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.