Personal Energy

First time I had a 9-5 job, on the heels of a showbiz career that came with a more mercurial schedule, I was stumped. I wondered, how did people function between 3 and 5 in the afternoon? By mid-afternoon I was spent; I merely faked my way to the end of the day.

I have since built up stamina. But I am describing my natural daily pulse. It is likely different from your natural daily pulse. And yet, we are constantly asked to “perform” in ways that are not aligned with our pulse. Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, is an outspoken champion for the benefits of knowing and respecting our various pulses.

Some very simple pulse principles:

  • Your Daily Pulse

    There are times of the day when we are more physically energized, more mentally attuned, more emotionally primed. For many folks this occurs in the early part of the day. Not for everyone.

    Tip: If at all possible, schedule your most critical tasks during your peak-pulse-times. When I write, I tend to write in the mornings. My peak.

  • Your Weekly Pulse

    Debbie Moskowitz, a researcher at McGill University, found that any given work week tends to have its own pulse. According to Moskowitz, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days when our capacity to focus is likely at its peak.

    Mondays are often warm-up days, best suited for less rigorous administrative tasks. By Thursday afternoon, our mental and physical energies may wane. Fridays, Moskowitz suggests, are best suited for open-ended work, relationship-building, long-term building. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

    Tip: Consider your weekly pulse as you plan your week.

  • Your Yearly Pulse

    Most of my clients work with great intensity, week after week. And then there are those weeks or months when intense becomes hyper-intense. Budget time. Sales convention time. Internal reporting time. These hyper-intense periods are cyclical AND predictable. They are part of the annual pulse of your work.

    Tony Schwartz created a Survival Guide for Sony UK to help its staff better manage their energy during these annual peak times. The guiding principle: The greater the demand, the greater the need for renewal.

    Tip: Facilitate renewal by reducing alcohol intake during evening meetings. Ritualize morning exercise. Eat more frequently and more lightly. Go to sleep at a designated hour.

Common-sense stuff. The results, according to Sony UK’s Commercial Director, were astounding. When we know our pulse and arrange our work in harmony with it, we become more impactful. Go ahead, incorporate words like renewal, recovery, and managing energy into your daily thought process. The moment you do, you are actively aligning with our pulse!

It actually is that simple.

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It’s an ironic part of the year. While we hustle and bustle from one social activity to the next, many of our social interactions will feel rushed. The volume, the pressure, the accelerated pace. What longs to be a time of connection can quickly devolve into a series of rushed non-connections.

Classic wisdom is that if we desire stronger relationships, we need to spend more time with folks. If you don’t have more time to spend, use language that accelerates connection. This works best in person. It will work equally well on the phone or in writing.

People with rich vocabularies, success guru Tony Robbins suggests in his book “Giant Steps,” have a multihued palette of colors with which to paint their life’s experience.

Agreed. And the colors in your palette don’t need to be high-falutin’. Here are my top 5 verbal cues that I know will strengthen any business relationship we’re in – and all others, as well. They may come in handy in this period of harried social contact:

1. “I was touched by …”

Most of us, even if we’re a little gruff on the outside, have a keen desire to impact folks. The deepest impact occurs when we touch someone’s heart. This simple phrase indicates to the other person that s/he has, indeed, via an action or a gesture, had that sort of impact on us. Powerful.

2. “You really helped me …”

It feels good to know that something we have done, no matter how small it may have seemed to us, has been of help to someone. It feels even better to hear this acknowledged. Whenever possible, let someone know that something they said or did, even if it was routine behavior for them, was helpful to you. “Help” is a crucial relationship word.

3. “I never looked at it this way before …”

Especially in a conversation that may have had its rough patches, acknowledge that the other person had a positive impact on you. Made you think of new possibilities, had you question hidden assumptions, forced you to reach beyond easy answers. This phrase celebrates the positive aspects of a potentially uncomfortable conversation.

4. “I don’t agree with …”

You may wonder, hey, how is disagreeing with someone a relationship-builder? Folks who have strong relationships with others are not afraid to disagree. They don’t waste time dancing around a moment of disagreement. They state their disagreement “in neutral.” No raised voice, no elevated emotion, no drama. Just a fact. The moment a disagreement is stated, the conversation can shift toward new ideas and fresh solutions. How liberating!

