Adaptation: Let’s help each other by embracing our common humanity

I am participating again in an enriching process called Quest. Every week in December, participants have an opportunity to reflect on three pithy questions. Here’s my response to one:  

LINDA ROTTENBERG, author of Crazy is a Compliment, poses this question:  

Today we all have a choice: We can take risks and actions to ensure that we adapt with the constantly changing times or we can hope for the best and do nothing. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready? #Adaptation #quest2017 

A friend of ours (Judi Neal) developed a model based on her research that represents how people adapt to change.


In the model, two types of personalities look backward. Guardians dig their heels in and refuse to change. My husband Jim tells a wonderful story about his father, who refused to turn in his old black dial telephone and the phone company finally showed up with the town Sheriff to install a new pushbutton phone. The Placeholders are also resistant to change: they cite how well the old way works and find problems with new ideas.

Hearthtenders sit firmly in the middle of this model. These people like to focus on the activities of daily life, and they pay attention to nurture and care of the community. They will adapt slowly to change. The personalities that look toward the future are the Flamekeepers and the Edgewalkers. Flamekeepers preserve the core values and guiding principles of the past while helping a community to move forward. Edgewalkers find the borders of worlds and choose to walk along the edges, often bridging worlds. They are the change-makers.

Not everyone needs to be an Edgewalker.

In Judi’s model, three of the 5 types readily adapt to change. Communities need Hearthtenders and Flamekeepers to maintain a healthy balance between stability and change. Communities will always have Placeholders and Guardians. The rest of us must treat them with compassion and respect as we help them to adapt to changing times.   

I am an Edgewalker in many areas of my life, but not all. When I worked as an executive leader in a Fortune 100 company, I was the person who created spaces and opportunities for my organization to experiment with different ways of working. I dragged my colleagues (the division’s CEO, COO, and CFO) to my technology conferences where they learned new ideas and applied them to the rest of the division. We brought EQ, Steven Covey’s 7 Habits, and employee-driven hiring into my division before any of these ideas were popular. We did things like African drumming, meditation, and flying paper airplanes with ideas scribbled on them to each other at our strategic planning sessions.

If you think this was craziness for the sake of experimentation, it was not.

My organization was profiled twice by Gartner as an exemplary, high performing IT organization. We won awards in strategic planning and performance measurement from outside organizations. Our employee turnover rate went from 32% at the time I became its leader to 4% after three years.

In 2007, I left the corporate world to earn a doctorate in Human and Organizational Systems. Like the Edgewalker personality type, I decided to bridge two worlds: work organizations and chamber music ensembles. My research and current writing projects center on bridging these two worlds.

Currently, my husband Jim and I are living a personal Edgewalker life. In 2015, we sold our house, cars, and furniture. We put the rest in storage and have been “intentional nomads.” The experience is very rich and a bit chaotic.

How have we adapted to this life?

We unpack our two suitcases immediately when we arrive somewhere (unless it’s for less than 3 days). We set up our writing spaces. We buy groceries and wine. We take a slow walk around the neighborhood to soak it in. We have conversations with shopkeepers (in Spanish or French when in countries that speak those languages). I find people with whom I can play chamber music. I play my violin. We get to know people and they get to know us. We are constantly in a state of wonder and appreciation for the nuances in each place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More importantly, I take care of my body, mind, and spirit. I meditate regularly and find a local yoga studio for classes. Jim and I work on our projects on a daily basis, regardless of location. We set aside time to relax and do nothing. We have video calls with friends and family members to stay connected.

It is true that adaptation is an inner process.

For me, the secret to adaptation is to find my internal center of balance and take intentional steps from that place. Meditation, yoga, exercise, and reflection are the practices I use to find and maintain my center. The most important actions and risks that I take from that center include the many conversations I have with the people I meet along the way. When there is connection with others, even when we communicate imperfectly because we are not fluent in each other’s language, we are helping each other to adapt.

We help each other to adapt to a chaotic, evolving world by embracing our common humanity.           

Posted in We Presence | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Intentional Entrepreneur

In my last blog post, I illustrated the process I used to re-frame my belief system related to being an entrepreneur.  I have additional work to do in this process. My next step is to set intentions regarding how I want to BE as an entrepreneur, how I want to think and speak and how I want to act as an entrepreneur.

