Tear Down the Walls!


iStock_000004285206SmallWe act like there is work, and there is our other (some call it our “real”) life. In this scenario, events that occur in one have nothing to do with the other. The reality, however, is very different.

Much like the Berlin Wall, the walls that we so often try to put up between different parts of our lives are not impervious. They may help to conceal things for awhile. They may allow us to Continue reading

Dream the Impossible.


iStock_000004817114verysmallI spent this weekend fostering dreams. No, I wasn’t working in a sleep-deprivation lab… I was facilitating an intent workshop for a client. They are a small nonprofit, founded to memorialize and honor the victim of a hate crime. In their early years, they focused on creating a physical memorial (a bench with a plaque) in his name, and provided victim services. They testified on behalf of hate crime legislation. Everything was done by volunteers. Most of them moved on. The organization languished.

However, one person kept the spark alive. He knew the work wasn’t done. He wasn’t ready to let the memory fade, or the underlying causes of the attack be left unchallenged. He still feels the pain of loss, the shock of a friend dead because of who he was.

He struck on an idea: produce children’s videos that address issues of difference and acceptance. He found a college teacher who was willing to make this a class assignment. An educator offered insights into key elements of the content. Students storyboarded, presented, and produced two videos.

Now, where do they go from here?

The typical response would be to “grow bigger.” Establish a funding stream. Find money to hire a staff. Produce more videos. Market them. In fact, this was the approach a graduate student in nonprofit management recommended as he helped them to produce a strategic plan. The plan is sound. It highlights many of the challenges that the organization faces, and provides practical guidance for addressing them. In fact, we will be drawing from the plan as we move forward with the process that started this weekend. But, we are not moving forward by figuring out how they “grow bigger” and produce more videos. Instead, we started off by dreaming. We took to heart the counsel provided by George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” We became unreasonable.

It is 2020. We are fostering social change in thinking and action, moving beyond tolerance to embrace diversity, empathy, acceptance, and non-judgement. What are we delivering to children, to their parents, to teachers, to learning systems (schools, youth groups, etc.), to our funders, and to the organization itself? What do we need to put in place to produce the outcomes that we are seeking to achieve?

We spent two solid days in the world of the future.

(Sometimes, when I am working with individual clients, I will ask them to not only visualize the future, but to describe what it looks like, smells like, sounds like, tastes like, feels like. It’s the difference between saying, “I plan to move to the beach in three years,” and saying, “Here I am…my first morning waking up in my beach house. The sound of the surf guided me to sleep last night; as I wake up, I can smell the ocean on the breeze that is blowing across my bed…”)

We clarified the organizational intent. We defined, at a high level, how they will deliver on that intent. We developed principles for decision-making and design as they move forward. We validated our work.

We have a lot of work ahead of us before they “begin building the organization.” We need to figure out all of the pieces that need to be put in place to actually deliver on the intent we have shaped. We need to determine which ones they can hope to achieve, and what it means if they don’t achieve the others. We need a roadmap forward. We need the story of how they get from here to there, and what life will be like when they do.

But what we have put in place is the foundation for a “there” that is much different than a video library. It is a future that focuses on results, not actions or products. It is a future that builds strength through diversity. It is a future in which the organization is an exemplar of its own message, and is a leader in helping us as a society move toward oneness: not a oneness of homogeneity, but one of an integrated and diverse community.

How far will they get in four years? That remains to be seen. What I do know is that it is infinitely further than if they hadn’t dreamed of living in that 2020 world, if they sat down and began by planning to move forward from 2016 rather than dreaming the impossible, if they hadn’t had the courage to be unreasonable.

Your comments are welcome below.



Listen to Henry Ford…


untitledToday’s post is more personal than most. It is a story about my son, Brandon, and holds an important lesson for each of us.

As you may recall from an audio post I made to my blog last year, Resilience Is Critical When Facing Challenge, Brandon is adopted. I first met Brandon when he was 15 years old. He reached out to request an interview for a photography project he was doing in school. He had to write the biography of his favorite photographer and, he told me, “I Googled gay photographers, and you’re my favorite.”