5. “I know we can come up with something better …”

Even as we discard a present state that we believe isn’t working, we look to the future with unwavering optimism in our ability to deliver. The word “we” is a potent non-blame word. The affirmation of my faith in the “we” is a sublime relationship-shaper. Couple it with the verb “can,” and it is sure to melt at least a modicum of doubt and resistance.

There are folks with whom it is tough to build relationships, I know. But even a tough nut tends to crack when approached with a relationship-enhancing cue.

The most common objection I hear to the just-listed cues: This is simply not how I talk. That, of course, is the point. Would you say this when you start to learn a foreign language? Of course not. Consider these cues part of your new and enhanced vocabulary. Toss the objections. Expand your palette. And accelerate connection.

 

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My friend, the actress/singer/writer Renee’ Flemings, posted this message on Facebook a few weeks ago:

Screw the presents and madness I want see people in the flesh. Coffee, tea, a glass of wine, a walk around the block. In this time of crazy-who-knows-what’s next-ness, it’s good to see friends. Whatcha doing the next few weeks? Let’s meet up.

Renee’ listed names. Her friends responded. Renee’ has started having her 1-1 “Meet-ups.”

Obligation by choice and request. Nice.

That’s not how the bulk of this high-social season tends to go. If you’re American, you just celebrated Thanksgiving. You may have had a spectacular time or you may have had a lousy one. You may have challenged yourself to have a fine time even though you would have rather lounged at home and watched Netflix. Whichever way it went, chances are you played the obligation game. And you did not play it on your terms.

Here are my biases:

Social time is great. Tradition is wonderful. Choice is essential.

And screw obligation.

Not so easy when it comes to the work holiday parties, professional association events, family gatherings. Understood.

Here are some ways that may help you and me navigate our desire to participate or not in the flurry of social opportunity this season:

1.Turn off the switch

That would be the obligation switch. This switch is linked to the narrative in your mind that says I HAVE to attend the company holiday party or I HAVE to spend part of the holidays with my family. We may indeed feel a whole lot of pressure, real or imagined, to attend the holiday party or see family. But HAVE to? No. How about flipping your thoughts to I choose to attend the party. Even though I may not really feel like going, I CHOOSE to go. And if you choose to not go, choose to assume full responsibility for that decision.

2. Have the courage to be truthful

If you choose to not attend the holiday party, be truthful with your boss. I feel a lot of pressure to attend the holiday party but these parties just aren’t my thing. I want you to know that I love the folks I work with – but these parties simply wear me out. I don’t enjoy them. Can we grab lunch 1-1 one of these days instead? I would very much enjoy that!

Mind you, part of being a successful professional means developing a bit of a social muscle. Consistently not showing up for group events can, indeed, be a career derailer. But chances are, an honest explanation of why you choose to not attend a party will be appreciated by your boss. It may allow her to be honest about her own mixed feelings about this professional obligation. A social win.

3. Offer alternatives

A No, thank you can be a powerful choice when combined with an alternative offer, as indicated above. I would much rather spend some quality 1-1 time with you. Shall we grab a meal or catch a game? And if this season is too packed for you, I will be happy to do so first thing in the New Year. Now doesn’t this sound like a much richer opportunity for everyone involved? Perfunctory participation in a “mandatory” party has just been transmuted into a more special occasion. Bring it on.

4. Set yourself up for a good time

Whenever you choose to attend an event, make sure you show up ready to have a good time. This is, of course, crucial for any function, any time; it becomes doubly important when social events pile up in the middle – and on top of – an already heavy work week.

Do NOT show up tired and cranky because you have already been out every night that week. Do NOT schedule a packed-to-the-rafters day for yourself and then run straight to a party. Do NOT manage your stress by imbibing a bit too much of the free booze.

DO the following instead: Plan a 2-hour break between work and any social gathering you attend. Leave work earlier if you need to. Use this break to rejuvenate yourself. A nap, a massage, a swim, meditation. Un-busy yourself. Help your body feel its absolute best. And decide – fully, clearly – that you will enjoy the event. Make this a bold and unequivocal choice. Then walk in the door.

Social pressures, seasonal pressures. They seem to wrest choice from us. Emphasis on seem – they will indeed if we let them.

