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Archive for February, 2011

I just finished serving on a jury—this, my first time even called for jury duty. And like with all new experiences, when finished, I reflected on what I learned.

Now, without getting into the details of the case, it’s safe to say it was a fairly ordinary offense. In fact, many of the jurors (myself included) admitted in deliberation that they weren’t sure why such an offense would ever come to trial. It seemed routine. Cut and dry.

The prosecuting attorney went about his argument as if it were cut and dry. A morning of building the credibility of the arresting officer. Confirming the due process. He even showed us a video that he felt proved guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Then, in the afternoon, the defense attorney provided context to the morning session, giving the jury an informed perspective on the credibility of the arresting officer. He provided context for understanding due process and where deviations might have occurred. He provided context for looking at the video.

And while the prosecutor never really recovered from his inability to provide general context, he would have been alright except for his failure to provide context for the one specific piece of irrefutable evidence. Nor did the defense attorney provide us context for that piece of evidence. And the State made it even tougher when it asked us to use this piece of evidence to rule on two different charges. So we, as a jury, were left to make up our own context, right or wrong, for that piece of evidence. Our deliberations on this routine offense spilled into a second day because each of us had different life experiences, sensibilities and interpretations of the instructions, causing us to create different contexts from which to interpret the content of the evidence.

In the end, the prosecution and defense attorneys did the system an injustice by not providing full and proper context for their arguments. They told us “What happened” but often failed to tell us “So what that means is…” Or, “why this is important is…”

The lesson is a stunning reminder that while content might be king, it easily becomes pauper without appropriate context. I’m reminded that in all of my communications, I must help my audiences understand why my content is important and what they can do with it. In other words, provide the appropriate context.

On a side note, I got to spend time deliberating with a very tall ex-NBA basketball player. I’m sure had there been an inter-jury basketball tournament, we would have won it going away.

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What's the secret of life? Just one thing.

Recently, I was invited to be a guest instructor for a graduate class in public administration at DePaul University. I was asked to talk about how I integrate deliberate creativity into the strategic planning process. As part of my lesson plan, I included time for each student to develop a personal strategic plan. I started with having each of them develop a personal mission statement to help shine a light on the goals, strategies, initiatives and work plans of their strategic plan. If you haven’t done this for yourself, I highly recommend it. But be warned, it’s not easy and it will likely evolve as you go through multiple iterations. If you have done it, I would love to hear about your process and result. I come at it from a couple of directions. I use one of Jim Collin’s Hedgehog principles from his book Good to Great. He asks, what do you do better than any organization (person) on the planet? A daunting question, but one that can provide laser focus. I also ask, what gift do I leave after I’m finished with a project? This is above and beyond a benefit. A gift is something you give without being asked. It’s the value you add that makes you that best person on the face of the planet. Once I have answers for that, I ask, how do I do it? To say these are difficult questions is an understatement. But if you can answer them—if you can fight through the temptation to accept the easy way out and decide you’re not best at anything, or you leave no gift—then you will arrive at a personal mission that will center you, guide you and give you a strong personal identity. Last week, I watched the movie City Slickers for the umpteenth time, and was reminded of the importance of having a personal mission by Curly’s enigmatic philosophy: The secret of life is just ONE thing. For the record, here’s my personal mission: To use my facilitation, training and communications skills to help others ignite their own creativity in order to reach their potential. What’s your one thing?

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For those of you who have worked with me, you know that I often begin a conversation about a project or initiative by asking, It would be great if what happens? Then I might ask Why would that be great? And, what else would be great?

What I’m really asking is for you to take a moment, ignoring all the obstacles and barriers that might be in your way, and tell me about the best outcome you can imagine. Then tell me why that outcome is important to you. For most, this is an energizing exercise. It’s fun to imagine all the good things that might happen. Here’s what else it does:

  • It forces you to think about and articulate higher level aspirations that might have been, at best, only fuzzy thoughts in the recesses of your mind.
  • Merely articulating your aspirations makes them seem possible, softening a beachhead of obstacles that might be looming.
  • Knowing all the ways in which you might benefit drives a deeper, more sustainable commitment to realizing those aspirations.