When all of these aspects of entrepreneurship are congruent, I will have set clear intentions for my business.  

How I want to BE as an Entrepreneur 

I start with three of my re-frame characteristics: impulsive, charismatic, risk-taker:

impulsiveInstead of being impulsive, I intend to be spontaneous and at the same time mindful. Spontaneity opens the door to creativity, being mindful means I observe my actions and thoughts and use inner wisdom and discernment to make decisions for the highest good. I also choose to use my Risk Takerintuition when it feels strong and “right” to follow a certain path, even though my logical mind might not agree.

Instead of being a big risk-taker, I stretch beyond my comfort zone to take appropriate risks, while using both facts and intuition to make decisions. I let go of fear of failure to accept that I can make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

CharismaI do not consider myself to be a charismatic person. That is not required to be an entrepreneur. I show up as my authentic self, enthusiastic about people and the work we are doing together, able to laugh at life’s absurdities, and open to appropriately express my interests and emotions. I show interest in others and acknowledge, affirm, and support them. I do not hide my talents behind a barrel – I take my place in the spotlight with humility.

How I Intend to Think, Speak, and Act as an Entrepreneur

I am not “in it to win” or for purely for the money. Nor do I love “making the deal.”For the $ Success for me means that I have a positive impact on the world because I help emerging leaders to have a positive impact on the world. At the same time, what I have to offer is valuable.

I think of money as a form of energy (as everything literally is in the Universe). Therefore, I intend to provide value (energy as a coach and consultant) and gratefully accept value (energy as money and stock in my clients’ companies). I already have a practice of circulating 10% of my gross earnings to charities. That will continue, with input from my clients. It’s called “sharing the good.” Instead of “hunting the deal” I am happy when a prospective client’s needs, values, and context are congruent with my offerings, values, and vision/mission.  If they are not congruent, I am not afraid to say “no” and if possible refer colleagues who are a better match.

Marketing and Sales With Intention and Attention

Despite the fact that I have been an independent consultant for over 8 years and a consultant with PWC for 7+ years back in the 1990’s, I never considered myself to be in sales or to know anything about marketing.


Perhaps this is one of the biggest shifts in my self-realization process.

To see myself as having something to offer the world and be able to articulate it in ways that are inviting and compelling to others. By listening deeply to understand emerging leaders’ needs, I can determine offerings that are helpful to emerging leaders. I will not attempt to provide every type of service and solution that is needed.

By limiting the scope of my offerings, I can provide depth and greater value.

I have learned that besides becoming visible through marketing, I need to articulate what I stand for and stand against so that potential clients can decide for themselves if they resonate with my principles and approaches.

Finally, though I have no intention of making “cold calls,” I can learn some lessons from the people who do that. Namely, not to let rejection deter or deflate me, learn from each conversation, ask thoughtful questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for a referral to a more appropriate person.

I find all of these intentions to resonate with my internal values and sense of who I am. Yet truthfully, the thought of fully living the life of an entrepreneur as defined above is still quite daunting (read as: scary). I am moving forward anyway – with courage, and the support of my colleagues and friends.


Posted in Empowerment, Shift Perspective | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Accidental Entrepreneur

Up until now, I shuddered at the thought of being labeled as an entrepreneur.  The reality is that my friends and colleagues who are entrepreneurs do not embody what I consider to be the “negatives” of entrepreneurship. However, there are many examples in the media and in my everyday encounters which have led me to disassociate myself from the role.

I have been happiest in my many careers when working with others. I loved the feeling of belonging to an established organization, and having interactions with an abundance of teams and individuals who are associated with an organization. These experiences included playing in a string quartet, performing in a symphony orchestra, working in a software development team, working as a consultant for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and working as a leader of more than 800 technology professionals in a Fortune 100 company. There, now you know how many careers I’ve had thus far!

However, in 2007 I made the decision to leave as a leader in the world of large organizations and return to school for a doctorate in Human and Organizational Development, with a desire to move into leadership in academia or a nonprofit organization. During my years in school, I supported my family as a consultant and coach. The work came to me without my having to do any marketing. I made a good living while I was in school.

I became an “Accidental Entrepreneur”

I never considered myself to be an entrepreneur. However, I have been a consultant and coach for many years now, within a large consultancy (PWC), in my role within a bank in the 90’s, and as an independent professional for over 10 years. During the past few years since I completed my doctorate, I applied to and interviewed for several positions within academia and the nonprofit sector to no avail.