Don’t. Mind your switches. Turn them off. Choose to choose.

And then, goshdarnit, enjoy being social.

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The final episode of Anthony Bourdain’s compulsively watchable CNN series “Parts Unknown” aired a week ago. A take on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a neighborhood I know well from my days of living in the East Village. I think back on a moment in Bourdain’s Miami episode, my current home, that is etched in my memory.

Iggy Pop, scraggly-faced musician, former front-man for The Stooges, the grandfather of punk, and Bourdain stand in the sand on Miami Beach, looking at the sky. Two aging men who, by most people’s standards, have been there, done that, seen it all, muse on what’s left.

Iggy: I’m still curious. You seem like a curious person.

Anthony: It’s my only virtue. (said with a chuckle)

Iggy: There you go. All right. Curious is a good thing to be. You know it’s seems to pay some unexpected dividends.

Final words of the Miami episode as birds soar in the sky and Pop’s song “The Passenger” pipes in. Quintessential Florida.

In the end, curiosity.

You and I know that when work starts to feel stale, curiosity can be hard to come by.

Before I opened my first firm I spent 5 years on the road, delivering training programs for an international training company. Within a year the programs I facilitated had become entirely routine for me.

It forced me to think. In the face of routine, what am I still curious about? There were endless nuances to program content, but I knew these nuances would reveal themselves on their own. My curiosity needed to transcend the task I was performing.

My choice: Be curious about the variables, not the routine. Every person who showed up at one of my seminars was the variable. Every latest trend in the training industry was the variable. Every new city I trained in was the variable.

Be curious about everything. That’s the grand thought.

Easy when we stand on the beach with Pop and Bourdain and contemplate the meaning of life.

At work, however, focus your curiosity. If you’re not the one who makes presentations to your firm’s Board of Directors, perhaps let someone else be curious about that. Fire the curiosity that will drive your commitment to the things YOU do every day.

Be curious about the variables in your sphere of influence.

Would it serve you to be more curious about the folks in your sphere?

More curious about what brilliant competitors do?

Curious about solving a recurring problem? Curious about the interplay of what you and other business units do?

Curious about what “simpler” might look like?

Curious about all you that you do not yet know about what you do?

You decide. But be curious, please.

Here’s a conversation I have had with more than one person I have coached.

Coachee: I dread all these endless business dinners I have to attend.

Part of me empathizes and understands. And yet, here’s where we always land.

Achim: Not attending is not an option. What would it take to attend with curiosity?

Dale is a fellow who shows up every day at the Bagel joint where I like to grab my morning bagel. When I ask Dale how he’s doing, his answer is always the same:

Same old, same old.

Curiosity extinguished. Same old, same old is simply not an option.

The unexpected dividends?

Curiosity is a choice. It requires vigilance. It is available to us every moment of every single day. It keeps our inner spark alive. It adds a deeper purpose to every task you and I perform and every conversation we engage in. It connects us to a larger world of wisdom and possibility.

Bourdain took his life earlier this year. A choice, as well. I am curious about the why. We’ll never truly know.

But Iggy Pop, punk survivor, got this one right. It’s a good thing to be.

Routine has the potential to unleash a rich deep curiosity. Be vigilant. Be curious about the variables, not the routine. Be specific. But please, be curious.

And receive your dividends.

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Agile. Nimble. Flexible.

The opposite of rigid and fixed.

I just spent a few days with the Agile Humans community in Belgrade, submerged in the world of Agile project management and Scrum. Yes – iterative project practices, smart technology, but my very own association with the word agile is physical agility. It’s a swimmer’s view. The way I slice through water when I swim. The ease with which my body moves. The way I flow with the current. Note it, seize it, use it to advantage.

Work with the elements, don’t fight them. Get out of the way of what wants to happen.

I ruminate on this as I sit at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting to fly home to the US after a European week. From the moment my friend Suzanne Daigle and I arrive at the airport, chaos. An overbooked flight. Mechanical failure. Delayed departure. Evasive public announcements. And the eventual cancellation of the flight.

I won’t bore you with a war story – but I find myself considering its essential ingredients as they envelop me. Moment-by-moment changes. Increasing uncertainty. Bubbles of emotion. Eventual complete change of plans. More uncertainty. More emotion. So it goes.

