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Just Wondering

Is there a more powerful word in the English dictionary than WONDER? I just returned from a long hike through the trails that surround my neighborhood and I found myself walking with a sense of wonder. Wonder is like super-charged curiosity. It’s deeper and more poetic in what it unleashes. 

Just start a sentence with "I wonder about…" and see where it takes you. I started looking at the clouds and finding all different types of formations. Interestingly enough, many of the clouds were looking like insects: a praying mantis, a couple of bees, maybe a large beetle with pointy jaws. Rather than thinking, "That’s weird," I had far more fun asking, "I wonder why?"

The act of wondering isn’t just something you can do while meandering through a forest path or sitting on a beach; it has a beneficial purpose in our work. However, there needs to be a conducive climate for wondering to fully occur. If your workplace is buzzing with speed and franticness, then there’s little fertile ground to start. Wondering is an organizational skill that can be developed when we’re given the chance to slow down and see the bigger patterns. If you’re saying, "But Chris, I can’t slow down, there’s just too much to do and too little time," begin to wonder about the quality of your output. Are you just going from task-to-task? Are you accomplishing what’s really important to you and your work?

If you are in a go-go-go workplace that prides itself on high levels of action, it may take some courage to introduce reflective wondering. To an untrained eye, you might look lazy, uncommitted, and unproductive (three killer words that can be leveled at employees). On the contrary, you might notice that after allowing reflection and wondering into your daily routine, your productivity will actually rise. Have fun!

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Developing Chaordic Confidence

Chris Corrigan at Open Space has a fantastic post from a week ago called Values, tools and authentic facilitation. What immediately pulled me into the post was this:

Work as practice. And by practice I mean something akin to a spiritual practice, whereby one undertakes a life of value and meaning through living in a particular way. When I feel my facilitation practice deepening, I notice that what I do is becoming more and more aligned with who I am.

I can think of no more noble way to approach our work than that. It’s about taking pride in our chosen craft and finding ourselves in our profession.

But, then Chris took it deeper and discussed chaordic confidence, the idea that we have the ability to stay in chaos and trust that order will emerge. Scary, terrifying, liberating, and ultimately a source of the greatest creativity we can generate. It seems to be more than what we do and even how we go about doing it; it’s about getting to the why behind what we do. In terms of Chris’s work as a facilitator, he describes it like this:

Developing chaordic confidence is more than acquiring more tools. It is about integrating an approach to life and work that is anchored in a set of principles and values that serves our clients. For me these values include believing in the wisdom of the group, trusting that chaos produces higher levels of order and seeing conflict as passion that can be harnessed in the service of progress.

He offers a couple of powerful points of reflection…Do we know what our principles and values are? Do they anchor our own approach to life as well as work? Are they principles and values that serve others? Brilliant questions to consider over the weekend.

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Tapping Your Hard-Wired Creativity

One of the creative habits I’m reinstituting is waking up early each morning as the sun rises and reading in the yellow, cheerful sunroom of my home. I used to do this each workday morning, but somehow I allowed myself to get away from it. Too bad, because now I remember how the act of reading great books on leadership, creativity, or purpose would energize me for the day ahead. Right now, that’s more important than ever.

I’m reading Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, for the second time (my first read was through a copy from the library, but I recently bought it and now get to scribble notes throughout). It’s billed as a practical guide, which it truly is. She offers plenty of wonderful exercises to help stir the creative juices. One such exercise that I spent some time reflecting on today is a questionnaire she calls Your Creative Autobiography. Here are some of the questions she asks (there are 33 in all):

  • What are your [creative] habits? What patterns do you repeat?
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  • What is your creative ambition?
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  • What are the obstacles to this ambition?
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  • What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition?
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  • Who is your muse?

Challenging stuff. For a long time, I didn’t think I was terribly creative. Growing up, I was complimented on my creativity; I liked to sketch, build, create little scenes as only a child can. It was all driven by an innate curiosity of how the world worked. Then I hit adolescence and I tried to cram all of this creativity stuff in a plain box and deny my own creative spirit. Yet, it was always there smoldering, ready to reignite. Thankfully, I’ve rediscovered those traits that make me unique. I like this quote from Twyla:

Each of us is hard-wired a certain way. And that hard-wiring insinuates itself into our work. That’s not a bad thing. Actually, it’s what the world expects from you. We want our artists to take the mundane materials of our lives, run it through their imaginations, and surprise us. (italics added)

Each of us who are passionate about what we do are artists. So what are you hard-wired to do? What kind of creative surprises can you create today?

