouldn’t deny you either of them. But what are we actually behind? Who decides that? And have we really caught up? Every new moment brings new opportunities and new possible tasks. It may be more helpful to remember that these feelings are illusions. We are neither of them – neither ahead or behind. We’re just right here, right now.

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Where feet hit the ground

Our bodies are meant to move. But we don’t just get physical rewards. In the office, leaving the house, walking our errands, leaving the car alone and using our feet instead. Where our feet hit the ground? That’s where adventure and connection happens.

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Discomfort is how you learn

“Have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?” – Kahlil Gibran We have low tolerance for discomfort. Really low. As in, a few seconds in and we’re looking for the exit. Emotional discomfort, physical discomfort, the mind doesn’t seem to differentiate. But discomfort is how we learn. We enter a situation that we haven’t mastered yet and practice it. We expose our blind spots, our lacks. We see clearly the distance between where we are and we wish we were. So it’s helpful to work with discomfort. One way is using physically uncomfortable moments. We can start with the obvious (physical discomfort)and move to the subtle (emotional discomfort), we start with the easy (physical discomfort) and move to the hard (emotional discomfort). We can train our minds to rest in the discomfort. Mindfulness meditation and Buddhist practices help us with increasingly being comfortable with our discomfort. We can practice when we exercise. We can let the feeling of discomfort in a little bit, then a little bit more, aiming towards welcoming it fully into the guest house. And we can simply just keep going. Not grimly, but with a sense of humor at our infinite capacity for trying to duck out of discomfort. And not stopping. “If you’re never able to tolerate a little bit of pain and discomfort, you’ll never get better.” – Angela Duckworth (PS: If you’re wondering, this thought came to me on the treadmill.) A note: physical discomfort is different than strong physical pain. Especially sharp, stabbing pain. Stop what you’re doing as soon as you feel that.

Also posted in Persistence | Comments closed

Do you suffer from progression obsession?

“Life, to be worthy of a rational being, must be always in progression; we must always purpose to do more or better than in time past.” – Samuel Johnson   I used to live by this quote. Throughout High School and into college it was always somewhere inside influencing decisions. It didn’t end well. There’s nothing wrong with progression. The promise of progression helps us through many hard times. And when we progress, we get a jolt of positive energy that helps us persist. That’s why I counsel teams to break big projects into small gulps and to start with the easiest part. But how much allowance is made for the shadow of progression? The opposite of ‘more and better’ – less and worse? These are scary words for companies, teams, stock markets. But not for the seasons. Not for night where there’s less daylight and worse ability to see things. In fact animals prefer the night – 90% of animal activity happens at night. The tides are also fine with less, so are moon phases. And ‘less and worse’ is not scary for people relaxed enough to see the big picture, the larger purpose. We will get sick, we will age (if we’re lucky), we will die. Others will be born after us and they will live this cycle again. More of our projects won’t be completed than will be. The moon wobbles. We will only progress – today and always – to the extent that we become friendly with failure.   “Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.” -Rainer Maria Rilke   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.

Also posted in Persistence, Purpose | Comments closed

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.

Also posted in Persistence | 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?

Also posted in Quest Stories | Comments closed

How to Make an Omelette

We can read about it, talk about it, think about it. But at one point, the preparation gets in the way of getting stuff done. Walt Whitman counseled, “let the book on the shelf unopen’d.” At one point we need to do it. Speaking another language, exercising, falling in love, traveling, starting a business, writing a book – these only happen if we stop preparing and actually do them. You can read about cooking an omelet for weeks. But if you’re hungry, you’re going to have to break some eggs. Learn more: Team Collaboration Quest - Teams complete a customized series of challenges through collaboration and communication.

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Twelve play lessons from skiing

