Monday, January 30, 2012

Think Week–The Importance of Quiet Time

When I worked with Microsoft some years ago, I was fascinated and privileged to participate in a process called Think Week.

Think Week was a process that Bill Gates embraced, whereby he would disconnect from most sources of information (or interference) and would pore over technical papers submitted by Microsoft employees.  The thought was that quiet thinking time was a valuable means of recharging and receiving insight into what should be embraced next personally and professionally.

While I was initially fascinated by this, I have since discovered the power of following such a process. 

Many of us are bombarded daily with information ranging from the valuable to the mundane and even the useless.  Many of us do our part to contribute to this information stream, also making contributions that range from the valuable to the useless.

Social media has it all for us.

Sometimes it has too much.

We all know that an automobile serves us best when we maintain it well.  Low-quality gasoline, poor food choices, lack of maintenance and excessive wear-and-tear eventually cause the automobile to be less reliable and if we push it hard enough, it may fail completely.

Our brain is very similar.  When we overload it with an over-abundance of information, whether it be valuable or not, eventually it begins to not fire on all cylinders.

When that happens, one of the greatest gifts we have, the ability to think clearly, to reason, to plan and to execute our plan, begins to sputter.  Eventually we are not living up to our potential but we don’t realize it because we are too busy trying to stay on top of the information stream or we are too busy trying to show others that we are able to contribute as effectively to social media as anyone else.

Too many have become lost, using social media awareness and contribution as an indicator of how much they matter in the world.

For this reason, I have embraced the notion of a semi-annual retreat from social media.  That’s right – no Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, foursquare or any other forms of social media for a week (sometimes longer).  I even limit email as much as I can.

While I am grateful for the many social interactions that I experience daily, my brain eventually reaches a point where it needs quiet time to understand what it should be doing and how it should be doing it.

Truthfully, there are also times I get tired of hearing myself speak and I appreciate the quiet from within as I’m sure some of my colleagues appreciate as well. :-)

Unlike many, I don’t think the world will come to an end if I cease to exchange information with my many wonderful social media connections for a week or so.

For many of my colleagues who have tried a week (or more) of quiet time, where one gets to reflect on past, present and future, they have found it to be a powerful, rejuvenating experience.

And it reminds them that they are in control of the information around them, not the other way around.

Blaise Pascal once said:

All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.

It is intriguing how many people cannot exist without social media, cannot go an hour without a peek at how their Facebook friends are doing or to see if someone retweeted their latest tweet on Twitter.

They have reduced their Life meaning to how social media defines it for them.

Perhaps if more people took some time for themselves, we would have a better sense of who we are, why we are here and what we are meant to achieve.

Maybe if we took a little more time for ourselves, we would have a better sense of what our Legacy is and how we are creating it.

Susan Taylor once said:

“We need quiet time to examine our lives openly and honestly. . . spending quiet time alone gives your mind an opportunity to renew itself and create order.”

I believe she is right.

See you in a week …. give or take.

Create a great day!

In service and servanthood,


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reasons or Excuses?

Most of us have plenty of reasons why we don’t get to the things we know we should get to.  Work pressures, family obligations and a tangled jumble of other responsibilities prevent us from getting to what we need to get to meet our obligations to ourselves and others.

All valid reasons, I’m sure.

Or are they?

I caught this article in the Calgary Herald this morning about Tim Barber, a homeless man with an addiction to alcohol and crack who has decided enough is enough.

With a partner, Chris Morris, who has also experienced significant struggle in his Life, they have decided to launch a food delivery service in downtown Calgary.  While still early in inception, they have already managed to land some regular customers and both are about to leave the ranks of the homeless.

As Chris Morris notes in the Herald piece:

“We’re having a lot of fun with this and it’s really helped my self-confidence.”

They have discovered that when a desire to create a better Life for one’s self becomes stronger than the demons that are holding them back, great things can be accomplished.

I think they are also about to discover that when someone can rebuild their lives as these two gentlemen appear to be doing, that they become an inspiration to many others, proving that no matter how difficult things look, there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

They have definitely inspired me this morning.

