Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Musings

An Empty Space

An empty space graces the center
of the manager scene.
Yet a spot of trampled hay cannot contain
the unfathomed hope placed here;
as though a cosmic arrow points dramatically
from heaven reading
“watch this!”
to accentuate the absurd hope we place
on a moment, a place, a new born.

At millennial celebrations of crèches and caves
we bring a battered hope yearly to this moment
to be mended or rebuilt and believe that perhaps
this year the birth of one will move all
toward peace.

In film and word we expound
the transformative power of the season
when George Bailey realizes his good fortune,
Scrooge tears open his curtains,
and we long for the dawning of a new age.

Yet watching and waiting will not spark a change
and longing will leave millions unfed.
Hope that energizes voices and
desire that strengthens muscle
redeems this scene from a saccharine docility
and transforms dreaming and longing
into action.

New and ancient our collective journeys
draw us yearly past this manger scene.
Yet we receive the gift, we are reborn,
we journey onward renewed.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stop What You Are Doing

Truisms are truisms mostly because they are true. For example "honesty is the best policy" applies to relationships, business, even medical checkups. And honesty is also a key to understanding what direction to take in pursuing greatness. People ask me all the time "how do I know where to focus my energies to pursue greatness?" Well, the first step is brutal honesty.

Yesterday I had the privilege to dine with and listen to Sydney Lea, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Sydney has been nominated and won more prizes for his poetry than I could ever imagine. He came to speak at our bookstore in Asbury Park. Sydney is one of the most self-effacing individuals I've met. But it is not false humility but a brutal honesty that has propelled him to be one of America's best poets.

The most telling part of the evening occurred when someone asked Sydney "why poetry?" Most of Sydney's poems are story-like; snippets of lives, moments and interactions that lend themselves to narrative. Sydney's explanation was amazingly honest. He described his doctoral dissertation as "ponderous" and his attempts at regional stories as "possibly appearing condescending." Conversely his use of poetry allows him to explore the dynamic in a human interaction, capture the regional flair, and briefly convey the meaning. In other words, he is honest about what he CAN'T do. That allows him to focus his energies on what he does well and continue to write better and better.

From boardrooms, to offices, to cubicles; from recording studios, to concerts; from practice to the court or the course, too many of us fail to find our greatness because we refuse to honestly admit what we don't do well and stop doing it. Because if we admit and cease what we don't do well, we can focus on our possibility for greatness. So, be honest, be brutally honest. It might help you find your greatness.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Okay, I'm proud, stubborn and I'm a guy. I've got three strikes against me when it comes to moving toward greatness, because sometimes the ground I want to cover has already been trod and it makes sense to learn from those who have gone before. Nevertheless, good sense rarely impedes me from failing to leverage the experience of those who have gone before me.

Let's face it. I'm a guy who likes to do things himself. I like putting my stamp on everything I do. But this has a down side. Too often I struggle to learn how to do something relatively simple when I could be spending my time on something that would lead me closer to greatness.

Perhaps an example will help. Recently I had three occasions to attempt something new on our websites. Whether it was dropping a picture into a formatted article, enabling a link so people could follow our blog, or saving a blog I already started, these technological nuances took up a lot of time. UNTIL I read the directions. Yep. I wasted all that time because I just clicked and guessed at how to do these relatively simple procedures. Though they only became simple after I read the directions.

So many people have struggled to achieve or unleash their greatness that we would be foolish to ignore them. Their pathways provide an easier access to greatness than we can accomplish ourselves. However, at some point, if we truly aspire to greatness, we will have to forge our own path. I am just learning that perhaps I don't need to do it myself so early.

Throughout my life I have to be reminded time and time again to "read the frigging manual (R.T.F.M.)." I never thought it would assist my study of and movement toward greatness. But now it makes sense. Books like "Man's Search for Meaning," or poems like "The Road Not Taken," have provided me with food for thought that have inspired action. These are the "manuals" of those who have explored areas that attract me. So now I regularly read where others have gone before me and what they've accomplished. Eventually I know I will forge a path of my own, but for now, to make things a little easier I think I'll read the frigging manual.

So what are the "manuals" you have read, seen, or heard that have propelled you to attempt something new, believe in yourself more, or pursue your own greatness?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greatest of them all? Probably none of us if we are looking in the mirror. Self-focus, even self-consciousness at key moments can inhibit attaining our best and letting our greatest gifts flow. It is important, in the middle of using our gifts and talents, not to be focused on what others might think of us, but only on the moment itself. Besides, there is new, fun research that indicates few people are looking at us anyway. This is bad news for the cosmetics industry, but good news for the rest of us.

