The gas or the brake?

Maybe you work for one of those companies that lists “innovation” as a core value or that has a CEO who is always going on about your brand’s commitment to  “market leadership.” Yet, somehow, your company is continually a step or two behind the competition. Or perhaps even facing extinction.

Maybe you are a team member or a manager who provides input on new ideas or recommended product, program or process improvements. But more times than not you are a defender of the status quo rather than feeling wired to say “yes.”

Maybe you regularly tell yourself that you are a creative person, full of great new ideas. Yet, it’s hard to point to many instances when you’ve actually exposed your concepts to your colleagues and contacts, much less the broader world.

What makes us think that the way to catch-up with the competition or to build an insurmountable lead is to ride the brake? Is the world going to become a better and more just place with us sitting there and watching?

Yet the stark reality is that is what most of us do.

If you are serious about innovation, about leadership, about bringing your idea to market, about making even the tiniest dent in the universe, you are going to need more acceleration and less coasting or braking.

Step on the gas.

Or relinquish the keys and let someone else drive.

A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

The tranquilizing drug of gradualism

In his “I have a dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged a slow and steady pathway to civil rights reform.

Those in favor of an incremental approach feared that making waves–that being too confrontational–would backfire. It was seen as too risky a strategy.

MLK argued that patiently working against the wrongs endured by millions created the illusion of progress. He worried that by merely chipping away at injustice, we were lulled into a sense of advancement when very little was actually being accomplished. Gradualism was not only misguided, it was actually more risky. Ultimately, our delusions prevented us from making substantive change; the change that was so desperately needed. And still is.

These challenges are hardly unique to the struggle for social justice.

Many organizations say all the right things but do very little. Companies invest piles of money and countless hours in largely meaningless tweaks to their offerings. Simple product line extensions count for “innovation” at many brands. New executive titles are created–and organizations re-shuffled–to suggest that something important is happening. Yet that something is typically more of the same under a different guise.

All too often we become intoxicated by our words at the expense of our actions.

Continuous improvement fighting fundamental disruption or intractable systemic malaise just doesn’t cut it.

A frenzy of activity (supported by cool PowerPoint decks and/or lots of impassioned speeches) may make us feel good, but until it ships it doesn’t count.

And unless we can rise above the clutter, the noise, the rhetoric–if our work doesn’t make waves–well, we might as well not bother in the first place.

A version of this post originally appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

I’ll see it when I believe it

If we start with the premise that we are a failure, it’s easy enough to notice all the supporting evidence.

If we reflexively lean toward the narrative that a group of people is to be feared, than everyone who resembles them–or who has a “funny name”– starts to look like the enemy.

If we begin with the fundamental notion that we live in an world of scarcity, than we can only see that our gain comes at someone else’s expense.

And, to paraphrase the old saying, if we believe that we have the right hammer–and it’s our only tool–than all we see are an awful lot of nails that need pounding.

Of course we can choose to believe that we are enough, that we have enough, that we do enough. And then we start to see someone who makes mistakes, not is a mistake.

We can decide to believe that all human beings are born good and inherently worthy of dignity and respect. And then we bear witness to our common humanity and find ourselves standing on the side of love and forgiveness more often than the side of hate and judgment.

We can believe in a world of abundance. And slowly, but surely, potential reveals itself and a veritable banquet of possibilities emerge–none of which require us to beat out anyone else.

The stories we tell ourselves matter.

Believing is seeing, not always the other way around.

What we believe, we become.

 

H/T to Brene Brown and the late Forrest Church

A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

So much of any year is flammable

At a time when many of us are reflecting upon (dissecting?) the year that just ended and now find ourselves perhaps already struggling to live up to a new set of resolutions, I’m reminded of the words of the poet Naomi Shihab Nye:

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
 
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
 
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
 
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

So much of life is impermanent.  So much is out of our control despite the illusion that often holds us, twists us around, sends our monkey minds into overdrive and compels us to grip the wheel even harder.

Very little of what consumes our thoughts, fills most of our days and fuels our resentments matters one little bit over the long run. Much of it doesn’t even serve any useful purpose right this very second.

We don’t need another resolution. We need better perspective, mindful awareness, radical acceptance, an open heart, the courage to act.

So rather than sweat the small stuff or lament the things that only access to a time machine would allow me to fix, I’m looking ahead, without a long list of impossible to meet resolutions, mindful of the important things I have yet accomplish, where the crackle still calls.

The crazy cult of never giving up

Over the years I’ve noticed that a fair number of people subscribe to the notion that one should never ever give up.

While I employ a proactive thinning of my social media herd, I still encounter various motivational messages with a hashtag that essentially suggests that bailing on a project is the mark of the weak. That deciding to quit makes one a loser.

In fact, there is a whole sub-culture of authors and motivational speakers that extol the virtues of sticking with anything and everything we start with the dogged determination of a Kardashian seeking the media limelight. Just Google “never give up” and see what I mean.

Now I’m all for working hard and with determination. Grit and perseverance are surely desirable traits. But there is no question that giving up is often the absolute smartest thing we can do. Quitting is underrated.

If we value change we MUST deliberately choose to start things that we understand might not work. And that, by definition, means we begin knowing that quitting at some point is not only a real possibility but in many respects a desirable outcome, as it frees us up to pursue more productive and impactful paths.

If we subscribe to a strategy rooted in innovation, failure must be an option. While being unwilling to start in the first place is the biggest barrier to successful innovation, reluctance to give up on something that isn’t working is a close second.

When we know that our goal is desirable and that our path is clearly the best one, by all means we should do the Rick Astley thing.

But if we are honest, we’ll discover that many times we are lying to ourselves and we are merely afraid to fold on a losing hand.

 

rick-astley

 

 

The hardest to learn is the least complicated

Gentle reader, congratulations on your wise choice. It is indeed your good fortune to have chosen to read my blog today for I am about to reveal a short-list of virtually guaranteed ways for you to be successful in both your professional career and your personal life.

Intrigued? I bet.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Steve’s virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in your professional life:

  1. Focus relentlessly on the customer/client.
  2. Never engage in a price war you can’t win.
  3. Defy the sea of sameness and find your purple cow.
  4. Treat different customers differently.
  5. Reject the cult of busy.
  6. Don’t be afraid to fail: Fail better.

My virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in your personal life:

  1. Accept the things you cannot change.
  2. Live in the now; be present and mindful in all you do.
  3. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
  4. Don’t take things personally.
  5. Remember the things for which you are grateful.
  6. Live open-heartedly and with compassion.
  7. Embrace vulnerability.

As a reader of this blog you have already revealed yourself to be a person of great intelligence and discernment, so you have likely already concluded that these ideas– collectively and individually–are both true and useful. More importantly, you probably noticed that they are all conceptually rather simple to comprehend.

So why do we struggle to put them into practice?

The first reason is our habits. If you are anything like me, you’ve been been conditioned to strive for perfection, to associate your self-worth with your job, your busyness and your possessions. Perhaps you’ve also been taught that vulnerability is weakness or that you’re not okay unless the people around you are okay or that it is your job to figure things out without the help of others. These are all rather obvious and destructive lies, yet our negative practice has created deep grooves in our psyche. The only antidote is to develop different habits and practice them until new grooves are formed.

The understanding is not the hard part. It’s the un-doing.

The second reason is our choices. I’ve watched myself (and more than a few friends, colleagues and loved ones) decide to stay stuck in the past, fight things I couldn’t change, drink the poison of resentment, bask in the misguided attention of victimhood and generally engage in far too much ego grasping and not enough letting go.

Again the understanding is not the hard part. It’s the acceptance that every day we start clean slated and I (and you my dear friend) get the chance to make a new set of choices. Our task is to choose wisely and to rinse and repeat.

The wolf we feed is the one that wins.

 

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Just because you killed Jesse James . . .

“Just because you killed Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.”

– Mike Ehrmantraut to Walter White, Episode 3, Season 5 of Breaking Bad.

Just because you’ve attacked my idea doesn’t mean yours is better. Defending the status quo can be necessary, but mostly it’s an excuse to stay trapped in our fear.

Just because you sit in judgment of all the “idiot” drivers and “slothful” welfare recipients and “feckless” politicians, doesn’t actually do anything. Though your fragile ego may get a hit for a few seconds, putting others down isn’t a solution. And it certainly adds nothing to the level of discourse.

Shooting down something else isn’t remotely equivalent to creating something worthy or interesting. So instead of merely pontificating, let’s see your plan.

Being the critic is mostly a place to hide from the hard work of leading us to something new and meaningful. So instead of judging, let’s hear your ideas.

As Van Jones reminds us, Dr. King isn’t famous for saying “I have a complaint.”

It’s time to stop tearing down and to start building.

The universe is listening. And waiting.

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A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com