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Friday, November 29, 2013

Leaving Someone's Campsite Better That You Found It

I spent most of my childhood summers at sleep away camp.

And looking back at all my years of canoeing and hiking and collecting wood and making fires and eating foil packs of undercooked ground beef, I remember the biggest life lesson that stuck with me:

Always leave the campsite better than you found it.

Ask any counselor in the world. It’s the number one rule of camping.

But it’s also a great rule for relationships.

If you want to contribute meaningfully to the growth and well being of every person connected to you, you need to leave them better than you found them.

Emotionally. Intellectually. Physically. Spiritually. All of the above. After every interaction you have with someone, that person should walk away better. More alive and confident and connected and elevated and seen and heard and infected and speechful and encouraged and wanted.

Which sounds like a lot of work––and it is––but once you install the right awareness plan, the art of leaving people better becomes second nature.

Awareness plan. Let’s talk about that.

Psychologist Herbert Leff originally coined the term as, “A metacognitive procedure or mental recipes for perceiving and thinking about the world around us.”

An awareness plan is a lens for your interactions. A plugin for the human operating system. And when used consistently and respectfully, it can change what you see when you see people. More importantly, it can change what they see when they see themselves.

One of my favorite awareness plans, one that always leaves people better, is unearthing a valuable new opportunity in the midst of a conversation. As someone who has mentored hundreds of artists, entrepreneurs and business professionals in the past decade, I’ve discovered this process to be a combination of three skills:

Affirming, noticing and offering.

Think of them as the tools for leaving someone's campsite better than you found it. Let’s see how each plays out in a conversation:

Affirming. I come from a family of yeasayers. Relentless affirmation, instant encouragement, permissionless participation and radical acceptance are in our blood. And because of that temperament, I’ve never met an idea I didn’t like. Not unlike the golden rule of improv comedy, fun is always on the other side of a yes.

The exciting part is, when it comes to a conversation with someone, being fundamentally affirmative becomes a form of optimism––because saying yes to everything increases your field of perception. It’s what allows you to better notice valuable opportunities.

Imagine how many ideas you could generate for another person if you regarded everything they said as a possible inspiration for a work of art? Or a new creative idea? Or a business system that could change the world? Think of yourself as living in a shared pool of thoughts, from which opportunities can blossom. You can’t say yes fast enough.

Noticing. The whole reason I started wearing a nametag everyday is, I just wanted to see what would happen. That’s all. It was an exercise in curiosity, nothing more. But that’s who I am. I’m a giant question mark. I’m the annoying kid who raises his hand before the question is done being asked. And it all boils down to three simple words:

“Now that’s interesting.”

Noticers say things like that. Out loud. Especially in conversations. If there’s something normal to one person, but fascinating to you, point it out respectfully and inquisitively. That’s where opportunities come from. Noticing what people are too close to themselves to see. Being willing to dwell in the novelty of the situation. Being a mental omnivore.

And, always watching for reactions, not opinions. That’s huge. Once you start looking for subtle, external, physiological cues about what people are really like, what’s really important to them, it’s amazing how quickly new ideas bubble to the surface.

How many valuable opportunities could you unearth by watching what people do with their bodies during the conversation? Look for recurring cycles of activities or repetitive patterns in your interactions.

Offering. I used to have a problem adding too much value. Hijacking the conversation. Projecting my own meaning onto the other person and trying to solve their problems too quickly. But I quickly learned that, if you want to leave people better, it’s not about prescriptions and formulas and superimposing yourself onto them. That’s just annoying.

Unearthing valuable opportunities is a gentle act. And since you’ve already affirmed people’s perspective and noticed interesting things about them, they’re ready for the final step. But they might need a little push. Something that delightfully disturbs them and compels them to take action on their new idea.

My favorite move is to pull out my notepad, write down a quick summary of the opportunity we’ve unearthed together, rip out the piece of paper and hand it to them. Then I’ll either say, “No charge,” or “I’ll send you an invoice.” Both lines usually get a laugh, although rarely a check. But what matters is, it’s a positive way to place an exclamation point at the end of the conversation. And we often reconnect a later date to see how things are progressing.

That’s an awareness plan.

Affirming, noticing and offering.

It’s how you unearth valuable new opportunities in the midst of a conversation.

And it's a surefire way to leave someone’s campsite better than you found it. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Difference Between Instinct & Intution

We use the words instinct and intuition interchangeably.

And while they do exist on the same spectrum, there’s still a crucial difference between the two ideas.

Instinct comes from the word instinctus, or, “impulse,” meaning it’s a biological tendency. It’s the transient reaction that happens in our bodies, apropos of right now.

Intuition comes from the word intuitio, or, “consideration,” meaning it’s an accumulated belief. It’s the ongoing collection of experiences, apropos of everything up until now.

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference.

I’ve worn a nametag every day for the past fourteen years. Just for fun. It’s my constant social experiment and unique way of interacting with the world. And it’s never failed to add a layer of social interestingness to my daily life.

But it’s also shaped me, both physiologically and psychologically, both instinctively and intuitively.

Remember the kid from The Sixth Sense who saw dead people?

Well, I see friendly people. And they’re everywhere. And I always know exactly when I’m about to meet another one. That’s the spooky thing. Wearing a nametag has become my sixth sense.

Every day, a millisecond before somebody responds to my nametag, I can literally feel it in my body. Whether it’s a flight attendant greeting me as I board, a waitress using my name at the table or a yoga instructor calling me out during class, I can biologically predict when a “nametag moment” is about to happen.

It’s the strangest thing.

Then again, it helps me anticipate interactions. Which allows me respond to people’s comments quickly. Which allows me to be a more engaging communicator.

That’s instinct.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s intuition.

With my nametag, I’ve been running the same social experiment, tens of thousands of times, for well over a decade. And at this point, I can learn everything I need to know about somebody, solely based on the way they respond to my nametag.

It’s my instant inkblot test. A small, repeatable, portable filter that helps me make sense of the people I meet.

If someone points to my nametag asks me if I have a memory problem, I suspect they’re playful. If someone yells hello out of the window of a passing car, I suspect they’re extroverted. If someone rolls their eyes and looks at me like I’m an alien, I suspect they’re closed minded. And if someone walks up to me and rips my nametag off in the middle of a crowded room, I suspect they’re insecure. Or drunk. Or both.

The thing is, I’m usually right. My accumulation of experiences from the past fourteen years makes for an insanely accurate filter.

That’s intuition.

Same spectrum as instinct, but the manifestation is different. It’s a psychological construct, not physiological one.

The question is, how do you sense, refine and express your instinct and intuition?

Here’s a collection of strategies that have helped me:

You are what you expect. When you trust people, they become what you tell them you expect. Likewise, when you trust yourself, you tend to prove yourself right. And when you believe in the availability of your own answers, they tend to show up at the right time. That’s how expectation works. It’s not magic, it’s a psychological primer for future performance. And it’s been scientifically proven that there’s a positive correlation between expectation and performance.

Proclaim yourself as a seeker, practitioner and believer in the power of instinct and intuition, and you’re already ahead of the game.

Take the training you already have and apply it. Think about where you’ve logged tens of thousands of hours. Think about what activity you’ve practiced more than anyone you know. Think about the experiment you’ve been running day in and day out for decades. That’s your filter. That’s your nametag. That’s the fertile soil where your instinct and intuition will flourish. Hard core formative time­­—wherever you spend it—fosters dreams, informs what you do and lays groundwork for the years to follow. It’s accidental preparation at its finest. And everyone has their version of it.

Treat your instinct and intuition as the appendix to a lifetime of training and foundational development.

Establish a daily internal dialogue with yourself. Journaling has proven to be a therapeutic tool for lowering stress and improving health, but it’s also a fast, free and effective practice for getting current with yourself. Writing is a gateway to your inner and higher truth. By collecting, confronting and co-mingling your instincts and intuitions on paper, you start to notice personal patterns and motivations and choices. And as you make reflection a daily ritual, you begin to establish healthier pathways to pinpoint precisely what you’re feeling and thinking.

Develop your relationship with your words on the page, and you’ll experience greater sense of stability and intimacy with your instincts and intuitions off the page.

Create a stillness practice. It’s hard to hear yourself with so many synapses firing. And without a personalized arsenal of tools for lowering your cognitive decibel level, you’ll never tap into the deeper currents of yourself. So whether your practice involves meditation, yoga, prayer, breathing exercises, hypnosis or blazing up, the point is, doesn’t matter how you do it, only that you do it. 

From stillness comes lucidity. And from lucidity comes a direct line to your instincts and intuition.

Listen to your body’s wisdom. It will never lie to you. For example, think about where you manifest stress. Back pain? Stomach acid? Migranes? Skin rashes? Also, notice patterns in how you feel when doing certain activities. Anticipatory waves of anxiety? Immediate biofeedback? Emotional hangovers? Tune into these clues like an existential radio station. Think about what’s within you that’s trying to come through right now. 

Direct communication with your body—the one thing that will always tell you the truth—is the gateway to instinctive and intuitive understanding.

Sound like a lot of work?

It is.

But nobody ever said the truth came cheap.

Use these strategies and resources to help you sense, refine and express your instinct and intuition.

Blaze a trail within.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Favorite Four Letter Word

Work fascinates me.

Every time I come into contact with that particular word, it touches a sacred part of me. It’s interesting, there’s this fundamental part of who I am as a person that perks up at the idea. Like a hound tracking a scent. Work is my bacon.

The best part is, once I realized that work was more than a job, once I expanded my definition of the word and inscribed the idea of work into a larger circle of meaning, the way I experienced the world on a daily basis changed, for better and for always.

So what does that definition look like?

Funny you should ask.

Work encompasses all we do, paid and unpaid, throughout our lives. It’s what anchors our life with regular experiences of meaningfulness. It’s an institution that’s a fixture in every stage of life, but it’s also is the best way of escaping from life. It’s an endeavor that gives us the spirit of continuity and centrality and pays us the psychological salary of pride, honor and integrity.

Work is the organizing principle of life. It’s the iron rod in the center and validation of our existence. It isn’t just our plight, it’s our purpose. It’s where challenges ask us to tap into reservoirs of strength and patience we didn’t know we had. Work is how we create fulfillment, limited only by our imagination’s ability to create scenarios that excite us.

Work is a daily routine that ensures our days have a cadence and rhythm of movement. It’s a center of belonging where we connect to the collective human heart. It’s a contribution to the world where we become productive members of society. It’s where we go to find out what our true self really is. Work it’s the prime means to express our sense of who we are.

Work is an outlet for coming alive through the pursuit of our ideas. It’s the thing we do to build a stable life. It’s a platform we use to do art, hone skills, build a reputation and make our mark on other people. It’s a holy arena for our highest self and a home for all of our talents. Work is our necessity, our pleasure and our playground.

Work is where we channel our ambition and satisfy the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. It’s where we practice the act of dreaming, doing and finishing, driving straight to the heart of what it means to be a person. Work is what informs our sense of self, contributes to our identity and provides us with positive personal affect.

Work is what gives us a secure place in a portion of reality. It’s our human imperative. It’s what gives us the chance to be as smart as we are. It’s how we find satisfaction by creating value through toil. Work is how we intentionally mold and fit our experiences in a way that excites us and feed our soul.

Work is the process of creating something for the purpose of human flour­ishing. It is the creative process of operating in the world, making things happen for others in exchange for the stuff we want. It is the collaborative, purposeful spirit of enterprise. Work is the mission and endeavor that captures our imaginations, enlists and transfers our energies.

Work is how we accumulate psychic nourishment, realize our species character and inhabit and intelligible moral order. It is a practice that has internal good and engages our attention. It is what opens us up into a chamber of consciousness that brings some measure of coherence to our lives. Work is done the service of an activity that we recognize as part of a life well lived.

Work is putting our best abilities into play and having the fruits of our labor rewarded fairly. It is being in touch with our environment in a way that benefits our heart. It is the struggle to show ourselves––and the people around us––our sense of individual agency, responsibility and competence. Work is what sums up all of the activities we do that make us the human beings we are.

That’s what work means to me.

What’s your definition?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Narrative Trumps Brevity, or, Why People Would Rather Hear a Strong Story Than a Straight Answer

Storytelling isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

Narrative is our basic tool for making sense of the world, the currency of human contact, the fundamental instrument of thought and the foundation that psychologically sustains our species.

And yet, in the past few years, social scientists keep reporting that human attention span has declined to a mere nine seconds.

Really?

Tell that to the millions of viewers who watched thirteen episodes of House of Cards in a single day. Tell that to the legions of listeners who made Adam Carolla’s eight hour audiobook, Not Taco Bell Material, the top selling album of the year. Tell that to Kevin Smith’s global fan base, who tuned into Twitter for his twenty-four hour question and answer marathon.

Perhaps time is an irrelevant construct.

Perhaps when we tell stories, we should be less interested in how much time we have, and more interested in taking people on a tour of our heads and hearts, sharing crumb by crumb and clue by clue the universal human experiences and great sweeps of change that convinced us to believe what we believe, so that by the time we get to the end of the story, the story that we paid for and earned the right to tell, the audience is already nodding and yessing and laughing so much that they’re intellectually and emotional satisfied and can’t imagine another final action beyond where we’ve taken them.

It all depends.

Do you want to give people an answer that checks their box, or engage them with a narrative that wins them over?

Monday, November 25, 2013

What's Your Company Artifact?

My grandfather has a knack for making artifacts.

When he was a kid growing up in the thirties, he found a poem crumbled up in his father’s roll top desk. The passage talked about how to live a good life, be a person of character, stuff like that.

But since the poem had such an impact on his life, he kept it for the next fifteen years. And when he started a family of his own, he turned that anonymous piece of writing into a bronze plaque for all of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Eighty years later, that poem still spurs conversations in each of our homes. We not only show it to everybody, we tell them the story behind it. We have conversations around the ideas in the poem. And we think about how they apply to our lives today.

That’s our artifact.

What’s yours?

The word itself means, “a skillfully made object.”

But it’s more than that. An artifact is a strategically made social object, too.

Something people can come back to. Something that's a currency for conversation and collaboration. Something that sets the standard for everyone around you. Something that becomes a canvas for sharing ideas and making observations and asking questions. Something that serves as a platform for expanding people’s abilities. Something that reflects your brand’s human purpose. Something that holds up a mirror that demands people look at themselves.

Want to create one for your organization? Consider these ideas:

Artifacts start with a story. Or a process. Or a system. Or a framework. What’s your unique approach to solving problems or telling stories or building technology or doing business? That’s the content of your artifact.

Artifacts continue with a structure. Make your story visually compelling. Simple enough that an audience could digest it on their own, but provocative enough that they would seek you out to learn more.

Artifacts extend with stuff. It’s not an artifact if you can’t hold in your hands and smell it and touch it and share it. People are yearning for texture. No memorialization, no mesmerization. Pixels are fine, but tactile is divine.

Artifacts perpetuate with social. The goal is to create a verbal incident. It’s not about the artifact, but the conversation around it. It’s a sharing device that allows people to connect with each other.

Looking back, my grandfather was right.

Artifacts matter.

They signal the collective spirit of a culture. They help create an environment worth passing on. And they engage the people living and breathing in that world, day in and day out.

And there isn’t a team, company, department, brand or organization in this world that couldn’t be producing and promoting their own.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scott's Sunday Sentences, Issue 004

Sentences are my spiritual currency. 

Throughout my week, I'm constantly scouring and learning and reading and annotating from any number of newspapers, blogs, online publications, books, articles, songs, art pieces, podcasts, eavesdroppings, random conversations and other sources of inspiration.

Turns out, most of these sentences can be organized into about eleven different categories, aka, compartments of life that are meaningful to me. And since I enjoy being a signal tower of things that are interesting, I figured, why not share them on a regular basis?

In the spirit of "learning in public," I've decided to publish a weekly digest of my top findings, along with their respective links or reference points. Sentence junkies of the world unite!

Creativity, Innovation & Art 
"People fall in love with the merchandise first, then the art behind it," from the recently released and fascinating Calvin & Hobbes documentary, Dear Mr. Waterson.

Culture, Humanity & Society 
"No, I'm not going to rush your fraternity," from the Francis Pedraza article about standing up to the digital cool kids.

Identity, Self & Soul 
"You let go of the dream you killed yourself for," from John Moffitt's story about walking away from that which defined him.

Lyrics, Poetry & Passages 
"Drop what you’re doing right now and entertain me," from the new 37Signals book, Remote, about mobile workforces.

Meaning, Mystery & Being 
"Understanding with your life is fully believing what you understand, but also finding yourself incapable of disbelieving it," from Psychology Today.

Media, Technology & Design 
"Focused and oblivious to their surroundings, these people unknowingly made the decision to live in new kind of loneliness," from PSFK.

Nature, Health & Science 
"In science, you are studying truth and have to prove everything," from the obituary of Nobel Prize Winner, Frederick Sanger.

People, Relationships & Love 
"When they vet people, they need to see more than twinkles, they need sparks," from the handsome and inspiring Pharrell.

Psychology, Thinking & Feeling
"Generate positive emotions on your own without support from the environment," from Martin Seligman's new book, Flourishing.

Success, Life & Career
"Don't let the bad guys find a narrow opening and bring you down for trivial reasons," from the Tom Peters blog.

Work, Business & Organizations
"Your management style makes me focus all of my energy on staying out of trouble," from Dilbert.

See you next week!

Friday, November 22, 2013

If You’re Really Good, Your Legacy Will Come To You

Game raising is the quiet catchall.

Just keep getting better, and everything else will take care of itself.

I learned that from a famous comedian. When describing his rise to fame, he attributed his success to constant work at the alter of improvement.

What I like about that approach to success is, it has the least amount of glamour and speed––and the most amount of grit and patience. It’s the gradual ascent. Hustling while you wait. Playing the long arc game. Mastering the art of not going away. Practicing your way out of obscurity.

And where the advantage comes from is accumulation.

Racking up the nights under the lights to multiply your talent base. Which allows you to outlast most of the people you hit the starting blocks with. Because while they were too busy marketing and networking and complaining and perfecting their personal brand, you were quietly improving.

Proving, that the best way to build your own leverage is to raise your own game.

It insures that nobody can take away the most valuable asset you own.

What you’ve become.

Go get good. 

The vehicle of better will drive you to greatness.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Schizophrenia of Trust

Trust is a reciprocal transaction.

When we ante up first, people follow suit. When we approach others as already being trustworthy, they prove us right. And when we think the best of people, seeing everyone as good until proven otherwise, our belief encourages them to reveal their better selves. And they usually do.

We give what we need.

That’s human nature. Our communal caveman wiring makes trust possible.

The interesting thing is, at this point in our culture, trust is simultaneously at all time low—and an all time high.

On an institutional scale, we’re losing trust in the powers that be.

Government agencies and multinational corporations and mainstream media and religious organizations and financial institutions and law enforcement agencies and political administrations are, statistically, no longer the pillars of trust they once were.

Commanding moral authority has become a side job.

But on an interpersonal scale, we’re gaining trust in the persons that be.

We’re letting complete strangers sleep and eat and bathe in our homes and loaning our bikes and cars to people we’ve never met before and delegating mundane tasks to microfreelancers from across the globe and sharing and trusting our secrets with thousands of people we hardly know and depending on existing customers of a brand to tell us whether or not we should become customers ourselves.

Depositing and withdrawing from our social capital accounts has become a lifestyle.

Holy. Shift.

Random people used to trust big organizations.

Now they only trust other random people.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Consistency is the Ultimate Shortcut

Why do I wear a nametag everyday?

Because I’m obsessed with consistency.

It’s just how I’m wired.

Since I was young, routine and symmetry and structure have been the organizing principles of my life. For me, if repetition and continuity aren’t the answers, I rephrase the question.

But like most things in life, our temperament is both an asset and a liability.

What we’re good at, we’re bad at.

On one hand, I’m hypersensitive about anything that offends my sense of order. I’m compulsive about looking for recurring cycles of activity in my surroundings. I’m regimented about deepening my pattern reserves on a daily basis. And I’m relentless about twisting myself into a psychological pretzel trying to compartmentalize the world around me.

Naturally, this frustrates the people in my life. Myself included.

But, it’s who I am. It’s how I work. And we can’t fight natural inclination. We can only be who we already are.

On the positive side, my obsession with consistency has fortified my ability to detect, document and exploit patterns. And in the realm of business and innovation and art, patterning is everything.

It’s where original thought is born.
It’s where edge comes from.
It’s where success hides out.

And it’s the shortest distance to the finish line.

Are you a hunter and gatherer of patterns?