Monday, April 24, 2017

The Innocence of a Child–Seeing Unlimited Possibilities

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. - Friedrich Nietzsche

There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men. - John Locke

When I was a child, I was challenged with a restless mind – a mind that roamed over an unlimited number of academic subjects.  I couldn’t acquire enough knowledge, having read entire encyclopedia sets, studied military history and Roman and Greek history by the time I was 10 years old.

It was a mind that dared to dream, when being on a breakaway during a hockey game on the marsh, I could imagine that I had just taken a pass from Montreal Canadiens’ great Larry Robinson in game 7 of the finals against our archenemy, the Boston Bruins.

It created without fear of embarrassment of what others thought when I played with my Tonkas in the the sandbox, making the all-important sounds of engines, signal lights (dinker, dinker, of course) and even vocalizing the exchanges between the “drivers” of the trucks.

It created adventure where at the age of 7, I wandered around the car ferry John Guy on trips to my ancestral home of Bell Island as I pretended I was a member of the crew monitoring the status of the ferry.  It didn’t seem obvious to me at the time that adults observing me knew that I wasn’t a member of the crew.

My childhood wasn’t perfect or without pain, but few people’s youth is.

As I reflected on these and other thoughts yesterday during Quiet Hour (a personal daily ritual of reflection, contemplation and planning), I emerged and presented a challenge to all of my teams.  In a nutshell, the challenge was this:

Describe a favorite thing you did as a child or a favorite memory that still brings happiness – something that made you come alive then and that brought joy to your childhood.

There was, as always, a method to my madness in instigating such an unusual conversation.

With the obvious exceptions of children who bore great pain and anguish in their childhood, many of us are blessed to have lived pretty decent childhoods.  We saw the world differently as children.

We were likely less biased, judgmental and skeptical (unless poorly formed by our parents or scarred by difficulty).

We were often less fearful and more open to adventure and possibility (again, with the same caveats).

We were (hopefully but not always) more accepting of others.

Most of us dared to dream impossible things for our futures.

And yet somewhere between then and now, many of us have acquired the baggage of fear of others, fear of how others perceive us, distrust, diminished spirit of adventure, diminished belief in potential, fear (not just understanding) of where the world is going, fear of disappointing others and a slew of other concerns, all of which have created a great disconnect between how we imagined our potential and how we live today.

All because we have allowed the difficulties of Life or the diminished outlook and beliefs of others to impair how we see our own potential, gifts and dreams.

I have told a lot of people over the years that I don’t care what others think of what I say or do (many of my colleagues marvel over this – I don’t know why).  I don’t present this as a license to hurt others or a right to run roughshod over people, places or things.  In fact, my belief that someday I will stand in judgment for everything I say or do prevents me from doing this.

However, I have found that the sharpest criticisms (excluding people correcting poor behavior on my part) of what I have said or done in the past are often from the mouths of people going nowhere in their own lives, people living with great insecurity or fear or people who have their own competing agenda and so they seek to diminish what they perceive as competition.

None of these are valid reasons for why I am not permitted to dream, to seek adventure, to create, to collaborate and to love.

And they are not valid reasons for you either.

The Bottom Line

A lot of people are going to their end of days with their song still inside them, unshared because of fear imposed on them by the diminished outlooks of other people or because they have not learned the lessons contained within the difficulties in their Life.

I believe the world is worse off because of this.

My great friend, author and psychotherapist, Leonard Szymczak once encouraged me to think about what I would say to “Little Harry” if I could somehow go back in time and share my lessons learned with the young person who dared to dream and in exchange, I could learn from the innocence of perception as shared by “little Harry”.

The question I asked of my teams is a variant of this suggestion by Leonard.

As I read and listen to the beautiful, powerful stories shared to me by my team members, I feel a responsibility to make sure that in some way, I encourage their childhood dreams and potential to be manifested in the projects we are collaborating on.

By encouraging a different way of seeing things, we also see new possibilities in how we create and manifest our potential, less inhibited by the baggage we have acquired, seeing things in awe and wonderment while simultaneously being more enabled by the wisdom (hopefully) we have acquired.

What dreams did you have as child?

What brought you joy?

Some of you are living your dreams and experiencing that joy as adults – be grateful for that opportunity.

Many of you are not blessed to live this way.

Are the reasons for not living your joy and not folding it into your personal and professional experiences as adults legitimate ones or are they only excuses?

Would your Life be any different if you decided to bring back some childhood innocence (not ignorance) into your adult Life?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum - Robert Greene's Views On Seeing Things as a Child

In his apprenticeship in the jungles of the Amazon that would later lead to his career as a groundbreaking linguist, Daniel Everett came upon a truth that has application far beyond his field of study. What prevents people from learning is not the subject itself–the human mind has limitless capabilities–but rather certain learning disabilities that end to fester and grow in our minds as we get older. These include a sense of smugness and superiority whenever we encounter something alien to our ways, as well as rigid ideas about what is real or true, often indoctrinated in us by schooling or family. If we feel like we know something, our minds close off to other possibilities. We see reflections of the truth we have already assumed. Such feelings of superiority are often unconscious and stem from a fear of what is different or unknown. We are rarely aware of this, and often imagine ourselves to be paragons of impartiality.

Children are generally free of these handicaps. They are dependent upon adults for their survival and naturally feel inferior. This sense of inferiority gives them a hunger to learn. Through learning, they can bridge the gap and not feel so helpless. Their minds are completely open; they pay greater attention. This is why children can learn so quickly and so deeply. Unlike other animals, we humans retain what is known as neoteny–mental and physical traits of immaturity–well into our adult years. We have the remarkable capability of returning to a childlike spirit, especially in moments in which we must learn something. Well into our fifties and beyond, we can return to that sense of wonder and curiosity, reviving our youth and apprenticeships.

Understand: when you enter a new environment, your task is to learn and absorb as much as possible. For that purpose you must try to revert to a childlike feeling of inferiority–the feeling that others know much more than you and that you are dependent upon them to learn and safely navigate your apprenticeship. You drop all of your preconceptions about an environment or field, any lingering feelings of smugness. You have no fears. You interact with people and participate in the culture as deeply as possible. You are full of curiosity. Assuming this sensation of inferiority, your mind will open up and you will have a hunger to learn. This position is of course only temporary. You are reverting to a feeling of dependence, so that within five to ten years you can learn enough to finally declare your independence and enter full adulthood.

Source: Mastery by Robert Greene.  A powerful analysis of how one moves from apprentice to master in all walks of life, personal and professional.  This is a highly recommended read!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Power of a Little Twist

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. - Vincent Van Gogh

Stay faithful in things large and taking on the world, but stay faithful in those things small - because remember it's the small things, the size of a mustard seed, that ultimately moves mountains. - Cory Booker

I was having a little fun this morning when I passed someone three individual strips of paper with the ends of each strip taped together to form three individual loops of paper.

I asked them to pierce the center of the first strip and begin to cut the strip along its length, proceeding around the strip with their scissors until they had reached the starting point.  There was no surprise in the result that was produced – two loops of paper with the same diameter as the original and each half the width of the original (obviously - the paper had been cut in half) fell to the table.

In performing the same exercise with the second loop, I began to speak to them about the power of the mind to influence things and as they completed their cut around the loop, they were surprised that the result this time was a single loop twice the diameter of the original loop.

And finally, passing them the third loop of paper and continuing on about the power of the mind to change things, cutting the paper produced two individual loops, each half the width of the original but this time, the two loops were linked together.

They were stumped by the result but they shouldn’t have been.

The dialog about the power of the mind was all subterfuge intended for dramatic presentation purposes.

What I had done with the second strip before presenting it to them was to introduce a half twist in the strip of paper before taping the ends together, creating what is known as a Möbius strip.

With the third strip of paper, I had introduced a full twist into the strip of paper before taping the ends together.

While it appears they were starting with the same starting point, materials, tools and processes, all it took was a slight twist in preparation to create a different result.

When I look at the team I am working with, having creating some powerful things over the years, they only needed a small twist in their approach, their thinking and their execution to create a much different result than they were heading towards just a short while ago.

The same is true for many of us. 

People looking to reinvent their personal, professional or relationship lives often look for large, impactful changes in order to create large, impactful results.

Oftentimes, however, all they need to understand is the magic that can be created by using a small twist in how they think, approach and execute in order to transform the mundane into the magical.

The Bottom Line

People approach me frequently looking for some grand wisdom or Oracle of Delphi-like insight to move them from their sense of being stuck (or lost) to something much more self-empowering.

Some of those people require a significant overall shift in their thoughts, words and deeds to accomplish that which they aspire towards while others merely need slight shifts in one or more of these areas.

However, regardless of whether the overall change required is large or small, the process always starts the same way ….

…. with a small twist in thought, word and / or deed.

Sometimes a single, small twist is all that some people need.

Others may need a succession of small twists.

But when they get to the end, it appears as if they have created something by magic.

What small twist do you need to make to change your own results or to help someone else change theirs?

What magic are you capable of producing from a small twist?

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,


PS This makes a great teaser for kids.  Try it!  Encourage them to try variants, like cutting the paper closer to one side instead of in the center.  Many kids can’t wait to bring this magic to school to try it on their friends!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Waiting For Someone Else to Change the World

It's always inspiring to me to meet people who feel that they can make a difference in the world. That's their motive, that's their passion... I think that's what makes your life meaningful, that's what fills your own heart and that's what gives you purpose. - Maria Shriver

It is better to have a meaningful life and make a difference than to merely have a long life. - Bryant H. McGill

Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room. - Christine Todd Whitman

I always liked this story.

Two boys entered the dentist's office. One boy said, “I want a tooth taken out, I don't want any gas, and I don't want it deadened.  We're in a hurry!” The dentist said, “You're a brave young man. Which tooth is it?” The boy turned to his smaller friend and said, “Show him your tooth, Albert.”

The world is full of “volunteers” like that.

The former are anxious to have something happen to someone else or to volunteer (demand) someone else do something on their terms.

People like Albert in the story allow themselves to be volunteered even when it doesn’t serve their own purpose or opportunity for contribution.

Many are disappointed when others don’t step up and do things as they would like to see them done, all the while doing little or nothing themselves.

Others are disappointed that others are always telling them where to go and what to do.

The world would be a better place if we took greater responsibility for our contribution to it instead of demanding that others get things done on our behalf and on our terms and timelines or letting others tell us what we should be doing.

What do you think?

Be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi) or stop complaining how others are not stepping up to your liking or always telling you what to do.

The choice is yours ….

…. and there is great power in choice.

Make the choice before it is too late to do so.

The deadline may be closer than you realize.

In service and servanthood,