Real Moments Will Not Be Televised

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernhard Shaw

It’s school vacation week here in New England and we’re out skiing with the family. It’s pretty cold, and early afternoon yesterday, we sat on the chairlift chatting about taking a break and warming our toes. There was a lull in the rhythm of the day, and our minds started to drift on to the next thing. Someone next to me on the chairlift pulled their hand out of a warm glove and reached for their phone. We weren’t quite present.

Minutes later, we bumped into a few friends on the hill. And then a few more. Within half an hour we were a posse of eight racing through the woods, bouncing among the mogul fields, carving down the mountain, and drifting among each other having new, interesting conversations. It went on for a couple hours. We forgot about our toes and chilled cheeks, and instead deepened our play, deepened our conversations. We were very present and alive. We also created new relationships and deepened others, all in the span of a couple hours.

These are the moments we search for, the moments of meaning and companionship. It’s reflexively easy to reach for a phone and wander through the fast food of social media seeking a quick dopamine hit. Scrolling through Twitter or Instagram in a passive fog never quite finding satisfaction or joy in the effort. Quite a few studies have shown that taking a digital detox from social media predictably improves our sense of happiness and well-being. Other studies clearly show that social media just increase stress and anxiety.

Here’s a useful way to look at it. Nothing substitutes for in-person face-to-face human connection and time together. So think of your digital life as supportive tools to help create more meaningful human interactions. With location services and social updates you can easily triangulate where your friends and family are so you can meet up with them and have in-person, face to face human interactions. I discovered my friend was in town so we texted to have a coffee. In moments together we experience the nuance and joy of real human connection – the tonal inflection, facial changes, gestures, posture and gaze.

Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, famously posited that 93% of our communication isn’t even in the actual words we use. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal intonation, and 55% through nonverbal elements, such as body language and posture. I think the truth varies but whoever true communication happens, we won’t find deep communication through Facebook.

As Cal Newport describes his approach to digital minimalism, first ask yourself What are my values? and What kind of life to I want to be living that is fulfilling? and then layer in a digital life that supports those goals. So instead of asking yourself whether you prefer Instagram or Twitter, instead ask yourself if Twitter serves a purpose that supports your life goals.

It’s important to understand that how we consume media affects the way our brain is wired for deep thinking. Fast media doses of high speed, low attention, vacuous, binge watching media disrupts our ability to think deeply and creatively. Try slow media instead.

“If every moment of potential boredom in your life — say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives — is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where it’s not ready for deep work.”
– Cal Newport

Interested in a learning experience on being present and mindful as a leader? Try Karen Hough’s new course, The Art of Leadership Presence.

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I founded Mindscaling, a company building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

The Magic of Bill Murray

“If you can consciously let yourself get taken and see where you go, that’s an exercise. That’s discipline. To follow the scent. Let yourself go and see what happens, that takes a bit of courage.”
– Bill Murray

The comic legend Bill Murray has created decades of urban folklore by simply showing up in odd, random places and interacting with people. Did he really take a french fry from someone’s plate and whisper, “No one will believe you.” Did he really ride a bike in a Walmart wearing a fireman’s uniform, squirting a water pistol? Who knows for sure.

But there is video of him washing dishes at a party in Scotland, playing tambourine at a house party in Austin, and crashing a private karaoke room in New York. And there is a beautiful story from a father who met Bill outside of a hospital and watched him spend half an hour on his knees in the cold, comforting and talking to his son in a wheelchair after brain surgery.

Or this story. Bill gets into a cab in San Francisco and starts chatting with the cab driver, and discovers the cab driver is a saxophone player. Bills asks when he gets to practice his instrument, and the taxi driver says he doesn’t get to practice much because he drives the taxi all the time. So Bill finds out the saxophone is in the trunk and tells the driver to pull over so Bill can drive the car while the taxi driver gets to practice his saxophone in the back seat. They wander the streets of San Francisco with the taxi driver blowing saxophone in the back, and then cross over the bridge into Oakland after midnight to have barbecue together at a diner, and play saxophone for a crowd in the parking lot.

Whether Bill is dropping in to a game of kickball or reading poetry at a construction site, he is showing up to be present, not to entertain. He’s not there to juggle, tell jokes, or get on stage. He’s there to be alive in that spontaneous, inventive moment. In his own words, Bill says when it works best he finds a way to wake people up in their lives. He says he might encounter someone sleepwalking through their life, and hopefully he can help create a moment to wake them up. He also says sometimes he gets lucky himself, and wakes up to a new truth or new understanding.