During the course of the interview Brandon learned a bit about me, and I learned a bit about him. Most importantly, I learned that he was living in an abusive home environment, and attending a school where he was getting assaulted on a regular basis. Moreover, he didn’t have an adult figure in his life that he could turn to for guidance, and whom he could trust. I offered him the opportunity to stay in touch, and he accepted.

As time went on, I learned that at home Brandon was told that because he is gay, he would never amount to anything, that he would end up living on the streets. School was not much better. Students would stand outside in the morning, praying for him. A teacher once asked whether he was ever going to “get better.” And he was told he would end up as a hairdresser or florist.

When I first began talking with Brandon about his future, he was already committed to moving beyond the “guidance” he was receiving from others; he had identified a one-year photography trade school that he hoped to attend. As a sometime photographer who knows how difficult it is to make a living that way, I encouraged him to think in terms of “both/and.” What would he like to study in addition to photography?

By the time Brandon graduated high school, he had been thrown out of his home, and I had taken him in. He had been accepted into a five year BA/BFA program at The New School in New York City, with plans to major in psychology (BA) and photography (BFA). Midway through his sophomore year, he made the decision to discontinue the photography major, and focus fully on psychology.

The next year he applied for, and was admitted to, a BA/MA program. This program allowed him to take graduate-level courses his junior and senior years, and granted him provisional admission to continue on for his masters degree without going through the traditional GRE and admissions process. His senior year courses would also be credited toward his MA. This fall, Brandon was notified that he was admitted to graduate school at The New School. Last month he completed his BA; while he doesn’t yet have all of his grades for the semester, his final undergraduate GPA will be in the vicinity of 3.9. At the end of this month he begins his final year of the MA program, majoring in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling. And, over the winter break, he has begun training as a professional mediator.

The journey has not been easy for Brandon. If he had believed in the future that others predicted for him, he may never have even reached out to me. But he shut out those voices in favor of his own. And, despite the negativity of so many people in the first eighteen years of his life, Brandon is creating a positive future for himself…one in which he will be helping others to believe in themselves as well.

Brandon hadn’t heard this quote of Henry Ford’s until well along in his journey. Nonetheless, he has shown us all how true it is. “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t, you are right.”

As you move through the challenges of the new year, think you can!

Comment below.

Don’t Just Leave!


Cirrus clouds and a blank directional sign. with Clipping PATH

Too many change journeys start at an ending. They are about leaving the current situation: a relationship, a job, a career, a shifting market, an outmoded product line or production process.

This post looks at “just leaving” at the personal level. What surprised me in writing it is how many parallels exist at the organizational level. Next week’s entry will address organizations “just leaving.”

As I’ve often posted before, change does require letting go; there is stopping and releasing some of the old to make room for the new. The challenge is this… Many roads might lead you away from where you are. But if you don’t know where you are going, which is the right one to take?

Sometimes it is important to leave before knowing your destination. For whatever reason, the situation is untenable: an abusive partner or boss; bullying from co-workers or classmates that cannot be stopped. Sometimes the choice isn’t yours: a layoff or termination, a divorce announced, a career choice no longer in demand.

When this happens, find the nearest safe way-station in your journey. This may be physical: a shelter, a family member’s home; I have one friend who–upon being laid off–set up “office” in a corner of the local Starbucks the next day; she was there five days a week as she prepared for her journey.

Your situation may require an economic way-station: finding a new job, finding new clients so you can fly solo, going to work for a temp agency.

I have been let go from my job before; I have been dumped by a long-term partner in a relationship before. It isn’t easy! As I reflect back, I remember the counsel of one of my mentors:

Don’t confuse the present with the total. It is a moment, the one you are in now. But in another moment there will be a different present. Each present is real. But none is forever.

Find your way-station. Then use it as the launching pad for your change journey. Know it is not forever.

If circumstances allow, don’t leave until you are prepared. As Phil Cousineau (“The Art of Pilgrimage”) writes, “Being ready mentally, spiritually, and physically makes us lighter on our feet, more adroit at making decisions, and perhaps even helps keep chaos at bay.”

For me, being prepared requires several things. It requires knowing your destination, and knowing it in your heart and gut, not just your head; it means creating your change story. Being prepared means planning the journey once you know the destination. It will most likely be long, and arduous. While you can plan some things, other things cannot be anticipated. How will you know that you are making progress? What milestones will you be looking for? Being prepared means doing what is required mentally, spiritually, and physically so that you can face the challenges–expected and unexpected–that you will face. It means doing whatever you can to lighten your burden as you step out on the road. Being prepared means having the belief in yourself–and in those people and things that will anchor you on your journey–so that you have the courage to take that first step, and then the next, and the next, without turning back.

Every change, whether it be individual, family, organizational, or societal, requires different preparations. Yet if you know the patterns that lie beneath those change journeys they are remarkably consistent. Being prepared means learning the patterns, and how to navigate them.

What do you do to prepare for change? What advice would you give others? Comment below.


“The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.”


318px-1953_Bowman_Yogi_BerraIf you guessed Yogi Berra, you are right.

With Yogi’s death, his aphorisms are echoing once again. And rightly so. In many ways, Yogi was as insightful about the human condition as he was about baseball, if not more so.

As I was sitting down to write this post, I received an email from a colleague that contain several of Yogi’s pronouncements relative to our field of practice…successfully executing large scale change. This one–The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be–struck me as the one that I want to reflect on today.

At one level, it’s easy enough to agree with Yogi…and, so what? Things change. That’s the nature of time, and of life. At one time, an area code would tell you the location of the caller. (Some of us remember when “Diamond” and “Murray Hill” and “Hubbard” were exchanges that preceded five-digit phone numbers.) When you got a job, you kept the job. More often than not, you retired from the company that gave you your first job. You got married, had a family, stayed married. You were in the closet–perhaps deep in the closet–and you stayed in the closet.

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.

Today, an area code is more likely to tell you where the caller bought the cell phone than his or her current location. People don’t just change jobs and companies, they change career paths completely. (While pundits don’t agree on how many careers today’s new hires can expect, there is no evidence to suggest a new cycle of “career stability.”) Marriage, children, divorce, re-marriage, single parenting, and blended families are all increasingly threads in our social fabric. Coming out is now a multi-generational reality for children, teens, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents.

Whether we are looking at our personal lives, our lives in organizations, or our lives within the greater society, Yogi’s message resonates. The future that our grandparents envisioned for us and for our parents is not the future we are living. The future our parents envisioned for us is not the future we are living. And, it is unlikely the future we once envisioned for ourselves is fully alive in our experiences today.

As I have written before, the volume, momentum, and complexity of change all continue to accelerate. We can selectively (and even collectively) try to wall ourselves off from it, but that creates its own set of stresses and conflicts as the world becomes more and more alien to us. That’s also a future that isn’t the future once foreseen.

Listen to Yogi as you create your change story. Listen to Yogi as you plan your change. Listen to Yogi as you prepare for the change journey. Listen to Yogi as you take that journey. And listen to Yogi as you live your new reality.

Whether your change is personal, organizational, or societal, you need to have a clear, crisp, easily communicated (and measurable) vision of the future you are trying to create; and, you need to know that the unexpected may require you to re-form that vision as you move forward.

You have to plan for all of the shifts in thinking and behavior that your change will require; you also need to be prepared to revise your planning as forces in the environment affect where you are going and/or how best to get there.

As you prepare for your change, brace yourself for the reality that there will be surprises, that the future won’t be what you anticipate it to be right now.

Moving through the change, don’t become so focused on executing the plan that you fail to look up, or look up to only see those things that reassure you. Because the environment is changing, because the unanticipated is inevitable in major change, you have to remain attuned or it is likely that you will be derailed along the way.

Yogi is right; the future you will be living when your change is complete will be a different reality than you set out to create. The paradox is, if you understand that before you start the journey, if you apply that reality along the way, it will still be a future that you have called forth. To ignore Yogi on this one is perilous at best.

(Image from the public domain, credited to Bowman Gum, 1953.

With thanks to Dave Martin for reminding me of Yogi’s wisdom.)

What is your reaction to this Yogi’ism? What others of Yogi Berra’s quotes resonate with you in the context of successfully executing personal, organizational, and/or societal change? Comment below.

Do You Really Have To Make This Change?


thin no circleBig change takes a big investment. It requires time, money, physical, emotional, and often spiritual energy. It requires saying “No” to things that are important so that you are able to say yes to the change. It’s risky, and success is never guaranteed.

As we discussed in an earlier post (Anchors, Aweigh!), making a major change requires reexamining the relationship that you have with the various anchors in your life: people, places, things… In some cases you will need to let go of old anchors, and form new ones. You may need to change your relationship with some of your anchors, becoming closer or more distant, more or less intimate, more or less engaged.

Major change requires changes in the way we look at, and think about, things. It requires us to do things differently. Perhaps we need to learn new skills, to engage with other people in different ways, or even to shift the way that we think about–and relate to–our own body.

Big change is tough; it is demanding; it is hard.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice. You’ve been laid off. Your company is relocating. You experience a serious health issue. When change is thrust on you in this way, change is going to happen… Take charge of it.Approach it as a victor, not a victim.

But when you do have a choice, think it over carefully. Talk it over with unbiased others. Ask yourself, Do I really have to make this change? What is the price I will pay if I do not? 

Sometimes, the most important thing I can do for a client is to help her think through a change that she is ready to charge into…and have her realize that doing so is  a good idea, but is not imperative. Sometimes, I help a client come to the answer that, No, I don’t really have to make this change. I am better off not investing in it.

Have you said no to change? What were the circumstances? What was the result? Were there times when you should have said no to a change and didn’t? Share your experience.

Are You Talking With the Right People?


DiscussionIt is great to be supported by the people around you. It feels good to be acknowledged. It’s super to have others tell you that you are right.

When the going gets though, having a tight-knit circle of friends and supporters makes it seem a little easier. But if those are the only people you are talking with as you define, plan, and carry out your change, you are making a big mistake!

One of the realities of how we as human beings approach change is that we have a tendency to “play to our strengths.” One person may conceive of and shape the change incessantly for months on end. Another may plan it out to the most minute detail. Someone else may take the “Fire, Ready, Aim” approach.

One risk of limiting those who advise us to those who think like us and support us without question is that sometimes playing to our strength may be a mistake. Those of us who are creative are often much better at starting things than at bringing them to a successful conclusion. All the planning in the world won’t move you forward; nor is it ever possible to execute a major change “according to plan.” (As the old saying goes, People plan, and the gods laugh.) Nor is jumping into action too quickly the best idea.

Another risk that comes from surrounding yourself with nodding heads is that you will end up with a limited perspective on the circumstances driving the change, as well as the approach to addressing those circumstances. Abraham Maslow put it this way. “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

When facing a major change, you need more than a hammer in your toolbox. You need counsel from people who see things through a different lens. You need to hear from others who have faced similar situations. You need to listen to those who have attempted this change journey before. Especially listen to those who have failed. Those who were successful may or may not know what contributed to their success; those who failed will have a clear grasp of what went wrong.

Value the perspective of those who are optimistic about your chances of success; they will give you encouragement along the way. Also value those who are pessimistic; they may be pointing out the potholes that you will want to avoid (or to be prepared to address) along the way. Appreciate those who are focused; they can help keep you from being distracted and moving off-course. Those who are proactive may compel you forward; their counterparts may be able to keep you from moving too quickly. Listen to people who can tell you what is just noise, and what is critically important for you to address.

It may only take adding one or two people to your circle to significantly broaden the voices you hear. But, they need to be people whom you trust, people whose thinking can cause you to change your mind, to think and/or act differently.

It may also require that you challenge those who have traditionally supported you, helping them understand that you need both their support and their challenges as well.

In all of your conversations, be clear as to who is making the decisions. Listen with an open mind. Don’t shoot the messengers. Finally, if you are the decision-maker, set the expectation that you want total candor, and that you will carefully weigh the counsel you are receiving. And, be clear that once you have made the decision, you expect their unwavering support.

What has been your experience when seeking counsel about change?