Everyone Reacts Differently

July 22, 2013

Back in 1996, I was conducting an important three-day “train the trainer” session for a program we were launching at Accenture. I was personally training 200 top client partners and managers. It was critical that we got everyone’s buy-in.

At the end of day one, the partner in charge of program, Bob, asked me how I thought it was going.

I responded, “Overall, I think it is going well. But I’m concerned about Dave. His body language tells me he is not on board. Or maybe he is just bored.”

Dave was one of the most senior people in the the room, so his support was critical.

Bob replied,”Funny, Dave was the first person to come up to me. He said it was one of the best courses he has ever attended.”

I learned something important that day (a lesson I continue to relearn nearly every day): everyone reacts differently.

Some people are reserved. They like to process things. But that does not mean they don’t love what you are doing. They just may not show it.

On the other hand, there are people who are highly animated. They are always at a 10 out of 10 energy level. With these individuals, don’t assume that this high energy means they like what you are doing.

There are those who say nice things to your face, but may say something completely different (and less positive) to others. They don’t like confrontation, so they may not always speak what is on their mind. Or they may not want to hurt your feelings.

There are the people who appear to be downright argumentative. But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t on board. Their style is to poke holes in things to make sure that they are considering all angles.

And of course there are many other variations.

When giving a presentation, making a business proposal, leading a team, or attending a meeting, remember that everyone will respond differently. Just because someone’s reaction is different than your natural style does not mean that there is a problem. Conversely, just because someone appears agreeable to your face does not mean that they are supportive.

Their long-term actions will be the ultimate test of their support.

I Was Humbled by Curious George

April 16, 2013

Back in 2006, my Goal-Free Living book was published by Wiley, and I was feeling quite proud. Later that same year, after giving a speech in Los Angeles, I drove up to Santa Barbara to attend a conference, arriving just in time for lunch.

While standing in the line for the buffet, I turned around and said hi to the guy next to me.

He told me his name was George. He then asked me what I did.

Given my new book and the success of my speech earlier that day, I said with a bit of swagger, “I’m an author and professional speaker.” I was feeling very good about myself.

I asked George, “What do you do?”

He replied nonchalantly, “Oh, I’ve done a bit of television.”

He said it so matter-of-factly, that I assumed he had a small role in television. Maybe he had done a couple of commercials. Or possibly he did some voiceover work; he certainly had the voice for it. Or maybe he once had a “bit” part in a minor show.

He then proceeded to ask me about my book and the work I do, and I gladly shared my life story.

When I sat down at my table to eat, not with George, I looked at the agenda of speakers for the conference.

I was humbled when I realized that the person I was standing next to in the buffet line was speaking later that day. He was none other than George Takei.

At that moment, I realized that truly confident, successful, and impressive individuals do not need to boast. They don’t need to be the center of attention. Instead, they make others feel good about themselves. They ask good questions and are interested in others.

After that embarrassing moment, I have done my best to do what George did with me. Instead of attempting to convince the world of how great I am, I try to bring out the greatness in others. When I am at a conference, I do my best to make others the centers of conversation.

The next time you are with a group, spend more asking questions and listening than talking. Spend more time promoting others than promoting yourself.

As I learned from George, the most powerful people make others feel like a super star.

P.S. I ended up spending about 90 minutes with George. He truly is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He even asked for a copy of my Goal-Free Living book, which I gladly signed and sent. The picture below is what he sent me, to thank me for my book. He is a class act!

George Takei

Podcast: Interview with Author of “The Antidote”

December 7, 2012

Today I am thrilled to share with you a 45 minute conversation between me and Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

I met Oliver several years ago. We got connected through a book review he did back in 2007 for the Guardian newspaper in England.

He opened his review by saying, “One of the most stress inducing books I’ve ever read is called GOALS!, by the management expert Brian Tracy.”  Reading this, given my contrarian perspective on goals-setting, I knew I was going to like this guy.

Oliver concluded his article by saying…

“Contrast that with the insight of Stephen Shapiro, whose book Goal-Free Living makes the case that you can have some kind of sense of direction to your life without obsessing about the specific destination. ‘Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly,’ he says. ‘While blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful opportunities.’ That sounds a lot more smart to me.”  (For those in the goal-setting world, you will appreciate his last point as being a poke at the SMART goals, advocated by many)

After reading this, I immediately wrote Oliver, and soon after we met up in a pub in London. I quickly discovered that he has a contrarian perspective on so many aspects of personal development. And he has a great (dry) sense of humor.  I knew we would get along great.

Fast forward 5 years (after several meetings in pubs on both sides of the “pond”), Oliver wrote The Antidote. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to read a book. And I was not disappointed.  After devouring it on my Kindle, I asked Oliver if he would do a podcast with me.  Fortunately he kindly agreed. We did not discuss anything in advance. He did not give me questions to ask and I didn’t prepare any.  It was a totally goal-free, in the moment interview. I think you will agree, he has some pretty incredible perspectives.

