An urgent conversation about everyone’s health
with doctor daniel carlin
CG: We tend to think about our most valuable asset as our investments, our homes, our jobs, but there’s a far more valuable one, one we don’t pay enough attention to let alone actively manage and appreciate…until there’s a problem.
DC: Yes, it’s our personal health, our physical well being.
I work as a medical consultant with some of the world’s wealthiest people. Individuals and families of all kinds, including senior executives. Many of them take smart, active and holistic approaches to managing their financial risks and assets, yet put little priority on their health and health risks.
Surprisingly, they fail to see their own health as a priceless asset, as a key variable in their enjoyment of life. They rarely give it the profound attention it deserves. They’re also challenged – as many of us are – in finding doctors who can help them tend to their health, prevent problems and facilitate decisions. Doctors who’ll talk candidly with them; caringly, and at length.
Of course without good health all other wealth is meaningless. It’s true on a personal level, and it’s true on a national level, meaning the health of our population as a whole.
CG: Is this what led you to a more enlightened approach?
DC: I got into the niche of 24/7 personal doctoring and started World Clinic because the system was becoming so impersonal; revolving so regressively around procedures and images.
I went completely outside the system; straight to very intelligent and enlightened people and said: you’re an expert on managing your financial assets. I’m an expert on managing physical health. The return on investing in someone like me directly will be greater well being and peace of mind…and likely greater longevity. What’s the value to you of more well being and time for your philanthropic work, family and friends, joys and passions?
A vital part of what I do as their medical advisor and point person is think. I serve as a seasoned guide, quality judge and risk “manager” for whatever’s going on with their health; for any care they’re seeking or receiving from the system.
On the most fundamental level, I help bring their awareness and attention to their greatest source of wealth: their physical well-being.
CG: You’ve said “locus of control” is a central concept, that impacts pharmaceutical marketing and helps or hinders our personal care.
DC: Yes, and this means who’s making the decisions: who has the control, you or your doctor. This affects everything. Including how drugs are currently marketed by companies, which is psychographically. From Viagra and Ambien, where marketing messages are direct-to-consumer and all about you being in control, to blood pressure medication where, because of the complexity of the condition, they’re all about your doctor calling the shots (which assumes you have a good doctor to make the right choices for you).
There’s also a strong generational dynamic at work. We have Baby Boomers who feel they’re in charge of their health decisions, and seniors who feel their doctors are or should be in charge.
My first question to a hedge fund owner or rock-and-roll entertainer client is: why did you hire me? My second question is: tell me who’s in charge of your health? I’m absolutely amazed at the answers. Many masters of the universe don’t have a sense of their own mortality: they believe they’re invincible.
Most of us need to do some emotional homework. How do you feel about your health? How invested in well-being are you? Are you empowered, and making confident choices – or do you automatically defer to your physician?
CG: Don’t most physicians help people make decisions?
DC: Sadly not really, because modern medicine is now governed by an almost pervasive fear of litigation. Physicians are reluctant to provide anything beyond basic, objective facts that can be supported in a courtroom. They’re rarely if ever willing to say to a patient is if this was me, this is what I would do…
In the specialist-driven world we live in today, we’ve lost the country and town doctor: the family doctor who knew and looked at your big picture. Who had the luxury of a real and honest relationship. Instead we have a predominance of specialists who look at and diagnose and treat you narrowly, without this vital view: without these wider, wiser insights and personal connections.
CG: How and when did we get into this worrisome situation?
DC: Going back to about 1965, the world of medicine was made up of mostly primary care doctors and general surgeons. When science started unlocking the ‘big secrets’ of the human body, the age of specialization began. As a result, internists started becoming obsolete and replaced by field-specific specialists, from cardiologists to neurologists. Advances in technology led to specialist surgeons doing only one, extremely specific kind of surgery.
More and more money started going toward procedures and less and less to office visits. The healthcare system has since favored and now richly rewards the procedurists and technologists; who rarely if ever talk to patients. All of this at the expense of the essential yet much lower paid general practitioners who do the heavy lifting with patients: who spend the time to consult with them, interpret their histories, and point them in helpful directions.
To me, there’s something very wrong with this picture.
CG: What’s happening as primary care doctors disappear, as they throw in the towel?
DC: Their essential value has become more obvious. There’ll be fewer of them to keep us on the right and best path to wellness, diagnose serious illness, be fairly immediate resources to call on with questions, knowledgeable people to tell our story to. And fewer of them out there to listen and care about us.
Technologists and procedurists don’t, can’t play this role. And none are engaged or invested in long-term relationships with patients. That’s the nature of the system we have. Specialists even talk about patients as organs or diseases, not as people, which says a lot. I’ve been a doctor for over 25 years, and talk about mine by name. I know and relate to their personal stories, to their larger life situations.
Another root problem is how we pay doctors on the basis of 7-minute primary care visits. By the time they say hello, how are you, have a chat, most of that time has elapsed. So there’s no time left for them to think properly. Or, they might quickly scan your information, say here’s the story and see you in six weeks or six months. You the patient are sent out the door unclear or unhappy or both. Even for me, a doctor inside the system, dealing with my own health issues, even I encounter this.
CG: What should we all be asking?
DC: Is there a doctor in the house, a doctor out there who truly cares about me?
CG: What’s our greater social responsibility?
DC: We need to support paying doctors properly, to do the critical thinking that gives a clear and meaningful context for patients and their medical issues. Likewise, give doctors enough time to connect with their patients in order to help them preventively, proactively. All this would go a long way to stopping or slowing the endless, wasteful merry-go-round of consult/image/lab-test/procedure, where too few are doing this thinking for too little money while too many down the line are getting richly and overly paid to do a slice of disembodied informational work.
At the same time, we have to stop compromising our personal health with poor behavior, behavior we flat out know is unhealthy.
CG: How do we keep physically healthy, individually and as a population?
DC: There’s the fledgling concierge model, where you pay a small retainer so your provider can make a decent living. In return they care for and about you. You might pay $80 a month for a doctor like this. Well I’d take that deal, it’s a good one; especially when you look at how many of us pay $1,000+ a month for health insurance with large deductibles.
Staying healthier personally? It’s not rocket science. There are basics: your weight, your blood pressure – and your general attitude of happiness and contentment with life – which I believe is the most important component of our well being. If you’re very heavy, or your pressure isn’t well managed, or you’re depressed, it’s straightforward: you’re not healthy.
Staying healthier as a country? Imagine if we had an earthquake every year that cost the
CG: How does consciousness change in desired directions?
DC: The national consciousness is starting to change. At the end of the day, though, money and political interest will shape the outcome.
What we need to raise first is our own consciousness. To realize there’s no healthcare coming to save our bacon. Most facilities across the country are overburdened, and are hard pressed to deliver a high caliber of care to everyone. We must also be acutely aware that good general and family practitioners, internists and pediatricians are an endangered species, a vanishing species.
Here are three rules of personal responsibility to live by:
Rule one. Make a commitment to wellness, and avoid getting sick if you can help it.
Rule two. Find a way to acknowledge your doctor for caring. Don’t take it for granted. They made a decision to care on a professional basis with no expectation of reward. So be the thoughtful, appreciative kind of person they look forward to seeing and helping.
Rule three. Vote, make your voice heard, be part of the political process, to save the good primary care doctors from becoming extinct or demoralized. It’s in your best interest.
CG: What kind of primary care doctors should all of us look for?
DC: GPs who are extremely competent, understands the human condition, and can connect clearly and quickly with you as a patient. An individual who’s emotionally-wired and committed to care, and will go the extra mile as the rule not the exception.
Though diminishing in number, GPs like this do exist.
CG: What do you see as our biggest opportunity?
DC: Making patients an active, central part of their healthcare experiences. The key variable is not the doctor and not the medication or the test, it’s you, the patient. Each one of us needs to be actively involved with our well being. To be taking charge. To be wisely managing our greatest asset, our health – and getting a good, caring, committed physician to manage and enhance it with us.