Let's face it. When we learn a new skill, or take what we know to a whole new level some form of self-focus is necessary. We have to be aware of our body if we are practicing a new physical skill, or our mind if we are learning something new. However, once we have moved past practice we have to focus only on the task so we fully engage in the moment and bring out our best abilities. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D. is a world renowned expert in "flow." "Flow" is "the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter." (p.4, Flow). Recently I had the opportunity to hear him speak about flow. He emphasized how important it was to be totally in the moment to experience flow and unleash our abilities. Self-consciousness, he noted, was a major deterrent to flow experiences and in all of his studies no one was able to attain flow when they were self-conscious.

How do we move from focusing on ourselves to focusing only on what we are doing? We need to move from the societal concept that everyone is looking at us. A recent study indicates that even when we do something that really makes us stand out, for example, making an entire room wait 10 minutes for us to show up, when interviewed afterward, only 20% of the group will remember anything about us. The other 80% are probably worried about how they are being perceived.

The key to moments of greatness is to remove the over-abundance of mirrors in our lives and set aside our worries of what others will think. By doing so we unleash the best of our abilities in that moment and move toward our greatness. Besides, in the fairytale, the mirror on the wall was really lying.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Toll House Greatness?

Walk into the Toll House hotel in Los Gatos, California and you feel like you are home. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. It is plush without being ostentatious. Yet more than the appointments what creates the warm feeling is the staff. Without being unctuous they solicit how you are doing and respond in a very warm and comfortable way. More impressive is the energy of the staff. They approach everything with amazing vibrancy from checking customers in to carrying baggage to welcoming and serving in the restaurant. And they interact with each other in the same energized way.

Each day we have an opportunity to engage with any number of people. How are we engaging? Energy and vibrancy are more of a choice than a physical state. So many of my daily encounters are with people devoid of energy and vibrancy and more akin to boredom. And, after encountering the staff at the Toll House, I challenge myself to approach my day with that powerful energy.

Let's face it. Facing a day with positive energy and vibrancy is a choice. What do you choose?

Friday, August 28, 2009

So You Think You Can Multitask?

The idea that anyone can multitask effectively is one of the biggest lies foisted on American individuals and commerce. In the name of multitasking we forgo the sacred moments of intimacy, the joy of singular devotion to a project, and the uncluttered creativity of thinking. Efficiency becomes the new god in this mindset and all else falls under its dictatorial rule.

But aren't we being more efficient by multitasking? Not so fast.

A new study from the researchers at Stanford University confirms what many of us, who have been ignored by someone multitasking, already know; multitaskers, far from being efficient, are just multiplying the tasks they are doing badly. They are not completing any task or conversation to the best of their ability and multitasking makes them worse.

What Clifford Nass and other researchers discovered were three challenges that heavy multitaskers share. People who do a significant amount of multitasking can't seem to ignore irrelevant data to focus on what is important. They are more distracted than others. Surprisingly they also have a poorer ability to take in and organize information. Finally they had more of a difficulty switching from one task to another.

Of course the argument is that younger and younger generations are growing up multitasking and so they will be better at it. Again that is false. The research studied young men and women who use various electronic means simultaneously and have grown up with it.

Perhaps all of us need to push back on the notion that any individual can do two separate cognitive activities equally as well. And as we move toward greatness, we need to give ourselves the opportunities to savor and revel in sacred moments of intimacy, the joy of singular devotion to a project, and the uncluttered creativity of thinking.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Walk Like A Winner

Are you sitting up straight? Are you standing erect? Sounds like some of the questions we were asked as children. Sometimes it was a command rather than a question. Yet over the past week I've found myself more aware than ever of my posture especially when things are difficult.

What started my consciousness was watching the PGA last week. I watched as Tiger Woods lost the lead and was walking down the center of one of the fairways. Even the commentator mentioned the confident way he held himself. You couldn't tell that he was losing. As a matter of fact you would have sworn that he was winning. What's with that?

Dr. Jim Loehr studied athletes winning and losing. He compared their posture and body language and discovered something different about the best. Those who were on the top of their sport comported themselves exactly the same whether they were winning or losing. They always walked like winners. What Dr. Loehr discovered is that our posture speaks volumes not only to others but to our own psyche as to our impending success or failure.

So, be honest. Do you walk like you are winning, or is your head always bowed? Pick your head up, walk like you are winning and watch the difference it will make in how you feel.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Grain of Salt

I write this flying back from Florida where I spoke at a leadership conference about focusing on strengths rather than on weaknesses to drive greater growth and success. The audience of 175 leaders interacted with me and each other, asking questions that only deepened their understanding. They laughed at the right spots, even applauded at a few and were vocally appreciative as they came up to me at the end of the almost four hour session. So what's bothering me? I want to know who, if any, will change their leadership style and why.
Change is not that easy. Listening to information, no matter how compelling, rarely engenders the motivation to change our behavior. Even if everyone in that room was convinced that this leadership style would help them dramatically (and I'm not that naïve) most will only retain a rapidly fading memory of our time together and will most likely forget me and the session in three days. But what about the precious few who, believing in the efficacy of a strengths-focused leadership model, read a little more, create some goals and start adopting new behaviors? What makes them different?
I'd like to offer a theory. These individuals are able to either lower the defense mechanisms we all put in place to defend our egos, or momentarily put their egos aside. Look at little children. They are sponges for learning. With little to defend they absorb everything around them. As we grow, we learn to defend what we've accepted as real and our openness to new ideas closes up until some of us get to the point when we stop learning.
Of course being totally open to new ideas creates other challenges. We might end up believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the tooth fairy. So, we do have to examine new ideas with a grain of salt. That being said, many of us use so much salt evaluating new ideas it is a wonder we don't die of sodium poisoning.
So what's the strategy? I don't know. If it were easy the world would be changing at a momentous pace because we'd all know how to identify and adopt new, helpful ideas and behaviors. I've found one strategy that works for me. When I learn a new idea or strategy that might help me develop as a speaker, leader, writer (I need lots of development) I don't tell anyone at first. I need time to analyze what I've heard, to sift through it and use my own grain of salt. That way, if I like and adopt the ideas, I'm more prepared to offer them to others in a cohesive way before they can bring on their shakers of salt.
175 leaders heard some new ideas this morning, ideas that could change their life or leadership for the better. How many will change? We will never know. But what about you and me? New thoughts, new ideas, new behaviors; what keeps you from embracing them and changing your life?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Everyone Has a Story

Everyone has a story. Our stories seek release. The compilation of a lifetime of truths, or the brilliant awakenings of youth, our stories are integral to our own awareness of self and essential for the growth of others. They are composed from the hard knocks of life and the moments of ecstasy. These stories shape us as we tell them or write them, chipping away at the unessential and leaving a masterful sculpting of who we are at our best and our worst.

We don't think much our stories, told at dinner tables, or more likely in the car at McDonalds. We glibly share the troubles, toils, and triumphs of the day, yet these words shape us and shape those around us. Leaving a story with an unfulfilled ending creates a tension in those who listen. Will it end well or not? Whether we realize it, our world view is captured in our telling of our story more than almost anything else we do. Do we see the world as a safe place, or one in which to be afraid? Most importantly, are there heroes and villains, reconciliation or revenge, peace or war? This is what our stories tell about us. This is what our stories teach our children.

The problem with our stories is that no one seems to care any more. If a story can't be condensed into 144 characters, it seems too long. Who listens? Do we even listen to ourselves? Letting others tell their story and also teaching them to listen helps us all unlock the secrets of life through the triumphs and tragedies, heroes and villains. The stories may not always have a happy ending, but they all speak the truth.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Making Greatness Be Enough

The word "greatness" scares people. Heck, sometimes it frightens me. It is because we think of greatness mostly in the context of astounding feats, historic accomplishments and breath-taking acts of heroics. Yet in our daily lives greatness means using the gifts and talents we have to the best of our ability in any given moment. Recently I had an email exchange with a friend of mine. Nancy agreed that I could share her story and our exchange to highlight the daily reality of greatness. The email correspondence went like this.

Nancy: How do you get great when you're in a slump? The job, the home, the kids... greatness feels like a heavy lift.

Scott: Sometimes it's the little things. Find something you do really well (something small) and do it and succeed. It is a great energy booster. Sometimes greatness resides in getting through the day without killing someone, or losing your temper. We tend to think of it as everything going great. Sometimes it is surviving the difficult stuff.

Nancy: After a long and unproductive weekend (not to mention my 30th high school reunion – how did I get so old??), Tuesday back at work was dragging. Last night, after I read your message I initially thought – ugh, I’m not good at anything. Well, that can’t be true. In fact, I’m a great shopper! First I laughed, then I was telling my daughter about it and she said – you’re right, Mom, and I need shoes for the formal dance on Friday, let’s shop (she HATES shopping, probably switched at birth, but I digress). We had a really enjoyable visit and bought shoes and a dress for an upcoming event. Although I didn’t discover a cure for cancer or solve the world economic crisis, it sure meant the world to her. And I didn’t kill anyone AND I didn’t lose my temper. All in all a great night. Sometimes I guess we just need to re-define greatness. Tonight I plan on making a great dinner – and making that be enough.

