For three months now, I’ve meditated for twenty minutes every day.
Personally this is a big deal, as I’ve struggled to maintain a regular meditation practice for decades. I’ve resolved countless times to meditate daily, and fallen off the mindfulness wagon over and over again.
As an example, here’s what I recently learned while leading a workshop.
Trying new things and noticing what happens During the workshop:
I used a projected countdown timer and a 90-second piece of music to get participants back in their seats on time at the end of a short mid-workshop break. Outcome? It worked really well!
While facilitating body voting (aka human spectrograms) I verbally stated each question we were exploring. Outcome? It seemed like a few participants didn’t hear or understand what I’d said until I repeated myself. Verbal communication didn’t work so well.
I wore a red hat when I was explaining/debriefing, and took it off when I was facilitating experiences. Outcome? This was the second time I’ve tried this approach, and I’m still not sure whether it’s effective/useful or not.
When you pursue risky learning, some things work while some don’t — and for some, the jury is still out. Whatever happens, you can learn something!
Soliciting and being open to observations and feedback During the workshop:
Some of the questions I asked during body voting asked individuals to come up with a numeric answer, and then join a group line in numerical order. Someone had the bright idea of showing their answer with fingers raised above their head, so it was easy for others to see where to go in the line. Many participants copied the idea, which sped up forming the human spectrograms. I’d never seen this done before, and will adopt this simple and effective improvement.
I love to use a geographic two-dimensional human spectrogram to allow participants to quickly discover others who lives/work near them. The wide U.S. map I projected did not correspond to the skinny width of the room. A participant suggested that we rotate where we stood by 90º. I tried her suggestion and found that it was easy for people to move to their correct positions. Duly noted!
At the end of the workshop, I solicited public feedback at a group spective. One participant shared frustration with my verbal statements of the body voting questions, and suggested that the questions also be projected simultaneously. An excellent refinement that I will incorporate in future.
Notice how participants were able to point out deficiencies in processes I used, and simultaneously came up with some fine solutions. Peer learning in action!
Final thoughts I’ve been designing and facilitating participant-driven and participation-rich meetings for 25 years, and many participants have been kind enough to share that I’m good at what I do (check out the sidebar testimonials).
But I don’t want to rest on my laurels. I’m no Casals, but, like him, I keep practicing, learning, and — hopefully — making progress.
“What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?”
When this question came up on Quora.com, lots of good and useful answers were given, but they all seemed to be external answers. For me, with more than 60 years of programming experience, the one thing that made me a better programmer than most was my ability and willingness to examine myself critically and do something about my shortcomings. And, after 60 years, I’m still doing that.” —Jerry Weinberg, What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?
Being continually willing and able to notice our shortcomings and concentrate on working on them may be the most effective strategy we can use to get better at anything we do.
Image by Jonathunder (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
If you know your mission — you do have a mission, right? — then your long-term strategy becomes much clearer. You know where you want to go; now, all that remains is how to get there.
Of course, life is rarely that simple.
There’s always that must-do-now stuff that gets in the way. As Seth Godin puts it:
“This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it’s always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.” —Seth Godin, The interim strategy
How can we stay focused on our mission when there’s always something demanding our attention right now? There are four core steps:
Notice what’s going on. (“A week has gone by, and I’ve spent fifteen minutes, tops, working on my mission.”) Sometimes this is the hardest step. We can’t change when we are unaware or avoiding the changes we really need/want to make.
Make a plan. End/delegate/deprioritize the short term stuff that’s getting in the way. Set goals for your mission-related work.
Carry out your plan. Sometimes this is the hardest step.
Steps 1-3 aren’t a one-time process. Loop ’em. Keep noticing, making new plans, and acting on them. That’s how you’ll grow and, potentially, succeed in your mission.
As Seth concludes his aforementioned post: “The interim is forever, so perhaps it makes sense to make act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.”
And remember this.
If you remain continually immersed in interim work, executing your Mission becomes Impossible.
Dateline Washington, DC. May 17, 2013: Congressional representatives today raised concerns about citizens’ ability to see what is going on by using their “eyes”, two organs buried inside most people’s heads.
“Forget Google Glass,” said Rep Joe Barton, “what if the average US Citizen obtains the ability to ‘see’ what is going on in their immediate vicinity? All hell could break loose. The privacy implications of this ‘vision thing’ are staggering and must immediately be addressed by a high-level governmental commission with the authority to put a stop to it.”