CG: Dan, many thanks.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer, messaging strategist and interviewer, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. Our Most Valuable Asset is On the Line is the 18th in a series of thought pieces, to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Dr. Daniel Carlin is a 25-year physician, clinician and thought leader in medical change. He’s a former US Naval officer, and founder and CEO of World Clinic, www.worldclinic.com, a unique, global 24/7 medical and telemedical practice serving a select group of senior executives and wealthy individuals and families.
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a conversation about why we need silence
with stephen chinlund
CG: Why do we need silence?
SC: We need it for our well-being; for slowing down, for understanding what life is about, for being happy in the world as we encounter it; to tune in to what’s happening inside our own bodies – which we hardly pay attention to; for savoring and being thankful for the people in our lives…and much else.
CG: So part of silence involves pausing.
SC: Yes. Silence is an antidote for our speeding.
CG: A remedy, for our state of overdrive or perpetual motion, which is an occupational hazard for many of us; especially in 24/7 cities like New York. How or when can silence be most meaningful, Steve?
SC: Wanting it is the thing. If you truly want it, you’ll find it and make regular places for it. If you haven’t experienced silence before, it’s a bit of a Catch-22. Because you have to allow time for it first, in order to discover and appreciate how incredibly meaningful it is.
Being afraid of or bored by silence prevents a lot of people from trying it. They actively avoid it. And getting past this anxiety – which is often a fear of having uncomfortable thoughts or memories rush into that “empty” space – or getting past the expectation of boredom, can seem like a big step to take, sometimes too big.
CG: Hence the tendency to fill up the silences with activities, busy-ness, or the sound of our own voices. Which doesn’t allow room for other, very important experiences to enter.
SC: Yes, because when you’re truly silent, and taking the time to be quiet, whether it’s for a half-hour or a whole morning…or even a whole day, vital new things come. They don’t always come in the first five minutes. It takes time for them to arrive, and unfold. But they come.
Whole libraries have been written about silence, including books by the German philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart, the mystic-poet Angelus Silesius (The Cherubinic Wanderer), Francois Fenelon, the main advocate of “quietism” in the late 1600s, Thomas Merton and others.
CG: I’m sure we’d all be wise to develop our “third ears,” to hear what’s being said not just in the lines of conversations but also in the silent spaces between them, where there’s a great deal happening; where what’s unsaid is equally important to understand. I’d extend this to marketers, who could better relate to the people who buy their products and services by adding or using a well-tuned third ear.
SC: The Quakers listened in the silences, and to what was underneath what was being said. They were also a canny bunch of businessmen, and even used the power of silence in the boardroom, when they were running companies; especially when things got contentious. It worked well for them, their disciplines of silence and consensus.
There’s also a new book out by the novelist Anne LeClaire called Listening Below the Noise: a Meditation on the Practice of Silence. It’s about the promise she made herself to be completely silent all day, every other Monday. Out of this commitment, she discovered many new and wonderful things about her life and potential.
CG: Let’s come back to this key issue of commitment, to not just wanting silence but also dedicating ourselves to it, for however long or short a period of time we choose.
SC: If we’re really committed to being inside it, we’re able to drift into less active and non-verbal ways of thinking, feeling and being. To let go of all the stuff floating around in our heads. Then it becomes very exciting.
This happens for me when I paint: magic happens, once I move past all the “frontal” thinking and enter into whatever I’m painting; enter into a noiseless flow. When I engage the silence this way is when I create the most satisfying things. It’s an experience second only to sex. Blissful.
CG: How would you describe a clear state of silence as a room or landscape? What would it be like?
SC: A place full of life, of sunny and dark places, flowers and caves, pleasant and unpleasant aromas; things beautiful and strange; a place that’s endlessly rich. An intimate place you enter into; merge with.
CG: How do we set the stage for this?
SC: I’d encourage each person to do it their own way. You might go to a Quaker meeting, which has a special kind of power. Or into a church – a cathedral of silence. You might draw or paint, and make a commitment to be silent when doing this. Give yourself the luxury to sit somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, and promise yourself you won’t say anything for an hour or two, and see what happens. Go wherever it’s quiet and congenial for you.
And if you find yourself wavering, don’t get sidetracked or give up too quickly from exploring silence.
CG: Slowness and silence for all of us, and time for these, aren’t luxuries, but necessities; enriching and revitalizing.
SC: All kinds of people in this wonderful town [New York] that I adore feel if they had two or three times as many hours of the day it wouldn’t be enough to keep up with all that’s happening personally and professionally. This isn’t the answer.
CG: If we don’t incorporate silence into our lives, as a way to connect with our interior landscape, do we risk living incompletely, too much on the outside of things, outside of ourselves? A theme Robert Sardello focuses on in his book Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness, and a fount of healing for Carl Jung.
SC: The fact we spend so little time in silence, inside the quiet of our beings, and don’t even expect to spend any time, is a terrible deprivation. It’s like being malnourished or unloved.
There are cultures, especially in Asia and Muslim countries, that are far more comfortable with silence than our American one. Even in Europe you sit back after a long lunch not having to talk, and you quietly savor the experience.
Zen Buddhists are great models, partly because they’ve carried the thinking about it to an almost baroque level: Zen and the art of archery, of painting, tennis, even motorcycle repair. The root is silence.
CG: It’s also fundamental to achieving mastery, creative silence; and going back to what you said at the start, to achieving a deep state of well-being. Most of us might be surprised to find out just how deeply we can go, what do you think?
SC: Definitely. I guarantee that if you promise yourself to be silent for just five minutes each day, each week, and honor that quiet time – silence without distraction – you’ll have a deepening experience. It yields all kinds of welcome surprises, from peacefulness to creativity.
Silence is also necessary for reflection, and for pondering important questions and issues.
CG: In our virtual and digital and social networking age, where it’s about action, interaction and transactions, how is silence let alone meaningful silence possible?
SC: A good question. When two people are together physically having a conversation, there can be a shared silence, whereas in virtual conversations people feel insulted, confused, upset if there’s silence.
I think noise and speed and chatter and twittering are substitutes for vital interior explorations, internal explorations we need to engage in.
I have a character in one of my plays who says when I was a kid summer lasted forever, then I started to grow up, got married and had kids, now suddenly I’m an old man. Part of this speech reflects the absolute pell mell character of many lives, that are lacking in deeply quiet introspective time.
CG: What’s the most important aspect of silence we should be contemplating right now?
SC: That there are treasures inside us, wonderful treasures, that no other person can tell us about; that we can only discover in and through silence.
If we can get ourselves past any anxiety or boredom, and just let the silence be there; let ourselves be in it, then that remarkable hidden room, that rich hidden landscape each one of us has within will be revealed to us.
CG: Steve, thank you.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer, messaging strategist and interviewer, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. The Importance of Silence is the 17th in a series of thought pieces, to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Stephen Chinlund is a painter, playwright, minister (and Harvard man, class of ‘55). He’s a former Executive Director of Episcopal Social Services, Rector of Southport Connecticut’s Trinity Parish, and Chairman of the NY State Department of Correction, among other dedicated positions in his abundant and still unfolding 40-year career. www.chinlund.com
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a conversation about listening vitally with jane hewson
JH: Charles Ives said Thoreau was a great musician, not because he played the flute but because he didn’t have to go to Boston to hear the symphony.
KT: the listening room by MAT Studio and Elastik
CG: Jane, a good entry point into our conversation about listening.
What’s the real art of listening and why do we need to be practicing it right now?
JH: Listening is about being still. And patient. And generous. It’s a difficult trifecta to achieve.
Think about the last time almost anyone you know gave their absolute attention to you or someone who was talking to them.
You have to quiet your mind entirely, and be willing to be influenced by someone else’s thinking and thoughts.
You need to put aside any desire to rebut or argue a point, and be completely open and non-judgmental. Very hard to do.
CG: You say most people don’t listen because they don’t know how to.
JH: As individuals, we rarely discuss how to listen, nor learn how to listen. Unless you’re a musician, or a journalist – and I’m not sure even journalists learn how to listen any more.