Universally, everyone who tells these stories describe him as kind, present, and able to bring levity and joy to a moment. But the moments are fleeting and unpredictable. He’s famously impossible to track, or pin down. Even Sofia Coppola who wrote and directed Lost in Translation said that Bill told her he “might think about it” without ever actually committing to doing the film. So Sofia sent him the production schedule, flew to Tokyo to start filming, and then just hoped that Murray would show up, which of course he did.

Katie Calautti, a reporter for Vanity Fair, was asked to do a story on Bill Murray at the Toronto Film Festival. She said he was impossible to coordinate with because he has no entourage, no people, no team to interact with. He just shows up, and since you don’t know when or how he is going to appear, it’s pretty hard to write about his comings and goings. She said she spent most of her time at the film festival chasing a ghost. She said later that reporting on Bill Murray is like reporting on jazz. You just have to show up and see what happens.

It’s easy to be inspired by, and learn from Bill Murray. Show up, listen, give kindness, don’t seek the spotlight, look for opportunities to ease pain, or provoke new ideas. And when it works right, maybe something will happen to transform the moment, and allow an awakening.

“We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it. But if you’re available, life gets huge. You’re really living it.”
– Bill Murray

If you have a quiet hour, I recommend the documentary The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man.

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I founded Mindscaling, a company building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Don’t Let Your Grit Become Workaholism

What comes easy to you? What do you love? After you’ve sat through 4 meetings, done the dishes, taken out the garbage, or stood in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles, what are you excited to escape to?

I have friends who find solace in yoga, escape into reading, or immerse in deep conversation. Their version of self-reward is to get a group together and share ideas over lunch. I also have introverted friends who dread the idea of hosting a big meeting. My friend Chris’ idea of joy is to curl up in a chair and knit and knit and knit. She says they will find skeins of yarn untouched after she’s gone. She can’t get enough. My friend Jeff clocks whole afternoons lost in his workshop shaping cabinets. Hopper can spend an entire week swimming in the open ocean.

In order to get good – really good – at something we have to work at it, put in the long hours, maybe even ten thousand of those hours. And if you’re going to put ten thousand hours into something, you deserve to enjoy it. So start with something you feel drawn to, something that comes easy.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
– Richard Bach

If you start with what comes easy, the work becomes passion. “Grit is the combination of perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Angela Duckworth goes on to say, “It’s not simply working really hard and being resilient, it’s working toward something that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning.”

Workaholism, on the other hand, is working compulsively at the expense of other pursuits, and possibly at the expense of physical or psychological health. A work-obsessed individual pursues power or control until it becomes a compulsive addiction to gain approval or public recognition of success.

The primary difference here is that workaholism is work for work’s sake. It’s also work for external validation – like getting affirmation or money or power. Grit involves the pursuit of a higher calling, a striving to achieve something of meaning beyond the work itself.

Choose what comes easy. Then the work becomes joy.

May you and your loved ones have a joyous holiday season, and a wonderful new year.

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My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Last summer, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored this with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Wanting to Be Someone Else Is a Waste of the Person You Are

We rode into the small town of Lincoln, New Hampshire and stopped at a small grocery. The owner came outside excited to look at our bicycles, adorned with panniers and travel bags from our ride across the United States. After 3000 miles we were lean, our bikes were well used and covered in stickers and personal touches. We looked the part.

We explained to the store owner we intended to camp and then head up and over the Kancamagus Pass in the morning. He furrowed his brow and nodded. “Good plan,” he said. “The Kanc is steep and long. Leave early and take your time. It will be work to get up over the pass.”

We woke early to attack the pass, and after about an hour and fifteen minutes of climbing we topped out at the peak, pulled over at a scenic rest stop and took some photos. My son Charlie (16) and I didn’t think it was much of a big deal at all. After seven weeks of cycling across the United States it didn’t seem a big climb.

That version of myself that was in better shape. If I rode up that mountain today it would be a much different story. Today, I’d wheeze and labor up the climb. It would take me twice as long. I’d probably stop to stretch and breathe. Instead of lamenting that I’m no longer in that physical shape, I should instead embrace who I am now.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
–Kurt Cobain

Unlike our puppy Wally, who doesn’t appear to have any self-conscious thoughts, we humans have an ongoing relationship with ourselves – a constant inner dialogue about our sense of self-worth. It is, of course, why people pursue fame, fortune, and power, in the false belief that we will achieve satisfaction through adoration, money, or control over external forces.

What we really long for is to be understood, loved, and appreciated. Since this is true, we should afford the same thoughtful care to ourselves. Stanford Professor Christian Wheeler did a study which examined our idealized attitudes versus our actual attitudes and behaviors. In other words, he examined what happens when our more perfect version of ourself is in conflict with our actual behavior.

