Think of Conversation as Travel

Within every individual, there is an entire world within them, a universe of experiences, knowledge, joy and adversity. Think of conversation as travel, as an exploration. And just like actual travel, a deep conversation is also an adventure, an opening to new ideas and other ways of seeing the world.

“Almost every crisis we’re facing right now is a crisis of belonging.”

—Joe Keohane

I haven’t always talked to strangers, but I try more often now. At our local grocery store, the kind person bagging groceries always asks the same series of questions. “How heavy would you like your bags?” “Would you like your milk in a bag?” “Would you like your cleaning products in the same bag with your produce?” “Would you like your ice cream in a separate bag?”

I understand they are being polite. I usually tell them, “You can decide. You’re an expert. You have much more experience. I trust you.” Then I can go back to asking the clerk about her tattoo. That’s another level of interaction. Try asking a complete stranger about their tattoo. A few years ago I never would have done this. Are you kidding? For many people a tattoo is a sacred icon, a cherished memory, a badge of identity. I wouldn’t dare.

I was wrong to assume people don’t want to talk about their tattoos. A tattoo is a powerful and permanent reminder of an event or expression of identity. In my experience, people light up with enthusiasm if I ask. It’s their daughter’s birthday, their life motto, their favorite quote, an ancient symbol. Tattoos reflect powerful emotions and life choices. I’ve never yet met anyone unwilling to tell me the story of their tattoo.

There’s an expression in social psychology called the Lesser Minds Problem, which is short-hand for the common, impatient and reflexive assumption we make about unknown people. Namely that strangers:

  1. Have less world experience than we do (“They’re so foolish!”)
  2. Make decisions that are less informed because of their lack of experience (“They don’t know what they’re doing!”)
  3. Have a less nuanced and unrefined understanding if the world because of their lack of experience (“They don’t understand how the world works! Idiots!”).

If I have a headache and it is painfully debilitating, and then you tell me you have a headache, I may likely think, “Sure but it’s nothing like this headache!” Our own subjective pain is usually more painful than someone else’s. Which is why almost everyone buys “extra strength” pain medication. We believe our experiences are deeper, more meaningful, more enlightening, than other’s experiences.

In a research paper called “More Human Than You”, Nick Haslam and his colleagues show that we ascribe more human characteristics to ourselves than strangers. When asked to evaluate how curioussympathetic or imaginative a stranger was compared to themselves, participants consistently described themselves as possessing more of these human nature traits. People tend to see themselves as more dimensional, and more mentally complex, than the strangers we encounter in the world.

The obvious secret to finding the humanity in others is to talk to strangers so they’re not so strange any longer. When you interact with people, their humanity becomes undeniable.

With over 60% of younger people (18-25 years old) now experiencing moderate to severe loneliness, we need to recognize that connecting with other humans is an essential human need, like breathing, exercising and thinking. In Joe Keohane’s new book The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World, he offers ideas on how to break the silence, connect with others, and enrich understanding.

Start by finding safe places to start a conversation with a stranger. The “cosmopolitan canopy” is an expression coined by sociologist Elijah Anderson at Yale University to mean safe public and semi-public places where starting a conversation isn’t considered weird or too out of place. Coffee shops, libraries, grocery stores, public squares and markets are all environments where initiating a conversation isn’t too odd or off-putting.

Shared experiences are also good environments. If you’re both watching a baseball team winning, or your local high school team losing, you have a shared point of departure.

Answer greetings honestly. A few years ago my mom died of cancer. Within an hour of hearing the news I went for a walk by myself. A neighbor walked by and asked, “Hi, how are you?” I hesitated and then told her the truth. My mom had just died. My neighbor gave me a hug and we spoke about the fragility of life. It’s the most meaningful brief interaction we have ever had, and yet to this day we always share a kind moment when we see each other in the community. And I believe that kindness can be traced back to that one moment of human honesty.

Perhaps one of the most accessible tips Keohane gives is to break the script. Our script is the pro forma things we say every day to talk, and yet not talk. We say Hello, how are you? as a throwaway comment to fill dead air. We don’t actually intend someone to answer. Try breaking the script and actually answering the question truthfully. “Oh, I’m alright. I didn’t sleep too well but I had a fun yoga class. I’d say I’m about a 6 or 7 right now.