As for corporations, there’s fast-growing awareness that their operating paradigms don’t foster active listening. Many now seek out teachers to help them become more proficient at it and create working environments that foster and reward it. It’s part of what I’m engaged in at The Creating WE Institute, where we talk about vital conversations. So many decisions are made through conversation. Each on of them should be considered vital, because each one provides an opportunity to create positive, selfless outcomes.
We work with corporate clients and are making remarkable progress moving their cultures out of an entrenched self-focus.
CG: What happens when we listen vitally?
JH: In the purest sense, when we really listen, we’re re-created and grow by taking in something new. When we become receivers of ideas – like great radio receivers – and attend to the thoughts and views of others without transmitting our own. So listening becomes, can become an extraordinarily creative process.
Think about a river at its source. Along the way thousands of brooks and streams and other bodies of water join it, all adding to the flow and the whole. So by the time the river reaches its mouth it has swelled with all these contributions. Think of your mind and heart growing in this same expansive way as your life progresses, as it freely receives a wealth of other contributions.
We have an opportunity to live and work this way; but we can’t do it without making listening vitally a priority.
CG: How has technology affected our ability to listen?
JH: The act of listening itself is a factor of your age and exposure to technology. Those who grew up with computers often thrive on mental multi-tasking; listening to music for example while chatting online while talking on a cell phone while watching a sporting event on TV. They listen differently – and more chaotically – than their parents, than someone like me.
Today, the art of listening has been overwhelmed by the ceaseless input of ‘noise’ in our daily lives; which gives rise to our need to be heard clearly…a need that rarely gets met. There’s so much coming in that isn’t filtered, can’t easily be filtered, so you wind up drowning in this unfiltered kind of listening.
There is an antidote: tuning in to the healthy, the wanted and the needed.
CG: There are many different kinds of noise, static, interference, from the ambient to the intentional.
JH: Yes. Think about the noise that comes just from man-made things that run on gas, electricity etc., from cars, refrigerators and air conditioning to stereos, televisions, printers and phones. Which has nothing to do with all the marketing noise that surrounds and bombards us, a whole other layer.
When was the last time you sat in a place where there was absolutely no man-made sound? Where it was completely quiet. Even in the wilds of Vermont, there’s interference. But when the power goes out there, I can sit in the kitchen next to the wood stove at night with a candle and hear a lone drop of water outside. I can hear the creak and groan of the old sugar maple in a slight wind. And listen to the hisses in the fireplace. There’s no extraneous input to contend with.
All this pure expression is always there for us to listen to. But we have to work harder these days to be in these moments.
CG: How can a company or marketer learn to listen well or better?
JH: The biggest risk for marketers is selective listening. Listening only for what supports your theory or strategy. Yet you can’t listen selectively and effectively at the same time. It may solve your short-term issue, in meeting an immediate agenda or deadline, but it’ll come back to haunt you.
CG: It seems we’re at a point where companies simply can’t afford to not listen closely, completely, sincerely.
JH: Yes, because there’s a minor form of social revolt afoot now, a dearth of trust in providers among consumers. Partly because consumers feel the scale of large companies doesn’t allow for any personal dialogue about our thoughts and feelings. Or because marketers, providers are just pretending to listen and care; which we see right through.
CG: What’s the litmus test of how well one is listening?
JH: A great listener cares more about the messages being communicated to them, than in their reply to those messages. Another test is if you’re bored, which shows you’re not engaged; that you’re not being generous in your listening. Because you have to actively care about what someone is saying; be genuinely interested.
A great listener expresses their listening with their whole body: their eyes are engaged, their posture is attentive and directed toward the speaker; their expression is naturally welcoming and supportive.
CG: But isn’t selective listening massively institutionalized? What will it take to move this mountain?
JH: It’s no easy feat. Most companies need to be up against a wall to change their ways. And they also need to have someone extraordinary or courageous enough in a leadership position to say no one’s really listening here. We don’t even know what we’re supposed to be listening to. I believe the transformation will happen first with smaller businesses.
And, many big institutions may be dismantled or crumble in part because the prevailing corporate paradigm hasn’t fostered a purity in listening. In fact, it has disabled companies’ ability to listen well.
The pressure to meet a prescribed agenda has generally overridden any reason to listen. Jack Welch in a recent Financial Times interview basically admitted that his own theory of placing shareholder value and profits at the top of the priority list was destructive. He said business leaders wound up sacrificing listening to and caring for their employees and customers, and sacrificing the quality of the products or services they were providing, because those things didn’t necessarily lead to accelerated shareholder profits.
CG: What kinds of great listeners are out there in our world that you look to?
JH: Musicians, poets, great salespeople; individuals of deep faith; teachers who work with children with physical and emotional disabilities. All people who have open minds and hearts; who thrive on creativity; who listen to far more than just words.
CG: And why do you feel face-to-face communicating is still so essential? In this day and age of distant and disembodied communicating.
JH: Good face-to-face interaction means being fully present. If we ever lost the ability to have generative conversation around a dinner table, that would be a sad day for humankind.
While hearing comes naturally, listening and interacting well with others has to be learned. It’s a skill. In my coaching work, I videotape people in small group settings making a presentation. When I play the tape back immediately afterward, most are shocked by what they see: how powerful their facial expressions are, how much others read into their tone of voice and body language. Because often what someone says doesn’t match how they say it, or how they appear when they say it. Mixed messages.
CG: Does something like Twittering close off our opportunity to listen?
JH: Twittering is a new phenomenon, one that’s self-facing, one-directional: it’s about blasting out your information. You don’t need to attend to the listener(s) at all. And if you’re only transmitting, you’re unable to listen.
CG: You did a recent radio program on face-to-face communicating for Lori Sackler’s show ‘The M Word: Money & Family’ that was very thoughtful. If anyone would like to hear it, the link is here.
What’s the most essential question we should be asking ourselves around this big issue of listening? As individuals, as companies, as a society.
JH: We have to ask how sincerely interested and capable we are of quieting our own minds, and receiving openly and deeply.
It’s difficult, because it comes back to the fact most of us are underserved in being listened to.
We have an incredible opportunity and ability to get to this important place. To practice the real art of listening, and as a result positively and powerfully affect our personal and business communities.
CG: Jane, all vital things to ponder and pursue. Thank you for our conversation.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer, messaging strategist and interviewer, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. The Real Art of Listening is the 16th in a series of thought pieces, to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Jane Hewson is principal of Beresford Partners, business development consultants, and a founding member of The Creating WE Institute focused on new forms and levels of thought leadership. Her career spans over 30 years counseling leading firms on marketing and communicating.
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strategic messaging & story development
a conversation about deep presence with dan kowalski
CG: What is ‘deep presence?’
DK: Experiencing presence is coming into relationship with a person or place. Experiencing deep presence is coming into a deeply felt relationship with the living Earth.
CG: You believe this is an essential connection for each of us to find and feel; to rediscover.
DK: Our connectedness with each other and the larger living world is innate, yet greatly challenged and diminished. We have to regain our ability to experience it. It’s in our best interest, because it leads to a fundamental state of well being; not just for us individually but also for us collectively as a society.
CG: How can one go about entering this state of being?
DK: In the wilderness of Southeast Alaska, where I’ve been guiding for many years, the discovery is open to anyone.
But in a lifelong way it comes down to ‘practice,’ to an ongoing engagement you adopt versus a task you complete. What you discover is that more engagement leads to greater depth.
Engagement is fundamental, as are aspects of Eastern spiritual practices, especially mindfulness: paying attention and being present to whatever is unfolding around you. This doesn’t have to be in the wilderness. It can take place wherever you find yourself.
In my experience, the entire Earth has a deep presence, and expresses itself magnificently. It’s always there, even when muted by the buzz and rumble of human activity.
CG: Isn’t it easier to be highly present in the wilderness, because there’s nothing else to divert your attention?
DK: The wilderness offers a very straightforward place to experience this wonder and pure quality of being. Because everything flows the right way there; the rhythm is much slower; you feel at home inside it and inside yourself.