My friends and family remind me constantly that greatness can be scary because most people can only focus on getting through the day. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I believe that most people want to get through their day in a way that is fulfilling, passionate and powerful. When I plant my feet on the floor in the morning and choose to pursue greatness each day I may not solve all of the world's problems, but I'm focused on using all of my gifts and abilities in the best way I can, even on the tough days and making that be enough.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pull The Trigger

Recently we were invited to speak to a group of middle managers about greatness. The session was very interactive and informative concerning perceptions of greatness and what gets in the way of individuals pursuing their personal greatness. We noted how easy it was to identify why people won't pursue greatness. The discussion was lively and almost raucous as we listed all of the barriers. Then we asked another question. "What is it that encourages or triggers people to pursue greatness?" The silence was thunderous.

As we engaged the managers about what triggered some of them to be at their very best every day we eventually revealed a plethora of reasons. It seems that everyone had their personal trigger compelling them to seek greatness. So, we realize that one size does not fit all when it comes to encouraging greatness.

But think about it for a second. If you identify a moment you were at your very best, what was it that made you try so hard? Was it pride, desire, curiosity, stubbornness, or one of a host of triggers? If you can identify your personal trigger, you can employ it to help you be at your best everyday. Greatness is not a single action or pursuit, it is a lifestyle. Yet we all know that there are some days easier than others to continue the journey toward greatness.

Take the time to identify your trigger. Then, when you feel yourself flagging on the journey, pull the trigger.

Let us know what triggered you to pursue greatness, it might help others discover theirs.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seeing the Stumbling Blocks

If you could be happier, healthier, or pick whatever "er" you like, why wouldn't you do it? I've thought about this mystery quite a bit over the past few years. Faced with either insanity (doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results) and positive change, some people choose insanity. Why? I've got a few ideas, but I'd love to hear yours.

#1. S--t is warm. Though we might be up to our ears in it, we know what we are dealing with. We don't like the situation, but we don't know what would happen if we change it. So, perhaps fear of the unknown is greater than fear of the known (even if we don't like where we are).

#2. We are clueless. Interesting studies show that we tend to influence and be influenced by our friends. After a while this can create a group-think. So, if all of my friends willingly put up with mistreatment, ill health, bad habits, it is pretty natural that I will. Because this is the group I hang with, I might not have any idea that life can be different. I have no desire to change my behavior because I don't know there is another way to live.

#3. One is the loneliest number. Because we tend to surround ourselves with those who think and act similar to us we worry that if we change they will reject us. Actually that is pretty sound reasoning. Think about it. You change your behavior and you, by implication, suggest that others in your group do also. Traitor! Better we all go down together than risk the change. This is one of the main reasons that AA suggests to it's members to change their friends.

#4. No one else to blame. This I believe is the most powerful reason people choose not to embrace positive change. If I take control and change my life, I am fully responsible. There is no one else to blame if something doesn't work out. It is easier to just stay where I am and blame my situation or other people.

These are just a few ideas about why people might not embrace positive change, but they concern me. Helping people achieve their personal greatness is a passion and a quest. These are just some of the stumbling blocks. Perhaps if we can identify them, we can help get them out of the way. What other stumbling blocks have I missed?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Product is You

I called a CEO of a large non-profit to check in and see how he was handling these tough times. Always interested in empowering his staff and creating a great work environment I wanted to see what he asking of his staff considering these tough times. He told me that he is asking them all to be entrepreneurs. "I want them to have the mindset that this is their business and to be looking for new and different ways to make money for the organization." He went on to share with me an example of an employee stepping up with a great new idea for generating revenue.

But he got me thinking about greatness and how we approach our lives. Okay, I'll ask you the question I was pondering myself: are you the owner, entrepreneur of your own life, or does someone else own it and you are working for them? Don't answer too quickly. There are those who are not living for themselves, making their own decisions, or changing anything. They are just getting by. If you want to be the owner of your own life there are a few things to consider.

Initially we have to develop a product. What we have to offer to the world is ourselves; we are our product. So, how unique is your product? Are you continually updating and refining your product? Is it the best product it can be, or have you settled for an average product?

The second step is marketing. Since you are your product, what do people see when they look at you? Are you presented in the best way possible? Is there something else that could maximize your marketability? What is your ad campaign, in other words, how do people learn about what you do?

The final step is fulfillment. When someone deals with your product (you) what do they experience? Is it always high quality, timely, excellent? Or is the product just mediocre?

So, if you make the choice to be a life entrepreneur, it's time to take a hard look. The product is you. How are sales going?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ticket to Greatness

Driving route 195 Jan and I were in a animated discussion about greatness. Specifically we were excited about our launch of greatness architects and the establishment of a new charitable foundation called the Greatness Project Fund. Greatness architects are like minded individuals who are imagining and designing ways that they or others can achieve greatness. We hope to create a world-wide movement to engage people in the dialogue about and unleashing of personal greatness. But our dialogue was interrupted by the flashing lights of the police car behind us. Yep. The officer was pulling us over.