When our behavior is incongruent with our idealized attitudes, we feel worse about ourselves, and we often cheat our behavior to better match the version of ourselves we want to be. For example, if we idealize ourselves as fit and attractive and we aren’t currently, that tension makes us feel worse about ourselves. Which is why Spanx is a thing.

In another example, Wheeler asks us to imagine someone who wants to like their job, but their job actually makes them miserable. They may spend time convincing themselves the job is fun and meaningful, but if they cannot bridge the gap, the incongruency will only make them more despondent.

Meet yourself where you are. Self-compassion will fuel your personal change far better than beating yourself up. Just imagine what you would say to a dear friend in a difficult situation. Say those same things to yourself.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

You Don’t Suck. Give Yourself Compassion.

We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough. Pharmaceuticals are dispensed, and therapist calendars are booked solid. Most people, when asked, say they are more kind to other people than they are to themselves.

I’m such an idiot…why did I say that?…I look fat and ridiculous…I’ll never succeed…It’s so obvious I have no idea what I’m doing…

If your close friend starting talking like this, what would you say to them? You would build them up, and tell them they are worthy. You would tell them they were smart, talented, and resourceful. You would tell them to stand tall, take a deep breath, close their eyes and envision a stronger, more resilient self. You would send them on their way feeling emboldened.

And if your child came home with a poor test grade you would ask, “How can I help? What do you need? Can I find you a tutor?” You wouldn’t belittle and degrade them. You would be kind, understanding and compassionate.

So why do we talk to ourselves differently? We should use the same internal self-talk we use with our closest friends, our family, and our children. People who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, or stressed out, and are much more likely to describe themselves as happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.

In one study, combat veterans who practiced self-compassion suffered less from post-traumatic stress after returning from combat zones. These combat veterans with higher levels of self-compassion showed better functioning in daily life, and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In fact, self-compassion has been found to be a stronger predictor of PTSD than level of combat exposure. That’s right: PTSD rates are higher among those who tell themselves they deserve it, or are not worthy.

Self-compassion is not self-esteem. Our self-esteem is our sense of worth and value, and is often derived from external validation factors such as comparing ourselves to others. Comparison is the death of joy. Even being referred to as “average” feels like an insult these days, which is why the most negative form of chasing self-esteem often involves putting others down to create a manufactured sense of self-worth. Narcissism has recently been described as an epidemic.

Self-compassion is kindness to ourselves when things go sideways. It’s a caring, thoughtful response to difficult circumstances or adversities. Self-compassion is the act of mindfully acknowledging whatever pain, ill thought, or difficulty we are confronted with, and treating ourselves with humanity and care. It’s the very opposite of the harsh, critical language we often use on ourselves. So stop telling yourself, “You suck! Come on. Pull it together, you loser” and start giving ourselves more thoughtful and compassionate counsel when we feel beat up by life.

For more on the power of self-compassion, follow Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who has been studying the positive effects of self-compassion for over ten years.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

In Defense of Troublemakers

Let’s play free association. If I say “blue”, what do you think of next? Maybe “sky” or “color”? And if I say “green” what do you think of? Most people will think “grass”, and only a very few will think “Ireland” or “emerald.”

Free-association and brainstorming doesn’t work because we think in exceedingly predictable ways. It’s why you can often predict what your friends or partners will say. It’s why our weekly meetings often sound the same. But if we introduce dissent, we can get much more creative qnd interesting results. When people speak their mind, raise their concerns, or voice their opinions, the outcomes of discussions are typically much more rich and productive.

Berkeley psychology professor Charlan Nemeth did a series of experiments over thirty years ago in which she showed colors to participants and asked them to free-associate ideas. When shown black they dutifully said “night”, and when shown blue people would predictably say “sky.”

Later in the experiment Nemeth secretly introduced a dissenter. She brought in a fake participant who was told to say they saw a different color. When the color blue was shown to the group, the secret dissenter would say “It’s green.” That small, intentional voice of dissent almost immediately brought out more creative free-association words. Immediately people in the group would say “jeans” or “jazz”.

Another form of liberation is to be less afraid to think differently than others.
– Charlan Nemeth, Ph.D.

In the experiment, the voice of the dissenter and troublemaker brought out more creative and inventive responses from the entire group. Many companies do not easily tolerate troublemakers, those who rock the boat. But research suggests that consensus narrows the mind, while dissent opens up new ideas and possibilities.