Urban environments are no less wild in their way. There’s so much stimulation going on, and sensory overload. To prevail and prosper in these surroundings our systems have evolved sophisticated filters and other coping mechanisms. But these adaptations don’t lend themselves to deep presence, or to ‘long wave’ ways of being. Which is one reason why many people establish meditation and other contemplative practices like yoga…to connect with the long wave and counterbalance the man-made stresses.
CG: Explain this long and short wave idea.
DK: I think of wavelengths of light and sound, and ocean currents, as metaphors. Long waves have more penetrating power. At sunset and sunrise we see the rich reds and oranges because these longer waves penetrate the thicker atmosphere. Or the low thundering whoosh of a whale’s breath you can hear across a stretch of water. On the ocean, there are long, storm-generated waves that develop way off in the Pacific. They move across the ocean in long, rolling, undulating swells. When we’re fishing for halibut, it’s much easier to get into a working rhythm with these long waves than with shorter, wind-driven chops which can be quite uncomfortable.
Short-wave frequencies do have a place and value in our daily lives. They sharpen our mental processes, helping us to focus more clearly and analyze and act faster.
CG: But you’re especially keen on riding the long wave.
DK: I am, because the long wave gets short shrift in our modern culture, our ‘technogenic’ culture obsessed with speed and efficiency but too often caught up as a result in short wave, multi-tasking behavior that’s percussive and chronically distracting. Chronic distraction is the opposite of deep presence.
Some wise traditions have upheld the long-wave way all along, including a deep respect and reverence for all living things. The Eastern and Native American cultures in particular, which are good models.
With the monumental challenges facing us in the world, we desperately need to have and integrate both the long and short wave.
CG: How is our relationship with the natural world changing?
DK: The Judeo-Christian tradition of thou shalt take dominion over all things is hard to support when we’ve now reached or exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. We need to realize we’re not separate from but part of it; to understand that when we do harm to it we do harm to ourselves.
What needs to come to the fore is our beautiful, inherent nature to care and nurture, to steward. It can motivate us to reconsider our choices and our ways of living.
CG: Are there champions you look to who are making efforts to inspire positive, powerful awareness and change in this sphere?
DK: Many, which is a good sign. In the West, John Muir was the most prominent thinker to champion the cause of what today is called ‘bio-centrism,’ another way of saying everything is interconnected. Radically interconnected. Muir felt this in his bones.
I look to Bill McKibben, who writes wonderfully and stridently about our relationship with climate change. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, who calls for doing things much differently. Whose view is this may be our only chance to get our act together and change course while we still can.
Others I pay close attention to are Joanna Macy, part of The Great Turning Initiative, essayist and poet Gary Snyder; the critic and farmer Wendell Berry, earth scholar Thomas Berry, author, naturalist and ecologist Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez. Also Aldo Leopold, who was the father of wildlife management.
CG: What about the progress of the environmental movement?
DK: The ‘environmental movement,’ as it was pegged back in the 70s and 80s, is in a state of flux right now. Many of its orientations are less salient today because of the far more complex conditions we’re up against. Yet despite the complexities, there are still significant environmental champions at work promoting sensible, deep and right-on ways to proceed.
CG: Could there be an incredible simplicity that transcends all the complexity? If we could arrive at a deeper sense of the interconnectedness you’re talking about, wouldn’t respect and reverence for all living things flourish?
DK: Yes. But people can have an intellectual understanding of something and at the same time have no visceral awareness. If we don’t get it in our bones it won’t show up in how we live; in the defining qualities of our being.
CG: You guide people into the profound experience of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage; and facilitate conversations with Nature and the wild.
DK: It’s wonderful to witness people who travel here come into harmony with the wilderness, this awe-inspiring habitat that’s very long-wave from its native culture to its wildlife to its tides.
CG: What about the meditative visual journey you co-created on DVD, Deep Presence: Meditations on a Wild Coast? That uses an innocent eye and ear to take you into the soul of this landscape if you’ve never been there, or back into it if you have.
DK: The immersive nature and language of film is very effective in touching and engaging your heart and mind. Films like this one that celebrate the wilderness and invoke wonder can bring a deeply satisfying encounter and experience to you at home.
CG: What about engagement in terms of how companies communicate with us; the ways marketers and others want to ‘engage’ us?
DK: Our attention is precious, and our identity in many respects distills down to what we pay attention to. But our deeper being has a subtle compass: we know in our bones whether or not something is relevant and life-affirming.
The current crisis of confidence has given companies a tremendous opportunity to re-evaluate the compass-heading of their messages to us; in order to find a deeper resonance with people. In this information-overloaded environment, their voice and messages will draw our precious attention and will resonate if but only if they speak and make sense to us at our core.
CG: What’s the most vital next step we need to take?
DK: To move to discover and engage with our vital interconnectedness with each other and with the larger living world. Right action will come from knowing this place in our bones.
CG: Dan, thank you for all your thoughts. I look forward to joining you in Alaska and continuing our conversations there.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer, messaging strategist and interviewer, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. Riding the Long Wave is the 15th in a series of thought pieces, to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Dan Kowalski is a filmmaker, founder of Pacific NW-based Rollingbay Works www.rollingbayworks.com and a long-time commercial halibut fisherman and wilderness guide in Southeast Alaska. He co-produced Deep Presence: Meditations on a Wild Coast.
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a conversation about self-exploration
with yannis simonides
CG: You've been touring the world, solo-performing Plato's Apology; where to me you nearly channel Socrates; who was spot on 22 centuries ago about the examined life and the virtuous way to be. Yet 22 centuries later, we’re still struggling as a society with living and behaving in right(er) ways.
Where are the clues, the insights we need?
YS: They’re right there in Plato’s text of The Apology. Plato’s and Socrates’ systems of thought, their philosophies, are still fundamental models to study and listen to – and emulate.
CG: Can we achieve a more virtuous culture than we have to date?
YS: We can, but only to the degree we honestly examine our lives and apply the findings that flow from this self-examination.
Socrates said virtue is knowledge; that the only way to reach knowledge and therefore virtue, is to study, to examine and to have the opportunity to do so.
If we spend the time to have a dialectic, an investigation, a reasoning with ourselves, and not stop until we arrive at the truth – a truth that satisfies us (or satisfies us and whoever we’re engaging with, a boss, a friend, another nation)…we will be greatly rewarded.
We need to be willing to live in a culture of questions not one of ready answers. It’s a more courageous approach. And it takes more time. But it’s worth it. It serves us better in the long run as individuals and as a society, by giving us stronger foundations for our lives and for our world.
When I talk about questioning, and avoiding dogma, and achieving a change for the better in our entire ethos, it’s relevant because success here has to do with listening more versus trying to speak more.
It’s time for us to fall silent and listen. To begin.
CG: I’m reminded of Rainer Maria Rilke’s words from his Letters to a Young Poet, where he said: Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them… the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
YS: Each of us can initiate these kind of conversations, with ourselves and with others – in our families, our workplaces, our social circles; our communities, and our governments.
Socrates was never dogmatic in the way he talked. His approach was always propositions; suggestions; ways to consider being; invitations to question and discuss.
CG: Why do the simple wisdoms of Socrates, as you present the philosopher and his ideas, resonate so strongly today especially among the youth of many different countries? You’ve experienced this firsthand in and after your performances, from Athens to Dubai to Uruguay.
YS: Because it isn’t dogma. Because it engages them in questions and questioning. Because there’s great respect and dignity; a belief in peaceful co-existence; benevolent laws; an unwillingness to harm. Also because there’s no imposition of false gods or one’s own gods or ideas on them. Living to the best and fullest is the aim. These are all great gifts and inspirations for the youth of all cultures.
These are also things, deep inside, as you discover in The Apology, that we all – no matter what our politics or backgrounds – acknowledge as valuable.
The youth of today listen to Socrates because, like them, he’s not afraid to take a piss. He wasn’t afraid, as most of us are, to risk losing a job, a career, a relationship, by opening his mouth to say right and needed things. His philosophy teaches courage; it teaches examining yourself; and learning on your own more about yourself…and about what’s right and wrong – so it all becomes self evident. And in this process you become virtuous.
CG: You see a problem with the popular desire for immediate solutions, especially in dealing with crises or monumental issues personally or on a wider scale.