Walking up to our car he stopped slightly behind the front door and asked for Jan's license and registration. Looking them over he told us "I pulled you over because you were going 78 in a 65 mile an hour zone. I'll be right back." But instead of walking back to his car he asked "was there some emergency that you were going so fast?" Jan replied "no, we were just having a really exciting dialogue about greatness." The office stopped and then asked "you were discussing greatness?" We replied yes and told him about greatness architects and the greatness project fund.

After a brief discussion, the officer smiled broadly and said to Jan "I'm gonna let you go today with just a warning to slow down. And, when you talk about this, tell people you met a great NJ state trooper." With that he walked back to his patrol car.

I'm not advocating using this method to get out of a ticket, but as an example of the interest so many people have in greatness. My hope is that as we move more people to talk about greatness, it will change behavior, mindsets and eventually change lives. Hopefully the dialogue is a true ticket to greatness.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting Out of Our Own Way

Flying to Akron, Ohio to work with a business on leadership, I'm stuck pondering why we get in our own way to greatness. Jan, my business partner, had a session with business leaders in Chicago. Despite having research to show how moving toward a positive work environment was more productive, the group argued about why they would want to recognize someone for good work or even be positive. Says a lot about the state of business these days. More importantly these leaders requested the session because things are not going well. Yet presented with well-researched methods to improve their performance as well as their employees, they steadfastly refused to change their behavior.
Rather than spend my time berating these leaders, I also have to admit that change does not come easily to me either. I have my ways of thinking and doing that I've developed over the past 52 years. And when push comes to shove I'm tempted to push and shove new ideas out of my way rather than change. So how do we get out of our own way? I think we need help. On our own we can remain steadfast in denial that anything needs to change. When there are those we trust, who we listen to, they can call us to greater things.
Call them coach, mentor, colleague, or simply friend, we need people in our lives who push us out of our own way. These are people who remind us of who we can be when we are either too blind to see the next step or too stubborn to take it. That old adage “behind every successful man, there’s a woman” is mostly true. But perhaps we can make it more inclusive to say that behind every successful person there is someone who encourages them. I’m lucky enough to have begun with one person who I trusted very much. Now I’m willing to listen to others and so my circle of “encouragers” has expanded.
Who do you listen to, talk to, share your ideas with? If you can’t name someone, get someone. It is easy to become lost in our own thoughts, behaviors, habits, and actions. We need others to push us out of our own way, to help us achieve our greatness.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hang Up The Phone

Tonight I asked Jan, my business partner and friend, "what did you learn about greatness today?" Okay, so I'm not good with small talk and tend to go right for deep conversations. But Jan had an answer for me. She told me that she had watched someone facilitate a session about stress management. This facilitator has a good reputation and it was a small group. What Jan told me was "he could have phoned it in. He is really good at facilitation and could have coasted through the session and all of the evaluations would have been fine, but he didn't. He was focused, engaging, energetic and gave it his all." She said that "watching him I became so aware that we have a choice in everything we do either to lay back and just show up, or to really do our best. Great individuals bring their best every time."

Let me offer another contrasting example. About a month ago I had the opportunity to hear a singing legend and was really excited about the opportunity. However, though acknowledged as one of "the greats", she sauntered in 90 minutes late, no apologies, sang mostly to the band and didn't engage the audience at all. I was almost glad when the concert ended. I enjoyed a dramatic contrast last week when I saw Hall and Oates in Asbury Park. Though already in the songwriters' hall of fame, they gave it there all, connected with the audience, were alive and energetic and responded to our enthusiasm with three encores. They were great. I was buzzing about their concert for days afterward. They really impacted me and that is what great people do.

Jan reinforced a key characteristic of great individuals. They don't "phone it in." They aren't partially present to those things they care about. They are fully present, engaged and enlivened by what they are doing at that moment. Well, what about the rest of us? Are we really fully present to what we do, who we love, and what we care about? Or are we just phoning it in?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Donut or Not?

Okay, I read a lot of blogs. This morning I was reading a blog dissing mindfulness meditation. The writer dismissed mindfulness essentially because it made people too calm. Interesting. She proposed that people are more "human" when they get upset and explode. Aside from an apparently negative view of humanity, there was a more important point made when the writer acknowledged that she gave up on mindfulness because it was too hard. So perhaps it was easier to debase mindfulness rather than admit she could not commit to it.

Daily we are confronted with the choice to continue with our disciplines, new habits, exercise, or whatever we've committed to. Yep, sometimes it seems easier to just give in and give up. Currently some of the closest people around me have committed to a wellness regimen. They are eating healthy and exercising. Yet, the choice is constantly in front of them. Walking into Dunkin' Donuts this morning for coffee, one of my friends whispered "Maple frosted with sprinkles," sighed and then ordered just a cup of coffee. A choice, but a choice that has repercussions.

