Friday, September 25, 2009

Swept Up

You ever gotten swept up in a business deal or neighbor problem or some kind of holy war that made you wonder: What was that? What was I thinking?

This happens to me a lot. Just like it happens with every other human.

It doesn't matter if you're a big shot or not. In fact honchos are famous for getting themselves and lots of others swept up in stuff.

Stuff like WMD and subprime mortgages and TARPs and Health Care Reform and Change-Is-Coming-America and Mission Accomplished. And to think this is stuff that's swept up over a few measly years.


Why do we keep doing this?

Maybe it's because of the pounding we get from yak radio and talk TV.

And because leaders and bosses are forever promising to save us from melting polar caps, insurance companies, men in caves, quarterly sales slumps, devils, un-Americans, missing the Next Big Thing.

And, let's face it, maybe it's because we're willing to let others tack their talking points to our tongues.

What if everyone held to a couple of basic principles of responsible leadership and followership?

For leaders this would mean that truth and honesty are more important than urgency and victory. For followers this would mean it's your duty to ask Why until it can't be asked anymore.

And wouldn't it be great if someone invented a four-point checklist where you could check off the stuff people tell us on the TV and Radio and The Internet?

Like when they say "EVERYBODY needs to do this or do that or else."

And "We gotta DO something and we gotta do it now!"

And "There's just no time for any discussion because we gotta do something NOW!"

And "If you must ask why, well, then you must be ONE OF THEM and not one of us."

When this list reads Check-Check-Check-Check we'd all know we're getting swept up.

I wonder why nobody's invented that checklist to make it safer to use the TV and Radio and The Internet? Maybe it's because somebody already invented the OFF Button.

And assumed we'd use it.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Confidence. Arrogance.

You ever seen these two forces at work in a family discussion or office staff meeting or joint session of Congress?

Maybe you find it easy sorting confidence and arrogance apart in this real-time, noisy, on-demand, demanding world. I don't, but I try.

Here's one attempt:

Confidence listens. Arrogance speaks to no one but itself.

Confidence enjoys the question. Arrogance wants the answer, any answer.

Confidence invests in tomorrow. Arrogance spends all it has for the glory of fleeting moments.

Confidence seeks resolution. Arrogance yells You Lie.

Confidence nurtures patience. Arrogance can't wait.

Confidence learns. Arrogance knows.

Confidence wonders and looks around. Arrogance and its stiff neck sees one way.

Confidence trusts. Arrogance suspects someone's to blame.

Confidence accepts the river coming its way. Arrogance controls the flow.

Confidence invites civility. Arrogance breeds chaos.

Confidence acts humbly, subtly. Arrogance seeks omnipotence and you better get on board or else you're one of them and not one of us.

Confidence hopes. Arrogance fears.

Confidence believes deep down. Arrogance trembles.

Confidence earns. Arrogance deserves.

Confidence sows steadfastness. Arrogance breeds anxiety.

Confidence searches for a Source and Center larger than itself. Arrogance believes only in itself.

Confidence renews and refreshes. Arrogance becomes a has-been.

Confidence asks Do You Want To Come Along? Arrogance asks Am I Good Enough?


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Friday, September 11, 2009

My Dinner With Vishwa

You ever have a conversation that you can't shake out of your head? I can't stop thinking about my dinner with Vishwa in Bangalore. And we had dinner two years ago.

That's when I asked: "So who's going to win, Vishwa, China or India?"

"Oh no, Mr. Tim, that is not the right question," Vishwa said. "Because it's not China or India. It's China AND India."

Vishwa says the young, emerging middle-class street in places like Bangalore believes the bulk of financial and human capital (i.e. money and talent) is moving to his part of the world and away from ours. It's just a matter of time says Vishwa.

So for my friend Vishwa the right question is simply: "When? When will it be China AND India?"

Oh my!

Maybe I can't get this dinner chatter out of my head because my four kids just went back to school.

Maybe it's because they were walking up the schoolhouse steps just as some famous Americans were yapping about the current American president encouraging kids to study hard.

Maybe it's because of a speech, Dave Laird, the soon-to-be retiring president of Minnesota Private Colleges Council, delivered the other day that had these facts:

-China will build 800 new universities in the next decade. America will build five.
-In Minnesota (my home) just 25% of 9th graders will earn a college degree in the next decade.
-Compared to students worldwide, American kids rank 25th in math; 21st in science; 15th in reading.
-In 1975 America was #3 in the world in graduating college kids who held a science or engineering degree. In 2005 America was 20th.
-And by 2004 China AND India were producing 10 times more of these brainy graduates than we do.

Dave Laird says America is falling behind China AND India. He's been a thoughtful, vocal leader on this topic. He only wishes more leaders in politics and business would be as public as the president when it comes to encouraging kids to study hard.

I wish everyone could have dinner with Vishwa. I'll bet that would encourage our kids to study harder. Maybe even make our famous yappers a lot smarter too.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Sometimes Questions

You ever been in a sales or board or townhall meeting that wasn't going anywhere until someone asked a really good question?

The kind of question poet David Whyte would say has "no right to go away."

These questions are sometimes as good as answers. Maybe better.

A lot of questions are asked in a lot of meetings to fetch pride or power or status or 'gotcha.'

But not questions that have no right to go away. Those come from the soul. From wisdom places hard to hear in this talk-talk-talkie-talk world of ours.

They don't go away because some truth is just on the other side. Sometimes painful or inspirational or scary or peaceful truth we need to get to.

Questions like these are just what we need says David Whyte in his poem

If you move carefully through the forest,
If you move carefully through the forest,

Breathing like the ones in the old stories who could cross
A shimmering bed of leaves without a sound,
You come to place whose only task is to trouble you,
With tiny, but frightening requests.

Conceived it seems out of nowhere,
But in this place starting to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop doing what you are doing right now.
And to stop what you are becoming while you do it.

Questions that can make or unmake a life,
Questions that have patiently waited for you.

Questions that have no right to go away.

Sometimes Questions. You get to know them because they have no right to go away. Do you have any of these questions sometimes?

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