YS: This is a trap we fall into: looking for easy answers. Stop instead. Take a breath. Take a walk. Consider. Call a friend or colleague and have a conversation. Don’t take pride in being a man or woman ‘of action.’ No one knows enough about life to face a crisis and say they have the absolute answer. Yet this is how so much of society has acted for so long.
CG: As a long-time actor, director, teacher, radio host, you’ve mastered the art of communicating; dramatically, effectively, memorably. What are the ingredients that contributed most crucially to your mastery? What advice would you give about achieving effective communications?
YS: Empathy. Patience. Listening. Humor. Humility. And, a willingness to understand what communication actually is and should be: a two-way street; a full circle: you put something out and wait for a message to come back to you; that tells you your message was received and fully understood, as intended. Then you have communicated.
It’s the difference between the teacher who talks with you, engages you, and the one who gets up and just reads from a text; talks at you.
We can never be presumptuous about our audience(s); we can’t label them.
Why? Because there’s so much more to people. Therefore, explore them; test them, as an actor would do. What is this house like, that you have before you? Is every Broadway theatre audience the same? No: the energy and interest and point of view of each group vary greatly. Those who ignore this dynamic are not the best communicators; they cannot communicate effectively.
And, don’t avoid doing something because you assume an audience won’t get it. Conversely, be sure to avoid things you think make sense but, looked at from their point of view, are likely to go right over their heads.
To be a great communicator, consciously play to people’s intelligence; to what you perceive as the best in them; using the best in you.
Anything else is deception, artifice or insensitivity.
And whatever medium you choose to communicate with, it’s your obligation to master it, as any great actor or director masters their craft.
Communication is as basic as breathing. Given our nature as social beings and our one-ness with Nature itself, we’re interdependent; in constant communication with each other and with Nature; in a give and take that happens billions of times a moment, every day, everywhere. Exchanging atoms with our environment is communication. Without all this, we stop breathing.
CG: Why do you feel such a burning personal need to examine and help others examine?
YS: Because I believe the world of our senses is just the tip of the iceberg. And those of us who live only on this level are blind, and make mistakes. If you ignore the rest of the iceberg, you’re another Titanic waiting to happen.
The world’s great difficulties now, like history’s Great Wars and Great Depressions and cataclysms, are signaling an enormous shift; one that’s not just economic. We need to understand what it means, what’s underneath it.
CG: I think despite the dislocations we’re up against, this tectonic shift is inspiring many of us, and forcing others, to re-examine their values; revisit (or re-affirm) what really matters in their lives, question long-held assumptions, and reconsider what right(er) thinking and acting is going forward.
YS: The most essential question we should be asking is should we re-examine the entire ethos we’ve been living by. My view is we should.
In every aspect of our lives and parts of society, from our governments to our faiths to our relationships to our place in the economy as consumers and as workers, we should be asking who are we? And asking what we want our future roles and responsibilities in society to be.
We all have the opportunity to initiate an exploration, in some way, in our own circles. I’m doing it through my performing and discussions around those performances. In order to bring people and organizations together in shared exploration – and discovery.
But assuming we have the answers, and following agendas and dogmas won’t get us there. Only a spirit and desire to examine deeply and freely and honestly will.
This is how we’ll evolve. And while evolution can be painful, because some things die, it can be wonderful because new things are born. This is the way, and Socrates’ way, that we’ll ultimately achieve a ‘culture of rightness,’ of higher values; of virtue.
CG: Yannis, thank you for all these thoughts. I hope some of our readers will find the opportunity to see you perform your stirring version of The Apology that continues touring.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer, messaging strategist and interviewer, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. A Time for Questioning & Listening is the 14th in a series of thought pieces, to help creative groups and their clients communicate more wisely. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Yannis Simonides has been touring the world as Socrates in solo performances of Plato’s Apology. An Emmy Award-winning documentary producer; actor and director, born in Constantinople and raised in Athens, he’s a former Chairman of New York University’s Tisch Drama Department, and was recently named an Ambassador of Hellenic Culture by the Greek Government. www.ellinikotheatro.org
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a conversation about powerful writing with tony leighton
CG: With all the chatter around us every day, and the easy or lazy lure of looking at video, how do businesses get people to read their written words and messages?
TL: By following the cardinal but constantly violated or bypassed rule of effective communications: understanding what the audience really wants to know or hear about, then talking to them about those issues, concerns or questions, not trumpeting your capabilities.
CG: Companies that fail to connect with an audience on their desired wavelengths usually lose those people, on the spot or ultimately. But why, after all this time, hasn't every marketer learned this?
TL: It’s all common sense, yet infrequently applied. The temptation is to sit down and laundry list your company’s capabilities; gather your “strengths” or benefits in one place and try to be impressive with them. When what you need to do is be empathetic. The other dynamic marketers miss the boat on is people don't read willingly, so it’s important to do other common sense things with this in mind.
One is to make it simple. People prefer to “speed graze.” They don't want to be forced to think much. Things that aren't simple force them, and that’s a turnoff to ‘reluctant’ readers…and the fact is most readers fall into this category.
CG: So you've gotten my attention as a reader, and achieving that is of course important. Now what else will keep me actively engaged in your story beyond this?
TL: It’s vital to apply a combination of neuroscience and zeitgeist. By understanding where we are now in the evolution of the human brain and how it handles words in a busy environment. We must feed people information they way they want to digest it, and in the way their brains process it.
You have to give them the following: a good reason to pay attention; a context for the message that’s relevant and meaningful to them; and a story – which could be a single line – but with a plot, a twist and some suspense. Use the devices of novelists and great [literary] journalists to help sustain readers’ interest.
CG: Is there always a bona fide story to work with?
TL: When it’s something short, something more informational, like a series of facts, there may be no story per se. Then your obligation is to write it as cleanly, clearly and fluidly as you can.
But you can often squeeze a decent story from almost anything. How? By empathizing with the audience, and by asking bold questions or making bold statements at the beginning. You might state, for example: we have no time. Which puts forth a promise that something is going to follow, something that might suggest you're offering a solution to the issue.
People also appreciate the unexpected. Even in business writing, creativity is about ‘turning’ the story in a direction the reader doesn't expect. It’s removing their sense of the predictable, and giving them something more seductive. It’s saying things that have a ring of the profound.
CG: Speaking boldly, probingly, profoundly, but always with a basis for doing so, with a reality and relevancy and authenticity, yes?
TL: Absolutely. That’s a given.
CG: What about creating and/or sustaining a lasting relationship, marketer to customer. Beyond the written message being read and received. How do you best achieve this? So your audience connects with you again and again with equal attention, interest and enthusiasm?
TL: A clear, friendly, warm, informative and empathetic voice is always well appreciated, by anybody reading anything. If a company can consistently speak with this kind of voice, people come to expect it and to look for it; listen to it. A voice like this that people seek out is a tremendous asset.
CG: You appreciate companies that take their messaging cues from advertising agencies.
TL: Yes, because the best ad agencies have mastered the ever-evolving art of getting attention and leaving impressions. They know their audience. They speak clearly and conversationally. They appeal on an emotional level, with warmth, friendliness, flavor and wit. And they stay focused on one idea, and substantiate it – with compelling evidence.
CG: What companies out there are do you see as the most effective?
TL: The big tech companies have been the leaders with this approach. I'd point to Apple, I always point to Apple. They almost invented clarity and simplicity and cool thinking in corporate marketing. Google does it quite well; Cisco, too and others. They speak to their customers in the wiser way I'm advocating.
Companies that communicate effectively are often innovators in other areas. Like GE. Car companies tend to do it. Look at most industry leaders; look at their web sites or marketing material. It’s all generally clear, conversational and empathetic.
CG: And the companies that don't get it?
TL: It’s interesting how many other companies don't get it, or aren't practicing it. They still hide in corporate-speak and jargon, which used to be called “business writing.” Well there’s no such thing. There’s just effective or ineffective writing, and degrees in between.
CG: You see a gap in the creative agency landscape? Talk to us about this.
