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Snippets & Bits

For those of you who like to "try before you buy" here is an overview of the "chapter" headings and a short sampler from each-enjoy!

Don't die with Your Helmet On

"The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them." George Bernard Shaw

According to author and speaker Mark Victor Hansen, in life there are two doors, one marked security and the other marked freedom. "If you choose security," he says, "you get neither.

I think he's right! And, in my view, success, job satisfaction, happiness and feelings of freedom are all directly related to the notion of "internal locus of control,"--the sense one has of being in control of those things that influence his or her life. People with a strong internal locus of control tend to believe they are in charge-that they control the outcomes in their life and that their own skill, ability and efforts determine the bulk of their life experiences. They believe that they can positively affect their beliefs, motivation, and performance in any area. In contrast, people with external locus of control believe that their lives are determined mainly by sources outside themselves - fate, chance, luck or more powerful others.

Locus of control influences the way we view our opportunities and ourselves. People who feel they are in control are more upbeat, positive, outgoing and optimistic. They see the opportunities in difficulties rather than the difficulties in opportunities. When they wake up they are more likely to say "Gooood Morrrnnnning God!" than "Good God, it's morning."

These are the types of people I love to be around. Not only do they wake up in a more positive frame of mind, they demonstrate a number of other behaviours that are, in my experience, prerequisites for success. They are strivers, willing to defer gratification and plan for the long term. Less prone to learned helplessness, they resist coercion and are better at tolerating ambiguity. They tend to learn from past experiences and are more willing to work on self-improvement and better themselves through remedial work. They are calculated risk takers who are more likely to be creative, innovative and to initiate activity that makes things happen. After experiencing success they tend to raise their behavioural goals. In addition, they work at developing and taking better advantage of support systems and networks.

All in all, the kind of people you want to know and hang out with!

How do you get there? How do you develop an internal locus of control and cultivate these very positive characteristics? How do you walk through the door marked "freedom?"

You start by recognizing that your life is a product of the choices you've made---that you are, and have been, an active participant in the events of your life, not a victim of them. Second, accept that, unless you're to the manor born, anything you want you're going to have to get through your own efforts. And third, understand there is a strong direct relationship between the material, emotional and psychological rewards that accrue to you and the risks you take.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not recommending that you run off and quit your job or something equally radical. In fact, you can probably accomplish everything you want to inside your present job. It will take some courage and behaviour change, but it can be done.

I'm only suggesting that you examine all aspects of your life. From any perspective; occupational, material, social, familial, spiritual, ask yourself:
  • Am I doing what I want in my life?
  • Am I over committed or undercommited?
  • Am I focusing my energies in the right areas?
If the answers are no, under committed and no, then ask why. What's getting in the way, what are the constraints, what do you need to do differently, which helmets do you need to remove to change the answers to yes, over committed and yes?

Stella and Darwin, Don't You Dare Leave This House Without Your Helmet On

"If a man is alive, there is always danger that he may die, though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as he is dead-and-alive to begin with. A man sits as many risks as he runs." Henry David Thoreau

The hundreds, perhaps thousands of stories recorded by the Darwin Awards people serve to support my contention that Darwin was wrong! We haven't evolved! Either that or the award recipients are the missing links in the theory of human evolution.

Now there are those who say we need to protect the Darwin Award winners and others of their ilk from themselves; that we should post "no diving!" signs at the shallow end of the gene pool. They would argue, for example, that had the instructions about handling the explosives been written more clearly, the letter bomber would never have blown himself up. So it's not really his fault, or responsibility. It's the manufacturers and they should pay. Or perhaps the letter bomber couldn't read well enough to follow instructions and so the responsibility for his demise lies with the school system because it didn't teach him to read well. So let's sue the system, the government, the language arts teachers and anybody else who we can think of!

To this way of thinking, regardless of what happens, the individual abdicates responsibility for any act. There is no internal locus of control. Rather than based on individual choice, outside forces predicate actions-one's childhood, corporate irresponsibility, spouse, boss or whatever. It's the ultimate extension of the 70's comedian Flip Wilson's "the devil made me do it."

A quick visit to www.StellaAwards.com provides example after example of the inability of people to assume responsibility for their own actions.

Case in point. The fourth runner-up in the 2002 Stella Awards (named for Stella Liebeck, the woman who sued McDonalds because she was scalded by their coffee) was an obese, cigarette-smoking woman from Wilkes-Barre, Penn., who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of coronary artery disease. Although warned by doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centre of the seriousness of her condition and counseled to eat less, exercise more, and stop smoking, she did little, if anything, to change her lifestyle. Surprise, surprise, she had a heart attack, which, she says in a federal lawsuit, has left her a "cardiac invalid." Unwilling to recognize her own culpability, she's suing eight doctors and their employer -- the U.S. government -- demanding a minimum of $1 million in compensation because they, according to her, "did not do enough" to convince her to work to improve her own health.