So if you’re in downtown Calgary and need food delivered, give Tim at Timmy’s Only a call at 403-465-5232.

You’ll both be glad you did.

As for me, my reasons for not getting a few things done just got reclassified as excuses and I will address them.

How about you?

Create a great day!

In service and servanthood,


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ethics and the Courage To Do What’s Right

On Friday night, I happened to watch Courageous, a powerful movie from the makers of Fireproof about the idea that “honor begins at home”.  I highly recommend the movie although I will warn viewers, even big tough men like myself, that a box of Kleenex will come in handy in a couple of places.

After the movie was finished, I reflected on the importance of honor and ethics in my professional career.  Many times over the years, I had to choose between doing the right thing (potentially impacting myself and my family in a significant, negative way) versus turning a blind eye to a situation in order to “play it safe”.

At one client on Wall St, a household-name in the banking industry, a number of “star players” inside the Bank had been running a significant pornography operation on Bank servers (unbeknownst to senior Bank officers).  So the same infrastructure that ran online banking for customers also provided pornography services to other clients.

When I stumbled upon this, it seemed to me that the obvious thing to do was to point this out and have it shut down.  However, I was immediately cautioned against this by Bank staff, suggesting that since these guys were “the stars” of the organization, the Bank would punish whistleblowers in an effort to cover up the situation while allowing the whistleblowers to go about their business.

So the message was:

It doesn’t matter what you believe is right. Shut up and suck it up like everyone else and everything will be ok for everyone.  If you speak up, the only person who will be punished is you.

It was a time when I couldn’t really afford to be without work and so for a moment, I was stymied as to what to do.  If I did what I knew was right, I risked losing it all and putting my family in financial trouble.

If I chose to do nothing, income would continue to flow but I knew that I would carry an ever-growing burden that I was doing something against my own beliefs.

In the end, my belief in doing the right thing overpowered my fear that I would fall into catastrophic financial disaster and I blew the whistle on these guys.  I stepped out in faith, believing that ultimately good things happen to good people.

The right people heard the message, did the right thing, the pornography sites were shut down, the “stars” were dismissed and I was thanked profusely for having done the right thing.

It also produced many years of abundance, when oftentimes the tie breaker between myself and other candidates competing for the same business was my high level of personal ethics and my courage to do the right thing in difficult times.

As I reflected on this event and other experiences over the years, both my own and those of my colleagues, I realize that the structural tension of “doing the right thing” today is more difficult than ever.

We have many competing pressures in today’s world, not the least of which is taking care of ourselves and our families in challenging times. 

Meanwhile, the professional world is filled with people who use various of intimidation, including reminding people of potential financial or reputational impact if they insist on following their ethics to do “the right thing”.

But as I think back to many situations where I was called to make difficult decisions based on my own ethics and suffered through endless sleepless nights agonizing about “should I do this or should I not”, I realize a few important things.

While the transition through such times was difficult, the long-term rewards were far greater than the short-term “carrot” of keeping the pay check coming in or avoiding a bully who threatened to slam my reputation in an effort to force my compliance to his / her agenda.

Equally important, doing the right thing allows me to stand proud, knowing I did the right thing when many people admitted that they would have “sucked it up” just to keep a pay check coming in, even if they felt guilty about doing it.  I was true to myself, a principle that brings great personal peace to one’s Life.

Thirdly, there were many people who supported my decisions – I was never alone.  Neither are you.

Finally, there are many who look to us for guidance and inspiration.  Our actions not only impact our Life but the lives of many who see us as a model to be emulated …. so we should choose wisely.

Maybe doing the right thing here and there doesn’t mean much to some people.

However, over a lifetime, little things here and there add up to a lot.

It forms the basis for how we will be remembered long after we are gone.

And clients who engage with me know what the rules are before we engage.  I am flexible in every aspect of negotiation and execution except when it comes to my ethics, morals and values.

I’m not perfect by a long shot and have made my share of mistakes.