A near-classic narrative arc.

I’m in the midst of an agile situation.

This is relatively simple as far as agility goes. The bulk of the decisions here are made for me. I can change my response to a sudden change in circumstances but I cannot change the circumstance itself. The circumstance is blatant and right in my face. Detailed observation or keen insight are not required.

I am responsible for my attitude about what unfolds – that’s the mental part – and my emotions. These two are intertwined.

I think of situations where the need to adapt quickly isn’t so clear-cut. When things kinda sorta work but never excel, never become great. When mediocre is the standard we have become used to, when complaining about the way we do things is the norm but nothing is bad enough to scream change now. When the everyday is a steady drip drip drip drip of more frustration morphed into uninspired routine.

What does personal agility look like in the face of that? How do I stay agile when nobody demands that I be more agile? Here are a few personal guide-posts to help you sharpen your own everyday agility:

  1. I notice when something isn’t working. I stay present. I stay aware of the emotions that kick in. Instead of stuffing my emotions, I consider what may be causing them. Considering my emotions will lead me to indicators about my own thinking (internal clues) or relationships with collaborators (external clues) that may require adjustment.

  2. I notice when pressure is mounting. I choose to stay calm under pressure. More importantly, I do not ignore pressure. I have a healthy pressure-meter that can distinguish between necessary pressure and debilitating pressure. I do not succumb to prolonged debilitating pressure. I know the difference between pushing through and changing a course of action because what I’m doing is not working.
  1. I seek help. I do so quickly. I do not hide when the going gets tough. I approach professional challenges with a sense of healthy curiosity. Most importantly, I view seeking help as a sign of strength. I seek help freely and am mindful of whose insights may be most pertinent when an adjustment in process or strategy seems necessary.

  2. I invite multiple viewpoints. I understand that multiple inputs will produce a better new course of action. I am not afraid of the complexity that may be invoked by multiple viewpoints. I know that embracing complexity will lead to more fully considered next steps. More fully considered steps accelerate the likeliness of success.

  3. I act quickly. I understand that changing course and adapting quickly to changing circumstances is the only way to release forward-moving energy and create momentum. This may be the most crucial of these 5 points. I don’t get locked into the jail of this is what I had planned or this is how it should be. Taking swift action is my friend. I welcome this friendship.

There are many ways to define illuminated leadership. Mental and emotional agility hang at its very core. Great thing is, we can practice this agility every day. Each encounter at work, at the supermarket, at the airport, in our personal relationships is an opportunity to practice agility.

Yes, I have a swimmer’s mind. I love the sense of forward motion that I experience in water. It feels so very very good. An agile mind helps me to experience this sensation in every aspect of my life.

So, stay agile. Practice diligently and practice with an open mind. Notice how wrong effort will start to disappear.

How liberating that is.

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I’m in Paris about to fly to Belgrade, and I have love on my mind. Mind you, this is a business trip.

Jack Ma, the fearless founder of the Chinese internet empire Alibaba, spoke about the leaders of the future at this year’s Davos Economic Forum. I believe if a person wants to be successful, Ma said, they should have a high EQ. If you don’t want to lose quickly, you should have a high IQ. But if you want to be respected, you should have a high LQ. That is the Q of Love.

And then he added: Lots of men have high IQ, they have much, much smaller EQ, and a very, very tiny LQ.

Yes, L stands for Love.

I googled LQ the moment I heard Ma speak about it. I found nothing. Ma invented the term. Love it. The man knows.

At the Agile Humans Conference in Belgrade we will be talking about the notion of LQ. Here’s a little preview of the conversation.

We’re talking about the ability to feel love for others. Not think it, feel it. The ability to express this love and to receive love in return. The ability to create spaces where the love for a cause and the love for one another is tangibly experienced. An environment that implicitly and explicitly acknowledges love as the ultimate animating force.

Sound a little woo-woo to you? Here’s how a neuroscientist explains it.

Yuri Hassan is a professor at Princeton University. He conducts research about how two brains get into synch. He calls this process neural coupling. In his research, the key area of the brain that shows coupling is the insula, an area linked with conscious feeling states. In other words, neural coupling is much more likely to occur when you and I feel a shared emotion. Not a shared thought – a shared emotion. When my joy meets your joy, joy magnifies. When my love of others meets your love of others, a micro-moment of love is born. Micro-moments of love are not just a lucky accident – they’re intentionally created. And future business leaders know how to create them.

