Category Archives: Purpose

The skunk under the bridge

Another 90 degree summer day, another work day done, another evening summer swim in the books. I left the water at the base of the bridge of the Millers River and started up the bank when a movement behind me caught my eye. I turned and saw an adolescent skunk huddled on the concrete ledge about four feet off the ground. It peered at me for a moment then tucked its head back into its body, flattening itself against the wall and shaking lightly. A list of swear words had been spray painted sometime earlier in the summer above where it lay – a neat juxtaposition of the priorities of importance of animal and human realm. I called Laura. Laura volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation place locally and is studying to get her license – she’d know what to do, how to help. Then I sat on the bank looking at the skunk while waiting for Laura to arrive. It was beautiful. A white crown and broad white striping on its young back. It was quiet down there, just sitting and being near this scared, stressed, uncomplaining little animal. Something settled in me that moment. Laura arrived with a pet carrier, a broom, a blanket and a can of cat food. It took a while, cat food in carrier, open door, blanket over the carrier to create a safe, dark cave, and Laura quietly, calmly, patiently sweeping near the skunk until it finally backed into the cage. Laura carried it upstream and found a quiet spot in the woods near the water’s edge. She opened the carrier door but the skunk didn’t want to leave. She had to tilt it until it finally came out. As soon as it realized where it was it shuffled into the underbrush, vanishing to the human eye back into nature. Laura thought that it may have been stuck up there a while. Skunks can climb a little bit, and it probably scrambled up to escape something attacking it. But the smooth surface of the concrete, surrounded almost entirely by water, probably made it too difficult to climb down. It was probably hungry and dehydrated, and definitely very stressed. I was proud of Laura – her first successful rescue mission. I had had a good day of work previously – lots got accomplished. But nothing felt like the skunk experience. The work had me at one level, then the skunk helped me sink way down. Its quiet vulnerability released an internal wall and I felt such a deep tenderness. And to help, to be of use, felt so powerful. I could see why Laura is attracted to this kind of work. And I was reminded again of the deep power of purpose – of aligning our actions with helping something beyond ourselves. Seeing vulnerability makes it easier to do. It unlocks that tenderness we’re all capable of. How can we be of use? How can we notice vulnerability around us? How can we let down our guards to show our vulnerability? Vulnerability is the cornerstone of trust, of connection. There is some part of each person we meet today that is huddled into itself, scared and shaking. After all, we are all animals.   Click here to watch Laura’s video of young skunks at mealtime.

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Do what helps

We love to do lots of things. We’re full of passion. When discerning which type of passion to follow, look at what will help the most beings. Do you care about your family, your friends, poor people, nature, animals, autistic kids, seniors, the environment, your community? Whatever you care about outside of ‘singular you’, pick your passion that will most help that group. Don’t just pick what you love. Do what helps.

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A New Way to Assemble Mr. Potato Head

“The arm goes on the second hole up on the left side! No, one hole lower. Turn the arm around!” And so it goes in the ‘Assemble Mr. Potato Head’ collaborative team building activity. One person is blindfolded, the other team members look at a picture and tell the blindfolded person what piece to pick up and where to put it to replicate what’s on the picture. It’s a fun activity, and great for honing team communication. The attempts and results that teams experience in collaborative team building activitiesare often predictable for me – I’ve seen it all (almost). Yet part of what I love about this work is unexpected innovation. Kaiser Permanente did it differently. In all the years I’ve seen groups assemble the venerable plastic spud, they always verbally tell the blindfolded person where a certain piece is and then where it goes. This time, they let the blindfolded person pick any piece at random, then told them where it went. Every piece was ‘the right one to pick up’. The person without sight is given a 100 on the test. The most vulnerable person is in charge, is ‘right’. This is a simple tweak of genius. If we want to influence someone to do what you want them to do, if we want to change the world, we start where the other person is, not where they should be. We visit them in their “home”, their most comfortable way of doing things. We tolerate our discomfort in the service of change. Brain science tells us this is true for the brain as well. If we want to help an emotionally hijacked person out of it, the first step is to meet them, without fear, in the hell they have entered. Then we can show them the way out.

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Quest Story: A Passion for Radio – Phil D and WIZZ

In an era of radio stations owned and tightly controlled by a few large corporations, Phil D and his WIZZ radio station provide something rare and wonderful. This independently owned radio station decides what to play by listener request and Phil’s unerring feel for what his listeners love.  It’s radio the way you remember it was. And if you wish it were still happening, there’s good news – it is! WIZZ radio is a dynamic AM radio station that features “The Greatest Music Memories” of all time with music from the 40′s, 50′s, 60′s through today. WIZZ serves four states and also reaches avid listeners worldwide online from Greenfield, Massachusetts at 1520 on the AM dial. Every weekday at sunrise, Phil D is at the controls of WIZZ, waking the towns and telling the people what they want to hear…News, Weather, Sports, Lottery Results, Phil D has it all…even his own special humor and a touch of “friendly sarcasm”. His daily all-request show plays the great songs and artists of the past seven decades. Phil has been involved with radio all his life, starting in high school and continuing on up to today. He’s had lots of adventures along the way, and in our interview with him told us about introducing the Beach Boys at a show, hanging out with Roy Orbison, and even conducting Lawrence Welk’s orchestra. Phil’s passion for radio, music and his listeners shines through and it’s heartening to have his station be the soundtrack of our day here in the Quixote Consulting office. There’s nothing quite like it. As Phil said during our interview with him, “We’re performing a service that fills a void in some people’s lives, especially for older folks that don’t have much going for them. The music brings back great memories.” Click here to enjoy WIZZ right now!

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“That’s not me”

“That’s not me. That’s not who I am.” “That’s not us. That’s not who we are.” This is an element of a very common public apology. I guarantee you’ll hear it sometime in the news in the next few weeks. Someone famous does something stupid, or not as well as they would like and that sentence gets inserted. It’s also what we tell ourselves when we do something stupid, something we regret, something that is less than wonderful. It also often shows up when failure does. If not you, then who? Actually, that IS you. And that is that public person that did something they don’t recognize once the smoke has cleared. That is the team that froze in the spotlight. And that realization can hit to the core – a real self-identity quake. That is a sign of a full-blown amygdala hijack. The fight/flight/fear part of the brain decided it was in danger and took over the driver’s seat, shoving the frontal cortex into the backseat. Or it’s a sign that your brain isn’t yet fully formed. Our brains don’t get to full maturity until our mid-twenties, which is why so many kids do so many amazingly stupid things, like tweeting racist tweets if you’re going to be a top-five NFL draft pick. But if you’re an adult and you do something, it’s you. It’s really you. It happens inside your brain. It’s your lower impulses trying to keep you safe. It doesn’t care about damages incurred. So you can either deny it’s you. Or you can get humble and fully own it. Owning it is the only place where learning can happen. You get to learn what you do when the amygdala hijacks your smarts. You learn what triggers the amygdala. You learn the effect the amygdala aftermath has on what you care about. And you learn what’s important long-term that you can recommit to. These are very, very important pieces of knowledge. If you’re brave enough to be humble, that IS you. That IS me. That IS us. It’s okay, it’s going to happen and keep happening. And never forget that even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment we always have a choice. We can tear what we love apart or listen to the better angels of our nature. I vote for the angels. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – Abraham Lincoln (part of his 1861 Inaugural Address)

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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.

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Mark Hamill vs Rian Johnson on who to focus on when you want to influence

At times, I’d say to Rian, “We gotta think of what the audience wants.” And he’d say, “No, we’ve gotta think of what wewant.” – Mark Hamill Who’s right, Luke Skywalker or the new Star Wars director Rian Johnson? They both are. When we’re making a change, when we’re influencing, we do it with empathy. We travel to where the other person lives, where they are most comfortable. We unearth their unstated wants, desires, hopes and fears and try to address them. But it doesn’t stop there. People need to help getting to their best selves. If we just cater to their lowest selves, that’s accommodation, not empathy. We’d be best served to do the double emotional duty – bravely look at what’s underneath for the people we want to help and bravely look at what change we hope to do, what we know to be true, to stand for something. True empathy, true influence, true connection, true change, true teams are built where “what the audience wants” and “what we want” meet. And it all starts with what happens today. “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.” – the Rolling Stones  

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“We’re Too Busy to…” (Quest story)

Jayne told me the story of a team she once facilitated to help communicate more effectively. The leader of the team told her and his team a laundry list of things this team was too busy to do: •    We’re too busy to have meetings with agendas •    We’re too busy to touch base with people how projects are going •    We’re too busy to think about communication preferences This leader was also swamped: “I get 200 emails a day from the team telling me status updates.” What about his team? Here’s what they had to say: •    He sends emails barking orders that repeatedly say ‘get it done, get it done, get it done’. •    We’re successful but we hate each other. This was a team with swagger. All millenials (including the leader), they said to Jayne at the beginning, “You better have extra things for us to do because we’re going to be better and faster than any team you’ve ever worked with.” And they meant it. The first team building activity they tried they leaped into action…or more specifically the leader leaped into action. “Here’s what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.” And off they went, implementing his plan…at least at the start. The result? Jayne said it was amazing to see a team get something so wrong, so early in the game and stick with it. The plan pretty quickly got thrown out the window – not consciously, it just kind of happened that way – and they rushed headlong down a dead end, getting more and more frustrated. Then they looked at Jayne as if she had betrayed them somehow by giving them a challenge that they were terrible at. This story is sad and it’s funny in a schadenfreude kind of way. “Hey, at least we’re not that team!” And it may hit a little too close to home. Does this sound like a leader you know? Are you this leader? Are you on this team? We all share some of these characteristics when we’re under stress. Bad teams and bad leaders don’t lack energy or personal investment. What they lack is a way to work smarter, not harder. They get the job done operating in a pretty constant emotional state of “We’re successful but we hate one another.” You’re busy, too busy really. I know, I am too. But if you’re reading this – busy as you are – you’re at least open to answering three questions: 1.    What kind of team will you be on today? 2.    How will you lead? 3.    What will you do today…that you’re too busy to do?

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Every Journey Is a Hero’s Journey

I recently returned from two weeks ‘out of the office’ in the Dominican Republic. It was…really out of the office – a real journey and a real break. My computer stayed home and my phone went into airplane mode until I was back in the states. Every journey can be a hero’s journey. You move into the unknown, get something, bring it back home to your tribe. Carl Jung said, “I feel it is the duty of one who goes his own way to inform society of what he finds on his journey of discovery.” You’re the tribe I’m part of. You’re my society. By telling you my insights my little trip becomes a hero’s journey. Here are three gifts I’d like to share with you. Perspective: When I moved away from the jittery speed of daily email, news, social media, public controversies, much of what we think as important looked pretty meaningless to me. Few things matter in the world, but they really matter. And the daily grind can obscure the important stuff. Appreciation: On getting back to the states I noticed how wonderful it was to run the tap and drink the water without purifying it with a backpacker’s water pump. Visiting a supermarket with ample fresh vegetables and fruit made my heart sing. The English language, the organization, the familiarity all were appreciated. Things that were unnoticed or that annoyed me were seen in a fresh way Return to the core: I don’t need much to make me happy and fulfilled. And those things have remained the same for almost 50 years. A lot of the daily grind I choose has nothing to do with my core delights. When I do return to the core, I’m at peace in a way that is both familiar and too rare. You can make your work day, your weekend, anything a hero’s journey. You don’t even need an articulated quest. All it takes is to step into the unknown for even a moment. And then tell us about what you learned. Here’s to your hero’s journey this month, this week, this hour, this life.

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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

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