However, when my end-of-days has arrived, I will have done my best to say that I lived a life with no regrets and I will face my judgement knowing that I did the best I could with what I had.

Are you willing to stand up for what you believe in or are you one of those people who constantly brings the tension home to your family or to your friends at the coffee shop, constantly expressing frustration over a situation while doing nothing about it …..

…. as the structural tension between knowing the right thing and doing the right thing slowly tears you (and potentially others) apart.

In difficult times, it is important to remember that you are never alone nor are you the first person to experience what you are experiencing.  Many people have lived through what you are experiencing and are thriving as a result of the experience.

And knowing this, remember also that the world is waiting for more people to do the right thing, based on a higher level of ethics, morals and values.

The question is …. what are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,


PS  I wouldn’t be half the person I am had it not been for great mentors in my Life.  I was thinking about a great mentor of mine, Richard Giordanella, whom I last saw 5 years ago just before he died of cancer.  He was a huge proponent of living by a strong code of ethics.  I share a blog entry here that I wrote about him a few years ago.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Be Good To Yourself

I was listening to Journey’s “Be Good To Yourself” the other day and the power of the lyrics struck me as being incredibly relevant in the 21st century.

If you’ve never heard the song before, here are the lyrics:

Runnin’ out of self-control
Gettin’ close to an overload
Up against a no win situation

Shoulder to shoulder, push and shove
I’m hangin’ up my boxin’ gloves
I’m ready for a long vacation

Be good to yourself when, nobody else will
Oh be good to yourself
You’re walkin’ a high wire, caught in a cross fire
Oh be good to yourself

When you can’t give no more
They want it all but you gotta say no
I’m turnin’ off the noise that makes me crazy

Lookin’ back with no regrets
To forgive is to forget
I want a little piece of mind to turn to


So many people I run into in the course of my Life could stand to listen to this song carefully and strive to live by the message contained within.

Yes, I realize that we all have many competing obligations, pressures and priorities in our lives, pulling us in a myriad of directions and threatening to topple us at any moment.

But many of the situations we find ourselves in exist because we allow them to exist.

There are many times when we find ourselves being pummelled by people who strive to execute their personal or professional agenda at the expense of our own lives - people who find our ethics, values and beliefs to be a threat to their own intentions and who will do anything to accomplish their intentions.

Our lives get very complicated when we allow such people to steamroll over us.

Maybe it’s because we prefer to avoid confrontation and will sacrifice our very soul to avoid it.

Maybe we’ve been taught from an early age to try to please everyone (often at our own expense) or to follow the belief that “turning the other cheek” is always the best policy.

Sadly for some, their ethics, morals and values are actually fluid (and often for sale) and they go with the flow with the rationalization that “if I allow this to happen, then I can benefit by ……”, not realizing that they have traded short-term gain for long-term pain.

Meanwhile, people lose a little piece of themselves every day, becoming more and more disenchanted with their Life as they realize they are not living the Life they had hoped to be living.

Many of these people know deep inside that they have the ability to change their Life but for some painful reason that they can’t put their finger on (or they are afraid to follow through on), they just don’t get it done.

And this makes their pain feel even more intense and the solution seem even more elusive.

Maybe … just maybe …. if we realized our incredible potential and our responsibility towards living up to that potential, we would say “I stand for something better and deserve better treatment than this”.

Imagine a Life where we learn to say “no” more often when others attempt  to bury what we represent under their selfish intentions and where we take a stand that represents the ethics, morals and values that we believe are important to ourselves and to the world.

Maybe at this point, we would realize how important it is to “Be Good To Yourself”.

Do you know how important it is?

What are you doing about it … right now?

In service and servanthood,



After I posted this, I found this piece of research, from an article by Chuck Colson, to be interesting and somewhat related:

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” researchers Rob Willer, Ko Kuwabara and Michael Macy devised a set of ingenious experiments that showed how distressingly easy it is to make people go against what they believe to be true.

One of the experiments involved wine-tasting, in which participants evaluate both the wine and one another’s wine-tasting skills. The participants were given three samples of wine. In reality, all three samples were from the same bottle. One had even been tainted with vinegar!

