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.

Keep up the Fight

Remember on March 13, the scenes of Italians singing together from their balconies while on lockdown. Throughout the city graffiti everywhere proclaimed “andrà tutto bene” (everything will be alright). Six weeks earlier, on January 28 throughout Wuhan citizens leaned out of their apartment buildings and chanted together “jiāyóu” (keep up the fight).

Remember 2012 Hurricane Sandy, when New York was under water. On October 30, Mayer Corey Booker tweeted “Police have reported ZERO looting or crimes of opportunity in Newark. And ceaseless reports of acts of kindness abound everywhere. #Gratitude.”

Remember immediately in the wake of 9/11 in New York City, hundreds of people spontaneously formed the “Bucket Brigade” to remove debris in search of remains.

At the time Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast it was the deadliest storm to hit New Orleans since 1900. Although in the wake of the storm there were indeed stories of looting, rioting, hoarding, and even violence, a powerful study conducted in 2008 revealed that acts of prosocial generosity and caring far outweighed the negative behaviors. Conditions were especially dire for the 700,000 displaced survivors because only 26 days later Hurricane Rita hit the same geographic area stalling rescue and relief efforts.

Yet even in that incredibly adverse environment, tales of human camaraderie, altruism, generosity and care are numerous. Read this harrowing personal account: “There is nothing that I had ever witnessed in the United States to which I could compare the scene outside the New Orleans Convention Center.”

Or read this perspective from a medical worker on the front lines: “Our group received an offer of special rescue, which we did not accept until each and every one of our patients had been evacuated.”

It goes on and on. And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Yes that’s heroic and comforting but what about the looting, the hostility, the selfishness, the scarcity thinking…” I say the more good we see in the world, the more good we create in the world. The more love, charity, and kindness you witness in your community, the more you will create it yourself.

Got it? And now a word about blind optimism, and irrational exuberance.

U.S. Navy Admiral James Stockdale was captured by the Vietnamese, tortured over twenty times, and imprisoned for eight years during the Vietnam War. During that time he observed that those POWs with a deep sense of pessimism and dread would lose hope, succumb to their conditions, and eventually die. But he also observed those who were wildly optimistic eventually became overwhelmed with despair, and false hope.

“You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end… with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
– Admiral James Stockdale

According to Stockdale, “The wildly optimistic were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come go, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Those who persevere in the face of daunting obstacles are those who have a sense of realistic idealism. They have the ability to visualize and identify an ideal outcome, yet also an ability to realistically face challenges, including the unexpected challenges which will surely arise.

Another trait of those who possess realistic optimism is they lift other people up. During the depths of despair during their incarceration, James Stockdale used an alphabetic communication code by tapping on the walls of the prison cells. In this way the prisoners were able to communicate and not feel completely isolated in captivity.

Our world view is not simply a fixed condition of our situation. We have the power to choose our reaction to this current dystopian madness, and also to decide whether or not we have the ability to make a difference.

Things are sideways, yet remember that this pandemic is temporary. It won’t last forever, it’s not someone’s fault and you can make a difference in someone’s life each and every day simply in how you show up with discipline and faith that we will endure and see each other through.

  • Our company Mindscaling created a course on resilience with the fabulous Jen Shirkani. Message me and I’ll send access to the course. No charge of course. I just hope it helps us work through this.
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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.

    A Little Mindfulness Goes a Long Way

    You walk in for your appointment.

    You greet the receptionist. She says, “Just have a seat. We’ll call you when we’re ready.” You turn around and there are three chairs, two of them already occupied by people reading a magazine or looking at their phone. You take the empty seat and wait.

    A few minutes later a woman on crutches, with a clunky orthopedic boot on, comes hobbling down the corridor toward the waiting room. She struggles with the door, enters, looks around, and seeing no empty chairs, she slumps against the wall, wincing in pain.