Did not do enough? What more were the doctors in question supposed to do? And if they could have done more, who's to say that this woman would have done anything positive in return?

Just as with the Darwin awards, there are thousands of candidates for the Stella's. Each plumbing the depths of victimhood-saying, "I went out without my helmet on and it's not my fault-the devil made me do it-now you have to fix it!"

Do these people need helmets? Absolutely. Do we need helmets? Absolutely. Do those around us need helmets? Absolutely. But the responsibility for determining the size, design and fit of the helmet should be that of the individual.

And what should we design these helmets to protect?

We need to protect those things that are most important-- our children, our futures, and ourselves.


"The farther back you look, the further ahead you can see." Winston Churchill

When my daughter graduated from Yale, a speaker reminded her class that they were now part of a group that extended back to 1703-one through which the threads of Yale rites, rituals, traditions, values and stories are woven. "Do not break the threads," she told them. " As Yale graduates, you are expected to move into the future with proper respect for the past. Knowing where you've come from helps you to know better who you are and makes it easier to get to where you're going." seemed to be the message.

It's not any different for the rest of us. We need to know where we've come from. Almost every family has a history of hardship, perseverance, devotion, and of adherence to principles, values and faith. We need to know this to understand where we fit in time, why we believe what we believe, why we value what we value and where some of our idiosyncratic behavious came from.

The same is true for organizations. You should know the history of your company-why and how it was started, the hardships it suffered and the successes it realized. Learn about the heroes and goats; learn and perpetuate the corporate myths.

This history instructs our lives.

The Eagle the Duck and the Dream Merchant

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

"Then it hit me!

I needed to be an eagle!

But what I was-- was a duck! An eager duck, but a duck nonetheless. Everything I did was indistinguishable from all the other ducks. We all looked the same, dressed pretty much the same, introduced ourselves in the same way, sold the same products and services using the same sales techniques regardless of which bank we worked for-- in a sense, you could say we all bobbed for food the same way. I suppose if you listened carefully to the noise at some of the receptions we all attended, what you'd really hear was a cacophony of quacking!

To be successful, I knew I needed to be as different from the ducks as the eagle was and is. I needed to position myself differently-in a way that made me stand out. I also needed to position the bank differently, show how we offered things none of our competitors did. I needed to be different-in short, to position myself in a way that differentiated me from all the other Personal Financial Officers."

Next Week's Newspaper

If you don't know where you are going, you can never get lost. Herb Cohen

But if you had next week's newspaper, would you read it all? Would you read the obituaries? What if you were there? Would you believe it? What would you do? Could you change or stop history?

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to read your own obituary? And if you did get such advance notice, would do you think it would say? Would you be pleased? And if not, what would you do to change it?

Alfred Nobel, sponsor of the Nobel Peace Prize, did-in a manner of speaking.

Inventing and manufacturing dynamite made Alfred Nobel a fabulously wealthy man. In 1888, when Alfred's brother Ludvig died while staying in Cannes, the French newspapers reported his death but confused him with Alfred. One paper featured the headline "Le Marchand de la Mort est Mort" or in Anglais, "The Merchant Of Death Is Dead."

That bizarre incident in 1888, according to many reports, triggered the thought and reflection that resulted Alfred's bequest for the Nobel Prizes.

Troubled by the headline and the accompanying story, Nobel, in a sense, wrote his own obituary. He decided to use his wealth to create a legacy different from the one described by the confused editor. When he died eight years later, in 1896, Alfred left more than $9,000,000 to fund awards for those whose work would benefit humanity, not destroy it. Accidentally or, perhaps, serendipitously, a sloppy editor gave Alfred Nobel an opportunity change the impression people would have of him and his life after he died. After reading his own obituary, he rewrote it to reflect a more positive remembrance and then acted to ensure his legacy.

That's something we should all consider doing.

How to do it?

Well, start by writing your name at the top of a blank sheet of paper.

Of Criminals and Cousins

"I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen." Frank Lloyd Wright

Now, there are people who prefer mediocrity-often because it's much easier to succeed or feel successful in a mediocre world than it is to achieve in an environment of excellence. And just as success breeds more success, mediocrity breeds more mediocrity. As a result, success in a mediocre world is often short-lived because the inhabitants of that world want nothing more than company and they will drag others down to their level as quickly as they can.