I just sold an international training and coaching firm that I owned for 14 years. Here’s something I always said to my INFLUENS team: We’re really good at what we do. There are other companies who do similar work to what we do, and they’re also really good at what they do. And then I would elaborate. Our clients hire us for a specific service, but what they really get is the gift of love. That’s why they bring us back.

Love wasn’t mentioned anywhere on our business website. It was our subtext. The secret sauce.

I learned about subtext in my first career. Many years ago, I was a professional acting coach in New York and trained actors at some of the big acting schools in the city. Any actor can learn the words of a script. Part of an actor’s homework is to fill in the reality of what goes on behind the words. Actors call this the subtext. The greater actors sometimes have more talent. They always have greater subtext.

Love is a sublime subtext. The clients at my firm loved us. Not just liked us, loved us.

There are two specific behaviors that I looked for in my team. These are behaviors that I try to embody myself.

We’re fun.

And we drill down.

We’re fun means we know how to be light and playful with another person. We take our work seriously but we do not take ourselves too seriously. We approach important things with a light touch. In a world where many people I know experience too much stress, too much pressure, and are victims of perfectionism, our willingness to have fun is a bold and generous gift. I consider my ability to be playful with another person a profound act of love.

We drill down – that means I have the courage to explore everything I do as deeply as possible. I don’t stay on the surface. I am willing to ask the difficult questions. I care enough to dig deep. This caring allows us to have the richest possible conversations. This caring also means I know when to let go. This caring is an act of love.

Be fun. Drill down. Combine the two, and you have mega-love in action.

I was talking with my friend Charlotte the other day. Charlotte lives in Geneva/Switzerland. I was really upset with a client of mine, she says to me. He didn’t show up for an appointment we had. And it’s the second time he’s done that. I told him how upset I was about his behavior. And then I said to him ‘It’s a good thing that I love you.’

I love this story. I love that Charlotte used the word “love.”

There’s a power in saying it.

These days I host virtual Mastermind Groups for successful business executives. In a Mastermind 7 leaders meet to challenge and uplift each other and bring out the very best in every person. We share tactics and resources and wisdom. We energize each other. We dare each other to play a bolder game. But at the very deepest level, a Mastermind is an extraordinary act of love.

Jack Ma is right. We need EQ, we need IQ, and we need a lot more LQ.

You may have taken some psychological assessments. They may have told you that you’re not that kind of a person. You may come from a country or where professional behavior is crisp and cool. Know what? Think of yourself as a global citizen. Dump the story of who you think you are.

Work is Love Made Visible. That’s a quote from the great Turkish poet Rumi.

Our world needs a little more love. It starts with how you and I engage with each other. Every single moment. Let’s choose a powerful subtext. Let’s create micro-moments of love, every single day.

Let’s do this already.

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A well-worn cliché. Worn for a reason.

Everything old becomes new again.

If you took a class on time management 20 years ago, chances are they taught you about prioritization, and they taught you about batching.

Then the internet arrived. Social media. Information glut. Just when we needed batching the most, our collective attention to batching flew out the window. The seductions were simply too great. Many of us fell into increasingly distracted lives.

More fractured, less productive.

Batching is the simple habit of performing like-minded tasks together instead of bouncing from one task to the next.

We live in a bouncing time. Mental bouncing, task bouncing. Enter Adam Grant, award-winning rock star author and the highest-rated professor at The Wharton School. In his terrific book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” Grand Central Publishing/2016), Cal Newport describes how the prolific Adam Grant batches his time.

Though Grant’s productivity depends on many factors, there’s one idea in particular that seems central to his method: the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches. Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching his students. By batching his teaching in the fall, Grant can then turn his attention fully to research in the spring and summer … Grant also batches his work on a smaller time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods when his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods when he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. (Deep Work, page 39)

Common-sense, isn’t it? And yet we forget. Here’s the very simple law of productivity:

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Batching helps us get there. Let’s take a look at how you and I can better batch the basic tasks we perform every single day at work.

  1. Batch Your Writing Time

    When you have to create documents, write reports, craft power point presentations – any tasks involving the sustained written and/or visual creation of a product that requires a significant level of detail, nuance, and which may be subject to substantial scrutiny, batch these tasks. You will create momentum, get these tasks done faster, and enhance the quality of your output.

  1. Batch Your Talking Time

    When you have to attend multiple meetings or conduct a series of phone calls, whenever possible batch these tasks. Even though context and conversation partners will change, you will drop into a “conversational groove” where you engage with greater ease and more fluidity in every one of your conversations. The quality and outcomes of your conversations will notably improve.

  1. Batch Your Correspondence Time

    When you have to participate in lots of email correspondence, both sending and receiving – avoid the constant interruption of one task for the sake of checking emails or crafting instant responses to emails. Chances are, very few of your emails are true emergencies. Instead, batch your email reading and writing into a sensible cadence that suits you and your work duties. For some this may mean handling emails once every hour; for others it may mean handling emails only 3 times a day. Whatever your cadence – your choice to batch will add a higher degree of focus to both your email activities and all the other activities you don’t abandon for the sake of an email.

  1. Batch Social Media Time

    Checking social media can be a fun distraction, a quick way to switch out of an unenjoyable task, an instant way to chat with a friend, a short-cut to entering alternate realities. Most of the time, it is simply a willful distraction from a task at hand. Avoid the constant and impulsive checking of your social media streams. If you play in social media, batch your social media time. Every time we visit a social media site, we fill our minds with random and unfiltered information. We disrupt the focus on whatever task we happen to be engaged with. We tire our brain with the constant switching between task and distraction, task and distraction. Batching our social media time is a no-brainer. Batch it consistently, and you will instantly notice a heightened focus for everything else you’re doing.

Bonus suggestion: When you transition from one batch of activities to the next batch, give yourself a bit of rejuvenation time. 5 minutes will often do the trick. 5 minutes to help you shift gears. Not 5 minutes of distraction time – no, 5 minutes that calm, center, and help you to re-energize. 5 minutes of going for a walk. 5 minutes of having a healthy snack. 5 minutes of listening to music that energizes you. 5 minutes of doing nothing.

Sound easy? It’s not. In the midst of writing this simple article, the temptation to check my social media feeds and email messages, even on a Sunday afternoon, is relentless. The price of a distraction culture. You pay it, I pay it. Brutal.

Remember: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Batching works. It’s straightforward. More importantly, it frees us the moment we commit to it.

So, commit. And reap the rewards.

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Yes, I’m biased. I’m a former theatre guy. 

I think of this as I stumble on an old article about improvisation in, of all places, a copy of the Wall Street Journal (7/8/2016). From a young age on we’re taught to master impulse control. It’s what grown-ups do, right? We manage our emotions. Avoid distraction. Aim for a zen-like focus, a sense of control. Squelch the impulse, avoid distraction.

Enter improvisation. The art of conscious impulse surrender.

At Second City in Chicago, the improv comedy troupe that has launched the careers of celebrities like Jim Belushi and Tina Fey, scientists and engineers and nurses and psychologists now practice the art of impulse surrender. It’s been a total change from left-brain attorney to right-brain class-taker, says Second City student and retired attorney Irv Levinson. In a recent episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer recovers from giving a disastrous speech by taking an improv class. Yes, improvisation has left the theatre vault.

There is a place for impulse control, of course. It behooves me to know my blind spots. Left unchecked, I can swing toward sarcasm. I am a better person when I stay mindful of this impulse and let it pass.

But here are just a few of the brilliant gifts of conscious impulse surrender. They are subtle and delicious, and they have the potential to elevate any business conversation we have.

  • Celebrate the wealth of words.

We habitually consume language as if were fast food. Taste-less, quickly discarded, instantly forgotten. We babble without paying attention to linguistic nuance. Improv reminds us that at our best, we are consciously creating a conversation, moment by moment, word choice by word choice. It begins by truly hearing the words that come our way. By explicitly picking up on those cues in our response. Choosing words that are distinct, unexpected perhaps, surprising. When done well we actually call it word play. Nice, right?

  • Seize the energy of the moment.