    What do you do? Do you stand up and hold the door for her? Do you offer her your seat? Of course you do, right? That’s what any conscientious and thoughtful person would do. In fact, when David DeSteno and his researchers asked people what they would do in that circumstance, the overwhelming majority said they would stand and offer their seat.

    Then they staged the experiment, with an actor on crutches and actors in the other chairs instructed to ignore the injured woman. Initially, they picked 19 people to go through the experiment. The participants thought they were in a room waiting for the experiment to begin, but the waiting room was the experiment. Of those 19 people, only 3 actually stood and offered to help. Three. That’s 16%. The researchers were so surprised they repeated the study and got the same results.

    I know. It’s appalling. But in his research, DeSteno admits that they stacked the deck a little. Since the other actors were told to ignore the person on crutches, they had set up a classic bystander effect in which it’s hard to act against the behavior of those around them.

    But still, 16%? That’s pretty disappointing. Then the researchers added just one change to the experiment. The next group of research participants were asked to engage in eight weeks of meditation training before they entered the waiting room. For eight weeks participants met regularly with Buddhist master Lama Willa Miller who offered instruction and guidance in meditation practice. Lama Miller also provided audio recordings for participants to practice at home.

    That’s it. That’s the only difference. All participants had no prior meditation experience at all. Half of the participants meditated regularly for eights weeks. The other half did not. The results? Fifty percent (50%) of the group that meditated acknowledged the woman’s distress, stood up, engaged her in conversation, helped her with the door, and offered her their chair.

    DeSteno has been researching the impact of regular mindfulness practice on human behavior for years, and what he has discovered is that simple meditation and mindfulness leads consistently to empathy and compassion for others. That compassion for others leads to a sense of self-control, willingness, and ability to make a difference to others.

    In short, then, our research suggests that mindfulness’s most profound benefit may not be the one that’s most often touted—adapting to a stressful, competitive, even unkind 24/7 world. Instead, meditation might fundamentally alter how we treat those around us.
    – David DeSteno, Ph.D.

    Don’t be put off or intimidated by the idea of meditation. You don’t have to get into the lotus position, invoke a deity, and unlock your third eye chakra. The basic ingredients of meditation are simple and readily available – even in the midst of a crazy day. You need only a quiet place, focused attention, relaxed breathing, a comfortable position, and an open attitude.

    Grab a copy of David DeSteno’s book here. It’s packed with research and ideas on the power of leveraging emotion – not just sheer willpower – to live a more connected and fulfilling life.

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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.

    You Adore Quality. So Why Consume Garbage Media?

    We revere quality. From artisanal beers and small batch kombucha to bespoke boots and $200 Diesel jeans, the world seems obsessed with quality. But if we are willing to carefully shop for only the very best cars, organic food, and hand-crafted clothes, why are we willing to consume low-quality news and information? Why do we fill our brains with crap?

    We thoughtfully admire and compare the quality of our shoes, our merino sweaters, our WarbyParker glasses, and yet gleefully scroll through the mindless waterfall of Twitter or Facebook. Most of it is crap. Most of it is designed to hijack your attention, not inform or educate. Truth is, most often the product is you.

    Media noise is echoing around us constantly. And while some of the stories are real, much of the interpretation is fiction. So while it is true that over 4000 Ukrainian soldiers died in 2019 fighting to maintain the legitimacy of their country, what that means to Russia or the rest of the world is the subject of much debate, spin and opinion.

    Have you kept track of the movies you have watched, books and newspapers you have read, or music you have listened to over the years? Probably not, yet all of that media has shaped the way you think about love, death, joy, kindness, mourning, and more. Your interpretation of relationships and the world is the culmination of years of ingesting information. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” in computer science is a reference to the fact that if you put garbage data into the equation, you get garbage results. The same is true in your head.

    It has always been true that change is the only constant, yet the pace of change continues to accelerate. Which means our own adaptation and growth is a necessary part of recreating ourselves for tomorrow. If someone describes the future to you and it doesn’t sound like fantasy or science fiction, it probably isn’t realistic. That’s how fast things are changing. It you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.