Research indicates that discipline in one area of our life affects other areas. When we take control of something small, it manifests itself in all we do. Though I've no research to back this up, I have to also believe the opposite; when I let discipline go in one area, it affects many other disciplines.

We create artificial moments to start anew; New Year's resolutions, Lent, a new job or an opportunity. We also use life tragedies and triumphs to promise new behavior: 9/11, the miracle on the Hudson, the birth of a child, marriage or death. The key is continuing the journey toward the new life. So the next time you are confronted with the choice of forgoing a discipline, promise, or resolution ask yourself two questions: Why go backwards? Do I really want to start this all over again? It's easier to pass up the donut, or continue with the meditating.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Give Time Time

The devil was on my mind this morning and it wasn't just because I was at church. Okay, it started there. We heard the christian scripture story about Jesus going out to the desert and the devil tempting him. Interestingly, all of the temptations concern solving problems - hunger and power for example, immediately. Whether you are christian or not the story points out one of the key challenges to greatness in our society - immediacy. We want everything right now including greatness. We don't want to take the time to develop our skills, ideas, or plans. We want success and we want it immediately. We won't give time, time.

The reality is that we have to give ourselves and others a break. In 42 BC Publius Syrus said "It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity." More recently, in his new book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell offers the current research indicating that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to achieve excellence. The problem is that our society offers instant gratification in so many areas that we somehow want to believe ourselves capable of achieving greatness quickly. It's true that we can achieve fame almost overnight (American Idol, Survivor), or fortune instantly (MegaMillions lottery is currently at $212 million dollars), yet the reality is that greatness will not be rushed.

We need to be humble enough to allow ourselves and others to develop and mature. Setting short term goals helps; we all need to know we are succeeding. But more importantly we have to realize that we will not achieve our personal greatness overnight. Don't be tempted. Give time time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nothing But The Radio On

Our radio host, Joe Fermano, on WNJC 1360 AM, was so excited we could hear him coming out of his chair. His interview about our book, Pathways to Greatness, was scheduled to run 30 minutes with one intermission for commercial break. He skipped the commercial break and went straight through until the music cut him off at the end of the show. "You have to come back, you have to come back" he insisted. Joe raved about the book, even on his YouTube video called "I am the greatest." Clearly he was excited to talk about greatness.

In Australia a friend listened in to the radio show online (technology is amazing) and IMd me afterward on Facebook. He loved the interview and thought it went really well, but he encouraged us to "get the message out about greatness." "We need to hear this, especially right now."

This morning, an entrepreneur friend heard about the radio show and sat me down to ask about it. After I filled in the details he said, "helping us all focus on greatness and how to achieve it is just what we need right now. How can you get this message out there?"

My question also. Every time we speak about greatness, people read our book or respond to this blog it creates excitement and energy. Just the opposite of what is currently happening. So how do we spread the research about greatness? How do we involve others in creating a movement to focus on greatness even in difficult times? A small AM radio station was a start, but where can it end?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wadda You Lookin At?

Have you ever had someone look at you? I mean really look at you, deeply, directly into your eyes? It can be disconcerting at times. In some places it can be a direct threat (I was born in New York City). Yet in the best of times it is a wonderful acknowledgement of the person you are. That direct, deep look fosters a connection which creates great moments of creativity, collaboration, intimacy and a host of other positive behaviors. When I connect in this manner, or someone connects with me, the ability to create something positive is almost effortless because by the simple action of looking someone in the eye, I acknowledge their personhood, uniqueness and contribution.

A principle found in Positive Psychology is that individuals and organizations tend to move in the direction that they focus on. Though this principle is not about eye contact, I think it applies very well. Think of the effect of two different experiences. In one conversation you attempt to explain your idea to someone, only to watch them looking at their Blackberry, glance at the paper, look at the floor, looking anywhere but at you. They are moving in a direction, but it is not toward you. How do you feel? How empowered are you now? Yet in a different conversation your listener looks directly into your eyes as you speak. They acknowledge the words you speak, even without saying a word. Since they are focusing only on you, it seems that they are connecting with you. Now how do you feel?

I don't know about you, but I want people around me who listen to me and look at me when I am speaking. They enliven me and make me feel that my ideas are valuable. But a more important lesson for me was learning to do the same for others. I am often distracted by my Blackberry, computer screen, or movement behind the person I'm listening to. They know it and I know it. So I use a discipline now. I make sure I see the color of their eyes. If I don't know the color of their eyes at the end of the conversation, I know I have not looked at them. Sound simple? Try it. You will find out how often you aren't really looking. More importantly, you will learn to look and connect, and those around you will want to speak with you because you make them feel great.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why Don't We Change The World?