Before they delivered their evaluation, they listened to other participants, who were plants, who praised the vinegar-laced wine as the best. Half of the participants went against their own taste buds and joined in praising the vinegary concoction.

Even more interesting is what happened next. Another participant, who was also a plant, told the truth about the wines. But when it came time for the participants to evaluate each other, some of them were permitted to do so confidentially, and the others had to do so publicly.

The ones who gave their evaluations confidentially praised the truth-teller. But those who had to evaluate the truth-teller publicly actually turned on him and gave him low marks.

The researchers call this phenomenon “false enforcement,” which they define as “the public enforcement of a norm that is not privately endorsed.”

What sustains the norm isn’t its popularity, much less its validity, but instead the desire to “avoid a negative social judgment from one’s peers,” according to the report. Important words.

And the desire to “avoid a negative social judgment” feeds what German sociologist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann called the “spiral of silence.”

Simply stated, out of a desire to avoid reprisal or isolation, people go along with what they think is the popular opinion — even if they object to that opinion personally. Instead of voicing their objections, they remain silent.

Monday, January 9, 2012

When In Doubt, Ask - The Answer May Surprise You

I found myself in a difficult situation over the weekend, wondering how to respectfully, professionally resolve an impasse that was holding a project back from its true success potential.

As I was mulling over this impasse, I received an interesting email.  I’ve changed the private information.

Hi Harry,

My name is “C”, I live in “State” - last September 11th, our daughter and my mother went to see the San Francisco Giants play in SF. As a tribute they gave each person at the stadium a 9/11 Remembrance Poster with someones name on it that was killed on 9/11. My daughter received Narender Nath's. I've been doing some digging and it appears that you knew him. I'm hoping you could help me find an address for his sister, who has posted several messages on various websites.

We framed the poster and it has become a permanent picture on our wall in our mountain home. I had taken some pictures of the poster and was hoping to send those pictures to his family (from “State”). Not only is it hanging on the wall, but I've printed off his obituary, etc. and it is a conversation piece for all who visit. I guess it's our memorial from 3000 miles away.

Thanks you for your time.



I have written about Narender many times, including in this blog entry.

The timing of this email intrigued me.

Narender was a man of high ideals who believed in the power of doing the right thing, even when it was painful or difficult.  He believed that corrective action delivered with respect trumped ignoring the need to do so just because one didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or make waves.  He knew how to deliver such action in a way that was respectful to all, with an eye towards long-term win/wins above short-term pain avoidance.

As I contemplated this email, my thoughts turned to Narender, replaying many of our shared times in my mind and as I did so, I could almost hear Narender counselling me about what I should do in my current situation.

I followed the advice I believe he would have given me.  Who knows where it will go but I did the best I could, with respect to others and with a mutual long-term win as the center of my proposal.

Some people will think that an email like the one above is creepy or inappropriate.  They may wonder why someone would bother to frame the poster of a complete stranger on their wall.  They might also think that the idea that this email could trigger a solution to my problem would be absurd.

Others might see it differently, thinking it intriguing or moving that someone who is no longer with us can impact a complete stranger in such a powerful way or help someone solve a problem without actually being here to help solve it.

Personally, I believe in the latter.

Narender always had a positive influence on everyone around him.  Even more than 10 years after he was taken from us, he continues to have such an influence, a testament to the legacy of a man known for the hearts he touched.

At a moment when I was asking no one in particular about how to deal with a difficult situation, an answer appeared. In addition to that answer, two strangers have been connected and have an opportunity to positively influence each other.

That’s just like Narender – always looking for a way to help others.

Which begs the question …….. was this email:

coincidence or random chance?

a supernatural connection?

a result influenced by the Divine?

Do any of us really know?

More importantly, does it really matter?

Or is it more important to be cognizant of our Life legacy and the impact that we have on others, including those we have not seen in a long time or may never have met at all?

I know what Narender’s answer would be.