    Big data is fueling artificial intelligence at such an astonishing rate that your technical skills will likely no longer be relevant soon. Especially since AI will learn to code better and faster than a human. I was at a conference recently and maintained a continuously flowing conversation with a Chinese speaking participant by using a real-time language translation app. We never spoke in each other’s native language, yet maintained a clear conversation. It was both amazing and a little disconcerting.

    According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the most important soft skills needed now and in the foreseeable future are problem solving, innovation, creativity, dealing with ambiguity, and the ability to effectively communicate your ideas to others.

    And how will you generate powerful new ideas, learn how to effectively problem-solve, and communicate your ideas with others, unless you consume powerful new ideas and information? My recommendation is step into the Slow Media Movement. Similar to the slow food movement, but for your brain.

    • For starting your slow media journey try a media detox with Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.
    • For personal change and research data on the power of gratitude and compassion, I recommend David DeSteno, Emotional Success.
    • For organizational change and fun stories on high performing teams, read Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code.
    • For innovation and seeing the world through fresh eyes check out Stephen Shapiro’s new book, Invisible Solutions
    • For stories of radical breakthrough I recommend Safi Bacall, Loonshots.
    • And finally, I have been greatly enjoying Jill Lepore’s engrossing book on American History, These Truths.

    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.

    Gratitude Is Not About the Past. It Guides Our Future.

    We think gratitude is about the past. It’s not. Gratitude feels like an emotion in which we reflect on a past event, or previous moment, or sometimes a specific person, and what they did for us or how they made us feel.

    We think about that past place and time and person and feel a sense of appreciation and thankfulness. But gratitude isn’t just a passive, reflective experience. It’s an active driver of what we’re going to do next, how we are going to cooperate with others, treat people around us, and take action.

    Gratitude is an emotional driver that guides our future action. Gratitude may be born of a reflective and thoughtful moment, but that emotion is a psychological driver of our own future behavior toward others.

    Feeling indebted is not feeling gratitude. Feeling indebted is a feeling of Oh crap, now I have to pay them back, or What a hassle. I guess I have to go rake their leaves now. It’s obligation without the thankfulness. It’s personal demand without the joy.

    We feel grateful when we think others have invested in us and we feel a joyful calling to reciprocate. Sociologist Georg Simmel calls gratitude the “moral memory” of humankind. When we feel grateful, we are more willing to act on behalf of someone who helped us, because if we don’t, the relationship dies. That’s the nature of relationships. And we all need relationships in life to thrive.

    David DeSteno and his colleagues at Northeastern University wondered how people would behave if they could induce a feeling of gratitude in a laboratory. DeSteno and his team brought pairs of students into his lab – one was an actual research participant, the other person was secretly an actor hired by the lab team.

    Sitting side by side, researchers asked both participants to complete a long, boring task on a computer. Just as they were completing the task, the student’s computer was programmed to crash, and the participant lost all of their work. They would often curse or groan in frustration. Meanwhile, the actor happily completed the assignment, pressed a button to submit their work, and prepared to leave.

    A researcher would enter the room, see that the computer had crashed, and tell the participant that unfortunately they had to do it all over again, saying, “Sorry, there’s really no other choice.” They would then leave the room.

    The actor was coached to observe this interaction and say something like, “Well I might be late for my work-study job, but I’m pretty good at computers. Maybe I can fix it. Let me help.” The actor would then pretend to work hard at fixing the problem for a few minutes, then strike a secret set of keys, and magically ‘fix’ the problem. As you can imagine the research participant was delighted they didn’t have to do the entire onerous job over, and deeply grateful for the help.

    So, it’s no surprise what happens next. The researchers asked the actor in the experiment to later stand outside the building and pretend to be working on a school project and asking for volunteers to fill out a brief survey. The grateful research participants happily filled out the survey and spent 30% more time contributing to help.

