Friday, April 29, 2011

Random Connections … Or Are They?

It’s a quiet afternoon at Starbucks store #4853, in a community within Calgary, Alberta known as Copperfield.

It’s rarely this quiet, although I savor the moment and reflect on the time I have spent here, Starbucks being my office away from the office when I am not with clients. 

I am reflecting on the Life stories of everyone here, whether it be the GREAT staff or the customers who come and go in a steady stream.

I find it fascinating to see how the Life stories of people are brought together randomly in places like this, sometimes for a brief, temporary moment and sometimes planting a seed for a lifelong relationship.

These connections are random, aren’t they?  What value would there be in assuming they are anything but accidental, meaningless interactions? 

Assuming they are merely a collection of chance encounters, wouldn’t it be a tremendous waste of time to bother attempting to create anything from them?


But imagine, just for a moment, that none of them are random, accidental encounters.

Imagine if we were privy to the secret that every random encounter was a gift, a chance for us to create something of unlimited potential between two or more individuals.

Maybe the encounter was put before us to create a new friendship.

Maybe we are being offered a new business opportunity.

Maybe we are being offered a chance to learn something or share knowledge with someone else.

Maybe we are being provided with an opportunity for us to lend an ear to someone who needs it.

Maybe the connection has been created so that someone may lend an ear to us just when we need it.

I can’t help but think that if we looked at every chance encounter as a gift of unlimited potential, we might look at every encounter a little differently.

I’m not suggesting that we start passing out business cards to every stranger that we meet.

However,  if we were more open to hearing the “quiet voice” as we go through our busy lives, we might allow ourselves to be open to the fact that every person who crosses our path has done so for a reason.

We may not know the reason right away.  It is possible that we will never learn the reason at all.

But to acknowledge the gift of connections opens us to new possibilities that we may have closed the door on before.

When we have an opportunity to look back through our memories, every connection seems to be anything but random.

Recognizing this should remind us of the potential gift in every connection that we make.

Such a gift only matters if we accept this gift with gratitude and do something to proactively acknowledge and nurture it.

Otherwise, we may be saying “no thank you” to the most profound potential imaginable in our lives.

And who wants to do this?

So if I see you in a Starbucks (or anywhere else), please forgive me if I say “hello” and strike up a conversation.

By doing so, I am simply acknowledging and exploring the miracle of our seemingly random connection.

And the miracle of our unlimited potential.

In service and servanthood,


My Musings-in-a-Minute entry for “Random Connections … Or Are They?” can be found here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

If My Question Offends You ….

As a long-time strategy and global technology adoption architect, my opinion is often solicited, whether it be by a start-up, a not-for-profit, a Fortune 25 company or anything in-between.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for the people who solicit my help, I am known as the “asker of audacious questions”. 

People come to me expecting to ask a lot of questions, get a lot of answers and move on.

However, many are surprised that I often have more questions for them than they have for me and if they are unprepared or have weak egos, they will be offended by them.

There is a little secret about why I ask so many questions.

It’s not an attempt to assert one person’s intelligence over another.  We are all gifted in intelligence in different forms.

It’s not an attempt to embarrass them, create a contest of wills or play ego-Olympics.  What a waste of time and energy that is.

Frankly, I find everyone’s ideas fascinating.  I am curious to know if you find your own story as compelling and based on reality as you would like me to believe it is.

However, the most important reason I ask so many questions is because I believe, as I learned from Gerald Weinberg’s writings many years ago, that when people come seeking advice or a solution to a problem, often they as the subject matter expert actually have within their mind the very solution they hope to obtain from someone else’s mind.

Mr. Weinberg posited that if one listens carefully, the owner of a problem will actually state the answer in the first five minutes of dialog.  Mr. Weinberg named this rule …. gasp … wait for it … The 5 Minute Rule.  It is brilliant in its simplicity.

Of course, the owner of the problem is so buried with mental baggage that they can’t see the answer.  The people they approach for help are often so focused on proving that they are the “right person for the job” that they don’t hear it either, since in an effort to demonstrate intelligence or qualifications their own voice drowns out the person asking for help.

However, if the right questions are asked, probing the mind of the person with the problem and one listens carefully to the answers, the solution often presents itself.

People like me don’t just help others find a solution.  Often times they had it within themselves – they just needed a little help finding it, bringing it out and expressing it.