When you answer truthfully, it’s a cue to the other person that this could be interesting. This could go somewhere. It’s playful, audacious, and an invitation to deepen the conversation. Take a chance. Open a conversation with someone new.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.

You Are More Influential Than You Think

Hello there! I have a new-newsletter I’m publishing over at LinkedIn. It’s about how we show up, interact with people, and make a difference every day with small changes. I will post it here on my site, but you can also subscribe over here to receive it on LinkedIn. Enjoy!

Most of us walk through our daily lives thinking no one really pays attention to us. At the sandwich shop, standing in the grocery checkout line, attending the same weekly meeting, or watching the middle school soccer game, we often think we don’t have much influence over people and circumstances. Sometimes we even think we’re invisible.

Yet simply being present and sharing an event, a meal, a checkout line, or a meeting – even if you don’t say anything – will deepen the experience for everyone and make it more memorable.

Showing up can change the outcome of events, influence how other people think, and even change the way you think.

When two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound that same note.
Know how powerful you are.
Know you can make music in the people
around you, simply by playing your own strings.
   – Andrea Gibson

The truth is that people are paying attention to you more than you are aware of. But the other strange truth is that people aren’t paying attention to what you think they’re paying attention to. If you are having a bad hair day, wearing the wrong shoes, or worried about your complexion, that’s not what other people are noticing at all. Other people don’t really care about the t-shirt you decided to wear or the zit on your forehead. At least not in the way you think the t-shirt is ridiculous and the zit is enormous.

Studies show that when you are watching a movie with someone else, attending a high school sports event, or just sitting in a meeting with other people, your mere presence with others intensifies the experience and makes it more memorable for everyone.

The reason is that when you show up, others will tune their messages and ideas to you to reflect what they think you want to hear, or try to influence you. When you attend that weekly team meeting, your boss is tuning her message to the group taking into account that you are there and listening. In this way your mere presence is affecting the outcome of the dialogue and events to come. Your presence is affecting what other people say.

We also tend to underestimate how much other people will ruminate on conversations and interactions other people have with us. When we leave a meeting, or a conversation, we often think about the friend, the boss, the colleague that we just met – what they said, how they made us feel, who they are – but we don’t often think that they are likely doing the same thing.

Meanwhile, they are reflecting on their conversation with us. This is something called the thought-gap bias. We tend to underestimate how much others are thinking about us after we leave an interaction. We think about them, but we don’t consider they are doing the same thing.

It happened to me just this morning. I was walking my dog in the forest and bumped into my friend Dominique. We started talking about this idea, and the notion that we have more influence than we believe. She told me a story of walking into a Goodwill store and discovering a beautiful, lightly-used set of Calloway golf clubs that would be perfect for her son.  She chatted with the clerk, asked about her day, and then inquired how much for the golf clubs? The clerk said, “How about six dollars for the set?”

Dominique was stunned. The golf clubs were worth hundreds of dollars. She asked, “Why would you let them go so cheaply?” The clerk said, “Because you are the first person today to be nice to me.”

You have more influence that you think. Use your superpowers for good.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences designed to drive the human change that will propel your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

Why You Should Talk About Your Positive Actions

You know what the bystander effect is. It’s a social phenomena in which people fail to intervene or act on someone else’s behalf because no one else is doing anything. Your boss has a ridiculous idea but you don’t say anything because no one else does.

Imagine, for example, you are sitting in a waiting room with two other people. You glance up to see a young woman hobbling toward the glass door of the waiting room, on crutches with a cast on her foot. She struggles with the door, greets the receptionist with a wince, and is asked to wait her turn to be called. But all the chairs in the waiting room are taken. What do you do? Do you help her with the door? Do you offer her your chair?

This is a real study by David DeSteno and his colleagues at Northeastern University. The other people in the waiting room are actors, including the receptionist and the woman with the cast on her foot. Everyone is watching what you will do, how you will act in that moment.