    You’re thinking, Well sure, they’re just paying it back. Well, maybe. In the next version of the experiment, the actor standing in front of the building was a complete stranger, the research participant had never met. Yet now, newly infused with a feeling of gratitude after the savior rescued them when the computer crashed, that grateful research participant was not only more likely to volunteer to help a complete stranger, but they also spent significantly more time on the survey than the control groups who were not induced for gratitude.

    This is but one small experiment, of many, that DeSteno has conducted on the power of gratitude to cause people to be more generous, invest more time, and contribute more often to loved ones, as well as complete strangers. Gratitude doesn’t just make you happier. It also makes the world a happier place, because you will feel joyfully compelled to be helpful to others.

    “Gratitude really isn’t so much about paying it back, as it is paying it forward.
    – David DeSteno, Ph.D.”

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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.

    Stop Complaining. Take Control. Reprogram Your Brain.

    Two workers sit down and open their lunch boxes. The first one says, “I got a meatloaf sandwich for lunch. I hate meatloaf.” The next day she opens her lunchbox, and exclaims, “Another meatloaf sandwich! I can’t stand meatloaf.” On the third day, yet another meatloaf sandwich shows up in the lunchbox.

    Her friend says, “Why don’t you just ask your husband to make something else for lunch instead of complaining about it every day?”
    “I make my own lunch.” She replies.

    If you’re unhappy, change something. You are in control.

    You look out the window and see that its rainy and cold. That’s an observation. But then you say out loud, “It sucks that it’s rainy and cold today.” Now you’re adding a negative descriptor. On the other hand, if you add “Looks like winter is coming. I can’t wait to go skiing!” then you’ve added a positive twist.

    Complaining is self-reinforcing. Complaining begets complaining. And the more you complain, the more you look for things to complain about. The more we reinforce those negative neural pathways, the more available and accessible they become. Sound like anyone you know if your life?

    Even if you’re not naturally a complainer, the topics you choose to talk about can set you down a negative mental path. About 30 times a day, we complain about all kinds of things. Topics such as our weight, the weather, traffic, prices, crime, politicians, health care, government, the image of America in the world, environment pollution, and views on the police, all prompt more negative inclinations in our minds.

    Initiating discussions on these topics are more likely to put you in a bad mood, and more likely to bum out the people around you, because our moods are contagious. Constantly focusing on what goes wrong, or what you don’t like, or who offended you, or how the chef ruined your meal, simply perpetuates a conversation about what’s wrong.

    The average person has no awareness of their own complaining. According to Will Bowen, it’s like bad breath. You are only aware of someone else’s, not your own.

    This isn’t a message to shut up, and suck it up. This is a message to stick to the facts, not indignation. When you say to the waiter, “Why did you serve me cold soup?” you are saying How dare you offend me like this? When you say to the waiter, “Did you know the soup is cold?” you are saying Would you please warm this up for me? Focusing on complaining is focusing on the problem. Focusing on facts is focusing on solutions.

    Guy Winch, Ph.D. says people enjoy complaining because they find it a bonding mechanism. Winch says, “complaints can make us feel like we connect with someone because we have a mutual dissatisfaction about something.”

    The most important thing to remember is that you are responsible for making your own luck.

    Here’s a trick to get started. Take the 21-day Complaint-Free Challenge. It’s pretty straighforward. You put on the bracelet on either wrist. If you complain, you switch to the other hand. It gives you an instant awareness of your complaint level.

    And if you think your life is too stressful and crazy to start a challenge like this, I’ll tell you I’m only going to the gym after I get in shape. The time for taking charge of your life is always now.

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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.

    Yes, Life is Crazy but You Don’t Need to Be Alone

    Hi there! Sorry its taken a while to write you back. My life is insane right now. I can’t focus on anything and sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe. But you know how crazy life is these days!
    My commute is a white knuckle mess and my work is a disaster. I swear any second I’m going to get fired. Then what?! I can barely pay my bills now. But the weekends have been gorgeous, right? We took the kids hiking on Sunday to make up for my total meltdown in front of them. I’m convinced I’m a horrible parent. I know I only screamed at the kids because I can’t sleep. Anyway, enough of that. Let’s have coffee soon. I miss you.

