Choices Make Us: As We Decide, We Become

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Non-obvious actions taken in obvious moments, difficult decisions that might be easier to avoid, responses instead of reactions, and most of all, the choices we make when it does not even seem like we have a choice –all of these, taken together, define who we are and the impact we make.

“I had no choice,” actually means, “I had only one path that was easy in the moment.”

Whoever sets the agenda controls the meeting. Its important to set the agenda for one’s life, otherwise someone else will set it for you and then control your life.

The choices we make, ultimately make us. Our life is shaped by the choices we make. Our first step is to choose the type of life path we want; hills and valleys or rolling plains. Ultimately the choice lies within.

The agenda we set and act on defines our businesses, our work, and the people we choose to become.

As we decide, we become. Not deciding is also a decision.

The Door that Leads to New Rules…

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What will you do next?

What can you learn tomorrow?

Where will you live, who will you connect with, who will you trust?

Are questions better than answers?

Maybe it is easier to get a dummies book, a tweet, a map, a textbook or a checklist than it is to think hard about what is next…

Maybe it is easier to follow rules than to make your own rules.

It’s certainly easier to go shopping. And easier still to buy what everyone else is buying (based on what we have seen with Black Friday). It is certainly easier to consumer than to produce.

We are so used to being told what to do that when we are given the freedom to do what we want without following any instructions, we get paralysed.

The industrial mindset is such that when the teacher is not in class, the students will be play around, when the boss is not at work, the staff take extended lunch hours. We are used to having someone telling us what to do.

People fight for promotions at work so that they can be the ones telling others how to follow instructions.

Some people freeze when you give them a blank sheet of paper and a pen and tell them to write anything that comes to mind. The first question they will ask you is what must a write. They want guidelines, rules, step by step procedures to follow.

We are used to following instructions, that we don’t have the capability to create our new rules.

I think its more fun to write new rules, than follow existing rules.

We live in an extraordinary moment, with countless degrees of freedom. The instant and effortless connection to a billion people changes everything, but instead, we are paralysed with fear, a fear so widespread that you might not even notice it.

We have more choices, more options and more resources than any generation, ever. 

The door is wide open, to leave the prison, to create new rules, innovate, to be a leader in your business and let others follow you.

What new rules have you created in your industry?

Today is the best time to create new rules, the door is open for you to do that and the enabling tools are available.

 

Stumbling to greatness

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One reason people who spend a lot of time thinking about and working on a problem or a craft seem to find breakthroughs more often than everyone else is that they have failed more often than everyone else.

Find your greatness, slowly drip by drip by drip… if you stumble, make it part of the dance…

#Black Friday = media trap

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Black Friday was a deliberate invention of the National Association of Retailers. It was not only the perfect way to promote stores during a super slow news day, but had the side benefit of creating a new cultural norm.

Any media outlet that talks about Black Friday as an actually important phenomenon is either ignorant or working hard to please their advertisers.

Retailers offer very little in the way of actual discounts, they expose human panic and greed, and it’s all sort of ridiculous if not soul-robbing.

Sixteen years ago, Jerry Shereshewsky helped invent a concept called ‘cyber Monday’ as a further expansion of the media/shopping complex mania. It was amazingly easy to find people eager to embrace and talk about the idea of developing yet another holiday devoted to buying stuff.

Here are some of the steps involved in creating a marketing phenomena like this:

  1. Find something that people are already interested in doing (in this case, shopping)
  2. Add scarcity, mob dynamics, a bit of fear (use discounts, limited time frame)
  3. Repeat the meme in the media. Press releases etc

People like doing what other people are doing. People don’t like being left out. The media likes both. Black friday is a perfect combination.

Black friday is a scam, it perpetuates consumption habits and leads to unconscious consumption. Don’t let someone else scam you into being unhappy just because you are not going to buy anything on friday.

A sale is not a sale if you were not planing to buy.

The Space Between the Frames

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I used to be a great fan of comic books and comic strips on newspapers. I recently learned how life works in comparison to comic books.

The secret of the comics is not what you see in each frame. It’s the little gutter, the space in between the frames. Because the artist does not draw it in, that space is left up to you. It pulls you in. You create the narrative as the story moves along.

One thing that most comic artists avoid is showing decisions. They show action, sure, and they show results, but they don’t show (because it’s difficult to show) the hero or the villain making a choice.