I like to share this scenario in my presentations, and ask the question: What percentage of study participants do you think stood up, and offered help? People always guess a high number of 60%, 70%, 80%. Everyone has high hopes for humanity. I tell the audience the actual number is 15%. At which point people groan and sigh, and insist they would have done something. Well, maybe.

And you know who Dan Price is. He’s the guy who slashed his personal CEO salary to give at least 70K a year to every employee in his company. He was ridiculed, scorned, and called a fool. Pundits said he would be broke within the year, and his employees “on bread lines.”

That was six years ago. Recently on twitter he posted:

6 years ago today I raised my company’s min wage to $70k. Fox News called me a socialist whose employees would be on bread lines. Since then our revenue tripled, we’re a Harvard Business School case study & our employees had a 10x boom in homes bought. Always invest in people.

  • Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments

Dan is a special guy, but he’s not unique. There are lots of people all over the world doing good things right where they are – at the intersection of their skill, passion, and impact. One important difference is that he is talking about his work. He’s vocal about his impact. He didn’t just provide a minimum salary to his employees and quietly watch the results. He has been an outspoken public defender of his actions in the news, and social media.

It’s important to not only do the thing you believe in, it’s important to talk about it. Not in a self-important yay-me humble-brag kind of way, but instead because you understand the power of your actions to be a force for good, and inspire others. That’s how your movement starts. That’s how the tribe is built.

For example, in the United States less than 20% of the population is either doubtful or dismissive about climate change. Over 80% of the population is alarmed, actively concerned, or at least cautiously accepting that it’s happening. In the other words, the overwhelming majority of Americans have some degree of education, concern, and personal experience with climate change. But they still don’t talk about it.

Many of us still don’t talk about it because that small minority can be expressively vocal in dismissing the science. The critics are loud, and we sense their population is bigger than it is. We are uncertain about the views of the person we are speaking with. What if we offend them? What if we say something that contradicts their belief system?

So we say nothing, but maybe we do something – something we understand is a nudge, a gesture in the right direction. We make a personal high impact, low cost, life change to adjust our carbon footprint. We travel less on airplanes, or eat lower on the food chain. Those changes cost nothing. Maybe we even spend a little money on electric vehicles or a home energy audit.

And it’s true that even if you do those things and you get your own family CO2 footprint down from the average 16 tons a year to 12 tons a year, it still won’t make a difference on the planet. Your own personal carbon footprint is less than .0000000003% of the 43 billion tons a year that the world emits. It’s less than a rounding error.

Still reading? This is why it’s important to talk about your actions. Because while what you do personally on climate change might be negligible, talking about it with your family, your neighbors, your community, and demonstrating your commitment through your actions inspires others to act.

I used climate change as an example, but it could be anything you care about that moves the needle toward a kinder, more livable world. It could be bullying, suicide prevention, humanitarian relief, or dog shelters. The point is that if you aren’t a bully, that’s great. But a more powerful gesture is intervening a bullying event you witness, and explaining why. Or adopting a rescue dog, and then communicating with your friends and family why it was important to you.

Our actions are invitations to change. Our actions are demonstrations and assurances to others of how to behave in the face of uncertainty.

Are you stuck? Trying to figure out what you want to do? Or paralyzed by too many choices? Here is a sample lesson from our new series Making It Happen: How to Figure Out What You Want

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

In other news, 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 the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Turn off Your Notifications. Seriously. Do It.

Casey just commented on a post you are following!

Turn off your push notifications. The alerts, app banners, pocket vibrations, ringtones, the little email preview pop-ups. Do you depend on them for your job? Is it really urgent? Is it? Turn them off. All of them.

“The effectiveness of communication is not defined by the communication, but by the response.”
– Milton Ericsson

If you know your daughter is going to text you and you welcome her note, go ahead and leave your text alerts on. Or maybe you’re expecting an important call from your office. OK, leave your call ringer on. This is an example of purposely using technology designed around an intentional life. You are driving. But when you leave indiscriminate push notifications on, you are no longer in control. You just put yourself in the back seat and gave the keys to a schizophrenic.