Rep Joe Barton then proceeded to tie a bright red bandana around his “eyes” which he said would stay in place “until the emergency is over.”
After I met Glenn Thayer on a warm Colorado evening a couple of months ago, I kept remembering a story that he told me about a celebrity charity event he was emceeing. This puzzled me, because the story had no obvious connection to my life or work.
Recently, I began to understand why his yarn kept popping into my head. I’ll post about Glenn’s story another time, but today I’ll write about how to learn from stories like Glenn’s.
Every day, the people in your life tell you personal stories. They might be a family anecdote, a play-by-play reenactment of last night’s game, a tale of frustration at work, or a child’s outpouring about an incident on the school playground: a unique stream of the tragic, the lighthearted, the passionate, and the mundane. Most of these stories pour through your consciousness, hover there for moments, and are gone. A few resonate in some mysterious way and stay with you for years. All of them influence you. And some of them can teach you valuable lessons—if you pay attention to them.
How can you learn from personal stories? Some, of course, have straightforward learning implications. For example, a relative’s harrowing tale of a ruined vacation due to last minute illness may encourage us to take out travel insurance, or a friend’s clear description of diagnosing a car problem may illuminate what a timing belt is and does. And here are some more, often poignant examples of learning from stories.
But what about stories that teach us important lessons in subtler ways? Sometimes we hear stories that touch us, but we don’t really know why. What can we learn when this happens?
If you are interested in exploring what you can learn from such stories, here are the three steps you must take. They may seem strange suggestions, but I vouch for their effectiveness if you are prepared to do the work.
Notice the important story Unfortunately, there’s no universal metric that can tell us whether a particular story can teach us something that matters, because every story is contextually unique and each of us has unique lessons to learn. So, if you hear so many stories, how do you know which ones are important?
There isn’t a rational way to notice important stories. Instead, you need to cultivate your emotional intelligence, or, if you prefer the term, your intuition.
Important stories affect you at an emotional level. You live in a world that pays lip service to the rational, but, unless you’re a sociopath, you have emotional responses to your life experiences. The trick to noticing that a story is important to you is to detect that you have responded emotionally in a surprising way. An important story evokes an emotional response, and if that response does not make sense to you, there is gold you can mine from it. Glenn’s Colorado story brought up an emotional response that I didn’t understand. Noticing was all I needed to proceed to the next step.
Capture the story Perhaps it’s my age, but I find that if I don’t capture the essence of the story so I can recall the details, the tale I’ve heard disappears, like smoke, from my memory within a day, never to reappear. So I carry around 3 x 5 cards to jot down stories and ideas I have. (I’ve also started using Simplenote on my iPad for the same purpose.) When I heard Glenn’s story, I wrote “Do you have a handler?” on a card, which was enough for me to remember his story until I got home and added the phrase plus a few notes to a file I keep of potential topics for blog posts. Now the heart of his story was captured in a place where I would see it weekly whenever I was thinking about a blogging topic.
Tease out the meaning Teasing out the meaning of an important story is a creative exercise. When I came across Glenn’s story in my blog post pile last week, I decided to spend some time musing about it. I’ve found that the two best ways for me to go into a creative place involve either:
Performing mindless physical activity, like stacking wood, going for a walk, washing dishes, or taking a shower.
Listening to loud music that I like.
while daydreaming about the topic in question.
Your methods for stimulating your creative juices are probably different. When you’re ready, find a time and place when you won’t be interrupted and apply them. Here are some tips for making the most of your creative exploration of the story:
Relax, don’t have any preconceptions about what might happen—watch and listen to whatever drifts through your mind.
Don’t censor thoughts and images that come up, just make note of them. I like to have a pen and paper available to record what comes up.
Concentrate on the non-rational; you can unleash your analytical powers once your daydreaming phase is over.
Don’t expect to unlock all the secrets of the important story in one session. You may want to return to it in a few days to see what’s jelled, what seems important, and what now feels superficial.
I’ve learned some important things about myself and my life by examining stories that have power for me. I hope the techniques I’ve described are useful for you too.
How do you make sense of important personal stories you’ve heard? Do you have examples you’d like to share?