So spend your time with successful people. It's energizing. It's fun. You'll learn what it takes to be successful and, more importantly, what you need to do to maintain that success.

And who are these successful people? Well, that depends largely on your definition of success. On a personal basis, there are likely almost as many definitions of success as there are people in the world. There is material success of course but there is also academic, spiritual, marital, athletic, philosophical, physical, parental and many other types to consider. How you define success is less important that what you do to attain and maintain it.

The Pedantic Podiatrist and Martin Luther King

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt

Reacting passively and allowing the needs, opinions, and judgments of others to become more important than your own usually results in feelings of anxiety, hurt and anger. And, because deep down we know that passive behaviour is emotionally dishonest and self-denying, we are often more upset with ourselves than we are with the other person.

To quell these feelings of discomfort, we need to break the cycle of passivity, express our ideas and feelings and let others know what we think and believe in a measured, intelligent way. Have an intelligent, objective discussion if you like.

But in today's world, where affect seemingly always overrides objectivity, there seems to be very little room for civilized, meaningful discourse. Instead, we have shouting, labeling and overt expressions of how one "feels" about an issue. Often, one is called a left-wing commie whacko, right wing weirdo, homophobe, tree hugger, fascist or any other one of a multitude of labels for simply disagreeing with certain popularly held opinions. You can find ample evidence of the decline of civilized debate simply by tuning your television to question period or crossfire.

The Garage Door's Half Up

"The point of living and of being an optimist is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come." Peter Ustinov

At one time we were a much more optimistic society given to celebrating human achievement and making positive predictions about the future. Our forebears had tamed the wilderness and fought off oppressors in two wars. Medical research was developing vaccines and procedures that would all but eliminate diseases that had previously killed millions. Scientists developed technology that provided us a lifestyle that, as recently as the beginning of twentieth century, people could not have imagined. Our cultural story was one of inner strength, self-reliance and great individual and collective achievement-a story that emphasized human successes at overcoming personal, medical and environmental hardship. There was a shared confidence that our social, political and religious institutions would carry us successfully into the future. A confidence that we had the stuff necessary to make true Wilfred Laurier's early twentieth century assertion that "Canada? is only commencing?Canada will fill the twentieth century."

You Don't Marry the Person You Marry

"My husband and I have never considered divorce... murder sometimes, but never divorce" Dr. Joyce Brothers

We had formed a long-term partnership; one within which we each had roles to play and jobs to do. And the extent to which we dedicated and committed ourselves to making the partnership work would determine the degree of success it enjoyed. Although the romance was still present and important, it wouldn't sustain the marriage. The honeymoon was over and now the real work needed to begin.

If you're beginning to see some parallels between marriage and careers emerge here, you're right! Just as we don't marry the person we marry, we rarely end up doing the job we were hired to do. And those nice people at the interview turn out to be much different than they appeared to be when they presented the offer. There's a honeymoon period after which the bloom comes off the rose and we're actually expected to make a contribution and produce some results. (The biggest difference, I suppose, is that you don't get to sleep with your co-workers!)

Further, much of what's needed for either a successful marriage or successful career is remarkably similar.

Pulling Off an Inside Job

"A rut is a grave with the ends knocked out." Laurence Peter

And you start by deciding what you want to be known for in your organization? Do you want to be known as one who has a kaleidoscopic view of the company-- constantly looking at it from different angles and seeing resources combined in different ways to address different needs-as one for whom everything is variable and nothing is fixed, assumptions exist only to be challenged. Would you like to be described as a person who understands possible futures and creates the future of his or her choice? Who you like to be regarded as one who asks the good questions rather than just the safe ones? Would you prefer to be seen as somebody who would rather ask for forgiveness than for permission? Do you want your colleagues to think of you as an intra-organisational revolutionary who challenges the status quo and fights to change the system from within? Would you like to be recognized as the one who finds a ready source of "free" resources within your company that can be used to move the company in a different direction? Do you want to be acknowledged as an individual who is good at seeing patterns of change? Would you like to be renowned for your ability to see failure as a temporary setback, an investment in education, and, most importantly, an opportunity to learn and to do better next time? Do you want to be thought of as the type who thinks that you should do something about what you think is wrong? Would you like to be considered a slug-like drone with no interest in anything beyond showing up, standing upright, breathing through your nose and collecting a pay cheque?

Answering "yes" to any or all of the above (except for the last one of course) may qualify you as an intrapreneur--one of those people described by Gifford Pinchot in his 1987 article Innovation Through Intrapreneuring as "dreamers who do."

Weasel, Toad, Slippery and Puke

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller

No peeks at this one-you're going to have to buy the book!!


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