Kim viewed your profile!

Understand that for each notification you permit – be it a welcome text from your daughter or an alert from Twitter – you are allowing someone else to dictate your time. You are allowing some company, service, product, or marketing department to hijack your time.

Polly likes your comment!

The creators of push notifications claim they exist for your benefit. Wrong. The alerts are not designed exclusively for your benefit. Remember, you are the product. The notifications exist for the benefit of Instagram, or Facebook, or LinkedIN, or WhatsApp, or TikTok, or whatever RSS river you are standing waist deep in. The goal is not to enrich your life. The goal is to slow you down, steal your attention. The goal is to drive you to their platform, because their platform is where they can redirect your attention again. Pretty soon you are way downstream from where you were a minute ago. And the view is very different.

The problem is not the device. Devices are useful. My Mom used to call her laptop her “cognitive prosthesis.” It’s an apt description. Your phone is a computational appendage right there in your pocket, and it’s incredibly powerful when in service of an intentionally designed life.

Luca likes your photo!

Many people claim they don’t mind the noise. Maybe you are interested in vacations in Italy. So you wander through a few websites looking at Italian villas, and suddenly ads showing photos of Tuscany are following you around the web. Some people say they enjoy being stalked by ideas and products that interest them. It’s like having your own conversational elf perched on your shoulder who chimes in periodically on your favorite topic, and reinforcing your urges. That’s fine. Just understand that you are the target. You are the mark.

Evelyn shared a post!

Push notifications originated in 2003 by Research in Motion. They built a “feature” into the Blackberry in which users didn’t have to go check for email, they could receive a notification altering them that they received one. So convenient! So easy! Apple was paying attention and in 2009 rolled out their own “APNS, the Apple Push Notification Service.” Pretty quickly responding to notifications became the default manner in which we interacted with our devices. No longer did we need to take control and decide how to navigate and interact with our devices. The device would simply tell us what to do.

Congratulate Chris for starting a new position!

Digitally triggered distraction is making our conversations less meaningful, our attention more splintered, and our decisions less satisfying. The research is towering. We’ve known for years that old-school analog note-taking and handwriting reinforces retention and comprehension. And nearly 90% of us understand that the mere presence of devices detracts from the quality of our conversations, and yet we do it anyway.

Take control. Use technology around a life you design, not a life designed by algorithms.

Speaking of building an intentionally-designed life, check out Mindscaling’s new series on Civility in the Workplace.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy 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.

In other news, 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 the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Your Vulnerability is an Act of Courage

Imagine you just got in a disagreement with your colleague. You had one idea, they had another. In the moment, the stakes were high. You were adamant. You were right! And besides, they were being ridiculous.

Or imagine you got in an annoying little passive-aggressive argument about nothing with your partner. Something small like who fills the gas tank more often, or who does the dishes, or who takes the trash out more often – a petty kind of argument about keeping score, the greatest of losing games.

In either example, now imagine you are the first to apologize. You are the first to reach out and say words of kindness, or words of reconciliation. How does that makes you feel? You might feel vulnerable, or weak, or embarrassed perhaps. But definitely hesitant. Now imagine something even more vulnerable. Imagine confessing romantic feelings or deep personal doubts or weaknesses to our partner. It can be scary right?

When we admit fault or show vulnerability, we often feel inadequate or shameful.

Now imagine it’s the other person that comes to you first. Your colleague or your partner steps up and says, “I’m sorry that happened. I see your point. I’m sorry I was frustrated and upset.”

When we imagine ourselves showing vulnerability in these situations, we cringe. It often makes we feel small and weak and scared. But when we see others act in these very same ways, we are often inspired and attracted to that person. We see strength in their honesty. While we feel embarrassed or ashamed by revealing ourselves, we can be inspired and impressed when others do it.

When we see others show vulnerability, we often see courage. We see the beautiful, honest mess of a human being that we all are on some level. Yet when we practice vulnerability ourselves, we feel inadequate. Here are a few ideas to help our courage in moments when we reveal we are, in fact, a beautiful, complicated mess of a human being.