We are in a crisis of global proportions. No one denies this. We are at a turning point in history. Many people believe this. We can do something about this crisis moment to turn the world in a positive direction. Only a few people are doing something. So, what is the difference with this final group?

It has always amazed me that difficult times draw out diverse and often violently opposite reactions. There are those who look for fault, and wonder who is to blame. Others hide their heads in the sand and wait for the mess to pass. Some people anoint others to fix the problem and then wait for their heros to act. Then there are those who, without waiting for the government, church, corporation to either give them permission, or assistance, set out to fix the problem.

Ode Magazine, in the January/February 2009 Issue highlights 25 "intelligent optimists" who are doing something about changing the world. Their stories are powerful insights into individuals who don't just buck the system, they completely ignore it (or its obstacles) in order to bring new, creative, positive ideas to fruition. These aren't radicals, but dedicated men and women who did not wait for someone else to solve world problems, they tackled them on their own.

Looking at myself I wonder if I have the characteristics these people embody. Most times, even when I think of a positive idea, it languishes until something distracts me and I focus elsewhere. Or I bemoan the possibility of doing something new while simultaneously someone else is already doing it.

What can we learn from these people? Hey, I'm learning that if I want to change the world, I just have to go out and do something. Talking never accomplished anything by itself. Secondly, I'm learning to set my sights high. The dramatic changes listed in Ode are amazing and I'm sure everyone told these people they were going to be disappointed. Finally, most of them had help. Guess I'm learning that I can't do it alone. So, what do you want to do?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Another Chance

Those of us who were in New York City on September 11th as the World Trade Center Towers were attacked thought that life would never be the same. On Fifth Avenue, crowds huddled around cars with their radios turned up so everyone could hear the news and the only other sound was crying. We promised we'd treasure every moment, love our families, live the life of our dreams. Yet less than two months later, on a flight to California, I overheard someone say that they were tired of hearing about 9/11. When I returned to New York City, the horns had started again, the anger was back, people were running to make money, and it was as if it was all a bad dream. Very few people changed. What does it take to make us aware of what is important in life? What does it take to make us embrace our dreams and live the life we really desire?

A study of great individuals in history identified "trigger points." These were moments in the person's life, or events in history, that challenged them to think differently, to act differently, and change their behavior. In each of their lives, it was the catalyst that helped unleash their greatness.

All of us have another chance. We stand on the edge of a new awareness and this one can't be ignored by one group or another, it affects all of us. It can't be dismissed by different countries, we are all in this one together. The financial and business systems we fostered are flawed, not because of what they produced, but because they were driven by greed and excess. The majority of us went along with it because we also prospered. Now they have failed. It is a "trigger point" for all of us. We cannot live with business as usual. Now is the time to rethink how we go about our lives. We have the chance to ask the hard questions: what is important to me? Am I pursuing it? Am I living out my own personal greatness?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Can we talk?

Abraham Lincoln always fascinated me even at a young age. So, I knew about his "team of rivals" and willingness to listen to everyone's opinion. I thought that he was a great man and a little nuts. After all, who would invite his or her rivals to help in running a government? I use to believe that great men and women had the answers and then let others in on their findings. Wrong.

Studying great individuals reveals that they share an attitude of openness. They listen to and understand what other people suggest, and glean from conversations the most important information. Listening makes them no less passionate about their beliefs, but connects them to the other person (even their adversary) because they begin by identifying the common goal.

So I question, how open are we? Are we willing to listen carefully, respectfully to another view of an issue or do we just shout them down and dismiss them, if not out loud, in our mind? Who knows, by listening we all might learn something.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Were Your Eyes Opened?

"Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve." Martin Luther King Jr.
It started as a simple thought, "let's participate in the National Day of Service." We chose The Center in Asbury Park, NJ a residence for individuals with HIV/AIDS. The posting on the website for the National Day of Service said they needed canned goods and hats and scarfs. We drove over to ask them what they really needed. Colleen and Bob, two volunteers, met us at the door and gave us a tour. The care and concern for everyone who walked through the doors was immediate. Throughout the tour, meeting and acknowledging residents and volunteers alike, everyone was smiling and upbeat. The Center opens the doors to help many others who are not residents and have an amazing food pantry. But Colleen took us into another storage room. "What we don't have are basic toiletries. There is no deoderant, shampoo, or especially in this cold weather, skin lotion." A list in our hands, we left with the awareness that we take so much for granted. Two more messages awaited us on our service day.
Filling our basket full at a local CVS we told the woman behind the register what we were doing. She was thrilled and glad that we were helping out. Then shared her story of having been very wealthy, but she went through a divorce and spent all of her remaining money on health care for her mother who had no insurance. Now she wasn't sure how to pay the bills. But she thanked us for helping others. We walked out more aware of our health and our insurance.
Stepping out the door of the CVS we were asked for money. A "train ticket" was the reason he told us. But after giving him a little cash we watched as he walked into the nearby Burger King to get something to eat. Now we were conscious that we are always able to eat.
The Center was very grateful for the donations, but the residents especially were overjoyed with the candy. Colleen tipped us off that they rarely got treats and the residents loved them. The little bags of chocolate bars were the highlight. Amazing the things that make a day special.
Service opens eyes. It opened mine. So, what did you do today? Were your eyes opened.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hopeless? Not Yet

Sunday morning. Typical ritual for me. Coffee, relaxing music and the New York Times. By the time I finished reading the paper I felt physically beaten down. The news shouted about Israel and Gaza, Russia and the Ukraine, about new conflicts starting in Africa and the continuing tension between India and Pakistan. Pummled by the world I turned to business only to be buried under the avalance of news about bad markets, bad business, and bad people. It was endless. So, I felt myself searching for some sign of hope in all of this bad news.

Our society revels in bad news. Some people claim that it is "reality." Perhaps. But studying great individuals you discover that they thrive in difficult times because they simultaneously see both the current difficulties and a hopeful future. The difference is that they work on the hopeful future. Hope is not just wishing. It is a discipline of establishing a goal, setting the path, and doing everything in your power to succeed.

After I put the paper down I thought of what I hope for in this world. Perhaps this moment can be a turning point. There is a growing distaste globally for violence as a resolution to anything. I hope for more avenues to peace. The partisan war in politics has paralyzed this country. I hope for rational, cooperative politicians to work together to move us forward. Finally, the global financial meltdown highlights that money is not the only answer. I hope we rebuild an economy that focuses more on providing opportunities for everyone to achieve his or her greatness.

Hoping creates energy and drive. It spurs us to move from complaining and worrying to discovering innovative ways to deal with challenges. What do you hope for?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Integrity in the HOV Lane

In the wake of the financial crisis, where CEOs made selfish decisions that destroyed the lives of many people, the question arises "Didn't they teach ethics in business school?" We look at Bernie Madoff and Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and easily condemn them while opining that they are not men of integrity.

It would be easy to place the guilt on MBA programs, law schools, universities and other institutions. Others might blame parents and say that they are not doing their job. Still others might cry the lack of religion and long for the day of hell-fire and brimstone. But the toughest place we might have to look is in the mirror. Are we tolerating lack of integrity in ourselves and others and in doing so encouraging greater and greater lapses in integrity until someone finally gets caught.

A quick example might help. This evening, driving back to Trenton from New York City, I was amazed at all the cars that were driving in the HOV Lane, which is supposed to be for vehicles with 3 or more occupants, and was stunned with how many of them had only one person. So I started counting and identified 14 cars in a row with only one passenger. By the way, I know the HOV was not lifted tonight.

So, though it might be easy for us to point fingers at those who showed a lack of integrity and hurt others, my question is where did it start? It started with some small broken law, infraction, bent rule because someone thought no one would get hurt. After a while it gets easier.

If I've learned one thing, it is that greatness begins with the small things, not the big ones. We build from seeds that we and others plant. So, our behaviors now, are our destiny to come. What do we choose?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Who Has Time For Greatness?

Lunch today provided a deeper glimpse into a world Jan Sparrow and I are just beginning to explore, the universe of social networking... online of course. A good friend, Meredith Gould, gave us a crash course on the use of these social sites to expand our social real estate and promote ourselves. It amazed me the various ways that I can link to our business website,, my publishing company,, our passion for greatness,, and even our hope for our next venture, Okay, so after the conversation today I joined Twitter. So far it's the most complicated networking site I've seen. But of course I'm also already on Facebook, LinkedIn and Ning and that is aside from my three email addresses. Our question to Meredith at the end of lunch was "who has time for all this?"

Supposedly this is the 21st century way to do business, and perhaps it is. But is this a way to live? Over the recent holiday I had an interesting experience in "unplugging." I left my laptop at a friend's house knowing I would be back the next day and I went home without it. For 24 hours I was without a computer. Of course I had my BlackBerry, but that is not the same. I found myself wandering into my study looking longingly at the table where I usually get online. It amazed me how seduced I've become to this electronic world.

In the time without emails (I turned my BlackBerry off), Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn, or surfing I rediscovered the joy of a good book. I sat for a while and just thought. I even played my guitar which I haven't touched for months. And all of a sudden it hit me. How can we accomplish great things if we are online all the time? What greatness can we aspire to if all we are doing is reading the accomplishments of others and satisfying ourself by making them our "friend?"

So for me, I'm limiting my time. Once in the morning and once at night. It's not easy because now I have time when I'm finished work. But maybe tonight I can use that time to think about changing the world. Or perhaps I'll just play my guitar again.