And it is this between-the-frame action that makes creating and testing new things so powerful. Action is easy once you have a plan. Formulating a plan, however, is rare and valuable skill.

We get to see successful people, the end product (the final comic pic) but we don’t get to see how hard they worked, the difficult decisions the had to make (the between-the-frames) in order to be successful.

The real drama and success is usually hidden between-the-frames, the parts people don’t get to see.

Work hard in silence, let your success do the talking. Even better, let your success remain private, you are not doing it for popularity.

 

Who Says Yes?

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“What do you do here?”

That’s question I often ask people in organisations. It’s interesting to hear people describe their roles, their jobs, their sets of tasks. Some people are self-limiting (“I sort the debtors accounts reports every Thursday”), while others are grandiose (“I’m responsible for our company culture”).

Almost no one says, “I start stuff.”

This is surprising if you think about it.

If there is no one starting stuff, initiating things in the company, then where does innovation come from?

Not the ideas; no, there are plenty of those, but the starting. If all that we are missing is the spark of life, the motive force, why is this overlooked?

Where is the senior manager of starting? How many noes have you surmounted before you get to a yes? Clearly, there is a guy in charge of the plant or the sales force or the money. But who is in charge of “yes”?

When it comes to innovation, it is important to say yes more than no.

The Fear of Wrong

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Its not surprising that we hesitate. Starting increases the chances of ending up being wrong.

Here’s the nightmare and it’s a vivid one:

The boss finds someone who did something wrong and she hassles/disciplines/humiliates/fires her.

If you are not wrong, the above is not going to happen to you.

On the other hand, there is the other scenario:

The boss finds someone who did not start anything, who never starts, who always studies or criticizes or plays devil’s advocate, and she hassles/disciplines/humiliates/fires her.

Oh, sorry for teasing you, the above never happens. People who initiates nothing at work are hardly fired.

The typical factory-centric mindset places a premium on no-wrong, and spends no time at all weeding out those who don’t start.

In the connection economy we live in today, the innovation-focused organisation has no choice but to obsess about and weed out those who don’t start.

Today, not starting is far, far worse than being wrong. If you start, you have got a shot at evolving and adjusting, fixing and improving drip by drip. You can turn your wrong into a right. But if you don’t start, you never get a chance.

Its okay to be wrong, as long as you are improving. Keeping it safe is no longer safe anyone.

People who bring change are people who don’t fit in. Fit in long enough you become invisible. When you fear being wrong, you lose forward mobility.

If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.

The 1000th Post

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Three years ago I started this journey of typing words on a website and sharing it with others. I never thought this simple act will last for three years but I’m glad it has. I have learned so much for blogging and continue to learn more.

I have not  done this longer than any professional project I can remember, however I consider it a joy and a privilege. I write and edit every word myself, and always have. This is me, unvarnished, vulnerable, sometimes making sense and other times just ranting.

Thank you for letting me write this blog for you, and thank you for sharing the ride.

Showing up daily on this blog is not my challenge, it’s learning to live with the fact that I can’t say everything I want in a single post, that the trade-off of reaching people easily is that you can also lose people easily.

It’s a journey, for both of us, and I’m thrilled to be taking it with you.

My biggest surprise? That more people are not doing this, I wish more people could blog, share their thoughts. Not just every University professor (particularly those in the humanities and business), but everyone hoping to shape opinions or spread ideas. Entrepreneurs. Senior VPs. People who work in non-profits. Frustrated poets and unknown musicians and so on and so forth…

Don’t blog because it’s your job, blog because you can.

Yet people say I’m not a writer so I don’t know what I will blog about and then I say you talk everyday, you don’t wake up everyday with a talker’s blog. If you can talk, you can write, just translate your talking words into written words and there you have it.

You have thoughts and emotions, you talk about them everyday, why not write them down everyday. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written down. You don’t have to write paragraphs upon paragraphs, you can write one paragraph blog, you can write two or three sentences blog, you can write long or short, it really doesn’t matter, what matters is that you wrote it down.

The selfishness of the industrial age (scarcity being the thing we built demand upon, and the short-term exchange of value being the measurement) has led many people to question the value of giving away content, daily, for a year or more. And yet… I have never once met a successful blogger who questioned the personal value of what she did.

