Wandering Into Wisdom

This blog chronicles the knowledge, insight and wisdom I encounter every day as a leadership consultant, executive coach, educator, father, friend and citizen. This site is dedicated to my father, Louis (Jack) Laughlin, who passed on to me an appreciation for wisdom. A special thanks to my friend Isaac Cheifetz, a businessman and journalist, who helped me understand the value of blogs and encouraged me to write one.

Intellect

"We should take care not to make the intellect our god: it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality."
Albert Einstein

Focus

If your objective is the target, your aim should be the bullseye.

Fear to Aspire

It is generally better to pursue your aspirations and face your fears, than flee your fears and suppress your aspirations.

Persuade Me

While coercion typically results in halfhearted compliance, persuasion leads to willing cooperation.

1) Listen until you completely understand and empathize.
2) Express points of agreement.
3) Present remaining challenges and opportunities.
4) Collaborate on solutions.

Insecurity

Many times, insecurity is even more of an impediment to humility than arrogance.

Arguments

The difference between conflict and combat is that conflict seeks a resolution while combat focuses on winning.

24 Hour Rule

An excerpt from Harvard Business Review.

“So we put a rule in place. It says: 'You have 24 hours to take a new and emerging issue, try to understand it and see if you can resolve it yourself. After that, you have to go public with it.' It's an escalation process. Because with a lot of these issues, we can solve them pretty quickly by applying the intellect we have in this company.”  Ford Motor Company

Link to Complete Blog Post at Harvard Business Review

Failure and Imagination

J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her commencement address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association.  It is one of the most remarkable and inspiring speeches I have ever heard.

Truth or Theory

I studied science and did research as an undergraduate and learned very early on that a good explanation, even after testing, is still a theory, not a truth.

Enemies

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find, in each person’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostilities."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Popularity

During a conversation with her kids, a mother I know noticed their distress about the popularity of other children. She thought for a moment then asked them, “Are those popular kids admired or envied and which would you like to be?” To admire someone is to aspire to be like them but to envy them is simply to want what they have.

Education

A talk by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award.

The Written Word

Three things I've learned about writing clearly.

1) Use simple language.
2) Make your point before you explain it.
3) Don’t use more words than necessary.

The American Dream

Fareed Zakaria recently wrote an article for Time Magazine and did a report on his CNN show called "How to Restore the American Dream."  It is a thoughtful and informative analysis of how the global economy is evolving and what we must do to evolve with it.
Time Article
CNN Podcast

In Command

I met someone who was the on-scene supervisor for Emergency Medical Services at a large engineering disaster. One of the things they learned was the need for shared command structure at large events. They typically handled small incidents where a single person could handle command alone. In this case they needed at least one person for inbound communications, another for outbound communications and a third synthesizing the information to maintain situational awareness and make decisions. Although they realized this during the event, the lack of predefined roles and practice with shared command prevented them from making it work in the moment.

Balancing Act

Decision making and problem solving draws on three distinct resources.

Intellect for rational and logical processing and analysis.
Intuition to draw on unconscious accumulation of experience.
Inspiration to bring outside influences into the process.

Accomplished decision makers utilize all of these in combination to develop solutions and ideas.

Alternate Reality

I went to the grocery store today and when I arrived at the register they asked me if I wanted paper or plastic bags. It took me by surprise because we always have to bag our own groceries at this store. When I inquired about the change the checkout person said that the “big bosses” were in the store and they liked to see customers getting their groceries bagged. She lamented that the bosses had been there for hours and she wished they would leave so they could get back to normal.

Now Go Home

It is very easy to get a student visa to study in the U. S. and very hard to get a work visa to stay after graduation. Many people criticize this policy because we are creating global competition for our technology sectors by educating people from other countries and then forcing them to go home. It is noteworthy that China recently surpassed the U.S. in supercomputer technology. NY Times Article

Climbing Rules

As a rock climber, I learned three important safety rules.

1) Think ahead.
2) Use language that cannot be misunderstood.
3) Don’t do anything else while you’re on belay.
     (holding the safety rope)

Measuring Up

Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.
or
Never compare your reality to someone else’s press release.

Wisdom

Intelligence is endowed, but wisdom is learned.
From “Best-Loved Chinese Proverbs” by Theodora Lau

Civilization

"In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy."
John C. Sawhill - Former President of the Nature Conservancy

What Will You Do

Daniel Pink asks three critical questions to help map our career future and, more importantly, those of our children. From “A Whole New Mind”

1) Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
2) Can a computer do it faster?
3) Am I offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial, transcendent desire of an abundant age?

Destiny

Often one finds destiny just where one hides to avoid it.
From “Best-Loved Chinese Proverbs” by Theodora Lau

Grateful

To be unhappy over what one lacks is to waste what one already possesses.
From “Best-Loved Chinese Proverbs” by Theodora Lau

Grief and Loss

In her book, "On Death and Dying" Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages that patients experience when informed they are dying. This can be applied to any kind of significant loss.

Denial (This isn't happening to me!)
Anger (Why is this happening to me?)
Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
Depression (I don't care anymore)
Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)

Gracious Winners

The global catastrophe of World War II was caused by many factors. One was the treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War I which required Germany to give up territory, pay war reparations and completely disarm themselves. These provisions and the ensuing economic depression robbed them of their dignity and left them vulnerable to the extremism of Hitler and the National Socialist Party. I’m sure the winners of the first world war would have been more forgiving if it could have prevented the second.

Emotional Intelligence

 Four basic components of emotional intelligence.
1) Self-awareness
2) Self-management
3) Social awareness
4) Relationship management
From "Working With Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman

Empowerment

"Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn't have the power to say yes."
Eleanor Roosevelt

Empowerment

"Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn't have the power to say yes."
Eleanor Roosevelt

Reconcilable Differences

Lincoln chose strong individuals for his cabinet regardless of their opposition to him and each other. He balanced opposing elements so they not only held together but functioned effectively despite, and possibly because of, their differences. This was his true genius.

Crazy

The first sign that you’re losing your mind is that everyone else seems to have lost theirs.

Words to Live By

“Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tries and a touch that never hurts.”
Charles Dickens

Team Building

I was recently asked to facilitate a meeting for a leadership team who has gone through significant organizational changes. We didn’t do team building games or exercises even though some team members were new. Instead, we had a dialog and discussion to list the organizational decisions they need to make and lay out a process to make those decisions. We also determined specific assignments and due dates for each step. Everyone walked away energized and ready to get to work because they were now clear on what they needed to do. At the end of the day, the best way to build a team is to accomplish something meaningful…together.

Memories

The human brain has an amazing capability to remember things but not always in the most useful way. Some years ago a grease fire started in a pan on the stove and I remembered that a white powder, baking soda, would put it out. Unfortunately my memory of white powder translated into flour which exploded when I threw it into the burning pan.

Laughing or Crying

"Life is a comedy for those who think
... and a tragedy for those who feel."
Horace Walpole

Truth and Fiction

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."
Mark Twain

The Face of God

We should gaze upon the face of God on a regular basis
…to remind us it is not our reflection.

The Dark Side

“Every part of our personality that we do not love will become hostile to us.”
From “A Little Book on the Human Shadow” by Robert Bly

Heavy

The sun generates energy by fusing hydrogen atoms to form helium. The gravitational force of the sun’s core, which generates the pressure necessary to create this fusion reaction, is so strong that the light produced can only travel at about nine feet per hour as it leaves the core.

Inspiring

I went to a presentation by Steve Farber, author of "Radical Leap." I found his talk inspiring, not because of the content, but because he himself was inspired by the subject of leadership and the stories of the people in his presentation. His inspiration overflowed to the rest of us.

Me or We

It can be difficult to find a way to communicate our achievements while acknowledging the role of the rest of the team. Someone I recently helped with this issue found that speaking in terms of “her” contribution to the “group’s” success was an authentic and balanced way of framing her accomplishments.

Established 578 A.D.

Kongō Gumi Co. Ltd. was the world's oldest continuously ongoing independent company, operating for over 1,400 years, until it was absorbed by a larger construction company in 2006.  The company was established about the time Constantine became emperor and if CEO's lasted an average of 10 years that would be 140 CEO's over the life of the company.  Wikipedia Link

Prove Me Wrong

A marketing director I know had a product manager who disagreed with the strategy they chose for his product line. After the meeting he pulled the manager aside and said, “You might be right, but the only way to prove us wrong is to execute this strategy like you believe in it.”

Luck

“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have."
Thomas Jefferson
 
"Indeed, none but the Deity can tell what is good luck and what is bad before the returns are all in."
Mark Twain

"Good luck needs no explanation."
Shirley Temple

Serenity

A friend of mine who does drug and alcohol counseling once told me, “Serenity is an acquired taste; you might not like the initial experience.” Sometimes we become so accustomed to anxiety that we are uncomfortable in its absence.

Excellence*

“It takes only a modicum of psychological savvy to admit that a corporate culture that constantly repeats the word excellence to itself must still have endless reservoirs of mediocrity on which to draw, and is deathly afraid of facing up to this fact.”
From “The Heart Aroused” by David Whyte

The New Deal*

“The new corporate contract is that we’ll offer you an opportunity to express yourself and grow, if you promise to leash yourself to our dream, at least for a while.”
John Sculley, former Apple CEO

Prisoner of Optimism*

In an interview for his book "Good to Great" Jim Collins asked Admiral James Stockdale, the highest ranking POW in the Vietnam War, which prisoners didn't survive. Admiral Stockdale replied,

"Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Think Positive*

Acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich explores the darker side of positive thinking.

Aging Rebels*

My Grandfather refused to use an ATM machine. He didn't trust a machine to count his money.  I always wondered what technological advance would leave me in that same state of rebellion. Then I went to a public bathroom and noticed the young man next to me texting while using the urinal. I think my rebellion is imminent.

Skills Transfer*

The first place to look when a situation requires a new skill is an existing skill. My son is just learning to drive so I explained the need to keep looking around. He immediately said, “Head on a swivel.” This is the term his Lacrosse coaches used to tell players to maintain situational awareness on the field. He’d spent years developing the skill which he applied effortlessly to watching traffic.

Learning*

I recently went on my first cruise and noticed that getting my sea legs followed a classic learning pattern.

Dock - Unconscious Incompetence
              Didn’t know I didn’t have sea legs.
Day 1 - Conscious Incompetence
               Ship sailed and I realized that I was walking like a drunk.
Day 3 - Conscious Competence
               Started to feel the boat’s movements and compensate.
Day 6 - Unconscious Competence
               Walked a straight line without thinking about it.

Servant Leadership*

Although servant leadership experts have various perspectives there are a few principles that appear universally accepted. Power and responsibility should be widely distributed rather than concentrated at the top of a hierarchy. Persuasion should be the principal method of influence rather than coercion, intimidation or authoritative force. The primary role of a leader is to develop, empower and support the organization and its individual members.

Work of Art*

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Don Frick, an author I admire very much. As he talked about the vast amounts of material he has for his next project I realized that it wasn’t the quantity of facts that made his other books so remarkable but the way he told the story. In the end, the difference between work of art and a pile of junk is the arrangement.

Perseverance*

"There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires."
Nelson Mandela 1953 (35 years old)

1964 (46 years old) sentenced to life in prison
1990 (72 years old) released from prison
1994 (76 years old) elected president of a free South Africa

Secret to Wealth*

“I'd like to live as a poor man with lots of money.”
Pablo Picasso

Leadership Factory*

It is impossible to deny the pain and suffering caused by the racial oppression in South Africa during the last century. It is ironic that it would also produce two of the century’s most recognized leaders, Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Global Empathy*

Bestselling author, political adviser and social commentator Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society.

Invictus*

A poem that is said to have inspired Nelson Mandela while in prison.

Invictus (unconquered)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

Character*

“There never was a good knife made of bad steel.”
Benjamin Franklin

Japanese Riddle*

Question: Who must do that which is difficult?
Answer: Those who are able.

Motivation*

Here is a video of Dan Pink speaking about the science of motivation.  He speaks to the power of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to motivate others.
 

Vivid*

It has been difficult to convince my fifteen year old son to wear a bicycle helmet. In a moment of desperation I told him that I wanted him to wear a helmet because I didn’t want him to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair unable to speak. The image was so vivid that he asked me to buy him a new helmet which he wears without prompting.

Aspirations*

It is important to stay grounded in who we are,
especially when we aspire to be more.

Contradictions*

The more knowledge we acquire, the more mystery we discover.
The more wisdom we attain, the more paradox we observe.
The more excellence we achieve, the more limitations we uncover.

Postpone and Procrastinate*

Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today and
don’t worry today about what you can’t do until tomorrow.

Pleased to Meet You*

Whenever I travel to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language I make sure I at least know how to say a simple greeting, please and thank you. I decided to stick with more formal greetings when it occurred to me that using more colloquial greetings might make me sound like I was saying “howdy partner” in a thick foreign accent. In addition, I found that a well pronounced informal greeting signals that you speak the language, followed immediately by their unintelligible response and your blank look.

Out With The New, In With The Old*

As we search for green alternatives that use less energy and generate less waste we can look to existing technologies. When we lived in Mexico we discovered that the secret to good Mexican style beans is pressure cooking. Anyone who has cooked a pot of beans knows that it’s an all day affair to simmer them until they’re tender. A pressure cooker reduces cooking time, uses less energy and retains more of the food’s flavor and nutrients. After an overnight soaking it only takes about a half hour to cook beans in a pressure cooker.

Rome*

I recently watched a documentary on the rise of Julius Caesar. Rome was a republic before he took power but politics had become partisan to the point of violence in the streets. Although Caesar was murdered shortly after establishing himself as emperor his death did not bring back the republic. That was destroyed by politicians who were so focused on fighting each other for power they had become an impediment to the advancement of Roman civilization.

Welcome*

My wife and I walked to the local McDonalds for an ice cream where we were served by an Asian teenager who must have recently arrived in the United States. After he struggled to make change for us I asked him where he was from. He smiled nervously and said Thailand. When I greeted him in Thai a huge grin come across his face. I have travelled to many places in the world and have always found that a simple greeting and thank you in the local language opens many hearts and doors.

Backwards*

My wife and I were watching the new television show produced by Ron Howard called Parenthood. We spent most of the time with our faces in our hands groaning at the realism of tensions portrayed. It struck me that we related more to this fictional show than any of the “reality” shows I’ve seen. Reality shows seem to select people with personalities just shy of a diagnosable mental health disorder and put them in contrived situations that no one in their right mind would ever enter.

Ideology*

I was at the YMCA recently where I struck up a conversation with a Russian gentleman. After a while the conversation worked its way to politics. He stated emphatically that the goal of communism is for everyone to be happy. He reminded me of Khrushchev the way he pumped his fist up and down. When I asked him if he thought all Russians are happy he shrugged, turned his palms up, cocked his head to the side, grinned and said, “No, of course not.” It struck me that it is the nature of ideology to be idealistic. We seemed to have an unspoken understanding that this would not get between us. I hope to see him again. He’s delightful.

Not So Easy*

“Most of what has been worth doing since the beginning of time has been accomplished by people who were tired, self-doubting, ambivalent, and more than a little discouraged.”
From "Jobshift" by William Bridges

Dogs and Cats*

Dogs believe we love them, feed them, provide them shelter and pet them because we are gods. Cats think we do it because we believe they are gods.

Wanting Anger*

I started tracking visits to my blog about a month ago. I noticed that almost all the keyword searches that bring visitors to my site are for “angry quotes.” I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out exactly why people are doing that search. Angry Quotes Post

Appliance Rebate*

My mom offered to buy us a new refrigerator for Christmas. Since we’re just getting around to looking for one she wanted us to look at the appliance rebate being offered as part of the federal economic stimulus package. In Minnesota you have to call to apply for one of the twenty five thousand rebates available beginning March 1. Since there are about 2.2 million households in Minnesota I’m not holding my breath.

The Death of a Child*

Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21 year old Georgian athlete, died in a practice run on the luge track before the opening ceremonies of the winter Olympic games. News reports that show the grief of his parents remind us that there is no greater suffering than a parent who has lost a child.

Lincoln's Character*

"The great predominating elements of Mr. Lincoln’s peculiar character were: first, his great capacity and power of reason; second, his conscience and his excellent understanding; third, an exalted idea of the sense of right and equity; fourth, his intense veneration of the true and the good.”
An excerpt from Herndon’s Lincoln, 1889

Distances and Differences*

I have had a number of conversations with people lately that illustrate the reality that communications technology has reduced the distance between people in different parts of the world but not the cultural differences. That’s going to take longer than it took to develop the technology.

Peter Said*

"In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."
From “The Peter Principle” published 1969

“In a technology driven culture every new device tends to gain capability to its level of unreliability.”
From everyone who owns a cell phone or computer

Small Minds*

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."
Abraham Lincoln

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“It is remarkable that such a tiny mind can contain such enormous contradictions.”
Chris Bliss

Secure In The Knowledge*

"The more you know the less you need to say."
Jim Rohn

Suffering Buddhism*

Suffering is caused by the tension between reality and expectations.
Enlightenment calls for the alignment of expectations with reality.
Insanity is the obsession with changing reality to meet expectations
... while constantly raising expectations.

Afterthought*

I have focused most of my marketing communications time, energy and financial resources on my website. Almost as an afterthought, I fleshed out my LinkedIn profile. I recently started tracking the traffic to both and realized that I get twice as much traffic to my LinkedIn profile as I do to my website. I’m spending a lot more time working on LinkedIn these days.

Going Through Hell*

As I reflect on the past year and the difficulties created by the recession I am struck by the quote a friend recently sent me. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill

Integrity*

Integrity depends on the consistency between our words and deeds. Our actions follow a path from intention to impact and finally, to interpretation. The unintended impact of our actions and people’s varying interpretation of the outcomes make integrity a challenging virtue to maintain.

Ethics*

"We have a tendency to use ethics more as a way to judge others than as a tool to guide our own actions."
Chad Weinstein - Ethical Leaders in Action

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