Of course, it also enables me to understand my client’s, colleague’s or other stakeholder’s goals on a deeper, more personal level, so that I can better align my work to help achieve those goals. And if the waters get a bit choppy along the way, I can often calm them by reminding everyone of the ultimate goal and why we want to get there.

Try it. Ask your client or colleague what they would love to see happen. It would be great if what…? Why would that be great? And what else would be great? See if you don’t both walk away with clearer, more compelling goals.

Do this and you’ll be better positioned to ask the next question: What’s stopping you?

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Last weekend, I attended a Gala for Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. I couldn’t have been more inspired.

I know this organization intimately, having facilitated the staff and board through our strategic planning process, and then worked with the Reputation Committee to renew its brand strategy.

CYSO has long been a world-class youth orchestra, training the area’s best young musicians. Historically, it focused on performance and education. In revisiting the brand, the Reputation Committee discovered that at the intersection of performance excellence and personal growth is the element of inspiration.

This “inspiration” has become the brand driver, changing the way the organization communicates to its publics. CYSO began telling inspirational stories about the young musicians, the composers and compositions, and the venues in which it plays—compelling stories that give us even more reasons to appreciate and care about the music.

On Saturday evening, they took it to the next level in their concert, ¡Viva la Música! On the last number of an evening filled with beautiful Spanish compositions, the orchestra surprised everyone when it began swaying in unison to the lively score it was playing. Suddenly, orchestra members began randomly popping up and down to the music, giving the impression of a large wind-up toy. So unlike your typical Symphony Orchestra. So fun for the student musicians. And inspiring the audience to a whistling, hooting robust standing ovation.

This is an organization that embraces its brand.

To learn more about and support this fine organization, visit http://www.cyso.org. And check out the video we made to capture the magic of the CYSO.

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My brother Jeff and I facilitated a strategic planning summit this weekend for a wonderful Chicago organization called Changing Worlds (changingworlds.org). This group teaches cross-cultural awareness in schools through literacy and the arts. Because its programs emphasize storytelling, we began our Saturday morning session with each participant telling a story about a memory that profoundly affected his or her life. On a map of the world, we charted where each of us were born and where our memories took place. The stories came from all over the world.

My, how this elevated our appreciation for each others’ background and cultures. One by one we told of life events major and minor, but always with emotion and deep personal meaning. Some were funny, some sad, all filled with poignancy.

Some insights:

  1. Everyone has a story. Yet our major moments are so deeply woven into our fabric that we often don’t think of them as unique—they’re just “something that happened to me along the way.”
  2. When we tell a story that’s important to us, it becomes easy to engage others. It’s as if we are giving our audience a gift. And an emotional connection is made.

My gift to you, then, is to remind you to think about a defining moment in your life. Appreciate it as unique and important. Tell it to somebody.

And, if you are growing a business…building a brand…trying to forge emotional connections with customers, don’t forget your company’s defining moments. Chances are, some of your best stories have long since been locked away in the corporate memory vault.

So what is your story?

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Okay, so we had a little snow to clear yesterday. And true to my suggestion on my previous post, I went out to shovel with the idea of using physical activity to help solve a problem—what to write for my next blog entry.

I started shoveling and I let my mind wander. At first it was just a sense—and then a conscious realization—that the piles of snow I was clearing were at eye level.

I couldn’t remember seeing snow that high since walking to C. Ray Gates School in Grand Island, Nebraska with my brother, Jeff. In my adult life, I had always maintained that it didn’t snow as much today as it did when I was growing up in Nebraska. Yet, here the snow was as high as when I walked to school. One catch: when I was walking to school, I was under five-feet tall. Today, I’m 5-feet, 9-inches.

So, I thought, perhaps I’ve been sharing dogma (it used to snow more) from an outdated perspective (that of a short grade-schooler).

Then I realized that as creative leaders, we need to continually revisit the perspectives from which we form our world views. Are they still relevant within the current environment or are we stuck in an old paradigm? And we must recognize that others who have strong beliefs may fall for the same trap. Being mindful and open to considering new perspective is how we grow as individuals. It’s also how we create and innovate as groups. I wondered what else I could do to challenge my own assumptions.

Then my feet got cold and I had to go inside to warm up.

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