Category Archives: Life Hacks

The Music Of Conversation

I had the great fortune of attending the Web2Open (the unconference portion of Web2.0Expo, organized by the incomparable Whitney Hoffman) this past week. Sharing space with some of the smartest and loveliest people I know (and some that I just met) is a rare treat.  Being able to interact with people who share passions and are totally supportive of each other is one of the true soul-nourishing activities in life.

Taking a moment to sit back and appreciate the situation got me thinking about how any great conversation amongst engaged people, regardless of the subject or the context, has a musical quality to it.  It ebbs and flows, gets louder and quieter, sometimes there’s silence and sometimes there’s cacophony.

You can recognize aspects of certain genres of music within every communication.  Sometimes the bombast of opera rules, sometimes the polite and delicate nature of baroque, sometimes the high-energy groove of AC/DC.  Of all the options, the style that provides the most joy by far (for me at least) is jazz. Let me explain.

Jazz Trio

A solid jazz trio can anticipate what their band mates are going to do before they do it and are able to dance around the melody without ever losing it.  Each member brings something different to the equation.  The percussion holds the group together rhythmically, bass provides the foundation of the song, and the lead instrument provides the melody and variations. They each come to a song with their own point of view, and each contribution is essential for the success of the whole.  The original song is treated with care, but lightly.  There is freedom within the structure.

The jazz of interplay  is something that may be most apparent in person, but is certainly not limited to conferences. The freedom to riff and build up connection is fundamental to all communication, be it in-person conversation, chatting on IM, posting on Facebook or any other Social Media tool, on a messageboard, through dance, acting, kissing, or even sitting quietly on a park bench with no words at all.

I am eternally humbled, grateful and very thankful for the opportunity to meet, interact and be inspired by these remarkable fellow humans who create so much music with every word.

Great communication is jazz.

Come play.

Adding That Third Thing: What Nobody Tells Us About How to Handle Charged Situations

There is so much that we all take for granted when going through life.

One of the biggest assumptions that I have gotten caught in historically (and that I see a lot of people caught in) is the assumption that for any given situation, all you have to work with is you and the situation.  If you can’t change the situation (which mostly you can’t, not directly anyway), and you can’t (or won’t)  change yourself, you’re stuck and screwed.

If you’re unemployed, and you can’t seem to find a job, you may become more and more frustrated as you focus on the ‘got to find a job got to find a job got to find a job’, leading to less and less success: You are annoyed, you take that energy in with you to job interviews, it comes across in your interaction even if you try to hide it, you dont get the job, you get more frustrated, and on and on.  Even if you get a job at that point, would you be happy about it? Probably not, with all that energy built up!

If you’re a business, and you are used to marketing through the use of big splashy events and Superbowl commercials rather than providing experiences that surprise and delight your customers, and suddenly your revenues are slipping and you can’t see why, so you keep doing what you’re doing to try to affect the marketplace and make them buy more of your product, spending tons of money on a new campaign with a celebrity saying how awesome your product is, and your share of the market continues to dwindle so you fire your PR people and demand a launch event that will go viral and spread across the internet and whatever Twitter is, and on and on.

The reality of the situation (and something that I don’t think gets taught to us at any point in most of our development) is that there is actually a third element within any situation: the relationship between us and the thing in question.  The relationship is something that we always have the ability to look at and adjust.  We can focus our attention at our relationship to our not having found a job, and choose whether to remain frustrated, or tune it so that our relationship is one that is more calm, accepting “I have not found employment yet, and that is okay, because it does not mean that I will never find employment”, and ultimately useful.

ArcAttack metropolis styleWe often don’t get a chance to look at situations like this, though, since we are usually very quick to respond to a situation directly.  The most important thing to take from this, and something I struggle with but am learning, is to slow down and pause before reacting.  Take a second to look at your relationship to the situation rather than just focusing on the situation itself.  Is an advertising campaign the best way to reach customers? Is frustration the best way to deal with your employment situation?  Probably not, but until we learn to take a look at that third thing, we will be stuck there.

So, where are you stuck on things 1 and 2, where looking at the third thing might be useful?

The best way to do anything.

In one of my rare moments of clarity, this thought flashed across my mind:

“The simplest way to do anything is to stop not doing it.”

It may seem kind of “duh”, but if you stop for a moment and take stock of all the places you want to be, the things you want to do, the people you want to meet, the communication you wish your company had with its customers, and then take a moment and really contemplate the attitude and automatic responses you have in your mind about not doing these things, and then begin to change the “no’s” into “yes’s”, I bet you’ll get pretty darn far.

Try it with something small.

Figure out what happiness you’re not bringing toward yourself, and stop not doing it.

Let me know how it goes.

On compassion.

When we are quick to judge others, people or companies that may not be communicating honestly, that may be scared of having people gossip, or spread untruths, or being perceived inaccurately, we are creating an ‘me vs them’ space for ourselves, which is fear-based and can make us feel very constricted and small in our definition of ‘ourselves’.

Bodhisattva and Compassion
Image by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

Today (whenever you may be reading this), try to remember that each of us, as individuals, employees, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and lovers, strangers and enemies are doing the best we can at this moment.  We all want to love and be loved, to be understood, to be happy.  We each struggle to get past our fears and our thoughts in order to achieve this goal.

Even you.

Even me.

We’re all in this together.

[inspired by Teresa Basich’s wonderful manifesto, and the first decent conversation I’ve had with my father in  years.]

A small step taken without judgment can change your world.

On the journey I’ve been on the last month, it’s been particularly interesting to become more acutely aware of some of the assumptions I’d accepted as gospel for so long.

Image by jeremymeyers via Flickr

One of the big ones is based around not giving myself permission to try things.  So many aspects of my life had been left untouched based on my being unable to see beyond what I assumed was the size of the first step.

“I should travel more!” I thought, “but I don’t have a passport and in order to get a passport I’d have to get a passport photo and to do that I’d need to remember to go to a photo place,” and on and on.  And so things would not get completed.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of the ‘second arrow,’ which means that we frequently add a layer of judgment to our activities and choices, which causes us to suffer, keeps us in our heads and restricts our ability to connect with our true selves.

I was doing this, and it was keeping me stuck in one place.

But what I’m starting to realize is, there are smaller steps that are more manageable, if I take them without judgment of the past or possible negative outcomes of the future. There are low-risk activities I can do to bring myself closer to my goals.  Taking even the tiniest of steps in a direction and it can make a world of difference, and so tiny becomes the perfect size rather than a bad thing to be judged.

So whether it’s getting your passport, figuring out what you want in a romantic relationship, lowering your carbon footprint, interacting with your customers, making diplomatic overtures to a ‘terrorist state’, reconnecting with an estranged family member… figure out what you CAN do, and do it.  Don’t judge yourself because you think you could be doing more, or that it seems like it doesn’t matter or make a difference. And if you do find yourself judging, do your best not to judge that part.  You are only human, and it’s in our reptilian brain’s nature to judge ‘this is good’ ‘this is bad’.

It really does.

P.S. the Japanese have a name for this process when used in business: Kaizen