Asking appropriate questions provide an opportunity to explore within another, the strength of an idea, the thoroughness of the foundation that converts the idea into a result and the willingness of an individual to collaborate in making the idea into a reality. 

It is also an opportunity to assess how strongly someone feels about their willingness to do whatever it takes to make their dream come true.

If they get offended by a question, there is a good chance that they prefer not to deal with realities or that their ego doesn’t want to acknowledge that they may need some help.

For those people, being offended by simple questions should sound an alert that they are either not prepared for success or hungry enough for it.

And so if my question offends you, forgive me if I tell you that I won’t apologize to you. 

If you are offended,  you, me or both of us may have been saved from a disaster.

Maybe ……. unless you choose to go somewhere else where you hear what you want to hear and not what you need to hear.

Unfortunately in those situations, reality is a persistent beast.  It tells us what we need to hear repeatedly until we get it.

Or … if we ignore it too long … it gets us.

But then, you already knew that … didn’t you? :-)

In service and servanthood,


My Musings-in-a-Minute version of “If My Question Offends You ….” is the same as this one and can be found here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Army of One

“Be An Army of One” was a short-lived slogan used by the US Army in the mid 2000’s.  The vision of a single individual, bravely fighting off the hoards was thought to be an admirable vision to promote.

The great challenge with an army of one is that no matter how romantic the notion of the valiant solider holding off the masses in Rambo-like fashion is, eventually the army of one runs out of energy, resources and luck and is overrun.

The same is true in Life.  There are times when we must be the army of one, bravely standing up for what needs to be stood up for, striving for a vision that is important or courageously fighting off the hoards until the cavalry arrives.

Many times a situation calls for a leader to step forward whose vision, insight, knowledge, strengths and charisma inspire us and lead us towards whatever we define as victory.

However, once the leader has identified “the hill to be taken”, does the leader charge up the hill without support?

Not at all – because an army of one quickly becomes an army of none.

I am in the process of watching two not-for-profits and three for-profit companies die, taking tens of millions of dollars with them, because their leaders have decided to take the hill on their own.

Meanwhile, the talented, enabled, empowered members of their team who would help them take the hill are waiting for their orders or have been ordered to stand down until needed.  Some have gone AWOL with the hope of finding a better leader.

Perhaps the leaders of these organizations have plans to name the hill after themselves when they take it.  Owning the credit is something their ego-based existence dreams of, even as they deny it to themselves and others.

The thing that these leaders miss is that if they really want to plant the flag at the top of the hill, then they need to take the hill as a team.

Every one of their team members bring strengths, insights, talents and knowledge to the table that will help the team take the hill together.

Leaders who don’t effectively use their teams to be all they can be in taking the hill together soon discover an interesting lesson.

When it’s you against the world, the safest bet is on the world.

Leaders have a choice – they can plant the flag on top of the hill when the team succeeds together.

Or they can choose to be buried at the bottom of it.

The choice seems pretty obvious if the focus is on the ultimate result rather than the promotion of someone’s ego.

But then again, if it were so obvious, I wouldn’t be watching these leaders storm the hill by themselves right now, would I?

Be an army of one when you need to be – but know when the cavalry is needed to carry the day.

The result will be something to celebrate together.

In service and servanthood,


My Musings-in-a-Minute entry for “An Army of One” is the same as this one and can be found here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I Met a Man On a Journey

As I sat in Mass this morning, I happened to catch sight of a middle-aged Asian gentleman with a slight limp.

The origin of his limp, which he plays down, includes a complex voyage that started in an Asian nation in turmoil in the 60’s, hiding from troops from both sides of the conflict, coming to Canada as a boat person in the 70’s and devoting himself to service to others in the 21st century.

He has been on quite a journey up to now, but you will never hear any stories from him.  His humility prevents him from sharing his story and so you must hear his story from others.

As I thought about his journey, I couldn’t help but think of the journey that everyone in that church was on and the stories they could tell.

Stories of overcoming difficulty, of sharing with others in need, of receiving help when needed most, of laughter and loss, of victory and defeat.

Some of these stories are almost too incredible to believe; stories that if presented as a Hollywood movie would invite many to scoff at the impossibility of such perceived fiction.

And yet these stories happened.

Stories that could make the most hardened person laugh in delight ….