    We don’t tell the whole truth. We conceal ourselves because we’re scared of humiliation, or shame, or burdening others with our stories. Or maybe of appearing weak. Yet when we consistently conceal our feelings, we also alienate ourselves from those around us. We start to check out. And that sense of personal isolation is increasing year over year. The result is that we are all feeling a little more detached, alone, and polarized. There is a strong correlation between that feeling of isolation and decreasing empathy around the world.

    The strength of our society, our communities, our companies, and the collaboration which drives our innovation, is all based on the power of us to connect, communicate, and ideate together. Our shared imagination is, indeed, our most powerful human trait. Our complex language allows to talk about things that do not exist at all – except in our collective imaginations.

    Things like currency, the United Nations, or Roman Gods exist only in our minds. Two lawyers who have never met, can still collaborate on the civil rights of someone arrested, because of their shared belief system. Karl Benz patented his first Motorwagon in 1886, and Mercedes-Benz today employs about 145,000 people – most of whom are complete strangers to one another, yet all united in one shared vision and goal.

    An important place to connect with others is in our communal settings, like coffee shops and grocery stores. But even simple things like grocery shopping can be outsourced and automated. The result is that our world is becoming more and more transactional and anonymous.

    It’s time to start paying attention to our social relationships the same way we pay attention to our diet and exercise.
    – Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD

    Urbanization is increasing. Now, over 82% of Americans live in urban settings. People are migrating to cities and leaving the countryside. In a strange irony, cities have a much higher percentage of people claiming to feel lonely than rural environments.

    Loneliness makes our lives shorter, our bodies more subject to disease, our minds vulnerable to depression and mental illness, and our lives generally less joyful.

    Empathy is a simple term but a complex idea. It’s about how one person responds to the emotions to another. It’s about recognizing what someone else is feeling and catching their joy, fear, or pain. Empathy is a concern for another person and desire for them to have greater well being.

    We are all leaders somewhere, in some capacity – in our book clubs, in our town halls, on our sports teams, in our families, or at work. As leaders, we all have a responsibility and opportunity to guide the culture of that environment to be more connected, more empathetic.

    Here’s a quick and fun exercise to deepen empathy on your team. Think of someone on your team and finish a sentence below. It’s not only an affirmation of the other person, it’s also an empathetic thought process.

    • Something I learned from you recently is . . .
    • I like your personality because . . .
    • I know I can count on you when . . .
    • I really appreciate it when you . . .
    • Some adjectives that describe you are . . .
    • I always am impressed by the way you . . .
    • I look forward to seeing you because . . .
      ____________________________________________________

    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.

    Yes, You’re Smart. Don’t Let It Make You Crazy.

    You’re smart. It’s normal. Most people think they are better than average. But have you ever ordered the chocolate brownie sundae explosion for dessert, and then when it arrives you realize you’re too full. And then eat it anyway because you paid $12 for it? That’s your “sunk-cost bias.” It’s the same reason a lot of really smart executives spent 27 years and 1.3 billion on the Concorde Jet before finally pulling the plug.

    We like to praise smart people. She’s sooo smart. He’s brilliant! But intelligence doesn’t insulate us from our own crazy ideas. And sometimes we use our own smarts to simply reinforce our own biases. And our biases can be pretty loco.

    Kary Mullis died recently in August, 2019. He was known as an “untamed genius”. With a brilliant and soaring mind he won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for his work developing a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which is the same technology that allows for the reality of Jurassic Park (DNA cloning), designer babies (gene manipulation), predicting Alzheimers (hereditary gene monitoring), and paternity testing.

    PCR has numerous applications across a broad number of fields from agriculture to archeology, and was named “one of the most significant scientific inventions of the 20th century.” Clearly Mullis was a heavyweight egghead.