In service and servanthood,


Here is a copy of the poster that “C” is referring to.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Predictions for 2012

As someone who has a background in the prediction of human behavior, I am often asked for my predictions on various things.  With that thought in mind, I share a few of my predictions for 2012.


In an effort to save time and money, the Oscars and the Federal election will be moved to the same date so that all actors can be rewarded at the same time.

Julian Assange will be appointed as an election consultant to both the GOP and the Democrats.  To level the playing field, he will reveal their innermost secrets and ideas to the world and the American people will be so afraid that they will demand that government be dissolved for fear of what could happen next as a result of either party getting elected.

In response to this event, Hollywood will rise to the occasion and create a fictitious character who embodies the perfect ideals of a President.  This fictitious, computer-generated character will win the next Federal election in a landslide but will not be able to take office when a hard-drive that wasn’t backed up fails in an unexplained fashion.

Space Exploration

The Chinese government, in an effort to escalate its space program and in particular, its moon-landing program, will discover that advances in the program can be achieved much faster when human safety is reduced in priority.  Rumors of a 40-mile long slingshot will continue to be played down as the year develops.

Alien beings from the planet Erewhon will land on the White House lawn and offer us the solutions to world hunger, disease, pestilence, warfare and everything else that dogs mankind.  In a gesture of galactic peace and gratitude, we will nuke their starships and congratulate ourselves on having avoided a potentially catastrophic advancement in human culture.


It will be revealed that Al Gore’s original title for his work on the environment was going to be “A Convenient Way to Make a Billion Dollars”.  When told that such a title would raise eyebrows and could possibly become “an inconvenient truth”, an idea was born.

Despite fears of a pending oil shortage, we will finally admit by year’s end that the greatest resource shortage we have in the world are qualified people who care and are in a position to make a difference in regards to the challenges we face in the world.  In order to hide the truth, those in power will continue to redirect the public’s attention to other resource issues.  Wars with no discernable purpose or measurable outcomes are particularly useful in situations such as this.


A tablet will be found in an ancient Mayan archeological dig that will later be translated to read "Fun Things To Do With Calendars and Other Practical Jokes".

Also contained within the same tablet will be a short piece that describes how to pretend how you have achieved success in all areas of your life when you haven’t and how you can make money selling this “Secret” to others.

But seriously …..

I’m just having some fun, of course.

But there are a lot of things that are equally easy to predict.

Our financial crisis will continue to worsen, despite the assurances of politicians who are trying to project a sense that everything is under control.  This is important to politicians so that everything doesn’t come apart – at least on their watch.  Our current challenges, many of which have been brought about by uncontrolled spending have been solved by … yup … more uncontrolled spending.

More than 24,000 children under the age of 5 will continue to die daily from tainted water, a problem easily solved but a problem that doesn’t have enough pizazz to be worthy of tackling.

But it’s not all bad …..

Also equally easy to predict …. people from many walks of life will continue to dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others and to improving the state of the planet-at-large.

However, unless we all step up and help these dedicated, heart-filled people to make a positive impact on the planet, then in fact, there won’t be much new and noteworthy for 2012.

Yes, we will have new versions of iPads that can read our minds, some new electric cars that may or may not burst into flames when using them, airport scanners that can identify what we ate for breakfast (and potentially reject us as a hazardous flatulence threat) and the Cleveland Browns will win the Super Bowl. 

Every set of predictions has to have an outlandish claim mixed in somewhere, right? Can you tell which one is outlandish?

But much of the world will be same-old, same-old.  The wealthy will get wealthier, the poor will be left even further behind, many corporations will continue to flaunt morals, ethics and even the legal system to improve their bottom line, we will continue to not hold politicians accountable for their actions or results and another year of opportunity to make a difference for others will have passed us by.

And yes … that new exercise video that you bought to revamp your life forever will more-than-likely find its way into the recycle bin by April.

I’m not one of those uber optimists who believes we can save everyone.

But I do believe we can do much better in 2012 to help those in need and to demand better results from those who keep promising them.

What do you think?

Wishing you a prosperous, impact-filled 2012.

In service and servanthood,