Time to re-frame my definition of entrepreneur and set clear intentions for my work.


Yesterday, I conducted a personal exploration of my beliefs about entrepreneurs. The words circled in red are the ones that gave me a negative charge. The words I highlighted in yellow are the ones that I can embrace. I let the page sit overnight and returned to it this morning.

Next, I listed the words that resonated with me on a new piece of paper.  Entrepreneurs 3





As a third step, I took the words circled in red and began to draw new associations and words in order to capture essences and find completely different ways to express these concepts so that they resonate with me personally. I surprised myself. This exercise helped me to open the door to a completely new relationship with the concept of “entrepreneur.” 

Entrepreneurs 5

Moving from Accidental to Intentional Entrepreneur 

As I move toward an intentional approach to my work as an entrepreneur, I now have a clearer definition of how I want to be as an entrepreneur and of the people whom I’d like to serve. I would like to serve emerging young leaders who want to make a difference in the world through their entrepreneurial work, whether it be for-profit or non-profit. These individuals desire to become more consciously aware within themselves and of the world. They desire to show up with authenticity and integrity. My ideal clients and I strive to exemplify the qualities that emerged from my re-frame process. Onward in this journey we go!

Here are my draft vision and mission statements for my business, DCL Associates Inc (I hope to come up with a better organization name in the future). I take the risk now to ask for your feedback on both so that these statements are clear, strong, and resonant.

Vision: A World of Emerging, Authentic, and Conscious Leaders Making a Difference

Mission: Like ripples on a pond, we generate a positive impact in the world by helping emerging leaders to deepen self-awareness and broaden organizational awareness, so that their organizations fulfill meaningful missions.   

Posted in Empowerment | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Learning to Improvise, Part 2

As the keynote speaker for graduating classes of supervisors in the operations division at a former Fortune 100 company, I frequently presented my “Three L’s” speech.

The three “L’s” are learning, listening, and loving.

Learning is what you are doing right now as you read this blog post. I encourage you to see yourself as a lifelong learner. There is no end to learning and evolving one’s own knowledge and consciousness. I will address loving and its importance in organizational life in a later post. In this post, I emphasize the vital skill of listening and how it is essential to moving into collective virtuosity.

How can we address conflict, complex problems, and negotiations in ways that allow innovative solutions and creativity? Organizational groups often cannot communicate well across specialties because they lack a common language.  Their definitions of reality differ depending on the meaning they assign to their categories. And most importantly, they haven’t learned to listen deeply to each other.

Deep Listening is a way of life for musicians. It should be a way of life for the rest us. 

Poetry Image-LARGE-300x204

COLLAGE: Music & Poetry – Cavani String Quartet with Mwatabu Okantah

Researcher Keith Sawyer says we tend to attribute group creativity to one person’s leadership or genius, when it is really the sum of the parts, through collaborative action, that creates a cohesive performance. In his research on jazz musicians and improv theater performers, Sawyer describes the phenomenon of group flow as occurring when performers are listening to each other while listening to themselves as they simultaneously play their instruments. In Paul Berliner’s book Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, he says, “the highest points of improvisation occur when group members strike a groove together.”

Group Flow: Deep Listening Through Dialog

Facilitated dialog is one means to learn deep listening because the process helps us to inquire into our internal meaning-making and requires mindfulness at the collective level.  Dialog allows us to become aware of different perspectives and to discover new ways to think.

In his facilitated dialog process, William Issacs describes the practice of suspensionThe group can move into a discussion of the issues or they can choose to suspend their points of view.  The process of suspension requires that people listen deeply to the conversation without making judgments about the different views being presented.  The group may move back and forth between discussion and suspension for a while.  Through the process, they begin to explore underlying assumptions and myths.  They begin to ask questions such as, “What is the meaning of this? Where am I listening from?  What am I feeling?  What am I thinking?  What are my impulses for action or words?”

As the dialog deepens, group members are able to detach their personal identity from the topic being discussed. They are able to sit with the tension between differing points of view without taking it personally. Awareness expands to the point in which individuals participate in the dialog and at the same time observe it as if in a theater.  They become aware of how the dialogue affects others in the group.  As they become aware of limiting assumptions, beliefs and social patterns, they take accountability for them.