    He was also a little nuts. He believed the ozone hole in the atmosphere was an illusion, climate change was a hoax, the HIV virus had nothing to do with AIDS, and astrology was a much better predictor of human behavior than the entire discipline of psychology. He liked to experiment with LSD, and once described his own personal alien encounter. The morning he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he got drunk and went surfing. Clearly, some of his ideas were untethered from reality.

    For years we have popularized a myth that sheer intelligence is one of the primary predictors of success. We laud the mercurial genius and praise our kids’ SAT scores. Yet that same intellectual horsepower can handicap rational thinking. Smart people can, of course, do stupid things. Smarter people tend to drink more, for example.

    IQ tests measure analytical thinking – the kind of thinking that requires deduction, reasoning, and comprehension. It’s the ability to break down complex problems into simple, solvable elements.

    But what about creative intelligence? This is your ability to conjure up a science fiction story about time travel and sorcerers. It’s your ability to imagine alternatives, see through the noise, connect the dots, write compelling ad copy, or perform a jazz solo.

    Or what about cultural intelligence? This is our ability to pick up on subtle social cues, be empathetic listeners, and notice cultural differences. Are you confident you know when to shake hands, bow, or kiss on the cheek when you greet someone from another country? Wait, is it a kiss on each cheek or just one? And do you start with the right cheek, or the left? Well, it matters because if you don’t know you might pick the wrong cheek, meet in the middle and…

    You know what practical intelligence is. It’s your “genius” neighbor who can’t screw in a lightbulb, or clean his own gutters, or put together an IKEA cabinet.

    And what happens when there is no right answer? When the answer isn’t clear. When there are many ways to solve the problem, and the decision is subjective. This requires creative problem-solving, not finding one right answer. Arguably, that genius next door with the 1550 SAT won’t be able to use her analytical intelligence when a complicated issue comes along because there are lots of ways to solve the problem, and a good answer requires thinking laterally.

    These kinds of dimensional intelligences are critical to avoiding irrational mind traps. An irrational mind trap is when we get so fixated on a particular notion that we bring our singular analytical intelligence to bear on propping up that crazy idea.

    It’s the same reason roughly 5% of us can still argue the moon landing was a hoax, and about 1.5% of us believe the world is flat.

    Argue as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong. When you listen with humility, you’re more likely to hear the other person more clearly, and more likely to allow new ideas in your head.

      ____________________________________________________

    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 Video: The Leadership Skills of the Future

    Transcript:
    – [Narrator] Do you ever wonder if your technical skills are up-to-date? Do you worry you don’t have what it takes to be a leader in this changing world? You may find the most powerful skill you can develop is not technical, but human-to-human.

    – No doubt, it is a chaotic, fast-changing time we live in. Automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, cyber threats, business bots, the internet of things. I mean, it would seem that in this age of hyper acceleration, and technology, and change, and innovation, we would need technical skills to keep up, right? Well, maybe, maybe not.

    Earlier in 2017, Deloitte completed a survey of 8,000 millennial professional workers all around the world to get their view on the future of business, and the study revealed that it’s actually not technical skills that are needed. Analytic skills, IT skills, financial skills, even language skills, all ranked below the importance of leadership, mental flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration in the workplace. See, technical skills, they can be sourced or they can be learned as needed, on demand, for specific purposes. Leadership skills are universal, they’re constant.

    That’s right, the strongest traits needed in the future are not technical skills, they are human-to-human skills. Leadership and relationships drive progress in the world and they matter today more than ever before.

    – [Narrator] Sergei’s team has been assigned a new and complex project. He realizes the project will involve several strong personalities, and there may be challenges with subject matter experts. Sergei decides to spend time at the onset of the project, talking about ground rules and offering support for team collaboration. On a scale of one to 10, how good are your human-to-human skills? Consider these four, listening, creating, critical thinking, and collaborating. Where do you most need skill development?