Every moment has pace, velocity, stasis or momentum. Improv sharpens our ability to sense these dimensions. We tune into the energy of a person, a group of people, a moment. We feel it, and we consciously merge with that energy, subvert it or expand it. We begin to revel in the unspoken dynamics of a conversation, and we have the courage to playfully mold them. So liberating, right?

  • Embrace the gift of the detour.

In our linearly prejudiced world, we are programmed to avoid tangents like the plague. Detours are considered sacrilegious. Improv gives us shameless permission to investigate any cue, linear or not. It knows that a detour is often more illuminating and insightful than the predetermined path. A detour is the expression of an impulse that, for whatever reason, shows itself. It implores us to not simply give the answer(s) we think others wish to hear but to follow, instead, the thought that yearns to be expressed. Way cool, right?

  • Excavate meaning.

Great improvisers don’t simply spout funny stuff and or do silly things. They seize an impulse and create meaning in split-seconds. They have trained their meaning-antennas in improv class. They note implicit or emerging meaning, seize it, blow it up, shape it into a story. A key leadership skill for any corporate leader is the ability to articulate meaning. It’s easy to offer pre-packaged meaning. We carefully plan our meaning messages in advance. Advance planning is encouraged, of course! But how much more resonant it is when we notice the meaning that actually emerges in a moment! Notice it, name it and claim it. Stirring, right?

Wanna transcend basic transactional competence in your daily endeavors? Well, you may not be able to take a course at Second City, but you can sure as heck practice a little bit of impulse surrender every day.

It doesn’t mean simply “going with the flow.” It means consciously shaping the impulses you notice in a moment. Words. Energy. Thoughts. Meaning.

Conscious impulse surrender helps you to stay more fully present. It’s also great fun. And as you practice it more often, more experiences of flow will show up.

And that is really way way cool.

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Wanna stir me?

Wanna stir your colleagues, your clients, your team?

It’s the old logic-versus-emotion conversation.

Logic is a powerful form of energy. Emotion is the deeper one.

Here’s the little lie we tell ourselves. Logical folks like to be moved by logic. Emotional folks like to be moved by emotion.

Don’t believe that any more. Madison Avenue doesn’t. Madison Avenue caters to longing and desire.

They know what to stir.

Desire is the spark that ignites your beliefs and fuels your actions, Tom Asacker writes in his stirring book “The Business of Belief.” Desire is what moves you from thinking to doing.

I had the pleasure of attending TEDxKoenigsallee in Duesseldorf last Friday. First-ever TEDx event in that great city. Held at Nachtresidenz. Amazing venue, fired-up audience, 10 speakers. I had a terrific time. And yet – some of the talks stirred me, some didn’t. 

Logic will stir logic. I’m a brainy guy. But when your logic really TRULY stirs my logic, I get the goosebumps. I get that irresistible itch to begin, at once.

It drops down.

Go ahead, stimulate my brain. But here’s how you get to the deep stir:

  • Speak Longing

What are your deepest aspirations for yourself? For me? Our project? The team? Translate metrics language into longing language. It’s the language of our innermost desires. When you go there, you give me permission to go there, as well. Stirred.

  • Speak Vision

Beyond hitting targets and surpassing production goals, how will our shared future be a better place? Translate tactical performance language into the language of desire. My desire to belong. My desire to do good. My desire to help. My desire to create a better world. Take me there. That’s vision. Stirred.

  • Speak Emotion

When you speak about a project, speak with joy. With excitement. With anxiety. With exuberance. Speak the language of feeling. The sort of language that doesn’t show up in transactional emails anymore. Don’t fake this language. Don’t fake the feeling. Get the feeling first. Brim with it. Your language of feeling activates my desire to be moved. Stirred.

Here’s what you get when you stir me:

My devotion. My fervent desire to work with you.

We will start to soul-travel together.

Yes, it will go that deep.

The stir will show up in our Return-on-Investment. And we cannot think our way to it. The language of aspiration and desire will get us there.

Stirred.

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high energy conversation

Saturday afternoon. A South Florida rainstorm pounds my garden, and I lounge in the shelter of my home, flipping through the pages of the Wall Street Journal Magazine that just arrived. Settle on a story about two designers and their house in the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, half an hour from Marrakesh.

“Anti-Wow”

That’s how the owners describe the style of their home.

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