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Thoughts of Spring in Mid-winter

I’m in the process of cleaning and organizing my home office. Today, I rediscovered a poem that I used to have posted to my wall a couple of jobs back. It was sent to me by my wife and expresses a romanticism and beauty that continues to haunt me.

Morning by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The mist has left the greening plain,
The dew-drops shine like fairy rain,
The coquette rose awakes again
  Her lovely self adorning.
The Wind is hiding in the trees,
A sighing, soothing, laughing tease,
Until the rose says, "Kiss me, please,"
  ‘Tis morning, ’tis morning.

With staff in hand and careless-free
The wanderer fares right jauntily,
For towns and houses are, thinks he,
  For scorning, for scorning.
My soul is swift upon the wing,
And in its deep a song I bring,
Come, love, and we together sing,
"’Tis morning, ’tis morning."

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Your Life As A Variety Show

The idea of creating balance in our lives is a popular one, but for the most part, I think it is unsustainable and unrealistic. It’s not a balancing act between just two variables of "work" and "life" – it’s far more complex than that. Rather than a teeter-totter image, think about a circus performer who tries to balance themselves on top of a giant ball. The ball can go in any direction and it takes an immense amount of concentration and energy to remain centered on top.

But, there are other models for us to consider.

It used to be that TV had solid lineups of variety shows. Remember Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, and Jack Benny? What about Sonny and Cher and the Muppets? What made them great and interesting was that you always had a wide selection of entertainment. There was usually some singing, some comedy, and some stunts (like guys jugggling chainsaws on fire) in each episode. The different acts kept the show engaging and viewers wondering what would come next.

What would happen if we think of our lives as a variety show with each of our roles as different acts? Each day’s episode can contain…
professional acts – ladies and gentlemen, look as he puts out fires with his bare hands


parent acts
– watch as he solves multiple interpersonal conflicts with the greatest of ease


friend acts
– observe as he enjoys a dinner with people he loves

and the possibilities are endless…

Don’t be afraid to add variety to your life. If your day is dominated by professional acts, think about ways to squeeze in some other acts. Watching the same act over and over gets boring not only to the folks around you, but to you, as well.

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Allowing for Serendipity

It’s funny how events sometimes happen in our lives, almost as if they have been planned and directed by someone else. For instance: You sit down for a cup of coffee at Starbucks expecting to just be with yourself, but joyfully, you’re pulled into an amazing set of conversations that entertain, inform, even alter your worldview. It’s serendipity and when you’re open to all that the universe has to offer, it can lead to really great stuff.

As an aside, when I looked up the word serendipity at dictionary.com to make sure my spelling was accurate, I discovered the word’s origin:

We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the word serendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which his literary reputation primarily rests. In a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that ‘this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.’ Walpole formed the word on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of ‘a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of…

I like that…making unexpected discoveries through accident and sagacity. Here’s an idea for allowing serendipity into your life:

Ditch the script. Some of us have an easier time living spontaneously than others. That’s okay; we’re all made up differently. But, we all have the capacity to be spontaneous. If you find surprises and the unexpected scary, find the place where you are comfortable and hang out there. Notice what it’s like, what you are feeling and sensing. Then take a step toward discomfort (sort of like that first step into a cold pool of water). Again, be aware of what’s going on inside you and what’s going on outside. Take your time, but resist the urge to immediately go back to comfort. True growth occurs in places of discomfort.

What else has worked for you? Where else have you experienced a moment of serendipity in your life? Here’s hoping you make another accidental discovery today.

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It’s All Invented…So Have Fun with It

One of my favorite books is The Art of Possibilityby Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. It speaks to me both as a creative individual and as an impactful leader. One of the things that I prefer in books of this type is a mix of insight and suggestions for taking action. The best leadership and personal development books help you use what you’ve learned in new and dynamic ways. In this respect, it is a coaching-centered resource.

The first chapter forms the foundation for the rest of the book and centers on the notion that we perceive all that happens around us in very individual ways and then interpret them accordingly. Reality and truth are then very subjective. Once you understand and accept this notion, you have an incredible capacity to act in fresh and powerful ways. They call it “It’s All Invented” and go on to suggest since we have the ability to create new stories, we might as well create ones that enhance the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us.

So, what stories are you creating right now? Do they involve you as the lead character who lives a life of drudgery, misfortune, bitterness? Hopefully not, but perhaps its just a blah life in which you yearn for more. What if you decided to create a new story today, one that involves passion, excitement, laughter, [go ahead, fill in the blank]?

Remember, it’s all invented so have some fun with it. What do you think?

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