The Little Monk

Today was a sunny spring day so I took a walk this afternoon to soak up Beaumont‘s buds, blooms and blossoms. Having the chance to explore the neighborhood mid-week is an opportunity see it in a different light. It is my favorite part of working from home. Even though I’ve lived in the neighborhood for fifteen years there is always a renovation to admire, activity to steal my attention or someone new to meet, often they’re retired. Today, I walked the peace route and finally met the owner of “the little monk” (a garden ornament). The homeowner was tending to the Japanese Maple under which which the little monk sits. While I aspire to master the art of meditation I have a long way to go but on every walk I always find calm in the simplicity of this garden and stop to pause most days for 2, 10 or 30 seconds. I was heartened to learn from the homeowner that this was exactly his intention.  This simple experience captures three things that I want to master.

Finlittle_monkd joy in chaos: It can be hard to find the quiet, value the understated and subtle when we’re so wrapped up in the frenzy and energy of the day but it’s worth breaking free of the chains to get perspective, see life beyond the screen and be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Look for beauty in the everyday:  In the clutter, banter, craziness of the day, carve out time to find the little monk in every day. Savor what might appear to be mundane. Be prepared to be amazed or surprised. The tulip in the photo simply appeared, it was not deliberately planted. It looks so perfectly placed.

Listen. Ask open-ended questions. Be curious. Ask good questions. To paraphrase from Buddhism, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.”

Dedication to Dreamers

On my own two feet, from loosing my legs to learning the dance of life - Amy PurdyThis is how Amy Purdy’s session was introduced this week at the first VOICES Inc. talk this week. Amy Purdy is the 2014 Paralympic Medalist, she’s a double amputee with a profound story of determination, courage and beating the odds. Many know her for her performance on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. Her story was a reminder about three things.

Being Your Story: “If your life was a book and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?” This is how Amy opened her talk and explained it was the question that guided her decision and path after her life of freedom and independence took a detour and when her life would rely on machines, mechanics and innovation, while her desire for a life of adventure was still strong.

Knowing Your Purpose: It is clear that sharing her message of triumph is Amy’s purpose. She affirmed this with her actions to start a non-profit organization Adaptive Action Sports, and her championship and petition to have Snowboarding as one of the competition categories in the Sochi Olympics (2014). It is often our passion that carries us through challenges. This is when we’re forced to dig deep and figure out what we’re made of. At this year’s Creative Conference in Portland, Steve Emerson, Visual Effects Supervisor LAIKA commented that people shouldn’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration is a component of creativity, not a catalyst. People who love what they do enjoy the process of whatever they love. I sat in the audience and nodded profusely. Of course this is true! We can’t just wait for the next TED talk, conference or book to inspire us to action. When I’m reflective, uncertain or unsure I often think about my purpose to be a changemaker to enable people to perform at their best. This is where all paths lead.

Finding Assets in Obstacles: Being emotionally and physically broken was hard and Amy talked about how her biggest loss turned into her biggest asset. The comment signaled the power of attitude and was a reminder that while we can’t control everything in our lives and we can’t control other people, we can control how we respond to a situation.

It takes courage and energy to try new things and to overcome challenges. It can take mental, physical or/and emotional energy. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, it takes less of one energy and more of the other. Depending on your style, trying new things can give you energy too. It also breeds anxiety or fear. It gives me energy to listen. I love going to conferences, listening to speakers like Amy.

In just a short amount of time her life has been transformed at least twice or three times. She’s been on the road with Oprah on her Power of Intention tour, competed on Dancing with Stars, got married, won an Olympic Medal. Its fair to say that having a list of accomplishments on this scale won’t be everyone’s list (although maybe dreamers’ lists). But Amy’s story offered a reminder for all of use that we don’t have to be limited by circumstance.

Appealing to Employees’ ‘Purpose’ Sweet Spot

Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)

In December, two of the 2014 trends about corporate societal engagement by CECP resonated as we reflected on Waggener Edstrom’s second annual CreateAthon event. The post highlighted that companies are paying closer attention to their culture and how it aligns company values with employee values because employees are looking to work for companies that share their values. Alignment between the values accelerates business performance. Second, employee engagement continues to evolve. There is a link between how companies support employee engagement and invest in communities. Both factors contribute to creating a meaningful culture that attracts and retains talent.

It has been three months since WE’s event, and the shared joy, camaraderie and connections that employees experienced are still palpable because CreateAthon speaks to employees’ aspirations and expectations in three ways.

  • Something Greater than Oneself: Employees are not driven solely by their own achievements or the company’s goals as an end in itself but by the world around them and how they better society. A 2014 article in Inc. magazine highlighted the results of a Deloitte study that stated 73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared with just 23 percent of those who don’t. CreateAthon builds new communities within companies that work toward clear outcomes that have a far-reaching impact. This is inspiring to employees.
  • Focus on the Experience: In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” People seek fulfillment in their everyday lives. Employees have a desire to create and participate in experiences in pursuit of greater happiness. Experiences like CreateAthon stay with people, they have emotional longevity and can be relived. Research indicates that experiences define a person’s sense of self more than possessions.
  • Opportunity to Thrive: CreateAthon is a social learning experience. During CreateAthon we build an equal playing field regardless of job title, experience or skill-set. WE employees valued having the opportunity to try out a new skill. Studies have shown that younger generations tend to feel uncomfortable in rigid corporate structures where information is often siloed. The CreateAthon experience is a microcosm of the types of workplaces that companies are being challenged to deliver at scale. Being in an agile, flexible and fun environment gives employees the perfect opportunity to thrive.

The Power of Simple

Colorado, USAIn our patch work world of busy social calendars, family functions and professional demands, complexity is an outcome of life that we confront most days. Our world of complexity is  powered by technology, an over-abundance of information and high expectations. Deliberately embracing the notion of simplicity or simplifying our ways is refreshing; I’ve learned that its a strategy to live a more meaningful life.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the adjective simple, “Free from duplicity, innocent and harmless, honest, open and straightforward.” The word suggests greater clarity because if we spend time focused on simplifying a situation, task or priorities, there is a greater likelihood that we have a clearer focus and understanding for why we are doing something. The idea of taking some time to pause and process the reason for why we’re doing something , as opposed to jumping frantically from one task to another raises our consciousness about the choices we’re making which means we can focus on quality of activities versus the quantity of items that we’re checking off the to-do list.

Simplicity breeds gratitude, higher productivity and greater fulfillment. Undeniably, the idea of simplifying is an aspiration every day. If we remind ourselves frequently, train our brain to be deliberate and focus, we will be more intentional and happier.

Live simply.

Entering the Real-World of Social Enterprise

This weekend, I’m wrapping up a 9-month Business of Social Innovation certificate program with Impact Entrepreneurs, at Portland State University led by Cindy Cooper and Jacen Greene – two gifted business professionals and academic coaches. I have a wealth of gratitude from this experience, more than I can capture here. Its been an episode of deep learning and exploration. It is the most hands on university program that I have participated in during my fifteen year career (at this point, I could move forward to carry out a thorough business plan to raise funding for my proposed social enterprise). I’ve continued to learn about myself, especially my desire to excel as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur (the latter is a better fit right now). The experience further validated my love of purposeful learning and desire to use my business background to be a changemaker or wavemaker (not the squishy, feel-good stuff but the real, long term kind of self-sustaining change).

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While this was primarily an online course, in the past two week we spent three-days visiting social enterprises in the fashion, coffee and IT industries and more.

  • Central City Concern has demonstrated the innovative and persevering leadership in transforming the lives of people who ,
  • My Street Grocery, Amelia Pape has built a platform for community led food access.
  • Seeko Designs has an amazing story about empowering women and bridging communities between high and low income countries while raising the integrity of fashion
  • Sustainable Harvest demonstrated the systemic, sophisticated innovation behind supply chain for some people’s favorite beverage.
  • Grammen Intel is delivering, sustainable locally designed and adapted IT solutions to improve agricultural yields, economic development and maternal health into low-income communities.

Practicing my listening skills, increasing my understanding of the real social business world was an outcome I sought at the start of the course which I achieved. I also added new tools to my toolbox (more to come on the business model canvas), met friends and future entrepreneurs who I’m confident with catalyze change. My head and heart are full contemplating the possibilities.

Mentors matter

I’ve been dabbling with a book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett titled Forget a Mentor, Find a sponsor for several months. I still haven’t finished the book however believe both mentors and sponsors matter. They have different roles in our professional life. How to make the best use of time with mentors perplexed me for a while even though I could imagine the value of tapping the wisdom and life experiences of those who have walked a similar path. How to frame the conversations or determine when to approach a mentor was less clear. I’ve learned that trusted mentors can provide and perspective to guide choices (note, I did not write advice). They are perfect people to connect with to:  

  • seek guidance on how to handle professional situations and relationships
  • uncover ideas and gather diverse perspectives on how to approach a new experience, unfamiliar task or uncertain situation
  • learn and be inspired about what to be thinking about next (ask your mentor what they are reading, blogs they follow, events they’re planning to attend or have recently attended and WHY or WHAT they learned).