TL: There’s an interesting gap between ad agencies and design / communications firms. Design firms almost never have writers on staff. Ad agencies do: they have and pay copywriters, the best ones, large salaries. These [agency] writers are remarkable thinkers, and have a great command of the language.
This ad agency model is one I have always felt missing from the mix. Which is why you and I are called upon to serve as these specialists, to do this thinking work, to strategize with our design counterparts on behalf of clients and serve as the storytellers, the story writers.
CG: The reality is most of the design groups can't swing having someone on staff full time. Or if they can, they can't afford, in-house, someone exceptionally capable and versatile enough. What would you suggest to these firms?
TL: That it’s essential to work with a writer who has ideas. Good, smooth writing is just the price of entry. What’s invaluable is a collaborator who understands businesses and audiences, who knows what to leave out as well as what to include. A savvy thinker who has a sense of strategic momentum; who can see the next step in the chess game and reflect that in a company’s messaging.
CG: That brings up the question of classic pitfalls companies and creative groups and writers make.
TL: There are big pitfalls, big tiger traps to avoid, including the dangerous, often fatal assumption that people are actually interested in reading whatever you want to communicate. They aren't. Or assuming you don't have to woo them. You do. Or believing that useful writing is stringing words together pleasantly. It isn't. Effective writing is conveying ideas well dressed in language. The ideas are 90% of it.
CG: Is there any need to evolve the language marketers use? Would that help people engage versus glaze over which they do when they see and feel the same tired old style or approaches being used to reach them?
TL: That’s a good question. I'd say there’s no new language, there’s just plain English, without fat; presented in a way that’s easily absorbed; that tells a story and brings concrete images to the mind of the reader.
There is a language trap, though: using abstract language. It’s far less effective than concrete language. So, instead of writing we have multiple strategic concerns going forward, it’s better to say this could be more challenging in the future. Instead of writing consumer reaction is regionally skewed, just say people like this product in Oregon.
Jargon is non-specific, flabby, and fails to shape ideas. It’s a hiding place, a refuge for people who haven't learned to write with clarity and simplicity and strategic thinking; where you shape an idea and make it memorable and edifying. Writing simply and thoughtfully is difficult. It takes a long time to master this.
CG: What startling questions should marketers and/or creative groups that help them market be asking right now?
TL: Do you still know how to reach people? Are you sure? How do you know? And what more can you be doing?
CG: As an exceptional and exceptionally well-seasoned writer/strategist, who has been on the front lines of business for decades, Tony, what’s the most essential advice you can offer?
TL: Learn what good writing and messaging is and settle for nothing less.
The two easy ways to do this: do some research and write down 10 rules of messaging that can never be broken; to serve as your guide and filter and litmus test. For example, 1) make it easy to read, 2) speak conversationally, 3) address the audience’s concerns etc. Rules that, when followed, result in a much stronger piece of communication. Rules that, when broken, weaken your piece.
Second, study how the very best companies communicate. Then emulate them. Anything Apple has ever written is a great starting point. I doubt most internal communications people actually do this. If any of your readers have, maybe they could share their experience.
Hold up, for example, some Apple writing alongside some internal writing being proposed for the annual report or brochure or a given communication. And see and understand the differences.
CG: Tony, a great deal of insight and practical advice to consider. I hope you'll come back and do another interview sometime, thank you.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer, messaging strategist and interviewer, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. Getting More Attention is the 13th in a series of thought pieces, to help creative groups and their clients communicate more wisely. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Tony Leighton is a nimble thinker, strategist, writer and mentor, whose career spans decades of journalism, and high-level storytelling for leading Canadian and U.S. companies and institutions. tonyleighton @ fix.ca
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a conversation about curiosity with steve burnett
CG: What is curiosity for you?
SB: It’s the world’s greatest gift to us. It transcends race, religion, time and culture and the biases that divide us. It causes us to look beyond the hill and intrigues us to go there. And once we're there it allows us to see highly original things.
The new truths we discover out of curiosity can be so powerful, and brought back and shared as stories or science. They help us and our communities and educational institutions evolve and thrive.
CG: How do we know if a company is being curious in productive ways? Is there a litmus test?
SB: See if it’s part of a company’s strategic plan. The simplest way is to follow the money. Do they have a healthy R&D budget? Also, do they support management and employee training, and interactions that further the conversation about new things? And is there a culture of exploration and discovery, and a real acceptance of new ideas?
CG: What about the creative groups that work with those companies, groups like yours?
SB: We designers and others like us are in the curiosity business. Because we're constantly engaged in questioning, exploring and creating things. It’s wonderful how we invariably get to a point we think we have it all figured out…only to find we're turning a corner to a next universe. In the 19th century the engineering community thought it had invented everything there was to invent. They were the greatest curiosity engines on the planet. In fact, the patent office nearly closed down back then because there wasn't anything new to invent: the engineers of the day had done such an extraordinary job translating their curiosity into a vast universe of mechanical things.
CG: Is inquisitiveness an essential ingredient, something that can mean the difference between make-or-break?
In any industry, curiosity plays a vital role when you're starting or re-building a business. If a company doesn't reinvent itself regularly it will wither and die. And without a way to reinvent, without giving curiosity enough rein and continually supporting it, a company can't survive in any good way.
CG: Is curiosity a natural or a learned quality?
SB: You look at a child. A three-year old on the beach. How, when they bend over as the tide recedes and see their reflection in the water, we see in their eyes how magical and wonderful the world is to them. Well, everyone is born looking at the world without preconceptions. All children are full of pure wonder. This is where our wisdom begins…in a state of wonder.
CG: I believe this is a place, a state of being we can re-find, that we can return to as people and as businesses. Yet why does it stop, or get arrested? And how do you rekindle it?
SB: It stops because people get programmed not to wonder, but to operate in an acceptable way. I think some people as they get older also get tired and fall into ruts.
But there are many ways to re-ignite our sense of curiosity and imagining. You need to step off the well-worn path into the unfamiliar, and taste the hidden or forbidden fruit. How far you step depends on how much risk you're willing to take, and what floats your boat – to explore anew. It’s an extremely personal and individual conversation.
Men particularly, at a certain point in their lives, go through a phase where things have gone along well enough but they are no longer satisfied. They feel something meaningful is missing. Re-evaluating the meaning of life is part of the natural process of development, of looking at who we are in the great scheme of the human condition.
CG: How do organizations inspire or excite curiosity, both inside, among their own tribe, and outside, among their customers, clients, stakeholders, communities?
SB: It’s not about doing things with a Six Sigma approach, even though there’s some discovery in that. An organization needs to have people around whose job is mainly or solely to look for category changes, game changes, quantum leaps in opportunity, competitiveness, efficiency.
Some corporations see these ‘curious’ individuals that are hired as an invasive species, and will effectively kill their input or discount their value as soon as they enter a corporate culture. Other companies – the wiser ones -- offer these probers, inquirers, explorers a place in the garden, where their unique species of flora and fauna can flourish, can be deeply curious and greatly benefit the business.
CG: Do you know some of these exotic species, these curiosity seekers?
SB: I think this work is far too important to be left to so-called experts: it’s in all of us; inside me, inside you.
CG: That I'll second. I'd also like to raise a hand for poets present and past, who wonder and inspire wonder about nearly everything we can think of, from lightning to loving to language. Including motive poets like David Whyte, who has been a bright spark for many businesses and individuals, moving them to a rich place of re-imagining.
CG: What about others you could point to that the readers might know, or would like to know more about, as models or inspirations?
SB: I know some in the corporate world, who have been able to turn things upside down and do the impossible, because they're intensely curious about the way things work and have been willing to take calculated risks. Fred Parnon of Jnana Technologies, Alisa Zamir, designer and professor at Pratt, Bill Dunk, a social engineer, provocateur, and eminence gris to corporate chieftains – and his curiosity-satisfying site The Global Province, and Michael Grisham, an inventor, are some creative investigators that spring to mind.
CG: So tell us about your search for the giant squid. Why has your curiosity about it taken you all over the world, and thousands of leagues under the sea?