Call it what it is. Awkward! You go into a department store and try on a jacket. It was the jacket of another customer. You’re checking out at the grocery store. The pregnant cashier says, “Have a nice day.” You say, “Have a nice baby.” {Smack forehead} These true stories of idiocy go on.

Make fun of your situation. When you call out the comedy and hilarity of a vulnerable moment, you diffuse the tension and appear more confident and courageous to others.

Practice self-compassion. 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.

Let it go. Seriously, blow it off. Whatever silly or embarrassing comment you made will linger much longer in your own head than in others. Other people, particularly those who care about you are much more likely to assume best intentions and let it go. You should too.

For some people the craving for authentic interactions and relationships is so strong they join the “Authentic Revolution” and attend regular meetings in which the goal of the evening is to be open, forthright and honest. According to participants it can be quite a rush.

“Just revealing something vulnerable about yourself can be its own rush, it can be its own thrill.”
– Bryan Bayer, co-founder of the Authenticity Revolution

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy 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.

In other news, 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 the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Small Acts of Leadership: You Can Ask for More Than You Think

Transcript:
– [Narrator] Have you ever asked for more and then instantly regretted asking? Like asking for more responsibility or promotion and immediately feeling like you are not worthy? Try to move beyond it. Research suggests you can ask for more than you think.

– People who are seen by others as getting assertiveness right often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong. In 2014, there was a study by some students at Columbia Business School and they’ve found that 57% of those who believed that they were appropriately assertive in their requests, their negotiations, their conversations, they were actually seen by the other party as not really very assertive at all and not really very demanding at all. In other words, more than half didn’t ask for enough. On the other hand, those who believed that they’ve been overly assertive, overly demanding in their requests, they often fall victim to believing they’ve crossed the line, they’ve gone too far, they’ve overstepped their bounds, and the result is that they backpedal. They try to smooth things over. They try to acquiesce. They accept a lesser deal, and that’s a bummer, because in the study, those who were assertive and demanding were often then interpreted by the other party as being very fair, very appropriate. According to the research, we should go for it. We should ask for a little more. We should not back off, and we should not feel badly about what we do ask for. The research tells us you can ask for more, and you are probably more valuable than you think.

– [Narrator] Terry’s team is under a lot of pressure to meet tight deadlines. He has noticed many team members are stressed and overtired. Terry decides to ask the client for some extra time in delivering a project deadline. This request seemed perfectly logical to the client, and Terry’s team felt relieved and grateful. Take a small step in learning to ask for more. Maybe something simple in a coffee shop, a store, or a hotel. Identify something that would greatly improve the quality of your experience. Make the request reasonable, but don’t apologize or backpedal. If you ask for it and get it, be grateful. And if you ask for it and get turned down, think about what you can do differently next time.

The Subtle Art of Being Direct Instead of Being Blunt

“If you want to get your point across, be direct; if you want to destroy any chance of doing so, be blunt.”
– Mark Goulston, Ph.D.

Have you read any David Sedaris? Or better, have you seen one of his shows? The things he says are appalling. My wife and I went to see Sedaris recently. He stands at a lectern and reads his own material in a fairly deadpan manner. In the first few minutes I thought it might be boring. Oh, was I wrong.

He says things out loud in front of a thousand strangers that most people would blush just thinking about. He says things that leave you gobsmacked, wondering, “Did he just say that?” It’s a kind of shock theater he is especially good at.

We go to comedy hour or the theatre to hear something surprising or alarming or shocking. But we don’t go to work to hear our colleagues be crass or rude or smart-ass.

There’s a subtle difference between being blunt and being direct. Think of these two things in terms of tools. A sledgehammer is a blunt force tool. Needle-nose pliers or wood planes require subtle care, even artistry, to use well. It’s the same idea with words. Remember, the words we use not only shape other people’s impression and reaction to us, our words also shape the way we think and act in the world. Choose well, and use words with care.

I’ve been re-reading Goulston’s book Get Out of Your Own Way, and he has some great advice for trying to discern between being blunt and being direct.