Finally, dialogue becomes a synchronized movement of collective thinking and common meaning.  

Otto Scharmer built on Isaacs’ ideas on dialog process to create his Theory U.  Scharmer describes four types of listening in Theory U: downloading, factual, empathic, and generative.

Downloading consists of every-day surface-level conversation, such as “How are you?” and “We’re having crazy weather!” Not much listening is taking place in this type of conversation, other than acknowledging the existence of each other during the conversation.

Factual listening occurs when we have a discussion about ideas. This type of discussion can turn into debate. In order to have a healthy discussion or debate, we must listen with an open mind. As we move into a deeper level of listening, we use empathy to understand the emotions of our dialog partners. Scharmer says that listening “with an open heart gives us the empathic capacity to connect directly with another person from within.” Finally, the fourth and deepest level of listening is generative; we have moved to a place beyond words in which new possibilities emerge. Scharmer says that we must listen with an open will – that the answers come from a deep place within ourselves.

Scharmer uses a powerful metaphor to explain these successive levels of listening. Imagine that you see a painter standing in front of her finished canvas. This is the level of factual listening. Now imagine that you see the same painter while she is applying paint to the canvas in the midst of her creative process. This is the level of empathic listening. Finally, imagine that you see the same painter standing in front of a blank canvas. This is the level of generative listening, or listening from the emerging future. With a blank canvas, all possibilities are present.

Practice Deep Listening  

Try out this exercise: take some time to examine your levels of listening during the conversations in which you were involved for a period of time, perhaps at noon and at the end of a day.

How many conversations went deeper than downloading and factual listening? Think back on the conversations you’ve had during the period of a week. Did you engage in any generative listening?

What steps can you take to move conversations to deeper levels of listening? Remember that not all conversations need to be generative. It is sometimes appropriate to use downloading and factual listening, and it is important to discern when it is appropriate to move to deeper levels of listening.

Posted in Deep Listening | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning to Improvise, Part 1

IMG_1454This past week, my husband and I stayed with our friends Andy and Bonnie Anderson, who live in a rural part of Oregon. Andy is a well-regarded musician/songwriter who focuses on writing positive, uplifting music. One evening after a lovely dinner with friends, we took out our instruments and jammed together. Because I’m a classically trained musician, it was really a stretch for me to play “by ear” and to improvise to a skeleton base line and rhythm. It was quite a stretch for me!

Why is it difficult for some of us to improvise and easy for others? Temperament has something to do with it. However, many of us, especially those in the traditional world of business have operated within a set of rules and norms for years. We have been afraid to move out of our comfort zones to experiment, to try something different and risk failure or to embarrass ourselves.

When I first joined the executive team at Countrywide Financial in the late 1990’s, I wanted to fit in. However, I led a group that needed to innovate new systems and processes in collaboration with the business division. Our business division’s motto was “Evaluate, Innovate, Celebrate!” We made some bold moves with new technologies, different organization structures and practices, and we had fun too!

Core Values: A Base-line and Rhythm to Follow



The author, relaxed and not afraid to make mistakes!

My group developed a set of core values from the bottom-up, with 350 employees participating in the process. Our employees refined and validated the core values, then we applied them in all of our processes and activities including hiring, performance evaluations, and recognition celebrations. Core values formed the “skeleton” akin to a musician’s base line and rhythm section. As long as we paid attention to the framework of our core values, we could experiment with novel ideas to provide better systems. Our organization learned together.

Sure, we made some mistakes. We promptly acknowledged the mistakes and turned them into learning opportunities. And, I moved out of my comfort zone to risk being labeled “quirky” in order to lead an innovative culture. I’m proud of that label, as well as the many accomplishments of our organization. Many of my former colleagues today still say it was one of the best team environments they’ve every worked in.

Questions for Self-Reflection

Do you and your organization have a set of guiding principles or core values that you keep in the forefront of everything you do? Are you allowed to improvise and respond to changing contexts and environments? How easy or hard is it for you personally to risk being considered “different” or “quirky” so that you can truly innovate? You don’t need to stick to the same old tune week after week. Play with a few different variations of the tune, or find a way to harmonize with it in a unique way, while at the same time you can use your core values as a guiding framework for your decisions and actions.