SB: It’s the largest fish on the planet. It has been written about and documented, yet no humans have really been eye-to-eye with it, in its native habitat; and studied it close up. It’s just marvelous that on a planet where we think we know so much, we can't be together with something this magnificent right where it lives.
CG: Should we allow ourselves to be much more curious, immensely curious? Using the giant squid as a metaphor.
SB: One of the reasons the giant squid has never been seen, is because (less out of curiosity and more out of man’s hubris) for years people went down into the depths in umbilical rovers, robot submersibles with big lights, to search for it. But they never put two-and-two together: the giant squid has the largest and most sensitive eyeball in the animal kingdom and here the ‘unenlightened’ seekers go down with the brightest light ever made then are puzzled why they can't find any of them.
You see, what goes along with good, curious exploration is empathy: you need to enter another world and see and feel it the way its inhabitants see it. Deep down, the giant squid gathers light with its large eye: the bioluminescent light of flashing dinoflagellates.
If you're engaged in any pursuit, being true to it will open up myriad and often marvelous angles of thinking and approach. This is where we can touch places of great wondering and pondering and innovation and realization.
CG: Steve, what else in the landscape are you insatiably curious about these days?
SB: Getting to know more about the chef you introduced me to, Cyril Renaud, at Bar Breton.
And variations-on-themes, ones that have been worked forever keep me curious. How to remake what everyone has become bored with. Adding new energy to old clichés.
CG: What one or two companies for you have a rich and productive sense of curiosity? That capacity that leads to breakthroughs and competitive advantages.
SB: One was Alltel, and a fellow named Frank O’Mara, the marketing director there. He took a niche player and turned it into a national one, through some extremely innovative positioning work.
The line between curiosity and competitiveness is very thin. If you asked O’Mara if he was curious, he might not understand the word but he would understand the competitive part big time, and immediately. Motivation in his case came from the competitive side but his deep curiosity led him to figure out how to jump ahead differently as a business.
CG: There’s something pure and innocent about curiosity, and it seems the world could do with a lot more of that right now.
SB: Sometimes it’s not all that innocent. Einstein was a curious man, and did a lot of musing around interesting scientific possibilities, but some of that was applied quickly and critically to making an atomic weapon.
CG: How do social networks play a role?
SB: Quite often the only frame of reference a company has about whether it’s doing something right or wrong is to put it in front of other people. Social networks are perfect this way, because they're a mirror that quickly and clearly reflects whether there’s a receptive ear or eye or mindset for what a business is offering publicly, or how it’s thinking.
CG: How do companies get their audiences to have a sense of curiosity and wonder about things they, as a business, are doing in the world; in the marketplace? So that communities of interest they interact with become genuinely intrigued, meaning in a wholly un-persuaded way.
SB: An exciting thing that happens at certain times in human history is the hive or herd mentality. Where suddenly everyone is turned on to exploring the same thing at the same time. Where there’s pervasive curiosity with affirmation around an idea. Especially in times of stress. Unfortunately war and poverty are great motivators here. You have other cases, in more recent history, where curiosity led to suddenly huge inventions, like fossil fuel and its potential, that completely changed the landscape, changed the world’s industrial and social fabric.
We're on a similar path of searching right now, especially driven by the stress of the global economic meltdown. The landscape is changing and the people in it will need to adapt and invent new things to survive. And they will.
CG: Many of us have been fascinated by people and businesses using curiosity and creativity to do truly incredible things, that make life and work significantly smarter, better, more rewarding. Is this happening enough, or visibly enough? You also had something you wanted to say about Google.
SB: In the not-too-recent past, you had to go to a University or church or company for knowledge. And they protected that 'library' of knowledge, and if you wanted access to it you had to pay tuition or tithe or buy a product. In the academic world, they opened the library to you while you were a student, then closed the doors to you after you left. The curious experiment is: what if you took the walls down – and made all the knowledge transparent, and accessible to any one, any where, any time. What would happen to the world, and its curiosity?
In building this kind of resource, Google is making a lot of money. But are they engaged in one of the greatest experiments of civilized man right now? It could go massively to the good or to the detrimental side, depending on how people use it.
You can go onto Google and look at the nuclear footprint of Iran through Google Earth, or find the plans for Marine One, or see a satellite picture of your neighbor sunbathing naked. There are so many curious things being made available. What are you, what are we going to do with it all, or about it all?
Fast forward 10 years, to a stone tablet. Will someone be chiseling into a rock that the end of man arrived because the genie got out of the bottle; because there was unlimited and unwise use of information?
CG: We need to wonder about this, seriously wonder; about where we are heading and why, in business and society. I for one hope we find the right insights and answers. And that the only genie we uncork is a genie of deep curiosity inside us, our communities, our companies and the minds of the big thinkers that help keep the world turning and evolving.
Thanks for all the rich and roving thoughts, Steve.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer, messaging strategist and interviewer, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. Searching for the Giant Squid is the 12th in a series of thought pieces, to help creative groups and their clients communicate more wisely. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Steve Burnett is a mercurial thinker, artist, adventurer and long-time principal of The Burnett Group in New York.
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a conversation with salvatore rasa
CG: How should companies be telling their stories differently today?
SR: It’s more a question of understanding that their stories are being told differently by others, by other groups of people.
And it’s not as much about using new business language, as about understanding, beyond the intellectual meaning, the change that’s meant by language like ‘communities of interest.’ I think the better term here, that isn't used enough, is ‘communities of need.’ Forget the rhetoric of ‘dynamic market space’ etcetera. The reality is we're in a state of emergency, of urgency, where financial institutions and other underpinnings are disintegrating and disappearing. We are all part of this reality, all members of one or more communities of need; sharing in both the opportunities and the stresses.
CG: You're saying that these stories take on lives of their own, by other 'carriers,' outside of companies’ control. What’s important to think about here?
SR: Companies’ stories are being carried around in all kinds of places. The view of the future of Twitter’s CEO is a perfect example of this fact. http://news.zdnet.com/2422-13568_22-256410.html. Many companies would be surprised if they investigated Twitter and saw all the things being said about them.
I worked on recent projects with Isocurve www.isocurve.com, where several clients said they wanted to enter the social networking area for their advertising and brand awareness. We told them they were already in it, and gave them each a set of things said about their company in the prior 24 hours alone.
And look at www.glassdoor.com, a community where people tell candid stories about the places they work; that give potential employees on the outside a free and detailed inside-look at those companies, pros and cons; including actual salaries. So they can make better choices about what business to work for.
But this network is just as useful to potential investors who go there, to help them evaluate if a company is worth investing in. For both groups these workplace stories provide ratings, and concrete ways to measure otherwise intangible or hard-to-gauge value.
CG: How, in this increasingly socially-networked world, does a business get a clear – and more complete -- picture of its issues and opportunities?
SR: Significant measurement tools are out there, proven ones like Organization Network Analysis (ONA) and Value Network Analysis (VNA). They map out actual patterns of information and task-sharing in organizations. There’s also a new one called ORA (Organization Risk Analysis).
There are other ways as well to create, encourage and collaborate. Like Base Camp that allows for shared on-line workspaces. These frameworks cross boundaries and include people in the conversation who were previously left out of it; which is the best way to leverage formal and informal networks.
From where I sit, though, I still don't see enough significant change occurring at major organizations – despite the availability of all these valuable forms of information-gathering and sharing.
Even when compelling evidence, that’s scientifically-supported and visually mapped, reveals a company’s serious misunderstanding about knowledge-sharing and communication, they still resist acting; understanding. Why? Maybe these new methods that push you to ask challenging questions are too difficult for companies to accept, or too threatening for them to confront. I'd be interested to hear your readers’ thoughts on this.
Attitude is also an issue: many companies still have a paternalistic one about social networking, and this is not productive.
CG: You believe formal and informal social networks are not just useful but vital to companies. And not just to their communications, but to their ROI. Why?
SR: One of the most under-realized influences on return on investment (ROI) is self-expression. It’s an under-appreciated influence and an under-leveraged asset.
We tend to think of a business as having a brand identity and guidelines. And while these are good and expected things, they're like buoys in the ocean now: they no longer control the way the social ocean currents move, they just serve as demarcation points.
A corporation has two kinds of self-expression. One is its ‘collective expression,’ which includes people inside its walls with interesting knowledge; who can share ideas on innovation. Tapping directly into this expression is invaluable, versus getting information and insight from outside consultants or market research. The other is individual expression; but large organizational structures tend to inhibit instead of encouraging this.
Many companies pride themselves on hiring creative people who bring rich and different points of view to the table. But when you examine things rigorously, does their human resource process really do this? Or, do they really only single out people who are a fit. What’s the real story?
CG: This ties into your view that there’s ‘dangerous language’ out there.
SR: Among the dangerous terms in business is someone is ‘not a fit.’ Much the way radio host Don Imus was fired from his job. It was immensely hypocritical; an extreme reaction to seemingly prejudicial statements, made by a station that like many news agencies didn't have enough deep diversity to respond or work it out honestly.
The issue here is companies’ inability to react or respond the way any normal person would. Which brings us to another dangerous word, to me the most treacherous one in our society: the word they. Because using it reveals people’s bias.
When you hear ‘they’ under too many circumstances in business and social networks and social conversations then it’s already minimizing someone else. It’s a form of prejudice. In the recent Presidential election, it was employed by radio and t.v. pundits as both a positive and a negative reference. They, for example, was used to refer to ‘voters we were told had no interest in voting previously.’
CG: In other conversations we've had, you talk about the need to allow a story to evolve. Why does this matter, and evolve to where?
SR: Every large organization in the world feels it needs to live in a state of continuous improvement. Yet this process often becomes management-consultantized and misses the deeper dynamic that needs to happen. Real continuous improvement is high risk. But it’s risk with relevance, and high reward. Because you learn to work differently and with different business models that meet, serve and support the changing demands of the [business and social] marketplace.
Sometimes, as you evolve a business model in order to continuously improve it, you have to move away from what you do well. And that’s where the risk and the resistance to change lies.
CG: Therefore, to evolve, a company has to be willing to stop resisting and take these risks? Risks that are somewhat counter-intuitive.
SR: When a company is fixated on one way of thinking and working, or wedded to one belief system, it’s less open and able to innovate.
The automobile industry is a good example. Toyota realized they had to look to other dimensions; they saw building a hybrid as a way of doing something they didn't do well then, but needed to learn to do. It worked for them.
This is all related to your original question. Because a story may not always be true at heart or root. It has to be evaluated for its truth. A company’s collective expression is the best way of evaluating that truth.
At the time, all the American car makers were saying the hybrid was nonsense, that no one was going to buy it, that it was a waste of their time; we'll sell more SUVs. They were locked into one way of thinking. Well, we all know what happened.
Toyota swam upstream against these stories, against these prevailing currents of perceived wisdom, none of which were true. They went ahead and tried something they had never done before; they put their innovation out in the world, and a new story began; then that story began to tell itself.
This is widely known now. And, like other breakthrough stories, it became part of ‘best practices.’ But what’s missing from the discussion is a far more critical change management issue, that lies underneath the surface product innovation issue.
A familiar reference like Toyota’s, that becomes so constant, puts all the emphasis on others, on what others did or are doing. However, this can be detrimental, counterproductive. Why? Because it removes our own accountability: to take action within our own organizations; to provoke real change, seismic change and innovation in the places we work.
CG: What’s fundamental in all this? To achieving a transformation.
SR: All business transformations, small or large, involve a transformation in understanding and language. If you only speak from your place of current expertise, you can't move from where you are…to where you need to be.
Only when you begin to allow your story to have ‘disruptive’ elements; when you challenge accepted behavior and question [institutional] assumptions, will you move into dimensions that enable you to grow -- healthily grow -- your business.
CG: And I would add, grow your business consciousness.
CG: Innovation in your view is not well understood or engaged.
SR: Innovation isn't about an event or a clever premise. Those are just ways of trying to understand it. In business, we understand a subject, but often fail to understand its deeper significance.
What’s needed for true innovation is a cultural catalyst, that affects, enlightens and alters the fundamental ways we think and work – alters them for the better.
Let’s be clear: a real culture of innovation is very different than an organization that prides itself on a small group of innovators. An innovative business culture is highly responsive and proactive across the board, not one that may glimpse innovation and get lucky.
Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, said I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game – it is the game.
CG: Given the nature of the corporate beast, its structure and bureaucracy, is achieving an innovative culture unrealistic?
SR: No, in fact it’s the most natural form in the world of people working together. Everything we do tends to support this premise. Every person working with another person innately understands it. But it’s very hard for it to happen, let alone thrive inside organizations as they exist and operate today.
A deep belief of my mentor Cicely Berry, O.B.E., Voice Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company – who I produced a PBS documentary about www.wherewordsprevail.com – a belief I share profoundly, is that everything we do we do out of a need to survive. ‘Survival’ is a loaded word for most people. But it isn't negative, or desperate. Survival is a natural state of growth and development. It’s the way we're constructed, and motivated.
CG: What’s antithetical to companies’ survival, in the natural – and positive – way you define survival? And can you give us an example?
SR: When companies understand survival, at a root level, as a positive force, it can transform the landscape. It allows good, even great things to happen, and less-than-good things to stop happening. The fact is some companies have a business model or tradition(s) built on a doubtful premise or promise; and this puts them in peril whether they realize it or not.
You don't destroy these models or traditions, that’s not the goal. You change them, evolve them to ensure the right kind of survival and growth.
CG: What one or two startling questions should companies be asking themselves right now?
SR: One question is: what’s one unhealthy tradition in your company that you avoid talking about, or tell the public you've left behind (but haven't). Now is the time to look at it again, in this society; with a clear and honest eye. Because that’s the first step to improving things.
I could make a case that there were troubled traditions that led to the collapse of certain companies, and even entire industries like our banking sector, in part because those traditions excluded human beings or de-valued their well being. Or as Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz talked about in a post-TED 2009 interview, http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=3613 …People who work in financial services don't have one shred of concern about the well-being of the people they serve. They're only interested in themselves. And why are they that way? Part of our argument is that when you incentivize everything, you de-moralize it, you take the moral dimensions out of it.
The other question a company should ask itself, on the other side, is: what’s an outstanding tradition you have from your recent or distant past? And, if you contemporized it for today, if you progressed it, what would it look like?
Robert Wood Johnson wrote the first Johnson & Johnson credo in 1943. J&S still lives by that credo today. What people don't know is that during the Great Depression he also wrote he wrote a manifesto to industrialists, brilliantly called ‘Try Reality.’ Basically what he was saying to businesspeople was the world is changing. We’re in a modern industrial age; and how do we find the language for that and the right way to be and the best way to treat our workers safely and ethically?
He wrote in his 1930s ‘reality check’ industry only has the right to succeed where it performs a real economic service and is a true social asset.
Well, what if he was sending that manifesto out today? What would your response as a company be to it? How would it impact your story? And how would others tell your story differently among themselves?
In my view and experience, paramount to everything is the need to include not exclude people from being part of the critical conversations that drive business and society ethically and economically.
Paramount, too, is following and encouraging the natural instinct we have to survive, which is the ultimate pathway to personal and professional growth; and to both business and society’s growth.
In this Information-with-Understanding Age, companies have to shift gears from unnecessary competition to collaboration. Collaboration that involves all the other important conversations going on -- and all the other ‘conversationalists.’
I invite those businesses that have made the paradigm shift to this place to share their stories; to share their experiences and enlightenments with all their communities of interest and need. And I encourage other companies out there to take the opportunities they have in front of and around them to evolve.
CG: Sal, provoking as always -- in ways our thoughts and actions need to be provoked. Thank you.
Colin Goedecke is a senior marketing writer and messaging strategist, with a 23-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their stories. Are You Evolving? is the 11th in a series of thought pieces, to help creative groups and their clients communicate more wisely. Others can be found at www.tenowls.blogspot.com
Salvatore Rasa is a provocative social & organizational change enthusiast & specialist, and a senior partner of im21 www.im21stcentury.com His blog is www.worksurvival.blogspot.com.