How To Embrace And Conquer Pain

June 27, 2011

Let’s face it, sometimes you feel horrible. You feel like the universe is conspiring against you. It could be caused by an upsetting event, such as the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. Other times the feelings are elusive and unexplainable, thus attributed to the alignment of the stars or a chemical imbalance. All you want is to feel better.

Friends and coworkers may tell you to snap out of it, or find a meaningful project. As well meaninged as this advice may be, it can have a tremendous impact on your ability to effectively move forward.

Think about it. If you are angry and focus your attention elsewhere, do the feelings really go away? No. You are simply diverting your attention temporarily to avoid the experience. Even if you are not focused on the upset in the moment, you can rest assured it is still there. And it will be until you deal with the underlying issue.

Most people combat undesirable feelings by consciously or subconsciously creating a goal to feel better. However, consider the old adage, “The more you try to change things, the more they stay the same.” Trying to feel better will most often be a futile attempt.

I believe in living in the present. Although you may have to embrace something that you don’t really want, the more you deal with the now, the better the future. In college, there were moments when I would feel a little melancholy—it was typically due to women problems. Women were more important than grades. I didn’t do particularly well with either. For these occasions of sadness, I made this mix tape, aptly titled “The Depression Tape.”

When I felt down in the dumps, I would put that tape in the stereo, open a bottle of wine, turn off the lights, and allow myself to experience my sadness. Eventually I would fall asleep. When I awoke the next morning, I felt like a new man. The experience was very cathartic.

I have since learned to turn this approach into something a bit more, um, healthy. I have replaced the wine with journaling (better for my liver) and substituted the wallowing with a healthy dose of embracing the pain.

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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Don’t Present What Can Be Pre-Sent

May 24, 2011

Being a professional speaker on innovation, I attend a lot of conferences and meetings.  And I am always amazed at how poorly most meetings are run.

One things in particular disturbs me…

When meeting time is used to present things that could have been sent via email.

Don’t do it!

Meeting time should be viewed as a huge investment in the attendees.  If you present information, status reports, or anything other static information that could be distributed before the meeting via email, you are wasting everyone’s time.

Next time you are holding a meeting.  Look at the agenda.  Decide what information can be disseminated in advance.  Then use the meeting time for conversation, networking, experiential learning, action planning, and other activities that can not be accomplished easily through electronic means.

When done properly, meetings can provide great value with a limited investment of time.

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Is It OK to Marry Your Work (part 2)

March 24, 2011

Last week I wrote an article for American Express about “marrying your work.” Unlike the “ball and chain” picture that tends to pop into our heads, I espoused the merits of loving your job, just like you would marry a spouse you love.  Be sure to read that article before reading on.  I’ll wait.

OK, now that you read the first part, here is, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story…

I’m on vacation this week in Mexico and I just had an epiphany.

Tonight while cooking up some steaks on the barbeque, I looked through the window and saw everyone else on their computers working. In fact, all day long while I relaxed in the pool with my Kindle, everyone else was busy working away.

Admitted, I work a lot, but I love what I do. I truly do. Regardless, I have not taken a “real” vacation in 2.5 years and I work 80+ hours a week. I use this “dedication” as a badge of honor.

But tonight, while watching everyone work while vacationing in paradise, I realized something important.

You can be married to someone, yet not spend 24 hours a day with them. The best relationships are often those where each individual has their own life in addition to their marriage.

Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” is one of my favorite books. In his poem “On Marriage,” he so beautifully says:

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

For me, this always described the ideal relationship. A deep closeness that is not TOO close. There is space.

Last night I reread the poem through the lens of “marrying your work,” and it took on a whole new meaning.

You can love your work. In fact, you can be married to your work. This is a good thing.

But just as you do not need to be with your spouse 24 hours a day, you don’t need to be with your work around the clock.

Ok, now I need to get back to my vacation…

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Is It OK To Marry Your Work? (part 1)

March 23, 2011

I was talking to a Thai friend of mine recently; someone who knows that I work a lot. She also knows that I love what I do.

She said I am, “Thang kub ngaan.” This literally means “marry with work/job.”

We sometimes jokingly say that we are married to our job, but we tend to mean it in a negative way. But in Thailand, this expression is used in a loving way, the same way we would refer to being married to a spouse. When they say you are married to your work, they mean that you are in love with what you do.

Why don’t we have an expression like that here? Maybe because it is culturally not acceptable to love what you do. If you are enjoying your work too much, you are probably not working hard enough. Or perhaps it is viewed as unattainable. We have succumbed to the fact that work is just that, and play is what we get to do on the weekends.

Western expressions here are more akin to diseases. For example, a “workaholic” is someone who works long hours to satisfy a deep-seeded need to prove oneself or become wealthy and successful.

Even the word “work” is defined as to “exert oneself by doing mental or physical work for a purpose or out of necessity.”

With that as the definition, who would want to be married to their work? But is there a way to love your job?

First, figure out what you love. It is important to note that this is very different than what you are good at. Our society places more emphasis on overall skills, than on natural skills and passion. We take strengths-based tests to determine our aptitude. But it is much more difficult for us to determine what comes naturally and what gives us energy.

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum site

[Tomorrow, I will post part 2 of this article here on my blog.  Part 2 will not appear on the American Express site]

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How to Get Emails Instantaneously On Your BlackBerry

June 15, 2009

I’ve been using a BlackBerry for many years now.  It has always annoyed me that it takes 15 minutes for emails to arrive when using a pop3 email account.  Today I figured out a way to get all emails on my BB instantaneously, even when using a pop3 account and not using a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. And it was so simple.

All T-Mobile BlackBerrys come with one dedicated BB email address (  Emails sent to this address arrive immediately on the phone.  I assume other carriers have a similar email account.

Instead of having my BlackBerry retrieve emails from my pop3 accounts, I now have my pop3 accounts send a copy of every email to my account. As far as I can tell, everything functions exactly the same as before…except now the emails arrive instantaneously.

Although I believe there are more sophisticated ways of doing this (e.g., using IMAP instead of pop3), I found this to be a very simple solution.

I thought I kicked the CrackBerry addiction, but I guess some habits are hard to break.

If you have other BlackBerry tips, please share them.

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Getting A Good Seat on a Plane

May 15, 2009

Being a frequent traveler, I am always looking for creative ways to get the best seat on a plane.

Because of the extra leg room, the obvious selections are the exit rows.  That is, IF your seat reclines.  If there are two exit rows next to each other (e.g., rows 10 and 11), the first one (row 10) will typically not recline.  This makes the next row (in this example, row 11) much more desirable because not only does your seat back recline, but the the person in front of you can’t, giving you even more leg room.

Less obvious is how to book the best seat.  This is my favorite tip….

When booking my flight, I never select a seat in an empty row (assuming the plane is the standard 3/3 configuration).  I always book a window seat in a row where the aisle is already filled, but the middle seat is empty.  Why?  Because if the entire row is empty, a couple traveling together will often fill the aisle and center seat.  With the exception of one flight which was 100% booked solid, using this strategy has yielded an empty seat next to me on all flights…even on the most crowded planes.

I do prefer seats near the back of the plane.  Yes, it takes a bit longer to get off the plane (literally only a few minutes), but I have a much better chance of getting my carry on luggage overhead meaning it is less likely that I will have to gate check it.  Most planes board the back of the plane first getting you and your luggage on the plane earlier.  I prefer window seats because then I do not have to get up every time  others in my row want to use the lavatory.

I do, on occasion, upgrade myself to “economy plus” (and its equivalent).  For as little as $25, you can get extra leg room.  But more importantly, on crowded flights, these seats are often the last to get filled, since they hold them for customers who want to pay extra.  So once again, you have a better chance of getting an aisle or window (if only center seats are available in regular economy) and you increase the odds of having an empty seat next to you.

Possibly the most important step is to check in online as close to 24 hours before your flight departs.  In doing this, you can get seats that were not available when you booked your flight (the airline blocks the reservation of some seats, including some exit rows, until check in). And once again, you can select a row where the aisle is already booked and the middle seat is empty, nearly assuring you an empty seat next to you.

Happy travels.

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Best Companies to Work For

January 22, 2009

Fortune Magazine released their list of the top companies to work for.

#1 on the list is the 7,000 person data storage company, NetApp.  They have some great business philosophies that show they treat employees like owners of the company – a key to creating a truly innovation organization.

The article says…

NetApp early on ditched a travel policy a dozen pages long in favor of this maxim: “We are a frugal company. But don’t show up dog-tired to save a few bucks. Use your common sense.”

Rather than business plans, many units write “future histories,” imagining where their business will be a year or two out.

Five paid days for volunteer work, $11,390 adoption aid, and autism coverage.

The company has gained market share during the slump, hasn’t had layoffs, and has more than $2 billion in cash on hand to help it ride out the global financial crisis.

Clearly they are doing something right.

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Déjà vu All Over Again

October 20, 2008

Here’s an excerpt from a magazine I have.  The title is: A Gloomy Feeling

Wall Street was baffled. The market’s 18-month slide had brutally bent the Dow-Jones graph, ending with one of the worst one-day drops. The dollar loss on paper was actually three times greater than that of the ’29 crash.

The market’s prolonged drop has reflected a growing conviction that the Administration has not coped with a troubled economy. Recession and increased unemployment has left people with less to spend on everything.

The Dow-Jones average has decreased 36% in stock values. The averages, like the Dow-Jones, tell only part of the story. Since they are based on the prices of the blue chip, they hardly hint at the depth of the crash.

This is a far cry from the from the bull market bedlam of just a few years ago.

What is interesting about this article is not its content, but rather the date of its publication. This is from a Life magazine dated June 5, 1970. At that time, stocks plummeted 36% from 985 to 631.

Markets go in cycles. Since 1970, we have had several other economic downturns. Of course, knowing this does not reduce the pain that so many are feeling now.

Economies are, in many respects, self-fulfilling prophecies. When people feel the economy is bad, they stop spending. They start to pull their money out of the stock market. As a result, company profits decrease. Companies then lay off employees, who in turn start spending even less. And the downward cycle continues.

Unfortunately, with things are bad as they are, people become quite pessimistic.

Stay Positive

In troubled times, it is useful therefore to reflect on a study done by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at U Cal Riverside. She studied the relationship between happiness and success and observed that, “Happy people were not necessarily happier after their success than they were before, but they tended to be happier than others who were less successful.” She concluded that, “Success is related to happiness – but as a consequence, not a cause.”

In other words, happy people attract success.

I am reminded of an old joke. What is the difference between a pessimist, an optimist, and an entrepreneur? The pessimist sees the glass as half empty. The optimist sees it as half full. The entrepreneur sees the glass as completely full; we just need to get rid of the excess glass. As an aside, a scientist would also say that the glass is completely full; it is half filled with water and half filled with air.

What do people value? It’s not the glass, it’s the water. The size of the glass is irrelevant. In fact, too much glass can be a detriment (as evidenced by the photo left).

Interestingly, I never thought of the stock market as an investment. I always viewed it as a gamble; a casino with (hopefully) better odds than Vegas. I can’t predict which products/services will be successful (neither can anyone else). And I have little say over what companies do with the money I invest.

My best investments are those that impact me directly – investments in my business, my education, my relationships, and my health. Those always pay dividends.

Now is the time to take control. Create your own self-fulfilling prophecy. Stay positive. Get rid of the “excess glass” in your life or business. And make the safest investment you can: invest in yourself.

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How Do You Manage Your Innovation Pipeline

September 22, 2008

When I work with large organizations, they have sophisticated tools and processes for managing their innovation pipeline.  Well, at least some do.

But how do YOU manage YOUR innovation pipeline?  OK, for simplicity sake, you can just call it your “to-do” list.

I have so many different projects and ideas that I am working on at any given time that it is often hard to keep track of everything.  I find most traditional time management processes and software a bit limiting.  Some are just too rigid.  Others don’t depict projects and tasks in a way that my mind can process them properly.  And some tools are just not to my liking.

I have been asking around to see what other people use.  The responses have been interesting.  Most people still use paper and pencil, creating linear lists.  Some use web-based list-driven applications.  But I dislike these because I want quick access even when I am off-line.  There are quite a few to-do list management applications out there.  But again, most are list driven, with the fancier ones using hierarchical trees.  And some are so complicated only an engineer with a PhD could figure them out.

I am admittedly a bit disorganized.  Creative-types tend to be that way (for a variety of reasons that I won’t bother going into here).  Every time I play Personality Poker, I am always attracted to the “2 of diamonds” – the “scattered” card.  Fortunately I work with some great people who are “clubs” (the organizers).

And although I am “Goal-Free,” this does not mean I am structure-free.  I still need structure.  It just needs to be flexible enough so it can adapt as I “meander with purpose.”

Here’s how I manage MY innovation pipeline:  I use mind mapping software.  If you click on the graphic above, you’ll see a scaled down, simplified, and sanitized version of the one I use.  You will notice a few things:

  • Because I run a business, I tie nearly everything back to the four core processes of any business – Develop Products and Services, Fulfill Demand Generate Demand, and Plan & Manage the Enterprise.  If you run a business, you have these same processes.
  • Innovation happens everywhere, not just within Develop Products and Services.  I constantly scan all of the process to make sure I am doing a proper balance of work within each, and that I am innovating throughout my business.
  • I do have a catch-all bucket for “miscellaneous opportunities” that don’t yet fit neatly into a process.  Within that bucket I have a “could do” list which is VERY long and is a bunch of ideas I have that are not ready for prime time for a variety of reasons. I even have a list of things I should “stop doing.”
  • Any trees with a (+) indicates there is more detail in one or more sub-trees.  This allows me to organize my thoughts in any way I want, to whatever level of detail I want.  In the branches I also link to Word documents, websites, and other materials.  This enables me to keep all of my resources for a projects in one place.
  • Tasks that I need to work on now all have start and/or end dates.  The software automatically synchronizes these with my task list in Outlook.  This is nice because it keeps my “to-do” small and focused.

The process is far from perfect, but it works for me.  The software allows me to easily move projects and tasks around.  Mind Mapping is perfect for creative thinking and helps me generate and capture new ideas quickly.

What do you use to manage your innovation pipeline or to-do list?  What is the process?  What is the technology?  What has worked?  And what has not worked?  All suggestions are welcome…and appreciated.

P.S.  I just bought “Getting Things Done.”  I am told that this is the bible of time management.  I’m curious to see how this fits with my philosophies.

P.P.S.  I just received an email from someone who had a great suggestion: add a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) for the inspirational part.

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The 90 Minute Challenge

August 20, 2008
90 Minute Challenge

90 Minute Challenge

In a previous blog entry, I wrote about my “30 day challenge.” The purpose of that was to disconnect you from email. Well, today I have a new – yet shorter – challenge. It only takes 90 minutes.

I live near the ocean, and when I am home (which is not often), I like to walk the length of the beach every other day. Normally during this 5 mile walk I would have my BlackBerry and my iPod. Since taking the 30 day challenge, I have been leaving the phone at home and only bring along my music. The music is a nice distraction.

Today I decided to disconnect totally. I walked the 90 minutes without phone, email or music.

Instead, I focused my mental energies on an important question: How can I make my life – and my work – more significant? Check out my “quought of the day” for more background on this question.

For an hour and a half, I tried to only think about significance. At first, my mind wandered onto other topics. Although I don’t meditate, I am told that this meandering mind syndrome is common in those who do. Eventually my mind settled down and I started to get clarity on the topic at hand.

[Read more]

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