It was dark and 14 degrees out when I left home. I arrived at the mountain in time for the 8 AM chair lift opening. The temperature had dropped 20 degrees thanks to the elevation to -4 degrees, sunny, cold and windy. I skied the full day, from 8 AM to chair lift close at 4 PM, with only two quick food breaks. I rarely felt warm enough, and after the first two runs, my thighs were screaming, “it’s been two years since you’ve done this!” But I happily persisted, loving the freedom and challenge that this particular form of play presents. The next day I woke up and could hardly move, muscles I forgot existed in my legs and back complaining loudly. Yes, it was totally worth it. Contrast this to working out in a gym. 30 minutes on a treadmill or working those same legs and I’m done. Bored, tired, ready to do something else. Or put off coming back to do this again. What’s the difference? Play. The ‘working out’ aspect was secondary to engaging in something fully, something challenging and interesting. There was a clear container to play in – a defined playing field with specific boundaries. There was just one thing to get done. But mostly, it was a game. It was fun. The power of play got me farther – by far – than a task-oriented gym approach. And the power of play gets us much farther when we can play the work, not just get it done. Are we getting happily lost in the work or just feeling lost? If it’s the latter, reorganize the work to incorporate: Do something. Don’t just prepare. Take action, even if you don’t feel ready. Full engagement in one thing a day (or at least one thing at a time) Born to move. Incorporate nature and movement somehow. We were born to move. For example, kick start today’s work-game with a walk outside. Feel the fun. Something interests you, something captures you. Notice it and let it in. Clear boundaries – nothing interferes with the game. Real freedom is within boundaries. When you’re out of bounds stop. Test the boundaries. For example, few skiing pleasures compare to glade skiing. Call time-outs. If you want to “level up”, you need to create the levels. And you do that by placing pauses in the action – to recharge and to learn. Learn and improve. Every action gives us feedback that we either ignore or explore. Note: It’s easier to do this during time-outs. Change it up. When feedback tells us something isn’t working, listen and try something new. When the enthusiasm has waned, the game is over…for now. You’ll be back. (A truly hard one for most of us – we culturally have a hard trusting waning enthusiasm.) Peak fun. This is means stopping when maximum fun has just been had and the long downward slope (pun intended) has begun. Retire at the peak. Leave them wanting more. When you’re done playing the game you’re done. Don’t look back in regret (however afterglow is allowed) and of course don’t keep going. How can you ski your work instead of weight-lift your work today? How will you play the work today?

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Influencing in the dark

I returned to the Cueva Del Puente (in the Parque Nacional Del Este in the Dominican Republic) on my own later in the week after the owl encounter. This time I went dark, no flashlight, just moving slowly, staying still when needed, feeling my way and being patient with my slowly adjusting eyes. And I felt again and again the rush of air and heard fluttering near my head in the darkness as bats flew by. I met these little creatures where they were, in the environment they are most comfortable, in the way they were most comfortable – in the dark. I, however, wasn’t comfortable. I was scared, facing a dark unknown. But I was also thrilled. This is what it’s like when you honestly try to connect with someone. It’s the ‘hero’s journey’ of communicating and influencing. You leave your known world behind and get curious about where the person you’re trying to influence lives, what is comfortable for them. It’s unsettling. It’s often scary. It’s not easy to see. A plan got you here, but a plan can’t get you any further. As David Whyte said, “What you can plan is too small for you to live.” And you emerge changed yourself. The influencing isn’t just a push. It’s a pull as well. The influencing quest is a journey into the unknown, an adventure – scary, thrilling and definitely memorable.   “To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.” -Wendell Berry

Also posted in Influence, Purpose | Comments closed

Owls, Caves, Curiosity and Delight

The trail is two miles in, starting from the ocean. It’s a mix of limestone and old coral reef under foot with dense, dry coastal forest crowding in. It’s our first day exploring Parque Nacional Del Este in the Dominican Republic. We reach the hole in the ground that marks Cueva Del Puente (cave of the bridge). We’re the only people we’ve seen so far in the park and it’s just us and the darkness in the cave. It’s bigger than either of us think it was going to be, and rooms open up into larger rooms until we hit the end of the line – a large room with enormous trees growing up from the cave floor and down from the forest floor above, bright sunlight and birdsong mixing with the cool, quiet cave. We see a movement come from a dark corner and then an ashy-faced owl lands on one of the tree branches in the cave. For the next 20 minutes we sit watching each other, its curiosity and our delight meeting each other, moving me deeply. Curiosity, delight. No curiosity, no delight. Who doesn’t want delight? And who doesn’t love curiosity? Delight + curiosity = play. Our old lizard brain, the amygdala, doesn’t want curiosity. It wants certainty. Certainty allows for decisive action. When faced with immediate physical threats, it helps to not be too curious and take action instead. Does the saber-tooth tiger want to be friends or eat me? The problem is that the amygdala can’t discern between literal and emotional threats. So, that nasty email you just received triggers your amygdala the same way a car heading straight at you in an intersection triggers it. Both move you away from curiosity and into certainty. Certainty is where modern political discourse lives, where comments on online articles live – delight-free wastelands. But if we want to connect, to be thrilled and delighted, curiosity is the path. If we want to connect to our work, to our co-workers, to our loved ones, if we want to experience delight, first we calm the amygdala – pause, breath, appreciate something – and allow for the unknown.

Also posted in EI, Nature | Comments closed