  • Slow down. The next time you think about barking out a response or shooting from the hip, take a deep breath and sit up straight. Those two little things will slow you down, and help you think.
  • Respect boundaries. You may think someone else’s boundaries are stupid, but respect them. If you colleague says they want a quiet hour to get something done, give them that space. You may only have a quick, easy question, but that small disruption could derail their thought and energy.
  • You do care. When you get ready to spout off about something and you think to yourself, “I don’t give a damn what they think.” Think again. If you really didn’t care you would walk away. Ask yourself instead, “Why am I trying to get a reaction out of them?” You might have a good reason, and you might craft that comment better.
  • WWJD? What would ______ do? It doesn’t have to be Jesus, of course. Think of someone you love and admire, and ask yourself, “What would they do in this situation?” Do that instead.

Remember, you’re an artist, not a rock-smasher. When interacting with other people, you want influence, and influence starts with empathy and understanding.

Learn how to be confident, consistent, and calm in the middle of chaos by elevating your leadership presence. Check out the Art of Leadership Presence from Mindscaling.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy 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. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Why You Should Surprise People Sometimes

Remember that weird feeling when you’re in 5th grade and you see your teacher at the grocery store, just picking out bananas like a normal human? And it’s really strange because she doesn’t belong at the grocery store. She belongs in math class. Like, what’s she doing here?

Or you see your mean, yelling gym coach hug his crying daughter in the parking lot after school, wipe her tears, and bend down to tie her shoes. Wow, he can also be kind?

When we think of goofball Jimmy who wears a bowtie and suspenders, we think he’s a clown looking for attention. And when we see Hector, the science nerd wearing a bowtie and suspenders we think he’s an eccentric intellectual. When Gertie, the class valedictorian, sits quietly alone for lunch we think she is ruminating on her world peace essay. But when Jackson, the terrorist of 6th grade, sits alone, we think he’s planning his next nasty trick.

I have a friend who works at the bank drive-through window. We laugh and tell jokes. She gives biscuits to my dogs. She’s a great friend. But I saw her in the cereal isle the other day and for a full three seconds I blinked and all I could think was, “I know this person! I like her, but who is she?

It’s both surprising and confusing when people confound our expectations of them. When we see people out of place or out of character doing things we don’t expect of them. People often fulfill our usual expectations of them. We don’t get to see our taxi driver play saxophone in his blues band, and we don’t get to see our boss read bedtime stories to her children.

We seek predictability in others and try to be predictable ourselves. Which is why when we get invited to a barbecue, we hate to say no. Keeping social harmony relies on our own willingness and ability to allow others to reliably predict what we’re going to do. Social consistency keeps the peace.

But sometimes it’s good to surprise people. Sometimes it’s good to bust out something new, something different, something unexpected. It’s not only how we grow, it’s how we develop others’ expectations of what we’re capable of.

You may likely be aware of the small ways in which we can change our environment and surprise and delight ourselves. Driving a different way to work, for example, will likely make you more present and attuned to your environment. Varying your routines can achieve the same effect.

So long as we fear vulnerability, we play it safe and stop ourselves from exploring.
– Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger, authors of Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected

In order to reframe the expectations others have for us, we need to surprise them in delightful ways. Here are a couple ways you can engineer surprise from Luna and Renninger:

  • Initiate an activity in which the outcome is uncertain. Invite a colleague to dinner you don’t know very well. Or better, invite a small group of people unlikely to know each other. Recently we attended a dinner for twelve hosted by friends who were the only couple who knew everyone at the table. It was a fun and memorable night.
  • Delight someone by over-delivering. Tell her you will empty the dishwasher, then also clean out the fridge. Say you’ll prepare the slides, then actually deliver them rehearsed in the meeting.

Workplaces where managers actively encourage experimentation, and lead by experimenting themselves, make us feel more comfortable with being imperfect, with taking chances, with making mistakes. These are the kind of leaders who make us feel like we can be ourselves.

By embracing and engineering surprise you can make our whole world richer. You can inspire wonder, connection, vulnerability, growth, and creativity.
– Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger

Change starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy 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. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

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.