You have three ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

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  • Download the audio (mp3) (right click to save to your computer)
  • Read the transcription

Please share this with your friends.  I am sure that after listening to this, you will agree that this interview can have a profound impact on anyone who is addicted to positive thinking.

10 Years Ago Today

October 11, 2011

Ten years ago today was my last day with Accenture.  The day before I had my book launch party for my first book, 24/7 Innovation. October 11, 2001.

I recently found a notebook from about 15 years ago.  In it, I found an interesting entry from November 1996.  In it, I declared where I wanted to be five years in the future.

At that time, Dr. Michael Hammer, the father of reengineering, was one of the most influential people in the world, and someone I admired.

My declaration was that I wanted to be the Michael Hammer of the next wave – giving speeches, writing books, and traveling the world.  Five years later, almost to the day, my first book was published, I became a “professional speaker,” and I started traveling the world.  The next wave happened to be “innovation.”

Below is part of what I wrote.  It’s amazing to think that one day I had a vision for where I wanted to be and, voila, somehow it materialized.

Here’s hoping that all of your aspirations come true.

What is Your New Year’s Theme?

December 26, 2009

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner.  Many of you know that I have a tradition of setting a “theme” for each year rather than a resolution.

My theme for 2009 was “cool things.”  And it definitely was a year of cool things.

I signed a 2 book deal with Penguin’s Portfolio imprint.  I became InnoCentive’s Chief Innovation Evangelist.  I had many wonderful trips to cool places, including several to London and Copenhagen.  And I got to speak at some very cool events like the Global Creative Leadership Summit and the FT Innovate conference.  Most important of all, my family remains happy and healthy.

I’m not sure what my 2010 theme will be yet, but I know great things are in store.

If you have not done so, please read my article on setting New Year’s Resolutions.The article explains the 6 steps for setting a theme, including “Choose a broad theme rather than specific measurable goal.”  Excerpts of this article have appeared in over 300 newspapers around the world, including Costco’s Magazine.

You may also be interested in some statistics about New Year’s Resolutions.  Here is a highlight of some of the statistics:

Only 8% of people are always successful in achieving their resolutions.19% achieve their resolutions every other year.  49% have infrequent success.  24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year. That means that 3 out of 4 people almost never succeed. Regardless, there is no correlation between happiness and resolution setting/success.  People who achieve their resolutions every year are NO happier than those who do not set resolutions or who are unsuccessful in achieving them.

Happy New Year!

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.

Commemorating September 11th

September 11, 2008

My friend, Shari Harley, wrote a beautiful article commemorating September 11th.  For her it is very personal since she worked in the Twin Towers at that time, but was not in the office that day.

She asks some very thought provoking questions:

  • How is the world different because I lived on September 11th when others died?
  • What have I done in the last 12 months to make the world smaller and to build community each time I get on a plane, walk in a store, meet someone new and have a conversation?
  • Where have I played small…said yes when I meant no…said no when I wanted to say yes…or didn’t say anything at all?

I encourage you, as she does, to think about the contribution you are making to the world.  Her article has reaffirmed my theme for the rest of this year: “significance.”

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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.

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The Big Idea Video

August 20, 2008

As many of you know, I was recently on “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch.” Here is the video of my (very) brief appearance. If I were given more time, I would have discussed these 7 tips for keeping your job.  Fortunately, CNBC decided to post these tips on their website along with another article of mine.


Press the “play” button and wait a few seconds for the video to start.


My Quought of the Day

August 18, 2008

My friend, Rajesh Setty, has been collecting “Quoughts.  He describes these as questions that provoke thought. In particular, he wants to know, what is one question that you wish someone had asked you when you were young…and why?

My response will be posted on his site soon – along with his commentary.  But I thought I would share my response with my readers first.

My Quought is:

“What matters most?”

Why did I choose this quought?   There are two reasons:

  1. Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” From my personal experience, most people (and organizations) spend 60 minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter. So relevance is one aspect of “what matters most.”
  2. Recently, I have been asking myself, “Is what I do significant?” I know my work changes organizations. And I like to believe that it also changes lives. But is the change significant? Lately I have been restless. I think the reason is that I want greater significance in my life.

The second point, significance, is something I am wrestling with right now.  In fact, I have decided that this will be my theme for the rest of this year.  As we move into the last third of the year, maybe it is time for you to revisit your theme.  If you are not familiar with my concept of themes, please read my article on the topic.

Maybe it is time to ask yourself, “What matters most?”  What matters most to your organization?  What matters most in your personal life?  What matters most to your family?  When you focus on the things that matter most, you have more time.  And you can spend that free time on more things that matter.

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