… the thickest-skinned weep …

… the most down-trodden see hope …

… the most negative person see potential …

… the most proud feel humbled …

… the most humble feel exalted.

Every day, billions of people set about creating stories and participating in them, each collection of stories appearing to be its own unique collection.

Despite our differences of genetics, culture, race, religion, creed, careers and social status, it is our Life stories that define who we are and create the potential for what we can be.

In our busy Life, it is easy to forget the journey that others are on.  Our own journey either overloads us with amazing joy or threatens to overwhelm us with its crushing challenges.

It is easy to forget others in need when our world is filled with plenty.  Conversely, it is easy to feel alone when we perceive the rest of the world as having moved on without us or not pausing to lend us a hand.

However, as we go through Life creating new stories (or reliving old ones), there is an important thing we shouldn’t forget.

Our stories are actually not individualized collections of stories at all.

They are in fact one very large story with many perceived insights into the same story.  Everything we think, say and do in the process of creating our perceived individual stories contributes to the story of others, including many people we will never meet.

And by the same token, their experiences of triumph, challenge, victory, defeat and love influence our Life Story, even if we are not aware of it.

Such is the Story of Our Journey.

I met a man on a journey. 

It wasn’t his journey to share with me. 

Nor was it mine to share with him.

It was ours to create together.

In service and servanthood,


My Musings-in-a-Minute version of “I Met a Man On a Journey” is the same as my detailed blog and can be found here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Passion is Great … Most Times

I have been watching the Canadian election unfold on Facebook, Twitter and other media and frankly, the process that is evolving is somewhat disappointing.

The passion that both candidates and voters are exhibiting is quite cool.  Having a passion for what one does and believes in is an essential part of Life.  In some parts of Canada, such as my native Newfoundland and Labrador, politics is right up there with religion as a way of Life.

However, once one gets past the passion in search of the facts that can make a voter an informed one, things become a little murky.

I have asked different people in various forums to explain how a policy by insert federal leader name here would be paid for or is better than an opponent’s idea and in over 90% of the cases the result is the same.

No matter whose policy I name, the people defending that person deliver a litany of personal remarks against the followers of any of the other leaders.

But alas, very rarely does anyone just answer the question in a fact-based way.

This suggests that the rabid followers of the different political parties don’t know the facts (either that or the facts are so secret that the rest of us aren’t privy to them).

It has often been said that people who don’t know the facts or run out of facts or justification for an opinion often resort to personal attacks or insults with the hope of bullying their opponent into submission.

This happens in business, politics and Life itself – a sad, unfortunate truth that prevents us from reaching our ultimate potential in so many aspects of society.  Many times, the loudest person carries the day over the smartest one.

The great challenge is that when we use passion alone to steamroll over people instead of choosing to be informed and using this knowledge to convince others, there’s a good chance we turn many people away whom we may have convinced to become a partner or collaborator with us.

When this happens, the result we are trying to bully others into creating for us becomes even more elusive.

And instead of creating a desired result, we may end up creating the very result that we complained so hard about needing to avoid in the first place.

Ahhhhhhh …. I really am a dreamer, am I not … to be trapped in the belief of a utopian world where:

  • We seek knowledge to be informed and educated …
  • We use logic and facts to respectfully make a point or to convince an opponent …
  • We value the opinions of others, even when we disagree with them …
  • We embrace the notion that no matter what happens, we are all in this together, to make our world a better one for all of us …
  • We find a way to wrap passion around all of this so that we push ourselves and others to be the best we can be without wasting our potential by crushing each other.

I guess I am more an idealist than I thought. :-)

As a Canadian who has lived abroad for a long time, the one thing I worry about is the level of disrespect I see between Canadians who are passionately promoting their choice while using their passion to trash the opposition.

Facts are often absent or seem irrelevant – steamrolling others seems to carry more weight.

Canadians often espouse their passion but also their humility, pointing at their neighbors to the south and saying “thank goodness we don’t act like them at election time”.  Hmmmmm …. are we sure about that?

I believe that the longer one stays uninformed about the workings of the world, the greater the chance the world will move in a direction that we may not be happy with.  By not choosing to understand it, our ability to influence it diminishes over time.

And this above all, worries me.

How about you?

In service and servanthood,


My Musings-in-a-Minute entry for “Passion is Great … Most Times” is the same as this entry and can be found here.