Posted in Empowerment, Teams | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Differing Viewpoints and Unsolvable Problems

“The bad news about life is that we all face a number of unsolvable problems. However – The good news is that we can, in many cases, stop trying to solve and begin to manage them by holding two conflicting concepts in mind. This is an essential part of the leadership mind.”

~ Barry Johnson, Ph.D.

Tug of war - Ambro @ freedigitalphotos.jpeg

by Ambro

It is easier to see through another’s eyes and understand her world view if you agree with her. But how do you learn to understand and appreciate another person’s perspective if you don’t agree with it? I use a technique called Polarity Management which was developed by Barry Johnson to help groups understand how to shift from “Either/Or” thinking to “Both/And” thinking. When there is no “easy answer” to a problem, it is often because you are facing two different poles of the issue. Neither one is always the “right” answer, you need both.

Let’s take a simple example: Structure vs. Flexibility. What’s the up-side of having structure in an organization? With structure, you have clear guidelines, goals, and consistency in how things get done. What happens when the focus is solely on structure? The organization and its processes become rigid or impractical, and innovation may be stifled.

Let’s look at the opposite. What’s the up-side of having flexibility in an organization? The organization can respond rapidly to changes in the environment and is able to innovate easily. What happens when the focus is on flexibility to the exclusion of structure? Ambiguity, lack of direction, processes that can’t be repeated, or poor follow-through.

The reality is that healthy organizations move back and forth between these two poles. Polarities need to be managed – a wise leader identifies and understands which polarities are pertinent at any point in time and helps her organization to monitor them for balance, so that the organization discerns when to move more toward one pole or another. Other examples of polarities include: centralized and decentralized organization structure, stability and change, outsource and in-source, customer service and profitability, top-down and bottom-up. Can you see that both sides of each polarity are needed, depending on the context?

Team Process – Polarity Management

I have successfully used an adaptation of the polarity management process during some very tense moments with teams to help them work through an issue. If you are not a neutral party to the issue, I recommend that you have a professional facilitator come in to facilitate this process.

Team meeting - Ambro @ freedigitalphotos.jpeg

by Ambro

Pick a pair of polarities with which your team is currently finding tension. It may be that you need to make a decision or you wish to help the group move from either/or thinking to both/and thinking so new possibilities and solutions emerge. Allow 90 minutes to 2 hours for the process.


  • Draw two axes on a large whiteboard
  • Put the name of each pole on the left and the right side of the horizontal axis
  • Have 2 flip charts available. Write the following at the top of 1 flip chart: “Patterns and Similarities.” Write at “Novel Ideas” at the top of the second flip chart.
  • Have 4 different colors of square post-it notes ready
  • Give each person a small stack of post-its of the same color


Part 1:

  •  Ask everyone to write down the “up side” of the pole on the left, in silence for 3 minutes
  • Repeat the process with a new color of post-it. Each person writes the “down side” of the first pole.
  • Have everyone post their up-sides above the horizontal line to the left of the vertical line, without discussion.
  • Next, each person posts their down-sides below the horizontal line to the left of the vertical line.
  • Repeat the process again for the pole on the right side of the horizontal line with new colors of post-it notes.

Polarity Map 3

Part 2:

  • Once all of the up and down sides have been posted for each pole, have someone read the post it notes out loud to the group.  
  • Ask the group to identify patterns and similarities. Write them on a flip chart page.
  • Ask the group to identify novel ideas or comments for the up-side. Write them on a second flip chart page.
  • Take a 5-minute stretch break, walk around, get coffee and encourage people to look at the post it notes and the flip chart pages

Part 3:

  • Review the flip chart pages. Take time to reflect on the ideas that have emerged.
  • Open it up to a group discussion. What group conclusions emerge at this point? What new solutions and ideas have come up? What are the next steps? It is especially important to end with some concrete next steps so the group feels a sense of completion and forward momentum.  
Posted in General, Shift Perspective, Teams | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What’s Your Worldview?

If we truly desire to learn how to stand in another’s shoes to gain deeper understanding and communication, we must first become aware of our own worldview. In her book, SQ21: The Tearthwenty-One Skills of Spiritual IntelligenceCindy Wigglesworth says that a worldview is “made up of what we believe is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ how we think things ‘should be,’ and what we think is true and false.”  A worldview is literally “the way I see the world.” According to Wigglesworth, individuals’ and communities’ worldviews are influenced by geography, religion, age, culture, national citizenship, education level, life experiences, and our “biological realities” such as individual brain chemistry. I would add gender and race to that list, and how those aspects of identity are valued within the culture in which a person grew up and is currently living in.