For me, the privilege is sharing what I notice, without the pressure of having to nail it and getting it right every time… I treasure the ability to say, “this might not work.”

Burning Bridges: The Cost of “Whatever it Takes”

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In action movies, the starring, (the hero) does not mind destroying the aircraft, road or bridge he just crossed, because it is always a one-way trip.

Retreating armies used to burn bridges as they crossed them so those in pursuit could not follow them.

And that very mindset, the mindset of, “I am so focused on my goal that I am willing to push through this person, push through this relationship, push through this interaction, whatever it takes,” is precisely how we burn our bridges.

I get to hear entrepreneurs talking about kicking doors and doing whatever it takes at all costs to get opportunities.

The difference, of course, is that life is long and very few paths are only one way. You will need to come around here again.

A bridge well-crossed gets better over time. When you need to break it down to push through, you have not only hurt the person you trampled on, you have hurt your reputation as well.

Its important not do something permanently brainless just because you are temporarily upset or impatient.

Imagine a Better World: Crisis of Imagination

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Virtually every crisis at its core is a failure of imagination.

The greatest crisis of our lives is not economic, intellectual, or even what we usually call religious. It is a crisis of imagination.

We are getting stuck on our paths because we are unable to re-imagine our lives differently and better than they are right now.

We hold on desperately to the status quo, afraid that if we let go, we will be swept away by the torrential undercurrents of our emptiness. The most important thing in the world is to be willing to give up who you are for who you might become. Giving up the old familiar things that you hold onto slavishly, even when they no longer serve you on your journey.

Imagining a better world mean imagining is that which is beyond you, which you can only reach if you are willing to take a leap into the abyss.

Find your risk, and you will find yourself. Sometimes that means leaving your home, your father’s house, and your birthplace and traveling to strange lands.

Both the Buddha and the biblical Abraham do this quite literally. But for the Kabbalist, the true journey does not require dramatic breaks with past and home. It is rather a journey of the imagination. In the simple and literal meaning of the biblical text, Abraham’s command is Lech Lecha… “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house.” Unpacked by the Zohar, it is taken to mean not “Go forth,” but “Go to yourself.” The journey is inwards, the vehicle – imagination.

It is only from this inside place that we can truly change our outside. It is only in the fantasy of re-imagining that we can change our reality.

The path of true wisdom is not necessarily to quit your job, leave your home, and travel across the country. Often, such a radical break is a failure rather than fulfillment of imagination. True wisdom is to change your life from where you are. Through the power of imagination.

In her TEDxGaborone talk TJ Dema says”imagination is experiential knowledge of the world coupled with what could be, so of course one’s circumstance conditions if and of what we dream.” She then goes on to suggest that ‘imagination is a symbiosis between knowledge and dreaming, unfortunately our society, and its educational systems, do a good job of emphasizing the value of knowledge.’

She continues to make her argument that “we are drawn to the stability of knowledge, its measurability while imagination is often left to the minds of the young or those who rebel against the standard textbook expectation.”

The traditional dogma is that what can be measured, will be measured and adopted as the narrative. It is difficult to measure imagination, creativity and innovation and therefore that which cannot be measured is left-out of conventional literacy and narrative.

We have to imagine a better world for all of us. Nikos Kazantzakis writes, “You have your brush and your colors, paint paradise, then in you go.”

Unfortunately we are slaves stuck in a crisis of imagination. Consequently, the healing of slavery is a ritual of imagination. For an entire evening, we have to become dramatists, choreographers, and inspired actors of imagination.

We have to imagine our better lives as the first step on our path to freedom.

As George Bernard Shaw reminds us, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will.”

Children who play in fountains are the guardians of the imagination. They know of the gibberish and flow quality of words, qualities nourished by the imagination. Almost all children at some point write poetry until someone tells them their poems are not good enough or not serious enough. Then, they become adults.

Ursula K. Le Guin captured it very well when she said:

The creative adult is the child who survived after the world tried killing them, making them “grown up”. The creative adult is the child who survived the blandness of schooling, the unhelpful words of bad teachers, and the nay-saying ways of the world. The creative adult is in essence simply that, a child.

A friend shared with me a book of poetry written by 11-year-old Mattie Stepanek. Mattie has a rare and fatal form of muscular dystrophy. I think Mattie is an ambassador from the world of childhood as well as from the world of pain. The following poem is called “Faces of Faith”:

Everyone is born with a Heartsong,
But as we grow up,
Sometimes we forget about it,
Because we don’t listen to it enough.
And the people of war, well,
They really need to get them back.
Their Heartsongs really need to live,
Because when we die,
They are what rise up…
I will remember to listen to my Heartsong.
I will remind others, especially the grown-ups,
To listen to their Heartsongs, too.
And for the people who have forgotten theirs,
I will share mine with them.

We seek to save our children, to protect them from what psychology has termed the “magical thinking” of their imaginings. Yet, perhaps they are the ones saving us, protecting us, from our “rational thinking” and lack of imagining—sharing with us their Heartsongs.

Imagination is essential to responsibility.

We need to nurture our infancy, our in-fancy, to encourage its power rather than undermine it with scoffing and ridicule.

It is for this reason that we intuitively look for our children to create a better tomorrow for all of us.

Children are always building imaginary realms, constructing fortresses and castles with such exquisite imaginary aptitude. Dashing around as superheroes, saving banks from robbers and the like, is the lifeblood of children. We have long since forgotten our true nature as agents of transformation.

We have forgotten that we are superheroes. Eaten away by moths, our capes are long forgotten at the backs of our closets.

Birds don’t fly because they have wings; they have wings because they fly. We are what we imagine ourselves to be. The wings always come in good time.

We need to reclaim our capes of holy imagination and heal our fear of flying.

Ps: The theme of TEDxGaborone was: Imagine a better world. Its time we imagine and create our better world.

 

 

Imagine a Better World: Mountains and Swag

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One way that entrepreneurs make an impact is by displaying confidence. Consumers figure that if an entrepreneur is confident in their offering, they ought to be confident in the entrepreneur in return. We often assume that confidence means that something big is on offer.

The problem with swagger is that if you are the swaggering entrepreneur, you might run into a competitor with even more swagger than you. When that happens, it’s time to show your cards and your substance, the justification for your confidence. And if you don’t deliver and there is no substance to your swag, you have done nothing but disappoint the person who believed in you.

Substance without swagger slows you down. But swagger without substance can be fatal. Right now, we are seeing more swagger than ever, but it’s rarely accompanied by an increase in substance…

The rule is simple:

It’s essential to act the part. And it is even more important for it to be real.

Mahube Mpugwa, a TEDxGaborone speaker shared his journey of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and Mr Everest camp base. As an introvert, growing up surrounded by Kalahari sand dunes and no mountains, he brought change to the community by raising funds for the Cancer Association through climbing mountains.

Mahube is not a big talker, but a big doer. His swag is doing work that matters.

A better world is created when people do more work that matters, work with depth and substance and most importantly be willing to do it even if the media is not paying attention.

Good stories are not stories for show, they are stories of impact.  

 

 

Imagine a Better World: Contagious

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A study in 2007 titled “obesity loves company” shows that obesity is contagious. If your best friend gets fat, your chances of gaining weight more than double.

Malcolm Gladwell fans will recall his reporting that suicide among teenagers can be contagious as well.

So is terrorism, of course. And spamming. And creativity. [And becoming a millionaire, getting your company funded, not dropping out of high school and learning how to shop for discounts, too.]

The most important thing you can do is choose who you are hanging out with. The second high-leverage thing is to put dynamics in place that reinforce the ideas you would like to see spread. Celebrate the heroes. Make it easy for those ideas to spread…

When giving his talk at TEDxGaborone recently, Nijel Amos, a 800 metre Botswana gold medalist highlighted that there is no such thing as self made success. Success is about the people around you.

When people look at Rafa Nadal, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Nijel Amos or Lewis Hamilton they usually think that these individual stars made it on their own relying on their talent.

It takes a village to raise a child – African Proverb

Even though we see these individuals as stars, they are part of a team, they have a coach, a physio, a manager, someone who looks after their diet, someone who looks after their equipment. These stars are part of a team. When Rafa wins, its his entire team that won, not only him.

You are a sum total of people around you. If you want to succeed, hang around people who are focused, hard working and people who are doing work that matters.

Attitudes are contagious.

Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with.

And the collisions and the dreams lead to your changes.

And the changes are what you become.

Change the outcome by changing your circle.

We see a better world when we hang around people who see a better world.