This is not to suggest that consensus is a bad thing. Indeed, a clear decision creates a shared vision for a group to execute clearly.

The research suggests not that consensus is bad, but that we arrive at group consensus too quickly. If we permit dissent, our team decision process will be more reflective, more thoughtful, and our decisions more considered. Don’t intentionally create dissent, but do build an environment that permits and embraces dissent when it appears.

Playing devil’s advocate isn’t the same thing. That’s manufactured dissent. What you want in group settings is honest, unrestrained opinions.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

How Do You Create Something Special?

Almost anything I have ever created, built, designed or written that anyone else in the world cared about, I did on my own initiative, out of love of the work, love of the process, love of the team, and the sheer enjoyment of the experience of creating something new.

I’m not saying everything I’ve ever created of value was easy or fun. Creating something that didn’t exist before is hard. Building a company is hard, frustrating, yet sometimes deeply rewarding. Cycling across America can be difficult, exhausting, yet interrupted by moments of elation. Writing a book about the experience is time-consuming yet gratifying.

Robert Berger is a strategic planning professional who has spent his professional career building teams, running successful government initiatives and projects. But the most gratifying and engaging work he does is pro bono. Through the Taproot Foundation he gets engaged with projects he cares about and applied his project management skills for free. He has dedicated over 800 hours of time, and says it’s the most rewarding work he has done in his entire life.

When we do things that we aren’t expressly being paid for, we are more creative and engaged in our efforts. If we are being paid to deliver a specific piece of work, we ask our client lots of questions about what they want. We ask how long the article should be, or what color the image should be, or where the painting will hang in the house when we deliver it.

In other words, when we work for someone else, we are working to their expectations. And the result is that we stifle our own curiosity and creativity in the process. We subsume our own creative inclinations and instead try to figure out “what the client wants.”

I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
– Stephen King

Almost twenty years ago, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her colleagues conducted an interesting study. They asked 23 artists to randomly select 10 of their commissioned works and 10 of their non-commissioned works. That is, 10 works of their art that they were paid to create, and 10 works of art they created entirely on their own initiative.

They then took the 460 works of art to a big room where they could be displayed and evaluated by a team of art curators, historians, and experts. All of the experts evaluating the art had not been told which was commissioned (paid) art, and which art was created at the self-direction and initiation of the artist.

Amabile and her colleagues reported their findings:

“Our results were quite startling…the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works, yet they were not rated as different in technical quality.”

It was the non-commissioned, self-directed art that was found to be more creative, interesting, and valuable to the experts. Do more work you care about, and other people are likely to be more interested. If you care.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

The Problem with Stereotypes

“A single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. When we stereotype others, we reduce them. We imprison them in our own small view, a dark and tiny place with no light and no room for growth.”

novelist Chimamanda Adichie

 

 

Isn’t that the truth. When we only see the world through our own fixed lens and refuse to listen deeply and empathetically to those we encounter along this path of life, we reduce and belittle them.

Measure your success by what you give and not what you get for it will make everyone – yourself included – happier in the long run.

Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Change the Task, Not the Person

Ask yourself. Does our company only hire the best and the brightest? Only accept the most remarkable and enlightened ones?

And does our company try to mold them, transform these new recruits so they talk like we do, sell like we do, write code like we do, and write marketing copy like we do?

What if the way our company does things is tired, stagnant, and outdated? What if our company is recruiting talented people with new skills and ideas, and then training it out of them?

Maybe the problem isn’t teaching the new person our way of doing things. Maybe the problem is the task, and the tools we’ve been using.

Don’t try to change someone to do a task or a process better. Change the task or the assignment to better fit the strengths of the amazing new people you hire. Or better, let the new person choose the task and the tools.

Who Does Not Move Forward, Recedes

I spent this past weekend visiting with dear college friends, reminiscing, laughing, and catching up. Of course, we’ve all changed over time. But back in the day we thought we were special, unique.

The term is chronocentrism. It’s the belief that our group, our cohort, at a particular moment in time is special, and poised on the brink of history, as if we are locked in a remarkable and magical moment. It’s pretty common for graduating classes to feel this way, or groups of employees at a company to feel this way when working together during a period of change or growth. During these times we solidify our values, deepen our identities.

It’s a good feeling and creates lasting bonds among the group that can persist for a long time. But it’s also important to move on. It may have been a watershed moment in your evolution, but who you are then is not who you will become.

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you have ever been.
– Dan Gilbert

Never believe that you are done learning, or done changing and evolving. The choices we make today will lead to who we become tomorrow.

En francais, “Qui n’avance pas, recule.” Which means, “Who does not move forward, recedes.”