What Culture did You Grow Up In?

A simple question such as “what culture did you grow up in?” requires considerable self-reflection. You have grown up in multiple cultures, including the norms and rules within your family, the schools you attended, the countries you have lived in. In addition, your ethnic, racial, and religious identities all contribute to “the culture” you grew up in. Each of these experiences and viewpoints influence the way you see the world.

Next, consider the time period in history as a context of your worldview. How have recent events such as the Paris terrorist bombings or 9/11 in the U.S. affected the way you view the world? How have shifts in civil liberties, politics, and technology affected the way you view the world? Imagine a world in which there are no smart phones, or even cell phones. That is the world in which your grandparents came of age. Now add another layer to this complex set of contexts: your personal life experiences. Maybe you had a happy childhood and nothing traumatic happened to you in your youth. Bless you! Or, like most people, you have had some tragedies, accidents, and injuries along with successes that have shaped the person you are today. Each of these contribute to the lens through which we see life.

Learning to See Through Another’s Eyes

How can we learn to see through another’s eyes? Once we come to understand the lenses we use to view the world, we can take the time to imagine another person’s context. Choose someone with whom you work regularly, or a close friend. Consider all of the cultural, time, and geographic contexts that may apply to this person. Imagine what feelings and thoughts you might have if you had had the same experiences. If you know anything about this person’s life experiences or current life and work situations, add that information to your imagination process.

ID-100351346 nentus at

by nenetus

Next, get up the courage to have an inquiry conversation with your colleague or friend; ask questions to validate your imaginings. It’s best to do this informally, bit by bit over time, so your colleague or friend does not feel they are being “interviewed.” Most people respond well when asked questions like, “what was it like growing up in [fill in the blank]?” Really pay attention to their answers with interest and ask them to “tell me more” until you feel you understand them. Train yourself to do this as an ongoing process of getting to know the people in your team and organization and you will develop rapport and trust along with understanding other people’s worldviews.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Don’t read through the above ideas once and “think about the questions.” Take it to a deeper level of understanding through practice.

ID-10041825 - dan at

by dan at


Practice #1

Commit to yourself to embark upon a daily journal writing practice. It need not take more than 10 minutes a day. Begin with examining your own worldview. Here are some questions to explore as a starting point – pick one each day:

  1. What were the rules and norms of my family? How has this affected my worldview?
  2. What country or countries did I grow up in? How has this affected my worldview?
  3. What religion did my family practice during my childhood? What religions have I learned about and/or practiced during my life? How has this affected my worldview?
  4. What is/has been my gender identity? How was/is my gender identity perceived in the cultures of my family, country, religion, etc.? How has this affected my worldview?

If you have other questions to add to this list, I encourage you to add them as comments to this blog post so we can all benefit.

Practice #2

  1. Choose someone with whom you work regularly, or a close friend. Consider all of the cultural, time, and geographic contexts that may apply to this person. Imagine what feelings and thoughts you might have if you had had the same experiences. If you know anything about this person’s life experiences or current life and work situations, add that information to your imagination process. Use some of the questions above to help your imagination process. Write down how you imagine their worldview to be.
  2. Spend time in dialog with this person to understand their worldview. Use phrases like “tell me more” to encourage storytelling and deeper conversation. This should be an informal process and can take place over 1 or more conversations. Be willing to reveal your own personal experience and reflections of your worldview. The conversation will be very rich if you each share personal worldviews. Ask questions such as:
    • What was it like growing up in [fill in the blank]?
    • Where did you go to school? What did you enjoy about it? What did you not like about it? How did it affect the way you see the world?
    • How did [fill in the blank – local or world event] affect you?
    • (Only if you know them really well and have established trust): How did your gender/ race/ ethnic identity/ religious identity affect your life experiences? How did those experiences affect the way you see the world?
  3. Compare your imagined answers with the actual answers you heard during your conversations with this person.
  4. Repeat with another friend or colleague
Posted in General | Leave a comment

A Shift in Perspective Opens Possibilities

Einstein once said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”  

Einstein and violin

Albert Einstein

Often the greatest creativity occurs when we change our perspective. Einstein literally practiced what he preached. As he worked through a complicated mathematical problem, he took breaks to walk in nature or to play his violin. When he came back to his work, an idea or solution would suddenly emerge into his conscious mind.

We all have this capability.

When classical chamber musicians work through their interpretation of a piece of music, they use various techniques to force a shift in their frame of reference so they can evolve novel interpretations. One technique involves switching seats from the normal configuration. Usually the 1st and 2nd violinists of a string quartet sit side by side, and the violist sits opposite the 1st violinist. To mix things, up, the 2nd violinist can switch with the violist, or the violist can switch with the 1st violinist.

Tokyo String Quartet

Tokyo String Quartet

This shift changes the sound coming into the musicians’ ears.

Tallinn String Quartet

The musicians expected a melody or harmony to come from one direction and now it comes from another. Their visual frame of reference also changes. As a result, they become aware of aspects of the composition that they never realized before.


Does your organization have a “seating hierarchy” at your regular meetings?

When I worked as an executive in a Fortune 100 company, we had an unspoken seating arrangement for every meeting. Depending on my level in the hierarchy, I sat in a particular location.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that when I met with the management team of my division in our teleconference room, I sat in the center, flanked by my direct reports. The other managers sat toward the sides or in the back rows. When someone from the group presented, I moved to the side and they sat front and center. conf room stadiumboard meeting

When I attended meetings held by the CEO of my division, the CEO sat at the head of the boardroom table, flanked by the CFO and COO, then me (CIO), and the rest of the executives filled in the table. Business analysts and others sat on chairs around the sides of the room. The configuration never changed, even when others presented.

What do you think might have happened if we deliberately changed the seating arrangement when we encountered a thorny problem that needed a creative solution?

circular board meetingShift the sound direction and visual impact of the meeting conversation!

Try to find a circular or oval table for your meeting. If that isn’t possible, this exercise will still work. The leader can fill the role of neutral facilitator or alternatively, you can have a professional facilitator lead this process:

mind map

mind map

Have everyone stand up and switch places at random to disrupt the hierarchy. Then, ask everyone to spend 3 minutes in silence writing down their ideas (this helps introverts gather their thoughts). Next, go around the table and ask each person to contribute 1 idea. Write these ideas on a flip chart, either as a list or a simple mind map. Continue to go around the table until all ideas are exhausted.

Other techniques to help your team shift perspective:

  • Have everyone take a walk outside for 10 minutes in silence, then write down thoughts that came to them during their walk. Then use the idea contribution process described above.
  • Have people pair into dyads, then ask each other two questions: “what’s the biggest fear you have about this issue?” and “what’s your greatest hope for the resolution of this issue?” Then have each dyad share with the whole group: what came up out of the conversation? Note the patterns and themes that emerge. Note the novel ideas and outliers, and explore them further.

Who says you can’t have fun while addressing challenges?

  • Ask people to write their ideas on a piece of paper, fold it to make a paper airplane, and fly it to another person in the room. Ask the 2nd person to add to the idea on the paper and fly the airplane to another person. Do this for 4 rounds, then share what is written on each airplane.
  • Discover fun ways to disrupt the energy, such as playing music and dancing to it for a few minutes, or doing Brain Gym exercises.

The ability to shift perspective is a key enabler of collective virtuosity in teams. In future posts, we will explore additional techniques that musicians can share with us to further develop this capability within our teams and organizations.

Posted in Chamber Music, Shift Perspective, Teams | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s Your Tempo?

Fast paceLast night I pondered the tempo of my life and how I resist slowing down to Andante (a walking pace) or an Adagio (slow). I  moved through most of my life at an Allegro tempo (lively, cheerful), and I accelerated to Presto (very fast) when I worked on Wall Street, consulted for Price Waterhouse, and later worked as a Fortune 100 company executive. In reflection, I wonder if my true inner tempo is really that fast, or did I drive myself to move at faster tempos because I wanted to excel and achieve at very high levels, as well as fit into the organizational culture.

Personality assessments, such as DiSC® or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, provide some useful information with regard to the inner tempo of an individual.

Not only can these assessments help us understand ourselves, they can help us understand our colleagues’ tempos. The origin of the word tempo is from the Latin word, tempus.  The origin of the word temperament, is from the Latin word, temperamentum, from temperare to mix, or temper. Hmmm, question for my linguist friends, are they related?

DiSC Model from Inscape-Wiley

DiSC Model from Inscape-Wiley

In the DiSC model, the “D” personality is driving, dominating, and fast-paced. They prefer a big picture orientation and are results-oriented. The “D” personality’s tempo is Allegro, Vivace, or Presto. The “I” or “influencer” personality is outgoing and talkative. They think out loud and are full of ideas. Their tempo is also Allegro, Vivace, or Presto, but not as driven. The “S” personality prefers stability, collaboration, and thoughtful structure. Their preferred tempo is usually Allegretto or Andante. The “C” personality likes to dig into the details. A “C” person hates surprises and loves analysis. Their preferred pace is Adagio.  In reality, though some people will sit solidly in one of these four types, most people will have a mix of two or more types in their profile.

Imagine a team that has people representing all four of these types.

How do you lead them through times that require quick decisions? How do you help them to slow down and take time to assess the facts, or to allow a process to unfold? Are you able to adjust your tempo to adapt to these different conditions?

The Author's DiSC management profile

The Author’s DiSC management profile

My DiSC profile shows that I’m right on the line between “I” and “S.” Over the years, I developed behaviors in the “D” and “C” areas in order to adapt to the culture,  context, and requirements of my work. Something for you to consider as you approach your career, your personal leadership development, and in leading your team.


Here’s how my colleagues see my behaviors in relation to the “DiSC 363” model.  You can see how I have learned to demonstrate behaviors in the D and C areas:

The author's 360 degree assessment from her colleagues.

The author’s 360 degree assessment from her colleagues.

It’s important to develop behaviors in all of these areas in order to be a successful leader. One can be commanding, resolute, and pioneering in a positive, affirming and inclusive way. You do not need to be a dictator!

Based on the tempo discussion above, my natural tendencies are more of an Allegretto or Poco piu andante. Perhaps these two tempos will suit me better as I move into a new phase of my life that requires contemplation and synthesis as a writer, rather than the qualities of leadership often needed in a corporate environment.

Posted in General, Teams | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A-Players don’t make an A-Team

A sole focus on creating a team comprised of A-Players can result in “silo-mentality.”  Team-building exercises won’t bring your team to a state of collective virtuosity –   additional practices are required.

Jim Collins, in Good to Great advises us to “get the right people on the bus” and they will do the right thing at the right time so that an organization succeeds and thrives. Imagine an executive team comprised of “A” players who all know how to run their area, are great communicators, are creative, and are achievement oriented. When these leaders only focus on leading their respective areas without collaborating with their peers, they may achieve success within their areas, but the organization as a whole may miss opportunities or even make huge errors in strategy and execution. This situation is commonly known as “silo mentality” – I experienced silo-mentality on multiple occasions within the corporate environment. When we brought consultants in to facilitate team-building exercises, we felt better about working together, but we often fell back into old patterns within our silos.

If you have a team of all “A” players, it’s unlikely they be able to instantly form a high performing team without taking the time to “gel” as a team. A few special ingredients are required to move a team to collective virtuosity! Team building exercises alone will not create what I call a generative team.

A Generative Team originates and evolves ideas, relationships, and processes. A Generative Team has the capacity to express Collective Virtuosity, a magical reflexive process in which, according to Marotto & colleagues, “group members are transformed by their own peak performance.”

High-performing groups such as surgical room staff, aircraft carrier teams, and fire-fighters have found a way to create a collective energy in which every motion across the team is fluid. Communications may occur with or without words, and yet there is instant understanding. Csikszentmihalyi calls this experience flow: effortless action, plus an optimal experience which results in feelings of bliss for those involved. During flow states, people experience time differently; time feels suspended or may pass by quickly.   A person who is in the flow focuses on her or his activity and is immune to distracting thoughts or feelings.

This is the magic that accomplished musicians routinely invoke. 

Music ensembles enter into a group flow state – in the jazz genre it’s called being “in the groove.” Classical chamber musicians use certain techniques during their rehearsals to help them move into a flow state.  We can adapt these techniques for organizational teams.

I will explore these techniques in future blog posts as I reveal the six enablers of a Generative Team: positivity, commitment, empowerment, the ability to shift perspective, forming a We Presence, and the expression of energy and love..

Posted in Chamber Music, Teams | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment