Thursday, December 6, 2007

Motivated To Excel

I just saw the movie Breach last night. It is about Robert Hanssen, the real life story of the most destructive spy against the US government who has ever lived. Chris Cooper played Hanssen. Although I have seen little of him, I always enjoyed Chris Cooper's acting. But after Breach, he is without question one of my favorite actors.

The movie was good, but what really got me hooked was watching a couple short DVD documentaries in the extras. Considering how much Hollywood fluff is out there (models > actors, bodies > minds), Cooper's devotion to his craft is inspiring.

This is what Cooper did to get ready for his role:

1. Watched the only ten-second film clip of Hanssen available to him an ungodly amount of times
2. Incessantly interviewed the real life FBI operative who knew Hanssen best
3. Read "seven or eight" books on Hanssen
4. Spent two weeks prior to the film rehearsing with his primary actor partner in the film

In my work with facilitators, presenters, and teachers, I would estimate about 15% of the people I know are as committed to their work as Cooper (he is an Oscar winner, after all). I wish I could say I knew a lot of people with these habits, but when it comes down to it, massive devotion to one's work is unique. Other things take precedence: family needs, health concerns, TV - many things both important and ridiculous.

I am on the hunt.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Judge Me

One topic that frequently arises amongst my colleagues and me is how to evaluate facilitator / public speaker talent.

I came across an article in Scientific American from a couple years ago that was about how we judge people - specifically, how we can more accurately judge them based on 'blink'-like observations. Although much of the article is based on a person's environmental choices (like how they keep their house), the study provides some fascinating pieces of information.

One point is that a person's appearance has little to no validity on intellectual abilities, but we all have mental models (filters with which we see the world) that change how we judge others based on their appearance.
To truly get an accurate intellectual picture of a person, Peter Borkenau's studies show that we need to listen to someone read out loud for only three minutes to construct a rather accurate image of his or her mental capacities. (I assume this means standard academic intelligence areas such as linguistic and verbal capacities.)

I wonder how other successful companies who hire presenter and facilitator talent hire.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Master Of Her Domain

Jenny Severson is talented.

She has a genuine, intelligent quality about her that I have seen since we first met, working together at a SuperCamp program in Illinois back in 1994. Since then, she has developed into a sought after educational presenter and consultant.

Last week I had the chance to hear her present information on group and personal motivation, which was a treat-and-a-half because she is so well read and does her homework (versus typical motivational speaker syndrome).

Key points I took away both during and after thinking about her presentation:
  1. Motivation is increased by surrounding oneself with people who give us an emotional jolt
  2. Some people have an incorrect mentality of: 'The beatings will stop when the morale improves', that decreases motivation
  3. Principles: level one is to know them; level two is to do them, level three is to be them
  4. It can be good to feel regret over decisions made - this can motivate us to want to improve
I also took away some observations on great presenting, like the value of having a repertoire of stories and the ability to tell them in varying lengths of available time. When a person deeply understands Beginnings, Middles, and Ends of communication, they better know how to engage and end conversation markers on emotional upswings, for example. They can also generate and quickly 'grab' examples from their mind that relate and support the conversation at hand.

Also, Jenny treats her time with the audience as time within a bigger picture, not time about her. She related her dialogue and points to points made earlier by other speakers and audience members - not toss off relations, but meaningful, thoughtful ones. This is an advanced move, as beginners are naturally too focused on themselves to go outside their own head much.

When I listen to and watch a truly masterful public communicator, it focuses my thoughts, letting me think and dwell on a topic in a more organized fashion, going along for a ride with someone who brings freshness and life to it.

Thanks, Jenny.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I believe courageous people know how to set boundaries with their work. Their self-esteem is not so wrapped up in the number of hours they work or their job title, but rather in their balance of family, friends, personal endeavors (physical, artistic, or intellectual activities that fill up one's soul), and work. This has recently become more clear to me as I navigated some changes in my career.

Consciously leaving the office after nine hours most days is hard, because I get engaged in what I am doing. Work is a fun, complex game, and I love games. But I need to remember to spend time away. Even though I love it, the intensity has burnt me out when I don't stay aware of myself and others in my life, regulating my time and energy.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Youth Is Wasted On The Young

I recently heard that quote. I had a reaction to it. It rings as a frightening idea, stopping me for a moment from thinking about what I am gaining as I get older and causing me to consider what I am losing. There is a sense of sadness in the quote. Like that line from the movie Straight Story, when the old man says, "I guess the worst part about being old is remembering when you were young."

I am pretty sure that is the scariest part for me - accepting mortality. I am working toward things that are so meaningful to me, such great fun, making things better in my life and work, and I know I will lose it all.

I feel a need for frantic pacing. And I feel impatient when people don't have that same fire to get things going.

And I am inspired by people who have the fire. I just saw former astronaut Jim Lovell in an interview. He said people who have "the right stuff" are people who love to work by objectives and not just a 9 to 5 job. Basically, you really have to love what you do so much that it is not so painful to spend huge chunks of time working. The word "work" has different emotions attached to it for different people.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Infinite Ascent

My love for the discipline of facilitating and public speaking always gets me. I usually wake up a couple times a week in the middle of the night with some incredible idea about group leadership or communication, scribble it down on the pad of paper by my bed, then read it the next morning only to confirm my fear that I have mild brain damage.

But this is not about that. This is about one concept for public speakers that has stayed true with me over the past couple years. It's called The Infinite Ascent.

Basically, this is a model used to gauge a facilitator's primary success characteristics. The climb starts from the bottom, and it never ends (as shown by those lumpy clouds).

1. Am I willing to change? Specifically, am I willing to change my mental code of beliefs about what facilitation communication choices are best. It takes a lot of dismantling and rewiring to assemble a Primo Facilitator. If someone is not open to learning from experts or being coached by those who have more understanding and ability, then the person will not improve much.

2. How do people react to my communication (friends and strangers)? Do people like to be around me? How much do I attract them? How often do I warm them up in conversation versus needing to be warmed up by them? How much do I get them smiling or laughing? At what rate do others get comfortable with me? What degree of positive impact do I make with people?

Resonance is the complex and layered ability of one's effectiveness to be with people - a constantly fluctuating dynamic based on who the people are and how they are feeling at the moment.

Unfortunately, I have seen group leaders have an angry emotional outburst in front of a group, get coaching on it, then dismiss the coaching because they don't understand the relevance managing one's own emotions has to being a group leader. Fortunately, resonance can be improved by learning from those who are better with it ("it" being charm, sense of humor or fun, quickness to engage, putting people at ease - basically any trait that 'works' with others), then trying what you observed for yourself.

A lot of people cry, "But I just need to be myself!" OK, but what if "yourself" is not effective? Chances are "yourself" is not an expert harpist, either. But just like learning to think and move one's body in new ways to play an instrument, learning to resonate with people in better ways is learned to the same degree that one is willing to work for it (see #1).

3. Skill. Like a summit push, this is the most dangerous part of the climb. The biggest problem I see as people (rookies and veterans alike) learn about group communication is that they want to focus on 'skills' way too early and often, unconsciously ignoring the foundation of the climb - Willingness and Resonance. The funny thing about focusing on 'how my hands move', intricate linguistics ("you said 'like' seventeen times in four minutes"), where to stand, etc., is that the more you do it when you don't have a solid foundation, the more you end up sucking because there is not enough substance supporting the skills.

Yes, facilitation skills are important. In fact, they are vital to understand in order to be a master communicator (here are some great ones, and here are some more by one of my master teachers). And they are trivial compared to one's willingness to learn and one's resonance with people. Focusing on skills without having deep willingness and wide resonance is like taking a helicopter to the summit of Everest and saying you climbed it. You still have no idea what it takes to make the climb. Anyone can talk about hand movements and bean-count the number of times a person says "you know". But to be great, you have to make the entire climb, and that means sweat, strain, and pain.

That's it. Well, that's an introduction. One final point - remember the "infinite" part of the ascent. Just because you are really good and lots of people say so does not mean that you get to start using that helicopter. Exploring and improving upon one's willingness and resonance continues for the entire climb. And making massive strides gets harder as the altitude gets thinner.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Kick Them When They're Up

Bo Schembechler, head coach at the University of Michigan from 1969 to 1989, has a label on leading teams that I love. He calls it Kick them when they're up. It is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, when a team is performing well, find the little things to improve versus kicking back and being self-congratulatory.

It's kaizen, those constant and never-ending improvements. It reminds me of the concept of Playing To Win versus Playing Not To Lose. That and Don Henley's song, Dirty Laundry.

Monday, September 10, 2007

An Infinite Activity

I was thinking about decision making today. Not so much making the decision as the process of considering what decision to make.

It struck me that when we think in the most basic, limited way, we think in yes/no, right/left, up/down options - options in front of us that everyone can see. But when we think more openly we break the frame, venture outside the borders and consider far more unique options. For example, I could choose the obvious - drive either left or right - or I could stop the car, get out, and go get a Slurpee.

In these moments we are able to change the game. Outcomes enter flux and results may get us closer to a whole new ending than the one we originally intended. Or maybe not. As long as it is respectful to other people involved, great.

Regardless, I appreciate people who fall on the side of innovative, who seek more than the options readily available to them and inspire others to see more. It creates a new world to live in that is unexpected and infinite.