Archive for April, 2009

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Part II)

April 10, 2009

 

Looking Upwards

Looking Upwards

“For everyone of us that succeeds, it’s because there’s somebody there to show you the way out” Oprah Winfrey

There are many ways that people show others the way, both directly and indirectly. And, many people have allowed others to stand on their shoulders, sometimes even without knowing, simply by teaching others what they know or by documenting their observations, thoughts, insights and discoveries for others to read.

A quick way for us to stand on the shoulders of giants is to examine what’s been done before by reading about and listening to the experiences and lives of those we value and respect. You never know what bright idea you could come across, or what problem could be solved now because the time is right and the technology now exists.

A review of several books on creativity, inventions, discoveries and great thinkers and scientists who have changed the world, books such as Discover Your Genius, Aha! 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find Your Great Ideas, The Art of Thought, The Art of Thinking, The 100 Greatest Inventions of All Time, 100 Discoveries: The Greatest Breakthroughs in History, suggest that great thinkers have certain traits in common.

Leonardo da Vinci, Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Gutenberg, Copernicus, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Marie Curie and Alexander Fleming, a few of the great thinkers who made discoveries, and/or created products that influenced/changed the world, had the unique knack to do many of the following:

  • Reflect
  • Open to experiment
  • Keep record of research
  • Steely determination: impossible was not an answer
  • Open minded
  • Childlike sense of play
  • Curious
  • Voracious reader
  • Read/study broadly
  • Observe, detect and collect facts
  • Think independently
  • Take breaks to reenergize
  • Total absorption in subject
  • Have imagination 
  • Have vision
  • Didn’t reinvent the wheel – built on present and past knowledge
  • Look at the limitations of old inventions and devise a solution
  • Modify present technologies for other uses
  • Make connections between two different things
  • Combine theoretical knowledge with practical skills
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Give vital ideas the opportunity to take root and grow

How many of these traits do you have? And how many could you acquire with concerted effort? If you re-read yesterday’s blog post you will notice that some of the above traits are similar to some of the activities mentioned by survey respondents.

All of us are capable of generating our own great ideas. Read widely, reflect on life, travel to places that you’ve never been before, eat foods from different cultures, interact with nature, think about problems that need solving and work on ways to solve those problems. Immerse yourself in many activities and create new experiences for yourself. We can learn from the experiences of others, and we can use the words of others as Invisible Mentors to help us make progress in life. We can stand on the shoulders of giants!

What are your thoughts? How can you build on this concept?

Related Post: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Part I)

Photo Credits: Avil Beckford

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Part I)

April 9, 2009
The Sky is the Limit

The Sky is the Limit

 Every successful product and service started with a great idea, but where do great ideas come from?

About five years ago, by way of an email survey, I decided to explore the concept of great ideas. I asked the following questions and twelve people of varying backgrounds took the time to share their views.

  1. Where do great ideas come from?
  2. Do great ideas come only to some people?
  3. How will you know if you have a really great idea?
  4. What constitutes a great idea?

Here are the thoughts of survey respondents about what a great idea is:

An idea that gives someone a new perspective or way in which to see the world
Something that helps mankind to create, evolve or develop in some specific way
Fresh, in the sense that I haven’t heard it before and it offers a solution to a challenge that may be long-standing or a challenge that I may not even be aware of yet
An idea that fills a need that is greater than personal self interest; a need that will serve others be they constituents, shareholders, stakeholders or the public at large

When it came to determining if there was a process for generating ideas, the responses were different, and it showed that there wasn’t a clear process for generating great ideas.

Pray and meditate, knowing that the answers will come when the time is right
Respond to a stimuli that starts me thinking which results in a new idea
Read the best that has been thought and said about things that really matter, talk to thoughtful people about things that really matter, spend time reflecting on things that really matter and prepare the soil as best as you can
Ideas are always out there. You just have to put two different ideas or thoughts together to create something new
Sit quietly and wait for them [ideas] to come to me from the depths of my subconscious
Brainstorm everything I am thinking about on a piece of paper, then look for ideas that will connect with those ideas using the internet, newspaper, books and so on.  Look at the context in which you want to use the ideas then add, subtract or combine ideas, and once you have a great idea look at how to implement it
Think about the situation and think about the best possible solution, even if it’s an impossible solution

Great ideas came to respondents at different times. One respondent had a Eureka moment while sitting in church watching and listening to a group of musicians. For others it happened immediately after praying and meditating, talking and trading insights and reading a book on the subject matter. For others it happened after a process of thinking and visualization.

So, how do you know when you’ve got a great idea?

You have a gut sense that the idea will help you fulfill the triple bottom line; best self, best work and contribute to my best world
It comes as a revelation. It gives you an understanding of something
It comes back into your mind again and again and you can’t ignore it
When other people are excited by it and want to get involved
Some great ideas come before their time. They won’t succeed because of conditions, circumstances, attitudes, belief and so on. Success or failure alone is not the judge.
When you feel bliss in its execution
You become very excited and can see the possibilities that can generate from the idea. You know that your idea is good when you see the entire picture and everything becomes “crystal clear”
When everything is in sync, your mind, body and your heart

“Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again,” says Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Is that true? Where do your great ideas come from? How will you know when a great idea is staring you in the eye?

In Part II of Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, I will delve more deeply and highlight the common traits of the great thinkers and scientists who have changed the world. And it should not surprise you that they built on the work of others.

Photo Credit: Avil Beckford

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To Read or Not to Read, Now That’s the Question

April 8, 2009

 

Active Reading

 

Any professional who aspires to navigate up the corporate ladder, especially in belt-tightening times, must develop intellectual power. The fastest way to develop intellectual power requires reading the right books which is akin to eating. Some books have to be chewed, some digested and others savoured.

 

Tim Sanders, former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo! Inc.  in his book Love Is The Killer App, recommends that you use the 80/20 rule. Spend 80 percent of your reading time on books and 20 percent on articles, newspapers and so on. Books give more detailed knowledge on any subject than articles do.

 

Before reading, develop a reading plan and identify your purpose for reading. Is it for entertainment, for information or to further your knowledge? Think about how you can apply what you are reading to improve your personal and professional life. When you read, have a pen, notepad and highlighter to take notes and capture ideas that may percolate.

 

Why Read? 7 Reasons Why You Cannot Afford Not to Read

 

  1. Builds intellectual power: Reading widely allows professionals to learn about different concepts and gain insights, which builds intellectual muscles, enabling them to shine in conversations
  2. Builds verbal power: Reading extensively introduces professionals to words they usually would not come across in their everyday interactions. And, research by the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation found that vocabulary correlated with executive level and income
  3. Discovers new ways of thinking: Authors who write thought provoking books frequently introduce readers to new ways of viewing the world
  4. Develops critical thinking skills: Reading demanding and difficult text requires focus and concentration, forcing professionals to think about what they are reading
  5. Keeps the mind active: Professionals who interact with the words on the pages  are engaged, keeping their minds active into their senior years
  6. Discovers/Builds on ideas: After Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently read Thomas Robert Malthus’ Summary View of the Principle of Population, they both understood how evolution worked. For Darwin, the rest they say is history. Galileo built on Copernican’s work and Newton built on Galileo’s work and the field of astronomy was born. More recently Amazon juggernaut Jeff Bezos after reading that the Internet was growing 2,300 percent per year wondered how he could use the information. He then looked at the top 20 catalogues to see which would translate best to an online business and as a result Amazon was formed.
  7. Builds the power of communication: All of the above reasons enable professionals to communicate with power, both orally and written because they have a well-fed mind.

 

Consistently reading the right books and the right articles allow professionals to tap into their inner genius and promote a personal growth regiment. Where will the idea for the next “big thing” come from? And more importantly, will you be the person to find, develop, and implement the idea for the next “big thing.” Keep reading!

 

 

Related Resources

 

Building Intellectual Power One Book at a Time

Photo Credits By Avil Beckford

Transforming a Negative into a Positive: What I Learned from Adversity

April 7, 2009
Grand Etang Forest Reserve, Grenada

Grand Etang Forest Reserve, Grenada

 

The past five years have often felt like I was a runaway train heading for derailment. There were far more valleys than peaks. My bread and butter client disappeared overnight as a result of being acquired by a firm with a very different focus from theirs. Many other projects disappeared and suddenly I was without a safety net. Ninety percent of my income came from that one client.

 

I scrambled and tried to make it work with little success, until I finally learned to let go. I let go of the control freak within me, and I let go of the intense fear that I was feeling. Realization came crashing down like a cement wall; I no longer enjoyed what I did for a living and felt trapped. I had been feeling that way for a long time but refused to acknowledge those feelings.

 

My life now felt like a threadbare garment that had seen better days. I often wondered how I would go on. I was stuck in a familiar place that was not so comfortable. I looked at my life and compared it to a large project that’s overwhelming at first. Whenever that happened I would take on bite sized portions, and in no time the project became bearable. So, I viewed my life like one of my research projects taking one step at a time, and suddenly my life seemed less daunting.

 

And like a research project, I conducted a needs assessment, but in this case I was assessing my life. During this period of darkness, I became more self-aware and wiser. I learned that I didn’t have to discard my research skills, because they would be critical to whatever I decided to do. I learned that even though you are very good at something doesn’t mean that it’s your calling.

 

I spent a lot of time in solitude reflecting on my life and evaluating everything.  I became wiser and more aware of myself. I learned to be easier on myself. Despite the tough times, I still managed to write my first book Tales of People Who Get It and its companion workbook, Journey to Getting It. I marvel now at how much I accomplished even though I felt like I was going nowhere fast.

 

I experimented with writing poetry, short stories and about life in Jamaica. I was transported back to a simpler time when I would go to the market with grandma on Saturday mornings. I re-experienced happiness. It’s amazing how it took an adversity, the loss of my safety blanket to explore what would really make me happy.

 

Each day, I take one step closer to the life that I want to live. It’s not easy, but one step is all that I can take. The pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of my life are fitting into place and for the first time in my life I feel as if I am going exactly where I want to go, and exactly where I need to go. Here is one of the poems that I wrote during my time of transitions.

 

The Square Peg

 

All his life he tried to fit in,

A square peg into a round hole.

All his friendships were superficial at best.

He worked hard at being liked,

Always being a people pleaser – the “yes” man,

And the “go-to-it” guy.

He catered to everyone else’s needs,

Except his very own.

One day he wised up,

And took stock of his life.

He realized he could no longer,

Continue living his life this way.

For the first time in his life,

He stopped trying to fit in,

And working so hard to be liked.

In the blink of an eye, like a flash,

He was surrounded by square pegs.

All this time he wasted,

When all he had to do,

Was simply be himself.

 

I believe that we can learn from the experiences of others. And I believe that we can use the words of others as Invisible Mentors. What lessons have you learned from others? Does the poem resonate with you? Do you work very hard at fitting in? How do you deal with adversity?

 

 This post is an entry in the What I learned from Adversity Group Writing Project hosted by Robert Hruzek, Middle Zone Musings.

 

Photo Credits: Avil Beckford

Learning from our Mistakes, Or Not

April 6, 2009

How did I get here?

Why do I keep on making the same mistakes over and over again? You would think that I would have learned by now.

 When you read Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, you find yourself  laughing, not because the poem is funny. You are laughing at yourself. You feel a connection to Portia Nelson’s words. She is speaking your words. 

I certainly felt a connection with her! She clearly articulated what I was feeling.

You feel connected to the author because it takes you forever to get it right. But one day you finally get it, perhaps by then the pain is too much for even you to bear. Or perhaps you are now more self-aware. The reason doesn’t matter because you have finally learned from that particular mistake.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

by Portia Nelson

 Chapter 1

 

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost …. I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

Chapter 2

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

Chapter 3

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit… but,

my eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

Chapter 4

 

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

 

Chapter 5

 

I walk down another street.

 

 Portia Nelson, 1920 – 2001, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk

As I write this post, and read the poem again, I notice something for the first time, and make a connection that I didn’t make before.

“…I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place…”

 The quote attributed to both Einstein and Bejamin Franklin pops into my consciousness, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting to get a different result.” We are in the same place because we simply haven’t made any changes. How can we expect a different result if we keep on doing the same thing the same way?

We no longer have to walk down that particular road in life because we have options. We can learn from your mistakes, or not, the choice is entirely ours.

What emotions does Autobiography in Five Short Chapters evoke? What lessons can we learn? What does this poem remind you of?

The first time I read this poem it moved me deeply. So much so that I secured permission to use it in my book Tales of People Who Get It.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters is from the book There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk, pp 2-3.

Learn from the Experiences of Others: Interview With David Gray

April 3, 2009

 Avil: What’s a typical day like for you?

David: A typical week-day starts around 7:30 am with a breakfast of home-made muesli.  I very seldom miss breakfast.  While I eat, I respond to emails. Then it’s off to meet my clients.  When possible, I grab a quick lunch.  Then in the afternoon the consultation process continues with my clients.  In addition to my own practice http://www.davidgraycoach.com I work on large firms’ Career and Coaching delivery contracts, so there is seldom a dull moment.  By 7 pm I am usually home and enjoy spending a couple of hours with my wife, Anne, sharing a laugh while we cook and eat dinner and then settle in for a couple hours of reading or TV.  By 11 pm I am back at the computer responding to emails.  By 1 pm I am generally in bed. 

Saturdays and Sundays are catch-up days.  I might see one or two clients on a Saturday, but for the most part I enjoy doing domestic chores (yes, I am that rare male who actually enjoys doing cooking, laundry etc., as I find it very relaxing.)  For exercise I swim at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre at Spadina & Bloor where I am a member.  I try to fit some yoga in at the Yoga Sanctuary at College and Yonge, and I do a stretching and Pilates routine.

  Avil: What does it take to succeed in your field?

 David: To be successful in my field one typically needs empathy, compassion, a conscientious work ethic and a background in HR.  However, to be truly outstanding one additionally needs a great degree of life history in a variety of business settings as well as a high degree of intuitive and innovative intelligence in order to be able to work with people from numerous diverse backgrounds who are each struggling with very individual career and life challenges.  In a word, one needs wisdom.  And typically, that can only be accumulated over a long period of time after encountering a variety of challenging situations in one’s own career and life. 

Avil: What are the three greatest threats to your business success?

David: Fear, procrastination and indecision.  I focus very consciously and creatively on potential available solutions to whatever current challenge I am facing in order to banish those threats.

 Avil: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?

 

David: I tend to think way outside the existing structures and definitions concerning how to help people break-through to new levels of consciousness in both their business and personal ways of dealing with challenges.

 

Avil: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.

 

David: My big break was convincing my wife to marry me.  That relationship has been the foundation for all of my business success.

  

Avil: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?

 

David: My biggest failure was in not recognizing or having confidence in my own potential as a young adult.  As a result, I worked at manual labour and other mundane jobs while other fellows were going to graduate school.  Eventually, I wrote the LSAT (pre-law exam), scored in the 93rd percentile and realized I was actually quite bright. That gave me the confidence to do an MBA, go into Business & Technology consulting and then enter the Leadership and Career Coaching fields.

 

Avil: What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?

David: Not having children.  My antidote is to live my own life to the full.

Avil: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?

David: The toughest decision I have had to make was to walk away from a friendship of many years that had turned sour.  To this day I feel the loss, but despite my best efforts there was no way I could discover to turn the situation around.

Avil: How did mentors influence your life?

David: Mentors have influenced my life more by their actions and their own ways of conducting themselves rather than by any specific mentoring per se.

Avil: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?

David: Establish trust by being principled and doing what you say you will do.

Avil: What process do you use to generate great ideas?

David: Take the situation, consider the conventional wisdom and then try to turn it on its head and see what comes up.  In other words, think in a consciously contrarian style.

Avil: Which one book had a profound impact on your life?

David: Hero of a Thousand Faces by the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell.  He taught me to ‘follow my bliss.’

Avil: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what are five books that you would like to have with you and why? Give a brief summary of each book

 

David:

  • Don Quixote, by Miguel De Cervantes:  The first modern novel, this book revolutionized the imaginative approach to the then core myth of Chivalry, itself a central concept in most European’s self-construct.  This book reminds us never to take at face value the assumptions of the society in which we happen to live because of vagaries of our birth in a particular geographical space, social context and time. 
  • The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, by Philip Bobbitt.  An erudite and sweeping review of European history until the 19th century and then an analysis of world history in the 20th and early 21st centuries viewed from the dual perspectives of Law and War.  This book provides a context within which to grasp the complex geopolitics of the world we currently live in. 
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost: All eleven of his books – complete, edited by Edward Connery Lathem.  This book reminds one that the only life worth living is one including a degree of reflection. 
  • The Measure of a Man: a Spiritual Autobiography, by Sidney Poitier.  This book teaches a man how to live as a man.  In a day and age when men are increasingly out of touch with their essential masculinity, Poitier’s story of his personal challenges, triumphs and philosophy of life reads like a melodic breath of very fresh air. 
  • Lincoln’s Melancholy:  How Depression Challenged a President and Fuelled His Greatness, by Joshua Wolf Shenk.  A biography that reads like a detective novel. The real Lincoln is far more fascinating and inspiring than the manufactured American myth of the man.  Like Poitier’s book, this one provides insights into what is possible to achieve and, far more importantly, what it means to live life as a man who is true to his own vision, come hell or high water.  Interestingly, in Lincoln’s case it was the hellfire of a bullet, whereas for Poitier it was a near-death experience with high water.

 How do you resolve the challenges in your life? If you had to live your life over, would you do things differently? How do you define success and what is your formula for success? To find out David’s answer to these questions and a lot more, click here to download the entire interview.

Let us know what you think. Do you agree with David? Which aspects of his interview resonates with you the most?

About David Gray: David has advised executive clients based in Canada, the UK, Europe and Asia.  In addition to his own consulting practice, David serves as President of the Board, Toronto Chapter of the Association of Career Professionals International (ACP International), and is a member of the Strategic Leadership Forum (GTA).

Using the Poem “My Wage” by Jessie B. Rittenhouse to Think Differently

April 1, 2009

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Do you set your sights high enough? Are you always settling for less than you deserve? Because if you do, you’ll never be the best you were meant to be. Take some time to reflect on the poem below.

My Wage

I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;

For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.

I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have paid.

 Jessie B. Rittenhouse (1869 – 1948)

The next time you set out to accomplish something, anything, how about you raise the bar by one percent. How much more would you accomplishe in 365 days if you always do one percent more.  “For Life is a just employer, He gives you what you ask…”

Photo Credits: Avil Beckford

Photo taken in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada