Communicating So People Listen (Video)

To create joyful evolution, we need communicate to engage our stakeholders, to keep them engaged, and to motivate people to create more effective and sustainable change together.  

A Stanford University MBA-alumni event hosted the following presentation “Think Fast, Talk Smart: Communication Techniques” by Matt Abrahams.  There are lots of fun exercises in the video so you can practice and understand the ideas presented.

  • 4:30  Dealing with anxiety of speaking
  • 6:45  Recognize & accept your anxiety – it’s normal & natural
  • 8:20  There is no “right way” to “perform”
  • 9:05  There are guidelines to having a conversation (even when presenting)
    1. Start with questions
    2. Use conversational language – make your audience feel connected to you
    3. Be in the present moment – don’t focus on the future
  • 15:30 How to feel more comfortable in spontaneous situations
    1. Get out of your own way.  We want to be perfect, but we need to learn to be more spontaneous – to tap into our intuition – rather than just wanting to “win”.  Recognize the value your brain provide you, but also
    2. Reframe spontaneity as an opportunity, rather than a threat.  Change your attitude – recognize the opportunity to learn & improve.
    3. “Yes, and …” is the fundamental rule of improvisational comedy.  For those of us in business, we have learned to usually respond with “Yes, but …” and then block the opportunity for learning & creation.  Slow down and listen.  “Don’t just do something.  Stand there!”  And listen.
    4. Respond in a structured way – but not scripted.  If we have mental structures (mental mapping), we remember 40% more information when we hear it.  To speak effectively, we need to think first about what to say, and then how to say it.  Two structures suggested to help us organize our thoughts are:
      • Problem/Opportunity-Solution-Benefit
      • What/Who-So What-Now What
  • 46:35 Summary
  • 49:00 Q&A

Video – 59 minutes

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Master the Art of Collaboration (Video from

We each have a vision of how our world can be made better.  However, we need other peoples’ perspectives, skills and energy to ensure the change is constructive, sustainable and valuable.  The more we collaborate well (not just cooperate), the more effectively we’ll create the joyous evolution we desire.  

According to Diane Paulus, a leading artistic director, there are critical steps to creating a highly effective, collaborative team.  

These include:

  • Develop the purpose for what you want to achieve – and keep revising it to be as good and big as possible.
  • Keep “washing your eyes”, be a naive spectator – or take a fresh look at what your doing and how you’re doing it.
  • Always keep the audience and the purpose in mind and constantly adjust the approach to achieve the purpose.
  • The audience and other stakeholders can help figure out ways to achieve the purpose/goals.
  • Keep stakeholder engaged and wanting to contribute.
  • Constantly ask questions about how to achieve a bigger purpose, how to achieve the desired goals.
  • Collaboration is a process where there is opportunity for constant improvement.  The job is never really done.

(13 minute video)

“Smells Like Team Spirit: Master the Art of Collaboration” with Diane Paulus on

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The Winning Response to Stress

When things get stressful, it’s easy to focus too strongly on the challenge of the situation, and to forget the good things available to us, and the choices we have – even in the most dire circumstances.  Viktor Frankl pointed out that even if we have no other choices, we can still choose our responses.  We can choose responses that allow us to deal with the unpleasant stuff, while also finding practical ways to solve the problem, prevent a repeat of the problem, and to thrive.

Creating change, innovation, or joyful evolution is not always easy; it is stressful for everyone.  But if we can develop a winning response to stress, we can maintain our courage, and increase our chances of succeeding. 

There are three responses we can choose:

  1. a negative response,
  2. an optimistic response, or
  3. a pragmatic response.

Each approach serves a purpose and is a normal part of stress and frustration.

The negative response is the normal response of fear.  When we face something that scares us, our brains will respond with fight (anger), flight (avoidance or leaving the situation) or freeze (inaction or depression).  Different parts of our brains are engaged when we are fearful, but those parts of our brain are designed for the animal-world to allow us to survive tiger and bear attacks.  In most situations, we are not facing life-or-death situations, so the normal brain-body response may help us only in the short-term.

Another response is putting a positive or optimistic spin on the situation.  This includes using affirmations we tell ourselves that we are good people and deserve better, that things will turn around and get better in due course, etc, etc.  Some challenges can be waited-out; eventually things do get better, regardless of what we do.  And being optimistic is an essential skill of entrepreneurship, business, sports and life so we can keep moving forward and find or create better outcomes.  Like the negative response, there is value in optimism.  But optimism doesn’t always result in the best outcomes as we need to deal with the unpleasant stuff and address all aspects of the problem – the symptoms and the cause.

To create the best solution, and to learn how to prevent the challenge in the future, we need to be proactive.  This includes:

  • Acknowledging and accepting emotions arising from the stress rather than trying to overpower it with positive thoughts;
  • Allow time for grieving things that need to be let of (eg ideas, beliefs, experiences, etc);
  • Self-Care (go for a walk to reactivate your whole brain; eat healthy & get enough sleep so you stay strong physically & mentally; be respectful & loving of yourself; get social & practical support; find things to be grateful for & savour the moments of joy; etc)
  • Build optimism from your previous successes: remind yourself of previous challenges you solved with your knowledge, skills and tenacity; remind yourself that you have the skills and the ability to learn and solve problem;
  • Problem-solve:
    • start small by thinking of options you may have – even if they are silly, or especially if they are silly so you can get a little laugh-break and re-engage more of your brain;
    • think about what you would recommend to a friend if this was something they were facing;
    • work your way up to more comprehensive problem-solving so that you can identify and create better options and develop a plan of action to solve the problem and learn how to prevent similar ones in the future. The logical process of problem-solving is difficult when emotions are high, but by knowing how to work with emotions (acknowledge, accept, feel, learn and let them go when they’ve done their jobs) we can heal from the challenge and use the emotions to help us think and problem-solve better.

Stress and challenging situations are usually not fun.  If we learn how to deal with them (emotionally, intellectually & practically), we not only survive the situations, we can also thrive & create joyful evolution.

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Collaborative Initiative to Improve Urban Transit

The Brookings Institute’s initiative to bring urban transit research into “the real world” is worth celebrating.  It is a great example of how to create joyful evolution within a challenging, complex environment.  (If you live in a bigger city, I bet you’ve got a few experiences with transit issures creating or destroying your joy!)

“By pioneering new research and establishing stronger networks among academics, practitioners, and other leaders, Moving-to-Access (M2A) aims to move the concept of urban accessibility from theory into practice.  …  Moving theory into practice will require a common understanding across three policy disciplines [transportation, urban planning & finance] that traditionally make decisions in isolation: transportation, urban planning, and fiscal and financial affairs. “

The start of the initiative as brought together expertise that is often at odds with each other to start identifying how urban transportation solutions can be created.  It also is bringing some of the wealth of academic research into practice – something that doesn’t happen often enough.  Our societies pay for excellent research, and then aren’t able to transfer it from research to practice!

Creating collaboration among people who have completely different experiences and perspectives is very challenging.  Too often efforts to cooperate result in people talking AT each other, rather than WITH each other.  We need to teach other people about what we do, how we do it and the challenges; BUT we also need to learn/listen to others when they tell us their perspectives.  Not always easy, especially when we feel they might be working against us.

Problems, whether complex or just difficult, can be solved.  To read more, click on the following links:

How do you collaborate with different people to solve problems?

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Understanding Problems Better for Better Results (Podcast – improving medical system)

Creating joyful evolution can include making small, incremental changes to improve our professional and personal lives.  However, some evolution needs to be much bigger, focused on changing systems.  The interesting part is that change does not always mean spending more money; often making significant improvements to create better outcomes is a matter of focusing more on understanding the problem better.  

Some of the things Dr. Martin discusses in her book are based on the ideas of:

A CBC “The Current” interview with Dr. Danielle Martin on how to fix the Canadian Health Care System based on her book “Better Now”.

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Creativity: New or Improved

Most people think creativity needs to result in new processes, new ideas, or new products.  Given how much already exist, and how fast new things are being developed, it’s kinda hard to come up with “new”.  But more importantly, is “new” really what is the purpose of our creative efforts?

If we want to create joyful evolution, to create the change we want, to build the business we want, to shape the communities we need, to foster more rewarding relationships, we need to be creative.  But most of the time solving problems more effectively is the better aim of creativity – creating new solutions or making incremental changes.

When something “new” is created, it requires working out mistakes, fitting it into existing environments, and getting people to learn it and adapt it.  Sometimes “new” is truly better.  But incremental changes to solve problems, can profoundly improve existing processes or products, based on what the real needs of the situation and stakeholders are.  Often, making small – but highly relevant changes – can result in profound changes (an example).  Incremental change can be frustrating if an “end” is sought, but if an attitude of continuous improvement is adopted, incremental change can create more sustainable & effective outcomes

Creativity is challenging and it can be threatening to other people if it isn’t done well.  It is also a big risk – but the outcomes when we create real innovation (new or incremental) can generate huge rewards.  Real creativity requires courage, curiosityhumility, the ability to learn better so truly effective solutions can be developed.

We are all creative – we just need to develop our skills so we can create joyful evolution by developing new ideas and improving existing processes.

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Creativity: Everyone Can Create!

So many people believe they were not given the gift of creativity.  Yet science and artists show us that all of us can be creative.  We just have to learn it.

If we want to create joyful evolution, to build our businesses, improve our communities and nurture resilient ‘inner circles’, we need to be creative so we can solve problems much more effectively.

But creativity is not a simple skill like learning to paint or play an instrument.  Real creativity happens when we are curious enough to truly understand a problem so new, innovative, sustainable solutions that really work can be created.  Creativity is a skill of learning to pay attention, to listen well – even to things we may not normally hear or want to hear

Pharrell Williams says in an Esquire article:

“I think everything is given to us …. We didn’t create it. It’s being given to us in one shape or form. It is a deep delusion to think otherwise. I’m not the juice. I’m not the ice that makes it cool. And I’m certainly not the glass. I’m just the straw.”

To get the songs, you have to pay attention. The greatest gift is self-awareness. That’s when you realize the beauty of life. If you’re not self-aware, then you’re lost.”

The problems we face are increasingly complex; some problems are big (judicial system, health care, urban transit, environmental sustainability, etc), and some are small changes we make in our everyday life.  But each of us can develop the tools & skills of creating joyful evolution, to change our businesses, communities and relationships for the better.

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Unilever Making Unbelievable Strides to Environmental Sustainability!

The CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, is a master of creating joyful evolution.

When he started at Unilever, he announced the company would no longer issue quarterly statements; instead it will look for longer-term, value-generating, environmentally-sustainable investments that serve shareholders AND global stakeholders (ie people).  As you know, this is radical in the business world!

In a Fortune Magazine article, Polman outlines how Unilever is aggressively driving environmental sustainability.  Unilever went from a global leader of sustainable-sourcing at 10% in 2009 to 60% in 2014, with all European and North American production using only green-energy and generating zero-waste.  And financial results are rewarding for investors!

As the CEO, Polman sees his job (in part) as changing mindsetshow people think – inside and outside the company.  Polman demonstrates unbelievable courage.  And he often mentions how strongly he values humility.

Most of us will never be CEOs of Fortune 100 companies.  But we do have choices in our businesses, work, communities and our ‘inner circles’.  What will you do create joyful evolution in your world?

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How To Learn Anything Reasonably Well, Relatively Quickly (TedTalk)

Learning is a critical skill to be able to create joyful evolution in our businesses, communities and families.  Josh Kaufman outlines one aspect of learning: how to learn something reasonably well, relatively quickly.  The key thing is to focus on achieving a basic-level of proficiency within 20 hours.

He outlines 4 steps to learn enough to be proficient in 20 hours:

  1. Create a purpose and deconstruct the skills: what is it you want to be able to do (purpose) after 20 hours and break down what the parts of that are.  (For example, pick a song you want to be able to play on a new instrument and then figure out what chords or notes you need to be able to play.)
  2. Learn enough to self-correct: don’t procrastinate by over-learning, but learn just enough so you can start doing the basics of what you want to do and be able to identify when you are making a mistake.  (For example learn to play the chords/notes for your chosen song, and figure out how to correct the mistakes you make.)
  3. Remove barriers to practice: find ways that will increase the likelihood of you practicing the amount of time you’ve committed to.  The biggest barrier is emotional: feeling stupid, not knowing how to do something.
  4. Practice for at least 20-hours: do 20-hours of practice in a reasonable time-frame so that you can get to a functional level of the skill you want to learn.  If you choose to practice, you will be able to move beyond ‘incompetence’, not to a level of mastery, but to a level of basic proficiency … from which you can build to mastery (or whatever level you want to achieve).

TedTalk (20 minutes)

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Meta-Skills for Sustainable Advantage

What can you do to increase your success each time you do something?  Research shows learning skills are critical skills of success – we can find solutions to problems.  Learning to learn-better (meta-learning) can create sustainable advantage as we can create better understanding of the problem and solutions in entrepreneurship, innovation, competitive business, and your personal life.

Learning and meta-learning are critical skills for creating joyful evolution.  Learning is like an athlete who practices the same things over and over again, increasing their consistency and accuracy; they become good, but not necessarily great.  Meta-learning is like the winning athlete who also practices many hours, but also spends time building awareness of what works for them, making constant small changes in their techniques, practice, focus, etc, so they change the results they are capable of.

We learned to learn in school, but few of us learn to improve our learning.  Given how fast things are changing and how unpredictable things are, we need to develop meta-learning so we can solve more complex problems, even as the situation is changing and we don’t have complete information.

How We Think Influences How We Learn

Embedded in meta-learning is meta-cognition: learning to think-better.

In both meta-learning and meta-cognition, we rely on “schemas”.  Schemas include: mental short-cuts or heuristics, pattern-recognition and pattern-matching, scripts, memorized responses, etc. Embedded in these thinking processes are biases and blind spots. Some biases we are aware of, and some not.

Schemas help us to understand new information and to make decisions more quickly; the Nobelaureate Daniel Kahneman defines it as “fast” thinking vs. the more deliberate “slow” processes of doing new things.

We all ‘inherit’ these schemas and processes from the cultures we grew up in, our national, ethnic and family cultures, and in the cultures we choose in adulthood: professional, social, etc.  We can enhance them if we know how.

The Components of Meta-Learning

Meta-learning allows us to improve our learning schemas, habits and styles of questioning, analysis and exploration, etc.  The ability to influence and change our learning approaches requires:

Here is an example of how to learn something new, relatively quickly.

Meta-skills are skills. It takes time and discipline to develop them, but the advantage is the stronger the skills – and the greater the comfort with a new way of approaching problem-solving – the better we will be able to build and maintain deeply satisfying success.

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Learning How to Learn (TedTalk)

Learning is a critical skill to be able to create joyful evolution in our businesses, communities and families.  Professor Barbara Oakley outlines one aspect of learning: how to learn-to-learn better – more easily and more effectively.

Her “keys to learning effectively” include:

  1. Knowing when to focus (active learning and thinking) and when to relax (allowing your subconscious to work).  Developing a process for tapping into both, such as: setting a timer to do focused work for 25 minutes, and then taking a fun/enjoyable break for 5 minutes to reward yourself.  Many great thinkers devise methods for sitting quietly in pre-sleep state to allow ideas to perculate.
  2. Learn how to address procrastination (an addiction to avoiding unpleasant emotions) such as when we need to learn something new.
  3. Develop self-awareness of your learning style.  Some people learn faster than others, but often the slower learners are more creative and leading to greater mastery.  The key thing is to know your strengths and leveraging them.
  4. Develop a balanced approach to learning; make sure you exercise regularly, sleep well, etc.
  5. Enhance the understanding & stickiness of your learning by testing yourself frequently and repeatedly.
  6. Develop understanding & practice what you’re learning.  This would be the same as the problem-solving process of working iteratively through purpose, mapping, and questioning to craft and hone relevant solutions.

TedTalk (18 minutes)

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Emotional Fluency – Developing a Super-Power

Too often emotions are thought of as something to control.  What would happen if we started treating our emotions as valuable resources, something that makes us more powerful?

There is a growing body of research and evidence in practice, that emotions are powerful sources of information, if we can develop our emotional fluency:

  • learning the language of our emotions so we become aware of the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – information they provide,
  • understanding the effects of our emotions so we know how they might be influencing our thinking, learning and actions, and
  • knowing how to partner with our own emotions so we can leverage the real power of our emotions.

The way to develop emotional fluency super-powers is to develop the skills of listening to ourselves (awareness and reflection), without judgement, without reaction.  Simply accepting and being lovingly curious.  Some techniques to explore that might help include:

  • Meditation techniques: quieting the mind.  There are many ways to turn off the voices in our heads and simply be: sitting or walking meditation, chanting, any rhythmic activity such as cycling, etc.
  • Mindfulness: listening to emotions & body.   There are many ways to learn to listen to ourselves: body scans, ‘making space’ to allow emotions and signals to exist, etc.

With regular practice of emotional fluency, our thinking, learning and actions can be much more powerful.

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Emotional Fluency – The Need


Our emotions are a guidance system.  Negative and positive emotions signal where we might be off- or on-track with our real beliefs and goals.  If we learn to master our emotions, they can become valuable partners in our growth & success.  They are critical to creating joyful evolution.  

Mastery of emotions does not mean controlling our emotions.  It means developing emotional fluency:

  • learning the language of our emotions so we become aware of the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – information they provide,
  • understanding the effects of our emotions so we know how they might be influencing our thinking, learning and actions, and
  • knowing how to partner with our own emotions so we can leverage the real power of our emotions.

Emotions Are Messengers if We Can Listen to Them

It is not always possible or practical to interact with our emotions.  There are some times when suppressing emotions is wise and effective.  However, emotions eventually need to be to acknowledged and addressed so they can be learned from and released.

Emotions are messengers, they serve a purpose when they arise, and when their purpose has been fulfilled, they disappear.  However, if they are not acknowledged and accepted, they do not go away.

Unaddresed emotions come out in ways that can hurt us.  In poker a “tell” is a micro-expression, a split second expression on your face, that gives away what you’re really thinking and feeling.  Suppressed emotions always show themselves, even if we don’t believe we have them or if we believe we’ve ‘controlled’ them.

There is now consistent research showing ignored emotions stay in the body and can cause physical & psychological damage.  The abused child that cannot release anger & fear will be controlled by those emotions in adulthood.  The adult who constantly suppresses their anger & fears eventually faces bigger challenges.  The person who cannot use their emotions to learn how to think & act more effectively, continues to make the same mistakes over and over.

Emotional-fluency is well worth the effort to learn – to minimize the damage of emotions, and to maximize the benefits they bring.

Emotions Can Undermine Us if We Don’t Work WIth Them

Most of us believe we make decisions intellectually (cognitively).  However, research has shown that most decisions are influenced by schemas (automatic thinking processes including biases and beliefs) and emotions.  Once we’re comfortable with a decision then we explain it using cognitive processes.

Occasionally we feel strong negative emotions towards a problem or a person.  We will often brush these emotions off as caused by the problem or the person and then try to forget about the frustration.  Without emotional fluency, we will suppress our emotions quickly.

But this frustration can be important information for our success.  If we allow ourselves to explore the source of the emotions, we might realize that what we believe has been challenged.  It will be uncomfortable as we need to honestly assess whether our thinking is outdated.  And it will be uncomfortable to update our thinking when that is needed.

Updating our beliefs and thinking processes is not easy, but it opens the doors for much greater and sustainable success.  With emotional fluency we will be able to:

  • recognize, acknowledge and accept our emotions as information signals, motivators and rewards;
  • laugh about our mistakes as we use meta-learning and meta-cognition skills to improve our approaches and beliefs; and,
  • leverage the power of our emotions so we make the most beneficial changes for ourselves.

It is natural to want to protect ourselves emotionally.  But the cost of holding tight to what is comfortable is high – especially over the long run as we will be more and more out-of-date.

Not only do negative emotions can have negative impacts on our decisions.  Positive emotions can cause problems if we don’t understand their impact.

Optimism is necessary to “sell” ideas and to maintain motivation.  Since optimism is such a valuable emotion, it has gained a very high status in many cultures, sometimes to the point of being perceived as a fragile, mystical state.  Often there are social and political repercussions to “raining on the parade” of optimism.

However, optimism is only valuable if it is tempered at the right times.  For sustainable success, reason and questions to evaluate critical issues, and incorporate new information is necessary.

Success needs both optimism and realism.  Once we learn emotional fluency, the process of working with unpleasant emotions to improve our thinking, learning and beliefs becomes much more natural.  It becomes easier and faster to make beneficial changes.

Partnering With Our Emotions Gives Us Greater Power

The great news is that over time, learning to work with our emotions, old and new, allows our brains to rewire (neuroplasticity) and our bodies (psychosomatic) to heal.  There is emerging evidence that we can rewrite some of our physiological and psychological scripts for a better quality of life.

And the better we get at working with our emotions, the faster and more intuitive our psychological processes become.  Developing our emotional-fluency allows us to think, learn and act more effectively – we will perform at much higher levels.

We can learn to engage our emotions as partners in our thinking, learning and actions, so we stop wasting energy trying to suppress them, and we can reap the benefits from the power of our emotions.

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Happiness is a State of Mind

Happiness is a State of Mind; Emotions are Signals

Happiness is a State of Mind; Emotions are Signals

“Beer commercial happiness” is fun.  It is joyous and energetic – emotions we all want to experience regularly!  To create joyful evolution we need to tap into the emotions of joy & energy, while also developing a deeper, lasting happiness, a vibrant state-of-mind.

Emotions are critical to creating joyful evolution as they signal whether we are going in the right direction, or whether we need change something.  

Emotions are temporary because they are signals:

  • fear, contempt & anger –> cause us to run away (flight), freeze or fight
  • sadness & grief –> slows us down & can stop us
  • disgust, boredom, shame & remorse –> cause us to hide or move away from something
  • interest, surprise & amazement –> cause us to engage or play
  • joy, serenity & optimism –> allow us to enjoy the moment
  • acceptance, admiration & trust –> cause us to seek stronger relationships
  • trust & love –> allow us to build intimate relationships

The happiness we all seek is a more stable state-of-mind that comes from ongoing emotions AND life-conditions: feeling safe, feeling loved & respected, and having alignment between our selves and our purpose.

At the same time, happiness gives us a sense of peace & safety.  It gives us the confidence that we will be supported & accepted as we figure things out.  A happy state of mind allows us to make better decisions and act more effectively (personally and in business).

To create joyful evolution, we can choose to learn to work with our emotions, and make choices to increase our alignment and happiness. 

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Happiness is the Foundation of Success

Happiness is Good for Business

Happiness is Good for Business

So often we feel like happiness is either a result of a life well lived, or we think of it as a luxury which some people have more than others.  But happiness is so much more.  Happiness is a compass, a guide, for creating joyful evolution.

Happiness – feeling safe, having rewarding personal and professional relationships, and feeling fulfilled by building on one’s life purpose – is something we can all achieve.  And happiness is essential to our quality of life. In fact, research in multiple disciplines is clearly showing happiness is an important state of mind that allows us to perform better.

Business research links happiness to increases in:

  • revenues because better relationships with more desirable clients
  • profit because of better, longer-term relationships with employees and stakeholders who constructively contribute to business goals
  • ethical behavior because stakeholders who feel respected and included prioritize community goals
  • innovation because people feel safer to take risks and learn and improve together

Happiness is a signal we have aligned ourselves with our real needs, our whole selves and life purpose, which means we are better able to tap into our courage and humility – important ingredients in learning, problem-solving and changing.

It is possible to temporarily make other people have fun and feel good about themselves, but no one can make someone else happy.  Everyone is responsible for their own happiness, which includes deciding where and how we will work, live and play.  However, as leaders in business, communities, teams, families, etc, we have responsibility to collaboratively build an environment where we and the people we need feel safe and can create happiness more successfully.

Happiness can lead to sustainable performance improvements personally and professionally, and it makes life a lot more fun!

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Humility IS Learning

Real humility is necessary for the creation of joyful evolution which depends on: psychological safetylearning and continuous-improvement.

But some people define humility as being “less than” others and confuse it with humiliation.  Humiliation is the (often public) attack on someone (not for what they have done, but for who they are).  Humiliation is shaming; it kills all good things.

Real humility is recognizing our current abilities AND finding meaning, satisfaction & joy in constantly enhancing ourselves & our abilities.  Humility is the recognition that life is an ongoing learning project.  The (self-)respect, courage and confidence underlying humility allows the strengthening of authentic value through learning and improved performance – individually and as a leader. 

Humility allows us to admit and understand mistakes or stumbles as mistakes – not personal shortcomings.  We can then learn, forgive, and continuously improve performance rather than feeling the need to defend ourselves or blame others.  Humble leaders recognize their value comes from not being all-knowing, but rather helping themselves and their teams to create better, more sustainable solutions; the value of all team members comes from their ability to learn and to learn together.

Our purpose is not perfection; in a fast changing world, it is impossible to know everything, be able to do everything, and to know how to solve the increasingly complex problems.  Humility is all about continuous improvement: understanding more, increasing our skills to do better, and working with others who have other perspectives to solve problems more effectively.  Humility is not judging ourselves for know knowing, but rather celebrating our ability to learn & improve.  

Research is increasingly showing people who are humble are able to recognize and develop opportunity better as they can understand problems better.  And groups, teams and communities that value humility can solve their problems better.

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Reality is Hard!

Reality is Hard!

Reality is Hard!

Seth Godin writes in his blog:  pro-wrestling is a willful disregard for reality.  It’s a fantasy to ‘beat’ our fears.  It’s a fake world.  You probably know people who believe in their own pro-wrestling universe.  Where people are in love with their fantasies; they are angry with the real world where they feel their fantasies are stolen away from them.  

Watching pro-wrestling – or so many other shows – can be really fun.  It is a fantasy of the simplicity of “good” and “evil” – it allows us to escape the complexity and unpredictability of our world.  It allows us to escape the difficulty of being authentic.  Being real requires humility, courageworking with emotions, compassion and psychological skills to navigate successfully.

There is nothing wrong with escaping reality occasionally.  But if we really want to create joyful evolution, to create a more fulfilling and happy life, we can learn to succeed in reality by learning the skills of problem-solving.

Have fun!  Choose a bit of happy escape.  And choose to make your world a wiser, better, more fulfilling one.

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Becoming a Constructive Non-Conformist

Non-Conformity or Tall Poppies

Constructive Non-Conformity or Being a Tall Poppy

To create joyful evolution, we need to innovate & create change wisely.  Innovation & change require people to ask questions and be curious … to rock the boat.  ‘Boat-rockers’ are non-conformists, while innovators are ‘smart boat-rockers’ – or constructive non-conformists.

A new HBR article by Francesca Gino “Let Your Workers Rebel” points out that too much conformity results in “decreased engagement, productivity & innovation.”  The problem is non-conformists can be seen as threatening.  Bosses or experts who feel insecure about their positions may feel questions are attacking their power or their knowledge.   People who believe subordinates should not question “superiors” will feel hierarchy and “the natural order of things” are being threatened.  And peers may feel threatened because they feel judged and their potential contributions not valued.

People conform because they want to keep their jobs or get better jobs.  They want to avoid challenge & possible failure, choosing the safety of clear hierarchy & established rules.  They want to be socially accepted, to be part of the in-group.  We have been taught non-conformity leads to rejection – the tall poppy syndrome.

In contrast, being constructively non-conformist has been shown to make people feel more confident, be more creative, be more effective, feel more fulfilled, happier in their lives.  And other people judge constructive non-conformists as better performers.

So what can we does the article suggest we can do as leaders, parents, teachers and individuals to promote constructive non-conformity?

  1. Encourage authenticity
    • Determine how you as a whole person with unique strengths & interests can contribute to the goals of the organization, family, community, etc.
    • Connect the strengths of individuals to the problems and work they are best suited for.
    • Determine what needs to be done and let the right people working on the problem to use their strengths to solve it.
  2. Question the status quo
  3. Encourage constant learning & growth
  4. Become comfortable with respectful dissent
    • Actively seek out people who see the world, the problem, the situation differently than you do.  Actively seek out people who disagree with you and how you do things.  Understand their perspectives, even if you don’t agree with it.
    • Encourage other people to respectfully point out mistakes, omissions, oversights, blind spots, etc.  Be grateful for the new perspectives.

To learn more about becoming a constructive non-conformist a you can create joyful evolution, click on the links:

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Courage: The Caring Pursuit of What is Possible

Courage: from caring comes courage

Courage: caring and pursuit of what’s possible.

The many things happening in our world can feel pretty unsettling, and at times frightening because we don’t always know what to do: how do we protect ourselves and our loved ones, how do we build a rewarding and fulfilling life, how do we build stronger communities.

We want things to be better, yet so many people feel they have little influence on things.  Yet Margaret Mead wrote that the only thing that has ever changed the world is a small group of thoughtful committed citizensSome people want to change the world, while others want to change their corner of the world.

Creating change requires courage.

What is courage?  Many definitions include doing something despite fear, pain or risk.  These definitions imply bravery, toughness, or bravado.  Bravado is trying to impress people.  The best that can be hoped for with toughtness and bravado is temporary control.

An older definition, relies on the French origin of courage: “cuer” or heart.  The “heart is the source of emotion”. Here the meaning suggests not acting out of fear, but rather learning from and working with our emotions, striving for love and acceptance, and taking action because of a belief in something.

 “From caring comes courage.”

Lao Tzu

Therefore, courage can still be brave and tough, but it isn’t bravado; it comes from inner strength and the acceptance of the need to learn and grow.  Courage is the desire and the skills to find ways to make things betterCourage is the healthy, sustainable pursuit of what is possible. 

 “Courage is the most important of all the virtues

without courage,

you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Maya Angelou

How do you want to improve your world?  How do you build your courage?

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The Jelly-Donut Theory of Emotions

The Jelly-Donut Theory of Ignored Emotions

The Jelly-Donut Theory of Ignored Emotions

Emotions have a purpose – to let us know when we are out of alignment with our real goals and desires.  Our emotions tell us is we are on track for what we consciously and unconsciously want … or not.  It is then our job to figure out what’s missing, what’s wrong, and what we need to do about.  Once we’ve learned from our emotions, they dissolve, disappear, and let us get on with the things we want to get on with.

But sometimes the bad feelings are pretty unpleasant.  Or they come at a time when we don’t want to deal with them.  So we ignore them.  We treat our emotions like an annoying younger sibling and tell them to go away … and don’t come back.

But ignored emotions always come back.  And never when we want them to.  We can try to ignore them again.  We try to bottle them up.  To push them down.  But eventually they squeeze out at the most inopportune time.  Like a jelly-donut squishing red jelly out the back onto your crisp white shirt before a meeting.

Sometimes we have to ignore our emotions for a while to do things we need to do.  But then tap into courage, make sure you make time for them, and ask and learn, so they can visit and teach, and then go away.  Building a good relationship with our emotions, learning to work WITH them, makes us stronger and smarter.

Or, ignore them and just don’t ever wear light colored shirts anymore.

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Emotionally UnStuck for Better Performance

The Difference Between Experiencing Emotions & Being Stuck

Emotionally Stuck or Emotionally Free?

Many people believe that feeling their emotions means they will get stuck.  That they will wallow in self-pity … wallow in inaction.  Stuck in a state-of-mind they don’t want to be in.

Yet research shows emotions are powerful sources of information if we develop our emotional fluency.  Emotional fluency starts with accepting and working through our emotions.

Being stuck means telling ourselves (and anyone who will listen) the same stories over and over again: how someone treated us badly or unfairly, how we weren’t given the same opportunities other people were, how we just didn’t have a chance … Or, being stuck means we try to hide our emotions. But they always ooze out at inopportune times, like a squished jelly donut when you’re wearing a white shirt. Ignored emotions cause more problems.

But by working through the emotions and learning from them, we can let them go and eventually feel deep, profound joy and happiness. Greater happiness leads to better personal and professional performance.  And the next time we do something that makes us feel bad, it’s easier to: accept it, learn from it, let it go, so we can grow & thrive.

If we lose something significant to us, we feel grief and all the associated emotions. We also may feel fear because we are concerned about our survival (physical or psychological), our sense of belonging, or our life purpose. Grief, fear and other emotions are either temporary visitors that bring gifts of learning opportunities, or “ignored jelly donuts” waiting to make a mess.

To be honest, experiencing and learning from our emotions sucks!  It isn’t a walk in the park.  We may feel nauseated.  Or exceptionally angry or hopeless.  Or like we just want to crawl under a rock for the rest of our lives.  We may want to crawl out of our skin because it’s so uncomfortable “to be me” at times.  But if we accept, feel, and learn from our emotions (rather than acting on them), they will go away and we will feel better, and we may possibly even thrive wildly.

Please note: If you have intense emotions or a long history of suppressing emotions, do this experiencing emotions with support.  It can be overwhelming! There is only shame in not asking for the support you deserve to get. You may have to ask several people, but keep asking for and looking for what you need. 

When we feel like idiots or victims or … recognize that we may have acted this way or experienced it, but it does not define us. We need to be compassionate with ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, so that we can learn. We need to use the energy of those emotions to look for better ways to act the next time. We can map out what happened before, during and after the bad experiences, so that we can problem-solve on how to do it better next time.

Unfortunately, we need to accept we are human and will always mess things up; anyone who believes differently is lying to themselves or someone that is easy to take advantage of. The good news is we can reduce the frequency and messiness of our mistakes, and increase the quality and speed of recovery, learning and growth by learning to work with our emotions.

Emotional fluency is similar to a top athlete who sweats and stinks and gives up things in the short-term and has to deal with nasty losses and pain. But then goes on to have a long, winning professional career. We too can develop the skills that make us stronger and open to real success, including wealth, meaningful relationships, and a profound, lasting, unconditional sense of peace and love.

The risk of getting stuck is very real.  But we have choices regarding what do with our emotions.  Which will you choose?  Oozing jelly donuts, stuck in old stories? Or happiness, joy, peace, love and emotional freedom?

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Psychologcal Safety – Part 4: How to Build It



Part 1 of this series introduced psychological safety as a critical element to foster innovation and sustainable growth. Psychological safety is difficult to create because it may require changing how things have been done and how people define success, which may feel threatening and risky – the challenge discussed in the Part 2.  Part 3 discussed two skills necessary for psychological safety – questioning & listening: questioning our beliefs & assumptions so we can recognise when they need to be updated, and emotional literacy.

Research consistently shows that empowerment, connection/belonging, openness, ethics, organisational learning & nurturing individuals’ growth are good for business – each is part of psychological safety. We need to find the ways to develop it for ourselves & our teams.

Innovation & creation means trial-and-error; each iteration is a great learning opportunity. The approach recommended to increase our own psychological safety and among our team seems remarkably simple – and it is: “Just Do It” as NIke said. The power is in the doing and reflecting and learning.

  • Be it: To create innovation, we need psychological safety, but that also means we need to be innovators in all parts of our lives to create the conditions for psychological safety. If what we’ve always done doesn’t get us what we need or want, we need to find better ways to do things. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating at times; but the payoff of developing this “continuous improvement” mindset allows us to be much more flexible and to create the life we want – professionally and personally. To create psychological safety, we simply need to become it gradually: start and learn as we go.
  • Do it: To be an innovator who creates psychological safety (which creates more innovation), we need to learn to ask question, be curious, strengthen our problem-solving, develop emotional fluency to listen & identify what can be improved & how. By being willing to innovate and create psychological safety, you lead the way for others to learn with you.
  • Celebrate it: Celebrate successes & learning opportunities, celebrate being an innovator, and celebrate the moments of psychological safety, the moments of true collaboration.

Individuals & teams with high psychological safety can consistently produce stronger results through better learning & innovation.

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What would you like to know more about? These blogs reflect my work and my research, but I’d love to know more about what you’re experiencing and what you’d be interested in reading more about?  Please leave a comment or contact me at Catarina (at)

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Psychological Safety – Part 3: Two Skills



This series introduces psychological safety as a critical element to foster innovation and sustainable growth. An innovation culture must support people to be curious, ask questions, learn and create new insights. But the psychological safety needed for this is difficult to create because it may require changing how things have been done and how people define success, which may feel threatening and risky.

This post highlights two important, but often overlooked and interdependent skills which increase our capacity to build a culture of questioning and innovation.


Conflicts among our beliefs and assumptions could diminish our ability to develop a culture of psychological safety.  Some questions that may help identify if beliefs and assumptions regarding psychological safety include:

  • Do we really believe the costs of creating psychological safety are worth the benefits? If we’re honest with ourselves, we may realise we assume it feels like a lot of work to learn how to develop psychological safety.  So we put it off until another day …
  • Do we really believe working collaboratively with people different from us actually works and when the pressure is on it is only a distraction …

Being honest with ourselves about our real beliefs is essential to changing how we do things.  The benefit of regularly reflecting is to develop the skill to recognize when we have conflicts or competing commitments.

Do not judge your responses. Whatever our responses are, they have been learned and positively reinforced – our beliefs and assumptions exist for a reason. However, by becoming aware of those beliefs, we have the opportunity to evaluate whether they still serve us, and if not, whether we want to change them.



In addition to reflecting on our beliefs and assumptions, we can build our awareness of our mental, emotional and body responses. Too often emotions are thought of as something to control. What would happen if we started treating our emotions as valuable resources, something we could work with?

There is a growing body of research and evidence in practice, that emotions are powerful sources of information, if we can develop our ability to ‘read’ our emotions more effectively. Various meditation (quieting the mind) and mindfulness (listening to emotions and body) approaches provide several ways to ‘learn the language of our own emotions’. This allows us to pause, relax our body so the amygdala doesn’t control a situation, consider all the information available, and choose our response more effectively. With practice, consistency and self-respect, it can be powerful.

Emotional fluency will allow us to go deeper in understanding our beliefs and assumptions.



By questioning and reflecting on our beliefs and assumptions, we can identify which may be ready to be updated.  By listening to our emotions, becoming fluent in the language of our emotions, we have access to more information that we may currently be missing.  By combining questioning with listening we have greater insights on how we can foster true and sustainable psychological safety for ourselves and our teams, and therefore, real learning and innovation.


The last blog will discuss how to increase psychological safety and the link for the TakeAway PDF download.

What would you like to know more about? These blogs reflect my work and my research, but I’d love to know more about what you’re experiencing and what you’d be interested in reading more about?  Please leave a comment or contact me at Catarina (at)

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3rd Internet Wave Depends on Collaboration (Podcast)

The next phase of our economic and social growth depends on Collaboration (working with others).  And collaboration depends on the ability to solve problems well, and manage ourselves well.

James Altucher’s (@jaltucher) interview with Steve Case (@SteveCase) highlights “The Third Wave” of the internet.

  1. The 1st Wave was internet accessibility for the general population.
  2. The 2nd Wave was the evolution of business (apps & software) via the internet.
  3. The 3rd Wave will be innovative partnerships between various stakeholders, enabled by the internet, to solve the next generation of business and social problems.

Success in the 3rd Wave, depends on collaboration skills, which depend on:

James Altucher-Podcast link below  (~63 minutes) /

Ep. 164 – Steve Case: The Third Wave is coming…

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Psychological Safety – Part 2: Why It Matters

Make it SAFE for me TO TAKE RISKS


Part 1 introduced psychological safety as a unifying theme of good leadership. By consistently nurturing psychological safety, the team can feel safe to ask the questions that result in sustainable innovation and growth.

This post will explore why that is.

Questioning is risky but necessary for innovation: According to research, psychological safety is critical to team performance.  The deep questioning needed to develop new ways of understanding problems can make us feel very challenged, or even uncomfortable or confused – we need to be able to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. With a sense of safety, we are able to commit fully to learning, improving, and working with others. And with a sense of safety, each person can engage other team members as “partners”- not necessarily equal, but interdependent and collaborative.

However, if the culture, the formal and informal rules of the team, compromise psychological safety in any way, this questioning and partnering can be damaged, sometime irreparably. If people get even a hint that they may be risking their professional image, position, or power-base, they will become defensive.

Psychological safety influences our brains and bodies: Regardless of what we are thinking about or doing, we have intellectual and physical responses, largely due to neurological processes. If we feel threatened, a primal or instinctual part of our cerebral cortex takes over. The amygdala prepares the body for fight-flight-or-freeze: our senses and mental processes narrow, and the ability to perceive and understand new information is significantly reduced.  In this state, we cannot learn new things or understand new information.  In short, if we don’t feel safe, it is unlikely we will be able to build innovation and success.

In contrast, if we feel relatively safe, our prefrontal-cortex, the brain’s “executive function”, is engaged. This allows us to work with a range of other people, solve problems creatively, and achieve goals. We can work with diverse ideas, we can approach problems in different ways, we can learn, solve problems and make decisions that are more likely to result in sustainable innovation and success.


Therefore, the ongoing choice leaders need to make is how to foster psychological safety within their team at all times.  Organizational learning, innovation and performance improvements can all be enhanced as a result of psychological safety.

Next blogs:

What would you like to know more about? These posts reflect my work and my research, but I’d love to know more about what you’re experiencing and what you’d be interested in reading more about?  Please leave a comment or contact me at Catarina (at)

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Psychological Safety – Part 1: What It Is

Psychological Safety - Make it SAFE for me TO TAKE RISKS


Too often projects go awry because people feel they cannot risk asking questions.  And then avoidable mistakes happen. How many times have you participated in a team and felt it could have gone so much better if people had only participated more effectively?  How many times have you seen something go wrong because someone did not ask enough questions and really understand the situation?

Innovation is teamwork: In a new HBR article “The Most Important Leadership Competencies”, global business leaders highlighted the need for teams and strong collaboration to improve innovation and performance.

But what is necessary for this “team stuff” to really work?  How do we foster this leadership and participation?

Innovation requires questioning: A critical part of collaboration is for team members to question things; they need to understand why things are the way they are and how things work, so new insights can be developed and better results can be created. Good questions are essential to learning, innovation, and improvement. Performance cultures – ones that allow questioning – are linked with better team decision-making, higher customer satisfaction, and better and more sustainable results. Organizational learning, innovation and performance improvements can all be enhanced as a result of psychological safety.

Questioning requires trust and a sense of safety: But often we are blocked from being able to ask questions.  Sometimes it’s just not possible to ask questions, but often there are underlying issues related to trust or psychological safety – we don’t feel safe exploring and addressing the real problem.

Trust or psychological safety must be nurtured: Psychological safety (research or TedTalk) is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”. Psychological safety is a product of the culture: the formal and informal rules under which the team operates, and the resulting beliefsexpectations, and processes, that arise from the team working together. Interestingly, research shows that organizational culture can improve performance, but not necessarily the reverse.  That is probably a function of how psychological trust is created.

Psychological safety is not formally imposed, but rather requires transparency, fairness, consistency and constructive engagement.  People need to feel respected as people with unique and valuable perspectives, and for their ability to contribute.  Therefore, a key and ongoing choice leaders need to make is how to foster psychological safety within their team. The formal and informal rules must be consistent with what is needed for strong team work. People need to:

  • know the team purpose
  • know the roles and responsibilities each team member has within the team
  • feel connected to team members and have a sense of belonging to the group
  • trust  team members (including the leaders)
  • feel it is safe and important to try new things, ideas and people
  • learn and grow individually while contributing to team learning and success



Teams with high psychological safety can consistently produce stronger results through better learning and innovation. Leaders impact whether their teams have psychological safety or not. Once the skills are developed, teams are much more powerful and effective, allowing the leader to focus more on the direction (rather than control) of the team.

Next blogs:

What would you like to know more about? These blogs reflect my work and my research, but I’d love to know more about what you’re experiencing and what you’d be interested in reading more about?  Please leave a comment or contact me at Catarina (at)

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Innovation: New Paths to Reducing Criminalization (TedTalk)

A Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System

Adam Foss talks about his role as a prosecutor and how better social (and economic) outcomes can be created by giving people a chance to create a better life for themselves, their families and their communities:

  • Recognize who the stakeholders are and what roles they do – and could – play in creating better solutions.
  • See people as people rather than the labels we attach to them.  See the real problem and look for real solutions.  Give people a real chance to be and do better – to build a better path for themselves and their communities.  Give them the opportunity to learn and grow, to behave with accountability, to contribute.  Sometimes they will disappoint, but most will rise to the opportunity.
  • Work with other disciplines, other experts and stakeholders, so new perspectives and new ways of working can be brought to the problem-solving approach.
  • Hold leaders accountable (formal and informal leaders, including ourselves) for the small and big roles we play in creating a better society, that the measurements used are the best measurements to understand and solve the problem, and if it’s not working for all stakeholders (ie high rates of reoffending), then look for a better way.

TedTalk (16 minutes)

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3 Rules to Spark Learning (and Thinking) (TedTalk)

Chemistry teacher, Ramsay Musallam outlines 3 rules to learning and getting people thinking:

  1. Piquing your own or other’s curiosity which lead to real learning, real inquiry and questions, and real solutions to our complex problems.  Curiosity drives us to ask hard questions.
  2. Embrace the trial-and-error of real learning even though it’s a very messy and uncomfortable process.
  3. Engage in intense reflection to design and revise the created solutions.

TedTalk (7 minutes)

Here is an example of how to learn something new.

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Creativity May be Considered Bad Behavior (Article)

In his article “Can Any School Foster Pure Creativity“, Cevin Soling writes:

Creativity (that) can lead to innovation … minds capable of identifying problems and imagining new possibilities are a necessity.

But, creativity is based on thinking unconventionally, having time to daydream or simply reflect, understanding that there is no single right answer, and appreciating and valuing failure. … In the school environment, creativity can be considered pathological behavior as opposed to the compliant traits of being reliable, sincere, good-natured, responsible, tolerant, and peaceable — the qualities associated with the lowest levels of creativity.

There are steps that can be taken to promote creativity within the existing paradigm. Teachers can learn to recognize and respect that the child who cannot cope with the classroom environment might not be belligerent or have a mental disorder, but rather may simply have a creative disposition. Educators can also explain honestly to their students that the work they’re doing in school may not foster creativity, but that they do believe in every students’ innate capacity to be truly creative.

That kind of honesty will go a long way in enabling students to appreciate their innate creativity and provide them with greater fortitude and resources when engaging in creative pursuits outside of school.

From “Can Any School Foster Pure Creativity“, Cevin Soling

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Seeds of Possibility That Thrive in The Right Conditions (TedTalk)

There are 3 principles for human flourishing:

  1. People are diverseeach person needs to be allowed to learn in ways that optimize their unique strengths.
  2. Curiosity is the engine of learning – each person needs to be encouraged to use their curiosity to enhance their learning.
  3. Humans are creative – it is this creativity that allows each of us to develop and achieve unique things.

“Below the surface are seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about.  And with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable.”

TedTalk – April 2013 – 19 minutes

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Maslow 3: Purpose

What Do You Want to be Remembered For?

What Do You Want to be Remembered For?

To know what we really need for our happiness, we need to keep in mind who we really are, rather than who we “should” be.  By knowing our real needs and how they are and are not being met, we can make better decisions and figure out how to meet those needs.

Once we’ve taken care of our Safety needs, and started building relationships providing Love & Respect we can start working towards our Purpose.

MASLOW’s PURPOSE (Self-Actualization or a Meaningful Life)

Different people perceive Self-Actualization or Purpose differently.  Some people describe Purpose as one’s relationship with a “higher power” or “universal energy”, while others describe their relationship to their communities or to “humanity”.  The common themes of Purpose are:

  • It is about an individual person being aware of their  connection to something larger than themselves, and
  • An individual is not only focused on their own needs but also generating deep fulfillment from using their strengths and abilities to make the/their world a better place – to leave a meaningful legacy where life and love increase.

For many people Love, Respect and Purpose have some overlap.  Often we spend a lot of time building peer relationships, or respect-based relationships, but we still feel disatisfied.  If relationships are only built for the purpose of achieving more vocationally (ie career, volunteer work, hobbies, etc), our relationships may still be missing the element of purpose.

We need to feel accepted personally and vocationally by people who reflect our real beliefs and choices – critical factors underlying our life purpose. 

If our sense of life purpose is not being supported by our personal and vocational choices, then even the best relationships will be inadequate.

“There is a wonderful law of nature

that the three things we crave most in life

– happiness, freedom, and peace of mind –

are always attained by giving them to someone else.”

Peyton Conway March

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Maslow 2: Psychological Needs – Love & Respect

Find & Keep Real Friends for Life!

Find & Keep Real Friends for Life!

To know what we really need, we need to know who we really are rather than who we “should” be.  By knowing our real needs and how they are and aren’t being met, we can make better decisions and increase our happiness and fulfillment.


If we have our real and perceived Safety needs met, we can expand our focus to Love & Respect. How we understand these levels impacts our ability to be fulfilled: they are not “exchangeable” – we need both the personal acceptance and love, plus the vocational acceptance and respect.

Love is about our personal life and who we are as a person. This means that we need to be loved by people who accept us for who we are and have some common interests (ie shared history, beliefs and/or experiences). They love us (and we love them) even when we make mistakes, and they “set us straight” when we make decisions that don’t seem to make sense. Ideally, we turn to them and they turn to us in strength and weakness.

Respect is what we get from our vocation (work, hobbies, and other interests). Our fulfilment comes in part from the respect we earn from the people we choose as peers. Most people think fulfilment on this level is only external (ie who we are seen with, formal rewards and money), but, those are incomplete measures of “success”.   Getting our needs met on this level requires us to feel we are “worthy” and to have resilient relationships with people we respect in our vocational community.

Often people excel in one of the two areas, but not necessarily both. Sometimes the choice is intentional as a specific goal is bein pursued.  However, often we secretly believe that if we are successful in our vocations and earn exceptional formal rewards and recognition, then we will be loved. Or, we believe that if we are “good people”, we will be recognized and rewarded for our skills and contributions.

Observe your own thoughts and behaviors over the next few weeks to find out if you might be out of balance for what you need to be happy and fulfilled.  When you feel like you aren’t getting the love or respect you deserve, ask yourself some questions, starting with “Is it really true?”

  • If it’s not true, why do you feel that way?  Sometimes it could be old emotions, old experiences getting in the way of recognizing and appreciating what we have.  Are there other reasons you may not feel like you’re not getting what you deserve?
  • If it is true that you’re not getting the love and respect you deserve, explore why.  What is it that you’re doing or thinking that may be preventing people from loving you or respecting you?  Are you playing out old scripts?  Do you feel worthy?  Are you in the circles of people you really belong in?  What are other reasons you may not be getting what you deserve?

Sometimes these questions are not pleasant, and we may not really like the answers we find.  But understanding what is preventing us from feeling fully loved and respected is necessary to figuring out how we can change the situation.

The process is a choice.  It takes courage & humility, compassion, emotional fluency and curiosity.  But your likelihood of being truly happy and fulfilled increases if you feel loved and respected – it’s worth the effort.

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Maslow 1: Physical Survival & Safety

The quality of food, shelter and protection are improved in China; what about in your life?

To know what we really need for our happiness and fulfilment, we need to keep in mind who we really are rather than who we “should” be.  We need to know our real needs and how they are and are not being met, so we can make better choices for our happiness and fulfillment, which will allow us to be better partners, parents, friends, community leaders, etc.


If we are not able to secure our Survival (food, water, air, shelter, etc) or Safety (physical security, health, etc), we cannot focus on the higher levels of development.  Survival & Safety fears are different depending on where we live and our individual characteristics.  These fears can arise from: unemployment, poverty, economic crisis, exclusion and lack of fairness in our communities, war, domestic violence, unsafe housing, food, water, air, etc.

It’s important to be able to separate reality from our perceptions.  Sometimes we have our Survival & Safety needs met, but we may fear we will lose it or have it taken away from us.  This can come from our previous experiences, or memories we inherited from our families or cultures.  For example, people earning more than enough money, can still be deeply scared about whether they will “survive” because they inherited the fear form their parents or cultures who may have experienced war, starvation, catastrophes, etc.

Our old fears and our inherited fears are completely legitimate – even if they are long past in history.  However, they hold us back from a deeper sense of fulfilment and happiness because we are too focused on Survival & Safety, reducing our abilities to build relationships, careers and other activities that fulfil us.

We can ask ourselves:

  • What exactly does survival and safety mean for me and my loved ones now?  
  • Are my goals for survival and safety aligned with my reality or history?  
  • Would my life (and those I am responsible for) be better if I adjusted or changed some of my goals?  
  • Are there memories and past experiences distorting what I need to do?  Are ready to be compassionately released?  How would my goals change? 
  • What skills do I need to develop and what resources do I need to ensure I can keep myself and my loved ones safe?  
  • Are my survival goals interfering with my ability to build love and respect or to build on my life purpose?

By becoming more aware of where our fears come from (current reality or other past influences), we are able to understand what actions we can choose to build real happiness and fulfilment.

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What Do We Really Need to Be Happy? Maslow Can Help

Whole Happiness - Maslow Can Help

Whole Happiness – Maslow Can Help

The Beatles sang that “Love is All You Need”.  They weren’t wrong – love is essential to our psychological survival and our happiness.  But Maslow shows us that we also need to feel physically and psychological safe and to have a purpose in life.

To create joyful evolution, we need to harness the power that comes from knowing ourselves and our real needs.

Happiness and fulfilment are states of mind that depend on our awareness of our own needs and ensuring we are pursuing “the best” goals for us.  When we have this understanding, we can make better choices on what we focus on, what actions we take, and when we have “enough”.

 “Happiness is when

your thinking,

your words, and

your actions

are in harmony.”

Mohandas K. Ghandi

Maslow’s Hierarchy can be used as a guideline to identify where we might be our of alignment with our real selves or be out of balance for our happiness and fulfillment.


  • Physical Survival:  air, food, water, clothing, shelter, sex & sleep.
  • Physical Safety:  physical security, health & well-being.


  • Love – the personal level:  belonging & acceptance, support & intimacy with our ‘inner circle’, the people we love & trust, and who love & trust us: our life partner, close family, friends & a social group(s).
  • Respect – the vocational level:  developing competence & mastery to earn respect, status & belonging among peers.

3. PURPOSEa sense of purpose & connection to something larger than ourselves to create a better world.

Maslow’s Hierarchy can help you identify what you can adjust or change in your life.  There are also various skills to help you align the aspects of your life so you can create a happy and fulfilling life.

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Are Your Actions Aligned With Your Real Needs?

Do You Have a Clear Perspective?

What Are Your Real Needs Now?

Our lives and we ourselves change constantly – often much more than we expect.   To feel happy and fulfilled, we need to regularly reflect and refocus on what is really important for us.

Our emotions signal

if our actions are aligned

with our real happiness needs.

To identify what is important for us, and how we can sustainably increase our happiness and performance, we can ask ourselves questions such as:

  • What is causing you distress?  What is giving you satisfaction? 
  • How long have you been feeling distress or satisfaction? Can you identify when and what changed to create these feelings? 
  • Do these feelings relate to your goals or what you feel you need to do?  
  • Are these signals that you need to change how you are working towards you goals?  Or is there a signal that perhaps your goals need to be refocused?
  • How do you feel about changing goals if necessary?  Check in with your emotions and body response to get a real understanding of where you may be feeling resistance and what may be causing that resistance? 
  • When you analyze at several levels (intellectual, emotional, etc) whether your actions are aligned with your real needs, what are some choices you can make to increase your happiness and fulfillment?

Sometimes making these changes conflicts with our beliefs: who we want to be or who we think we “should” be.  Sometimes getting aligned conflicts with what our families, loved ones, or cultures tell us what they believe we need.

There are no right or wrong answers and each of us have our own reasons for what we think we need, but sometimes our perceptions and beliefs do not fit with our current situation.

“You can never get enough of what you don’t need

to make you happy.”

Eric Hoffer

To explore why we believe what we believe about our needs and desires, we can use tools such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and we can increase our courage and curiosity, ask lots of good questions, build trust and compassion, because we may have to let go of some beliefs.

It can be challenging to change our beliefs and to let go some of our goals that are no longer relevant for us.  But by developing the skills to reflect on what we need and want, it becomes easier to recognize when we are out of alignment, and how we can realign ourselves so that we create true joy, love and fulfillment.

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Changing Our Thinking Can Change the World (TedTalk)

Sometimes creating joyful evolution is a simple act of changing how we think about something and recognizing we can learn to do things differently.

Harish Manwani, Unilever’s COO, speaks about how shifting Unilever’s purpose from generating profit to generating profit AND to create sustainable living globally is changing how they do business and their impact on the communities they work in.   He clearly says Unilever will not do it alone; they require individuals, communities, organizations, businesses, and governments to participate in this goal.  But with a global company the size of Unilever, there is some serious momentum building.

How can you change how you think about something so you can create momentum for joyful evolution in your business, communities and ‘inner circles’?

TedTalk (8 minutes)

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Emotions Resonate (Quote)

It is a grave injustice to a child or adult to insist that they stop crying. One can comfort a person who is crying which enables him to relax and makes further crying unnecessary; but to humiliate a crying child is to increase his pain, and augment his rigidity.

We stop other people from crying because we cannot stand the sounds and movements of their bodies. It threatens our own rigidity. It induces similar feelings in ourselves which we dare not express and it evokes a resonance in our own bodies which we resist.

Alexander Lowen

“The Voice of the Body”

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Life After Loss – Part 5: The Lightning Struck Tree

The Lightning Struck Tree

The Lightning Struck Tree Can Thrive

The blog series “Life After Loss” reflects on how we can build resilience and grieving skills so we can heal, learn and grow after a loss. The posts discussed:


Hopefully the blog series has provided some new insights into recovering from loss and building a rewarding, thriving life, despite – or sometimes because of – losses. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun. But it is possible.

As mentioned in the first post, the tragic loss my friends’ family faced and their amazing love and compassion they showed (as well as anger, sadness, etc), brought up an image in my mind that I have used when working through loss myself.

Having grown up in forested mountains, I have seen many lighting-struck and wind-damaged trees.  It has always been amazed me how many of those trees, over the years, continue to grow and thrive.  Over time, the scars on the trees heal, although they never disappear completely. Often new growth emerges around the scar. And often there is new growth on the injured limb. But many trees rebuild their resilience, becoming healthy and thriving trees.

It takes time, but eventually there is life and vibrancy around the place of the loss. Not all trees can fully recover, but a surprising number do recover. Not all people can fully recover, but a surprising number do build a rewarding life again.

With resilience and healthy grieving, of old and new wounds, we too can be like those trees that eventually thrive again.

Recovering to the point of thriving is not a matter of willpower. It’s about using wisdom to allow ourselves to survive the darkness, and build a bright future. It is a matter of being wise: nurturing ourselves through the process of recovery, learning and growth. It is my hope that all of us can eventually find peace and joy after experiencing a loss.

Through this discussion, I hope we can learn to heal and thrive, regardless of whether we are choosing to change something or are dealing with a loss. I would love to hear your perspective on this discussion. Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts.


To download the TakeAway PDF for this blog series, enter your name and email address below. You will need to “Accept” the confirmation email in order to receive the PDF.

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Life After Loss – Part 4: Acceptance, Compassion & Forgiveness for Healing

Acceptance, Compassion & Forgiveness for Healing

Acceptance, Compassion & Forgiveness for Healing

The series started with the purpose: to explore what we can do to move from loss to thriving. The next post explored how loss affects us on different levels and how we can separate “who we are” from “what we do and experience” so we can heal and grow better. The most recent post discussed the role of grief in allowing us to heal emotionally and eventually thrive.

This post will discuss compassion and forgiveness.

So often, people say “forgive and forget”, but forgiveness does NOT mean forgetting. Forgiveness means allowing yourself to heal emotionally so that the person or thing lost can be celebrated and remembered appropriately. At the same time there may need to be a separate process, one of seeking justice.


Letting Go of Emotions – not Memories – for Healing & Growth

Justice may mean a judicial process and restitution/remediation, but it can also include – finding ways to prevent the loss from happening in the future to other people. Some of the best evolutions are created by people seeking justice: better education, better laws, better research, and so on, resulting in reduced accidents and injuries, prevention and cures, more resilient communities and economies, etc.

But to achieve this, we need to allow our emotions to do their jobs and then let them go. Hanging on to the emotions of loss (like anger and fear) does nothing good, and only hurts the person with the emotions (and maybe the people around them). By letting go of the emotions, but not the memories, efforts can be made to honor who or what has been lost, and to take actions for real justice and change.

The process of letting go of the damaging emotions and allowing the opportunity for healing, learning and growth, is: acceptance, compassion and forgiveness. Sometimes we need to be compassionate and forgive of ourselves, and sometimes it is being compassionate and forgiving of other people. Acceptance, compassion and forgiveness are not for others, we do this for ourselves, for our own healing, learning and growth.

The people who can work WITH their emotions, rather than being controlled by their emotions, are the ones who build the healthiest, most thriving lives, families and communities.



Releasing our emotions comes from accepting the loss and accepting the emotions. It is necessary we accept and feel (but don’t act on) the emotions, rather than fighting them or trying to ignore them. Emotions are like seasons – they come, stay for a while and do their jobs (as described in the process of grief), and then go away.

Acceptance of loss also means asking for help and support from our friends and acquaintances, and/or from counselors, community leaders, coaches, or other professional people. Grieving and healing is best done with support.



Compassion is also referred to as grace, mercy, kindness, empathy, tenderness. The opposite is hardness, vengeance and cruelty. If we don’t allow ourselves to grieve and release our emotions, if we are not compassionate with ourselves, we will be treating ourselves with harshness or cruelty.

Compassion does not mean feeling sorry for ourselves, ignoring what we need to learn, or to allow ourselves to stay in the darkness of loss for too long. It does mean allowing ourselves to really feel the emotions of loss, to accept them, to recognize them for their gift of opening the door to healing, learning and growth.

Sometimes we also need to feel compassion for the people involved in the situation of loss. We need to reflect that they may have made some very bad choices – perhaps because they couldn’t do any better, or because they didn’t know how to do any better.

Feeling compassion for our selves and for others does not mean forgetting what has happened. But it helps us to make sense of the situation, so that we can heal and grow and seek proper justice (not revenge or vengeance).



Forgiving is recognizing that everyone makes mistakes, but also that appropriate amends need to be made (to ‘fix’ the situation as well as possible) and justice served (to prevent similar losses in the future). Forgiving the mistakes is separate from the repairing process; often by forgiving we can find better ways to heal ourselves and to find better ways to repair what is possible.


Choosing Acceptance, Compassion & Forgiveness Again & Again

Acceptance, compassion and forgiveness are not easy and they aren’t a one-time solution. We often need to recommit to them. Anger, vengeance and cruelty may feel really good in the moment, but they only cause more destruction – especially to ourselves. Anger, vengeance and cruelty only create more anger, vengeance and cruelty.

Sometimes the choice of light is much harder than the choice of darkness, but that too we need to accept, feel compassion for, and forgive. The energy we spend choosing acceptance again, feeling compassion again, and forgiving again costs us much less energy than remaining angry or fearful or … We need to keep choosing self-love and self-respect, and we need to keep supporting healing, learning, growth and thriving for ourselves and our communities.


Recovering to the point of thriving is not a matter of willpower. It is a matter of being wise: nurturing ourselves through the process of recovery, learning and growth. It’s about using wisdom to allow ourselves to survive the darkness, and build a bright future.

The last post in this series provides an image of healing & growth & the link to download the TakeAway PDF.

Through this discussion, I hope we can learn to heal and thrive, regardless of whether we are choosing to change something or are dealing with a loss. I would love to hear your perspective on this discussion. Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Life After Loss – Part 3: The Stages of Grief

From Grief to Healing

From Grief to Healing

The first post of this series, introduced the purpose of this blog series: to explore what we can do to move from loss and thriving. The second post explored how loss affects us on different levels and how we can separate “who we are” from “what we do and experience” so we can heal and grow.

This post will explore the role of grief in moving from loss and change to thriving.


What Holds Us Back from Grieving Fully?

We know that grieving is an essential part of healing, to let go of the pain and allow healing to start.  Yet there are so many people who are unable to truly grieve.

There are people who believe that by letting go of the pain we let go of or forget what was lost.  However, the pain we feel and memories we keep are two very different things.  We can eventually heal from the pain (we may end up with an emotional scar), and we can continue to remember and honor what we lost.

Research shows each person experiences grief quite differently, but that resilience makes grieving more effective for everyone. Unfortunately, we don’t talk about grief until we are deep in it after losing someone or something we cared about. And then there may be pressure on us to make the grieving process fast and tidy – sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.

If we are not allowed to grieve fully, we may hold our emotions in, and hope they’ll go away without us having to feel them. But they don’t go away until we grieve our losses properly – even if it is years later. The stronger our resilience is and the less old, unresolved grief we have, the easier it is to move through grief to thriving.

Grief is a normal – and healthy – part of life. We experience grief when we need to unlearn something, when we choose to leave something behind, when we lose something big or small, or when we lose a loved one. Grief allows us to heal, adjust, so that we can feel joy and create a meaningful life again. By developing our resilience and our grief skills, the more fulfilled and meaningful a life we can build.

As discussed in the previous blog, we need to learn to really listen to our whole selves. Practice quieting your mind regularly (meditation, prayer, quiet walking in nature, etc) to quiet the voices and scripts in our heads for a while every day. Practice listening to your body and emotions (mindfulness) so that you can learn the “language” of your body and emotions; over time you will be able to understand what needs to be “witnessed”, and what needs to be acted on.

By listening to your body and your emotions, not just your mind, you will be able to figure out what will help you most. Our unpleasant and pleasant emotions are messages – they have a job to do. Once we’ve accepted the emotions and allowed them to do their jobs, they will go away. Accept the unpleasant as a temporary part of saying goodbye and healing . When joy and happiness come naturally, celebrate them and savor them as they are the light and energy helping you build a meaningful and rewarding life.


The Choices of Grief:

To go through the grief process fully:

  • Give yourself time and space to grieve; each stage will likely be repeated a few times.
  • Learn about grief and get support.  Find people (qualified people and a support community) who can support you in healing.
  • Don’t judge yourself. Each person experiences grief differently.
  • Listen to yourself. Practice quieting your mind regularly and listening to your body and emotions.
  • Be gentle, patient and accepting of yourself.  Grief can be a messy process that requires self-respect, self-love, and the loving, caring support of our communities.
  • Make time for joy. In between the stages of unpleasant emotions, you’ll find moments of joy and light. They can be short breaks from the intensity of grieving. Or they can be happy memories. Or they are a reconnection with the energy of life. Or perhaps something else. Celebrate them. Savor them. As you work yourself through the healing process, these pleasant emotions will help you build a fulfilled and life of thriving.


The Stages of Grief

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied and described the stages of grief.

  1. Denial: Initially, our minds limit our full awareness of the loss in order to give us time to start adjusting to the loss – emotionally, socially, psychologically, etc.  Throughout the grieving cycle, we will occasionally go back to denial as a temporary sanctuary, a break from the intensity of the grieving.
  2. Anger: A normal and healthy process. It allows us to process the sense of unfairness and shock. We need to allow our anger to come out (without acting on it).  After a few “rounds” with anger, it will eventually fade, your anger can be exhausted and it is no longer necessary to hang on to it or be controlled by it.
  3. Bargaining or ‘Wishful Thinking’: This is the “negotiating” for a different outcome. It can also be a ‘post-game’ analysis that includes comments starting with “if only I’d …” It is a normal process of wishing and hoping for things to be different. And it’s a natural extension of denial – it allows us to move towards acceptance of the loss. Allow yourself to experience this part of the process, but recognize it is only a stage that will eventually end.
  4. Depression: As with the other stages of grief, depression is a stage we may need to go through a few times. It is the transition stage from denial and bargaining to acceptance, when we realize there won’t be a different result. It is the deep, echoing feeling of emptiness and sadness and loss.  By allowing yourself to really feel the sense of loss, it becomes less intense and shorter in duration each time you experience it. Make sure you’ve got someone to help you through this.
  5. Acceptance: Each time we come back to acceptance, it might last a little longer and allow you to feel a bit more “normal”. You’ll notice you can start enjoying small things in life again, and to establish a “new normal”.  Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but it does mean less pain and more healing. The new strength will allow remembering and honoring who or what was lost, and to build a life of thriving.


The Benefits of Grieving

People who have developed resilience and grieving skills are also better learners and can change behaviors more effectively and more sustainably.  Any time we need to let go of something which had been important to us at some time, we need to grieve,  Therefore, it is worthwhile to learn about the healthy process of grieving, even when we don’t think we need it now.

By learning how to grieve and developing the skills to grieve fully, we build resilience and the ability to survive and eventually thrive. We will be freed to build something new.


The next posts in this series will talk about:

Through this discussion, I hope we can learn to heal and thrive, regardless of whether we are choosing to change something or are dealing with a loss. I would love to hear your perspective on this discussion. Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Life After Loss – Part 2: The Levels of Loss

The Levels of Loss

The Levels of Loss

The first post of this series, introduced the purpose of this blog series: to explore what we can do to move from a loss to thriving.

This post will explore how loss affects us on different levels, the levels of loss, and how to heal and get stronger on all levels.


“A Person Who Experienced Loss”

In some cases, there is nothing to learn from loss. There is only the need to heal and grow.

And in other situations, having a “bad experience” means we have to take responsibility for our part in the situation.  We need to understand that for some reason – lack of knowledge, lack of skills, lack of confidence … we were unable to make better choices.  It means we now have the opportunity to learn, to do it better next time.

Regardless of whether we need to learn something or not, we need to recognize we are NOT a bad- or lost-person, but “a person who experienced loss”, we need to separate “who we are” from “what we do and experience”. By separating the experience of loss from our self-identity we are better able to move out of the darkness of loss. We may have things to learn, but we all deserve to be loved and accepted, and we all have the right to build a respectful, meaningful life for ourselves and those around us.


The Levels of Loss

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there are three levels: we need to be able to 1. survive, to have a range of 2. relationships, and also to have 3. purpose to our lives, or meaning in our actions. Success in each level is necessary for thriving.


1. Survive

For many people, a loss threatens their sense of survival and safety; they may be concerned whether they can make financial ends meet and pay for food, shelter, and the other necessities of life. Losing our health means we need to find new ways to take care of ourselves and new ways to achieve our goals.

Until these survival and safety issues are resolved, it is difficult to focus on our other needs. We need to find immediate solutions and identify options we may not have identified yet. Once we are safe and reasonably secure, we can develop our skills to sustainably strengthen the other aspects of our lives.


2. Relationships and Healing

Many losses involve the loss of a loved one, such as death, divorce, a move, etc. If we have lost someone we love, or we feel betrayed, there is a hole in our social and community fabric. And it may change our sense of who we are, how we see our selves relative to our loved ones, our friends and our peers, and how they see us.

Over time, we will find other people to fill our needs of love and loving, and respect and respecting; however, perhaps never in the same way as who or what we lost. Part of our efforts may need to include developing our skills which help us develop more of the relationships we want and need.

Research shows that people who are the most resilient and the most successful in life are the ones who can feel love. That means being able to accept it and feel it when it is offered, and to be able to give it. But after a loss, especially one when we feel like a “bad person”, we find it easier to withdraw from love and support – what we really need.

We need to reach out to the people who can support our healing. Ideally, everyone has a circle of family, friends, community and peers they can – and will – turn to, to get and give different types of caring/loving support. If that support is not available, find a counselor, community or spiritual leader, coach, or other professional person who can help you. If you need it or want it, the only shame is not asking!

When we’re ready, we also need aspirational relationships – the people who help us become the person we want to be. This can include a community of peers who are doing what we aspire to do. These people can be friends/acquaintances, or professionals such as:

  • counsellors to help us process our emotions and experiences,
  • coaches and teachers to help us develop the knowledge and skills that will help us achieve our goals,
  • mentors to help us in our decision-making and follow-through.


3. Listening for Your Purpose

By nurturing a range of relationships, we can build/rebuild a meaningful life. For some people, meaning may come from helping others learn how to prevent someone else experiencing the same loss. Or perhaps this purpose is something we’ve always believed in, but now feel more strongly about making a priority. Each person’s meaning and purpose will be different.

To be able to build meaningful relationships and life, we need to understand ourselves first. What do we truly need and want? We need to really learn to listen to ourselves – the things we are scared to think about, or that are inconvenient, are often the things we need to hear. This is not listening to the dialogue in our heads and what we think we should want, but listening to our body and emotions – what do we really need? Sometimes listening to ourselves and understanding how to honor our real needs is harder than doing so for others. But the payoff of developing a truly meaningful life deepens the quality of our life; it’s well worth the effort.

These body/emotion listening skills take time to develop and require self-love and self-respect. If changes are needed, they should be done gradually and thoughtfully. Respectfully and graciously let go the things that no longer serve us, and welcome with grace the things that do. If we are able to develop ongoing, respectful communication with ourselves, and the gradual transition to a life of greater meaning, we will have a better chance of being able to nurture ourselves through loss, change and eventually to thriving with our physical, psychological and self-actualization needs fulfilled.

To move from loss to survival, through learning, growth and eventually to thriving, we need to recognize that we are “a person who experienced loss”. Loving, respectful and aspirational relationships can help us through the stages. And the more we can listen to our own real needs, the more fulfilling our lives can be.


The next posts in this series will talk about:

Through this discussion, I hope we can learn to heal and thrive, regardless of whether we are choosing to change something or are dealing with a loss. I would love to hear your perspective on this discussion. Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Life After Loss – Part 1: The Stages of Healing


The Stages of Healing

The Stages of Healing

Some people choose to take big risks, in sports, in life, in business. Sometimes the risks pay off, sometimes they result in great loss. And there are people who experience extreme loss due to war, political oppression, domestic or criminal violence, and so on.

Whether the losses were “chosen” or not, it’s amazing how people can eventually build rich and meaningful lives, despite significant losses.

What triggered my desire to write this series on loss was when a good friend of mine told me about her and her family’s experience after the murder of a family member who was trying to protect someone else from a crime. What struck me was that despite the shocking loss, my friend spoke with incredible love and compassion during each conversation. There was also deep sorrow and anger.

The overwhelming feeling I felt during our conversations was of love and compassion. Although there will always be a very big hole in the family and their communities, they are also finding ways to create learning and “new growth” from it.

What became clear to me was how much the family relied on the strong relationships and resilience they had developed before the loss.  Some of us are lucky enough to have time to build strength before a loss, some of us don’t. If we have strength – or resilience – before a loss, we can recover from loss better. But the good news is that even people who don’t have great resilience before a loss can recover, grow and even thrive after loss.

Some of the skills of resilience have been touched on in other posts:

This blog series will focus on surviving a loss, and building a thriving life. It is not a matter of willpower, it’s a matter of being wise.  We need to nurture ourselves through recovery, learning and growth, and acknowledge the darkness, while building a bright future. The more resilience we build, the better we can move from surviving to thriving.

  1. Surviving: In this stage, the feeling is one of being let down by the world and not being able to fully engage in life. As Viktor Frankl wrote, we always have choices, even in the darkest times – the choice of how we think and respond. We can choose to see hopelessness, or we can acknowledge the darkness but still find the glimmers of light. We can choose to retreat, or to acknowledge the pain and make the choices we are able to so we can eventually move forward again. Sometimes the hardest part is believing we can get through the situation, and that things can change.
  2. Engaging: In this stage, we start re-engaging with life again, even though there is still an emotionally “open wound”. We can rebuild connections with loved ones and our community – although our relationships may be different because we’ve changed from our experiences. The feeling is one of “getting on with things”, getting “back to normal”. But it will be a “new normal”.
  3. Thriving: In this stage, we start finding ways to heal the “open wound”, although there will always be a scar. We can rebuild life and love, and we can also engage fully in living again, and find a way to create meaning from the loss and after the loss. The feeling in this stage is letting go of the pain while still remembering and honoring what we lost. It is feeling hopeful and creative to improve our lives, and to help others heal or grow or …

The posts in this series will expand on how to build a thriving life after loss:

Through this discussion, I hope we can learn to heal and thrive, regardless of whether we are choosing to change something or are dealing with a loss. I would love to hear your perspective on this discussion. Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Simplicity Lies on the Other Side of Complexity (TedTalk)

The increasing complexity of problems we now face can be overwhelming.

However, learning the skills of mapping can help us understand what the problem really is, what the problem’s key drivers really are, and what we can influence in solving complex problems.

TedTalk (4 minutes)

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Unknown Unknowns … Whatever …

Uknown Unknowns - The Johari Window

Uknown Unknowns – The Johari Window

Solving new and complex problems requires us to understand unknown-unknowns …  What?!?!?  For those of us that don’t have well developed super-powers of ESP, clairvoyance or other magical abilities, how are we supposed to figure out isn’t known!?!?!

Strategists usually define knowledge as what we do and don’t know vs. what is known vs. what could be known (the Johari Window).  From this, we can recognize:

  • We know what is to be known.  Our knowledge is complete for now and it’s a very comfortable feeling …  Until things change.
  • We know what could be known.  We then can look for the missing information through questioning, research and by problem-solving.
  • We don’t know what is known.  We have a blind spot and other people with different ways of thinking might be able to help us understand what we’re missing.
  • We don’t know something that could be known.  We need to understand the problem better by mapping it out, being deeply curious, and looking for perspectives we may not have thought about.

Admitting we don’t know something takes courage and trust.  But we can develop the skills to understand problems better, and to make wiser decisions, and to create the growth we want to create.

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Growing Wisely Is A Choice

“The world we created is a process of our thinking.

It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Albert Einstein

Everything seems be changing faster than ever, and there seem to be more moving parts.  How do we figure out what to do when we don’t know or understand what’s happening?  And how do we adapt ourselves – our skills, knowledge and patterns in a constantly changing world?  

This blog explores the skills we can develop so that we can figure it out by understanding & solving problems better, overcome setbacks and losses better, build greater collaboration and exploration, make better decisions in increasing speed & complexity, and be a positive influence on your world.

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good – to go for the great.”

John D. Rockefeller

Here is an example of how to learn something new.

I hope this blog helps you achieve your personal & professional goals so that your life is more rewarding, more fulfilling and way more joyful.

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Questions & Curiosity Can Provide Understanding (TedTalk)

Creating joyful evolution depends on developing new perspectives.  Sometimes these new perspectives are needed for things we are incredibly familiar with.

By asking questions, being humble, and being curious – we can much better understand the reality of a problem.

TedTalk (14 minutes)

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Good Questions: The Process

Good Questions

Creating joyful evolution depends on our ability to ask good questions.  It depends on our ability to identify the real problem & how it works (or doesn’t), understand all stakeholders’ perspectives, and define what is really possible for a sustainably improved outcome.  

If we approach problem-solving as an ongoing learning process, it will be easier (mechanically & psychologically) to solve the problem effectively & sustainably.  As a result, the definition of a good question varies based on the stage of knowledge & understanding: we start with defining what we know & understand currently (eg who, what, when & where), and then identify what else we need to know & understand (eg why & how).  Throughout the process, we need to be aware of what our biases & blindspots might be, and how we can reduce them.

To cycle through the stages of exploration effectively, we should consistently revisit our problem-solving purpose, mapping/visualizing (stakeholders, processes & resources) testing whether we have identified real cause-and-effect relationships,

Different types of questions give us different types of answers.  “5W + H Questions” help us define the facts (eg who, what, when & where), and the relationships between things (eg why & how).

  • What are the processes involved in the situation?
  • When did it start?  Why?  How?  Why does it continue?
  • Who and what are the people and “things” involved?
  • How are they winning or losing the current situation?
  • How will they win or lose if things change?  Why?
  • How will they react if things change?  Why?

Mapping the problem can guide us to identify what types of questions we need to ask more of.  A good map or visualization of the problem can help us identify what we don’t really understand about the process, the stakeholders, what is possible, etc.  It can also help us to recognize when we are completely missing something or someone in our analysis.  The questions that can help us to develop a broader & deeper understanding is to ask:

  • If this happens, then what …”
  • “When this happened in the past, then this happened.  Why?”
  • Is it really true that …”
  • 7-Why’s: Asking “Why …” seven times – each time getting to a better & deeper understanding of the topic in question

To identify what questions need to be asked to develop a better understanding of the real problem, we also need to ask questions of ourselves:

By learning how to ask better questions – the stages, process & approaches of questioning- the better we will be able to solve complex problems and create joyful evolution.  Good questions open doors to new ways of thinking & working.  

What do you do to ask better questions?

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Good Questions: What We Know, Want to Know & Don’t Want to Know

Asking Good Questions - What's the Purpose?

Good questions are necessary for creating joyful evolution.  To solve-problems well we need to be able to ask good questions, so we can craft the most effective & sustainable solutions.

We need to expect that our understanding & insights will change over time – whether simply by us having new experiences, or by us intentionally seeking more information & understanding.  As a result, the purpose of our questions will change, based on what we know & understand now, and what we think we need to know & understand next.

Good questions are an iterative process – we need to cycle through the stages of understanding so we can:

  • Determine what we know, believe & assume now:  We need to develop a clear picture or map of the problem so we can connect what we know & believe, and identify where the gaps in our knowledge & understanding are.  Questions at this stage are mostly to get as much of our knowledge, beliefs & assumptions into a framework (eg who, what, when, where) so we can identify what else might help us understand the real problem better.
  • Explore what we don’t fully understand:  As we map our understanding, it will become clear to us that we may not fully understand how or why something is; our missing information might be small or significant.  At this stage, our questions need to be exploratory (eg why, how, etc) to develop better cause-and-effect understanding.
  • Identify biases & blindspots:  If we have an interest in a problem, we will have our own opinions, perspectives, ideas & abilities.  It takes courage & humility to be able to rise above our own self-interest & expertise to understand different perspectives & ideas, and take a risk that we may need to learn new skills & approaches to solve the real problem, rather than the symptoms.  Therefore, our questions should also include self-reflection questions to gain insights into what we may not want to know the answer to, and why we resist some people, processes & information.

By asking good questions, we can develop an ongoing process of learningrevising to continuously improve our understanding, purpose & focus of our problem-solving efforts, and create joyful evolution.  

Here’s a video that talks about how we can really better understand a problem.

What works for you?

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How to Develop Curiosity

Why? How? Who? When? And? Or? What Else?

Creating joyful evolution depends on expanding our understanding of what is possible … by being curious.  Curiosity comes from noticing something “odd” and then from wanting to know more.  To develop curiosity, we need to develop our ability to notice and then to ask good questions.

Noticing is:

Good questioning can start in many ways, some starting points can be:

  • Why?
  • What if …?
  • What about …?
  • Must this be …?
  • What do you think?
  • What do you/they know or believe?  How is it different from me?
  • What would (name a curious person you admire) think or do?
  • (Using the “5Ws + H questions” can be useful)

Curiosity: Just Do It!

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…’”. 

Isaac Asimov

As our world changes faster, we need to constantly innovate and improve our what we do and how we do it.  This requires genuine curiosity.  If we really want to solve complex problems & create joyful evolution, we must be truly open & deeply curious.

Here is a video that talk about how we can really better understand a problem.

What works for you?

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Curiosity Lost & Found

Curiosity Lost & Found

Curiosity Lost & Found

For many of us, we started as curious children eager to discover the world and how it works. (Here’s Sir Ken Robinson’s very entertaining TedTalk on how schools can nurture creativity better.)

However, it is challenging to entertain curious questions of “why?”  Parents often don’t feel they have to time to constantly entertain their children’s curiosity.  Once children go to school, teachers who must teach to specific objectives & exams, might also unintentionally diminish a child’s curiosity – rewarding children by listening quietly, not asking a lot of questions, and not straying from the topic narrowly defined by curriculum.  Finally, at work, questions & curiosity are often perceived as threats by leaders – diminishing the exploration needed for ongoing renewal of our organizations & economies.

In contrast, alternative education systems don’t narrowly define specific knowledge students must learn, but rather define thinking & problem-solving processes students must master – including topics the students have chosen.  The most successful life-long learners are the people who are naturally curious in a range of topics.  These are the people that develop the skills to always keep learning.  We are often impressed by these people we call “Renaissance Men/Women”.  Fortunately all of us can learn better & perform better through curiousity.

This natural curiosity helps us to bring unique insights to our own lives and to the organizations & communities we participate in.  By fostering our own natural curiosity and learning, we can become valuable “cross-thinkers” helping to create better outcomes by having more knowledge and skills to draw on.  Fostering curiosity also allows us to have more fulfilling lives by understanding the world and other people better.

Curiosity is a valuable business “tool”, but it also makes life a lot more interesting and fun.  The next post will present a few ideas on how to develop curiosity.

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The Power of Curiosity

The Power of Curiosity

Curiosity is needed for creating joyful evolution, to explore what is really possible, to find out where the real boundaries are.

Curiosity is the desire to know more about something.  It’s been loosely studied by educators over the last few decades with the emerging belief that we must intentionally foster curiosity as it is critical for learning, problem-solving & creativity.

What is Curiosity?

As many of us get older, we realise that Socrates was right: the more we know, the more we realise how much more there is to know.  Some people are frightened by this thought, and either withdraw or try to control their environments.  Then curiosity is only at the minimal level required to survive.  Externally-motivated curiosity rarely results in real problem-solving.

There is another type of curiosity invigorated by Socrates’ observation, the type of curiosity that lights a fire of desire inside of us.  This internally-motivated curiosity allows us to be awed rather than threatened by the mysteries of things we don’t yet understand.

We are amazed when we discover how things do or don’t work – and how we can apply this new knowledge to a range of problems.  Often this type of curiosity allows us to take learning from one subject area to another that seems completely unrelated – but can result in the most amazing solutions.  Like cross-training in sports, this is “cross-thinking” or learning-to-learn better.

The Power of Curiosity

Excellent athletes always try to find better ways of performing in their sport and they cross-train, building their whole-body strength, transferable skills & agility.  We can do the same with our brains.  Curiosity is the guiding force for us to dig deeper & broader to understand a problem better, so we can solve problems better.

Curiosity is a valuable business “tool”, but it also makes life a lot more interesting & fun.  The next posts will discuss how we lose & find curiosity, and  a few ideas on how to develop curiosity.

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We Need to Nurture Creativity (TedTalk)

Sir Ken Robinson makes a (entertaining) case for rethinking how we treat creativity in our school systems.  We teach people to become afraid of making mistakes; we “educate them out of creativity”.

But the world has changed quickly and will continue to change in very unpredictable ways.  To create joyful evolution, to build healthy communitiesbuild fulfilling lives, we need to nurture our creativity – and the willingness to make mistakes (from which we can keep learning) so that we can solve the big problems we are facing.

Intelligence – which includes creativity – is in our bodies & minds; it is: 

  • diverse (all our capacities & senses are involved in intelligence),
  • dynamic (there are different ways to tap into intelligence) & 
  • distinct (each person has different ways to access their intelligence).  

For each person & each community to achieve its highest value, each person’s full intelligence, which includes creativity, must be nurtured.

TedTalk – February 2006 (20 minutes)

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The Psychology of Your Future Self (TedTalk)

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”

Dan Gilbert explains that although the speed of change in our lives does decrease over time, our lives constantly change.  And with it, we change continuously as people:  “The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been.  The one constant in our life is change.”

To create joyful evolution, we need to be aware that our lives do change, regardless of whether we want it to.  The choices we have in response to the changes include:  planning to keep learning, finding satisfaction in ongoing learninglearning-to-learn better, learning to let go & unlearn,  By planning to always learn & create joyful evolution, we can increase our happiness & life satisfaction.

TedTalk (7 minutes)

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Being Whole, Being Our Authentic Self – Part 2: How?

Becoming Whole Requires Exploration & Experimentation

By honoring our whole, authentic self, we can be much more powerful.  And we can allow others to be whole & authentic as well, allowing them to bring more strengths to the table.  By redirecting the energy we each spend on hiding part of our self, maintaining a facade, we can create joyful evolution, and develop a  meaningful and successful life.

Working with the hidden part of our self can result in fear.  Fear of what we have to lose:  our quality of life, our relationships, the respect we’ve earned.  We might also fear failing when trying something new, making new types of friends, etc.  We might fear becoming vulnerable by showing our whole, authentic self.

Becoming whole is a gradual, deliberate & experimental process, that allows our hidden self to emerge & for us to evolve.  We have evolved & matured from childhood through various stages of adulthood; now we need to allow the undeveloped part of our self to do the same.  The process includes:

There is profoundly deep happiness at being able to use our real strengths.  There is immense power and strength in being whole.  And there is deep fulfilment in being surrounded by people who love and respect us for our whole self. If you feel you are missing some deeper happiness, start exploring what you would do if you were free to be your whole self.

“Often people live their lives backwards:

they believe more things and more money allow them to be happier.

You must first be the person you really are,

then do what you really need to do,

in order to have what you really want

and to be truly happy.”

Margaret Young


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Being Whole, Being Authentic – Part 1: Why it Matters

Throughout our lives, we are taught how to behave so that we are accepted, loved, respected, and so we can build a stable life.  With this approach many of us build good careers where we build financial stability and earn respect from peers; many of us build a strong circle of family & friends where we feel loved & supported; and many of us make meaningful contributions to our communities.

And for most of us, things work well and we are reasonably happy.  Until we aren’t.

The biggest problem of the well-meaning rules is that we forget parts of our whole self, and we forget we have more choices in life.  If we are somehow “different” – more creative, more physical, more social, more (fill in the blank) – we are told to “quiet down” so we fit into school, work, and social harmony (TedTalk).  We learn to deny & hide parts of our self.  And we are rewarded for it.

However, if we have ignored too many of our own needs for too long, we end up building our lives around only part of our self.  We may satisfy our physical and psychological safety needs with a nice home, nice trips and nice toys. We may have love & respect – but we are loved and respected for only part of our self – not for our whole self. And if we have built a life that only honors a part of our self, the legacy we build is probably not truly fulfilling … we always feel like something is missing.

If we do not accept & nurture our whole selves, it is harder to adapt to changing surroundings.  It is harder to be respectful of ‘different people‘.  It is easy to feel threatened or unfairly challenged.  Yet, to create joyful evolution, we need to accept our whole selves so we can bring our greatest strengths to the table, and let others bring their greatest strengths.  

Hiding, ignoring or denying part of our self is tiring; it’s like having a sprained ankle. With a sprained ankle we can probably still walk, but we walk much slower.  And we spend a lot of energy walking differently to protect our ankle. By the end of the day, we’ve walked less than normal, but we’re more tired.  The energy investment provides a low return on our quality of life. But over time the ankle heals, and we can spend our energy getting to where we want to go faster & more effectively.

One difference is that honouring our whole self does not heal like a sprained ankle – we must intentionally choose to honour our whole self.  It allows us to be better family members, better friends, better team members, better leaders. By allowing ourselves to be whole & authentic, we can allow others to be whole & authentic as well.  We can redirect our energy from hiding & maintaining a façade, to achieve goals that make our lives much more meaningful & fulfilling.

 “The most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to not not develop the courage and  respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”  – Pema Chodron

When we are more whole, more authentic, we attract more of what is meaningful & rewarding.  Fortunately, we can chose to create a much more fulfilling life.   

Remember the Joy You Got from Chasing Bubbles?

Remember the joy you felt when you were you?

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Listening to Shame (TedTalk)

Too often we believe vulnerability is weakness.  Yet, it is probably the most accurate measure of courage.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity & change.  

Brene Brown talks about shame as the “swampland of the soul”.  The purpose is not to stay there, but rather to explore it.  If we want to make real changes, to create joyful evolution, we need learn to accept & work with our shame (as we need to do with all our emotions).

Guilt is “I did something bad”.  Shame is “I am bad”.  Shame is highly correlated with addictions, depression, violence, aggression, bullying; guilt is inversely correlated to those traits.  Shame holds us back, while guilt helps us learn & improve & become more effective.

Most often, shame comes from ourselves – our own internal scripts.  By denying our shame (and other emotions), we hold back ourselves from creating our own joyful evolution.

The people who make real change are the ones willing to fail, and learn, and try again, with courage, with humility, with love & respect for ourselves & the people around us.

Shame thrives in secrecy, silence & judgement.  With compassion for ourselves & others, we can leverage our vulnerability to create joyful evolution.  

TedTalk – 2012 March (21 minutes)

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The Power of Vulnerability (TedTalk)

“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love & belonging & joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.  Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

-Brene Brown

There are many fast-changing, complex problems we face – it is a scary time.  Yet, to create joyful evolution, we need to work with our full strengths & the full strengths of others around us.  But too often we are scared of not understanding what is really happening, of working with people different from us, of not being able to do what needs to be done.  We feel vulnerable.

Vulnerability can lead to shame, fear & beliefs we are “not good enough”, not worthy.  In her TedTalk, Brene talks about our response to this vulnerability & fear: we get really angry & try to control everyone & everything we can.  Or we try to numb these fears by eating, drinking, smoking, spending, controlling, fighting …  We look for certainty & perfection, we pretend to be something we aren’t, to numb our fears, our vulnerabilities.   Whether we attack others or ourselves, these are destructive responses.

Vulnerability is also the birthplace of: joy, creativity, belonging & love.  The alternative to destructive responses is developing comfort with vulnerability.  Recognizing vulnerability & fear as emotions that give us the opportunity to learn.

The people who can accept & work with vulnerability show:

  • the courage to be imperfect,
  • compassion (treating ourselves & others with kindness),
  • gratitude for what they do have
  • authenticity (willing to let go of who they thought they should be, to allow themselves to be who they are),
  • a strong belief they are ‘worthy’, including being worthy of love & belonging,
  • connect with other people, even people who think & act differently, and
  • a deeper understanding of when it is really possible & necessary to control & predict.

We need to believe we are worthy of love & respect so that we can be kinder to ourselves & others, so we can listen to our own real needs & the needs of others, so we can create joyful evolution.    

TedTalk – June 2010 – 20 minutes

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Bring on the Education Revolution (TedTalk)

“Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent … at heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of intelligence & ability.”

Creating joyful evolution is about passion: what excites our spirit & our energy?  Human flourishing is not a linear, mechanical process; it’s an organic process that requires each person to tap into their unique strengths & abilities.

Education reform is not enough; a revolution is required to transform education into what current & future challenges require.

TedTalk – February 2010 – 18 minutes

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Collaboration: Personal Skills For A Participative Culture

Collaboration Requires New Skills

Creating joyful evolution requires wise problem solving.  Wise problem-solving depends on collaboration with diverse stakeholders … an unpredictable process.  But rather than try to control the process, we need to develop a strong culture & process to create the best and most sustainable solutions.

To build the process and let the magic of collaboration emerge, we also need to understand how to manage ourselves.  We can undermine ourselves in many ways.  But we can also develop skills that allow ourselves & our teams to thrive.  

Working with people who are different than us is challenging, and can cause some unpleasant emotions.  To work through our emotions we can develop:

Research shows us that stressful situation make us look for more certainty and a “strong leader” – the opposite of collaboration.  A collaborative leader is one who can:

  • Listen: Listening is one of the greatest skills of good leaders, good salespeople, etc.  If we learn to listen well, we can understand other people much better, understand problems much better, and get information that helps us to achieve our goals more effectively.  Good listening requires not thinking about the response we will make when the other person stops talking; it means really listening to what the other person is saying … and what they’re not saying.  Curiosity and humility are critical to listening.
  • Feel compassion:  By being compassionate about other people’s situation, we reflect on what it would be like to have their experiences.  It doesn’t mean we need to feel the same emotions as them, agree with them, or even like them.  But having an awareness of what they might feel in their situation (respect), and what might trigger those emotions can give us new insights to the problem & potential solution.
  • Create win-win:  Once we understand the situation better, then we can decide what we’d like to do.  With good listening we can create solutions in which more stakeholders have their needs satisfied – making the solution much more powerful & sustainable.

The skills required to make collaboration a more powerful process are relationship building skills, relationships based on self-respect & mutual respect.  Developing them helps us solve problems and helps us build stronger relationships individually and among a broader range of people.

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Collaboration: Everybody Plays, Everybody Wins

Collaboration: Everybody Plays & Wins

Creating joyful evolution requires wise problem solving.  Wise problem-solving depends on collaboration with diverse stakeholders … an unpredictable process.  But rather than try to control the process, we need to develop a strong culture & process to create the best & most sustainable solutions.  

The problem-solving process needs to include defining the purpose of the collaboration, explore & understand the problem from which the solution can be crafted & implemented.  Stakeholders, people who have an interest in the problem & solution, are people who know different things than us, think differently than us, have different experiences than us, etc.  We need to involve them to understand the problem better and are necessary to co-create a solution so it is sustainable & effective.  But it’s not easy.

Collaboration is different from regular team-work or cooperation.  It is problem-focused, rather than operationally-focused.  Often people have not learned the rules, developed a culture or a belief-system for collaboration.  Each person has responsibility to all others, not only the leader.  Each person needs to contribute their unique insights throughout the process, not just when the are asked to.  Each person has responsibility for the results.

As the team forms, greater creativity will also emerge as people will feel psychologically safe; they will manage themselves better, be more curious, ask better questions, accept reality, be humble and willing to continuously learn, learn-to-learn better, be more creative and be willing to take smart risks.

Better collaboration requires working with diverse stakeholders, engaging the team, developing an effective culture & processes, and developing new skills.  Better collaboration will allow us to solve more complex problems and to create more of the world we want.

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Collaboration: Different People Working Together in New Ways

Collaboration: Different People, Different Ways

Creating joyful evolution is something that requires the participation of other people: perhaps including people we don’t know, we don’t understand, or we don’t like.  Yet, solving difficult or complex problems, requires collaboration.  

Collaboration requires working with diverse stakeholders: people who know different things than us, think differently than us, have different experiences, people who are affected by the problem & the solution, people with unique insights & perspectives.

Working with ‘different people’ is not easy, but by doing so we get:

Effective collaboration is different than most normal group-work.  It requires a well-managed team and self-leadership skills.

Learning the process & skills of collaboration can be a challenge.  But the result is that things become a lot more rewarding, effective & sustainable, for ourselves, our teams, our communities & our companies.

What works for you?

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Are Our Education Processes Serving Us? (TedTalk)

Too many people believe they aren’t smart.  How much of this is due to our approaches to learning?

If we want to create joyful evolution, to create what we really want, we need to develop the skills of learning, growing & thriving.  

Sir Ken Robinson discusses how our model of education is outdated (“a factory approach”) when we would be be much happier & successful (personally & collectively) if we rethink & redesign our approaches to learning.

TedTalk – October 2010 – 12 minutes

TedTalk: Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Our Education Paradigms

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Understanding Cause & Effect Relationships So We Solve the Right Problem

Discover Secrets by Looking Past the Obvious








Creating joyful evolution in our businesses & communities requires effective problem-solving.  This means, we need to make sure the right problem is being solved, that we are solving the underlying issue and not (just) the symptoms.  As people who want to act quickly, we often make assumptions about what the cause-and-effect relationships are.  We want to jump to action.  This too often means we are missing some critical, often subtle, dynamics of the problem.

There are two aspects to identifying the real problem:

  1. Process: Are we able to continuously change & improve our definition of & approach to solving the problem as we gain new information & insights?
  2. Openness: Are we willing to hear & understand things that may make things uncomfortable or difficult in the short-term, but will result in effective & sustainable change?

Testing whether we are focused on the right problem is an iterative, learning process of defining the purpose of problem-solving, mapping the problem as we currently understand it, and planning for learning (ie continuous reflection & improvement).  It also requires constant questioning:

  • Does one factor actually impact another … how … and why?
  • Are the relationships really cause-and-effect?  Or is it just correlation or coincidental?
  • Are there parallel, preceding or concurrent factors that might actually be impacting results?
  • Why do people really behave the way they do?

When we drill down on how & why, we will notice that some of our beliefs & assumptions are being challenged.  That will make us want to stop asking questions, as it can be extremely uncomfortable, and it may feel like our power & authority are being undermined.  We may no longer be so open to hard questions.

The process depends on genuine curiosity and questioning, as well as an open-mind willing to learn and courage that we can figure it out.  When we find things we get frustrated with (if we really want to understand something, discomfort is guaranteed), we can leverage our emotions to help us deepen our understanding of the problem.  Identifying real cause-and-effect relationships requires being willing to let go of ideas, and developing our emotional fluency.  This usually then leads us to more subtle and “hidden” answers, which are often what we really need to understand the real problem.

By exploring & testing real cause-and-effect relationships, we can figure out if we’re making assumptions, missing information, or missing elements.  Problem-solving is a continuous learning process.  By treating the process as an ongoing, iterative process, it is easier to accept and understand new information and insights as we get them, including what the real cause-and-effect relationships are.  

Here’s a video that talks about how we can see familiar things with a fresh perspective, to really better understand a problem.

What works for you?

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Got a Wicked Problem? Tell Me How to Make Toast (TedTalk)

Whether we are building businesses, managing projects or managing change, exceptional results & creating joyful evolution come from a process of continuously improving the process as more information & insights are gained.

However, we are bombarded with huge amounts of information on a daily basis – much of it seems to conflict.  When we are trying to solve a difficult problem, how can we make sense of what feels like information overload?  

The answer:  visualize it or map it.

Tom Wujec shows an example of one process that works well to understand complex, or ‘wicked’, problems.

TedTalk (9 minutes)

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A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words: Mapping the Problem

Mapping the Problem

We are bombarded with huge amounts of information on a daily basis – much of it seems to conflict.  When we are trying to solve a difficult problem, how can we make sense of what feels like information overload?  How do we know:

  • If we really understand a problem with many moving parts & lots of different stakeholders?
  • If we’ve got all the relevant information we need?
  • If we’re working with all the key stakeholders – not just people with strong opinions?
  • How to reconcile information that seems to conflict?
  • How to quickly make sense of new information & insights?

The answer:  Draw pictures.  

Developing a visual map or graphic model can be really helpful.  By mapping things out, we can better understand the dynamics of the problem:

  • PEOPLE: who the key people (stakeholders) are, how they are related, how they do (or don’t) work together,
  • PROCESS: what the processes are, what resources are needed, who controls the resources & processes, etc,
  • POSSIBLE: what could be if small or large changes were made (some people make a map of “what is” and another map of “what could be”)

Once we’ve mapped out a problem – as we currently understand it – it starts becoming clear where incorrect or incomplete assumptions might be.  Or where we don’t have enough information to fully understand the dynamics of the environment.  It allows us to understand new information & insights faster & better, because we can understand how it fits into our existing model/map, or if we have overlooked something in our initial understanding.

Mapping makes it so much easier to learn & adapt to a changing reality, whether it’s the reality of our understanding, or the reality of the situation.  It can be a “crystal-ball” as we can start recognizing our blindspots or unknown-unknowns.

There is also an intuitive benefit to mapping.  As we map or model a problem, we develop a mental-model of how things fit together.  That mental-model then allows us to recognize subtle cues & nuances, and to identify how we might be able to get better results.  We will experience more “happy accidents”.

Problem-solving is an ongoing learning process, that requires a continuous improvement mindset.  Mapping is a tool that allows to understand the dynamics of a problem: what we know currently, what has been learned, what could be learned, and how the problem is changing.  Mapping can be done in several ways, including:

  • Landscape: How external/environmental factors influence or impact the problem and what are the most important factors?  What are the forces that we have no control but must be aware of:  changes in our industry, our region, our country, internationally, environmentally, socially, etc?
  • Stakeholders; Who is involved in the problem – directly & indirectly, internally & externally?  Who has direct & indirect power to affect the problem?  Whose interests keep things the same or create pressure to change?  Why?
  • History: How the problem has changed over time and how it might change in the future?  What has changed, when, where, how, who was involved and why did these things happen?
  • Process: What is the “process” of the problem?  What would a better process be?  What is done, when, where, how, by whom, and why?  What resources and people are required to maintain the situation or to change it?

Graphic representations can include modelling on Excel spreadsheets, or many other software programs.  Visual models can include the models (pictures) taught in business classes:

  • Timelines
  • PEST analysis (external analysis: Political, Economic, Social & Technological; the PESTLE model adds Legal and Environmental).
  • The Operating Environment or Porter’s 5Forces (industry analysis: who are the other “players” & what is the relationship between them (ie suppliers, competitors, regulators, and customers)
  • Porter’s Value-Chain (internal/company analysis:  defining the materials, processes and people involved in production of a good or service – this model can be altered to analyse almost any situation, not just business problems)

Testing & improving the maps or models can be done from experience, but are deeply enhanced by soft-skills: curiosityquestioningcollaborationcourage, humility and trust.

Whether we are building businesses, managing projects or managing change, exceptional results & creating joyful evolution come from a process of continuously improving the process as more information & insights are gained.

What works for you?

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Purpose: Why Should We Do This?

Where Do We Want To Go - What Is Our Goal

1pur·pose:  noun \ˈpər-pəs\ is the reason why something is done or used : the aim or intention of something.  (Merriam Webster dictionary)

Creating a clear statement of purpose is critical part of problem-solving: it is a chance to define what is really possible & desired.  It is a key piece of the 3P’s of creating joyful evolution and is best done together with planning-for-learning, working with diverse stakeholders & understanding the problem.

Too often the purpose & resulting goals are ones of convenience: goals that are easy to measure (simplistic) or don’t address the real problem (risk-averse), rather than ones that create real, sustainable improvements.  For simple problems, ‘goals of convenience’ are sufficient.  However, for more difficult or complex problems, having a clear purpose – that is periodically revised – allows us to really create the change we want.

Defining why we are doing a project can be straightforward.  However, if the project is challenging or breaks new ground, defining the purpose may be a little more difficult.  We will get resistance from other people or from ourselves.  It may take several iterations of problem-solving planning to understand the real problem.

To define the best purpose, we need to challenge our thinking, get comfortable with discomfort, learn to explore & question more, and adopt an approach of constant learning.  The effort of defining & revising the purpose throughout the project often saves much more time as self-correction is automatically built into the problem-solving process.  It can be quite uncomfortable at times, but it almost always pays off in spades.

Defining a clear purpose for a project – and revising it as needed – is critical to achieving the real desired outcomes.  It is time well spent at the beginning of the project, and throughout the project.

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Planning For Learning

We know that to create joyful evolution, to create real, relevant change, we need to problem-solve.   Problem-solving starts with understanding the real problem, and why we’re doing this work.  But so often we don’t.

Many of us have learned “ready -> fire -> aim”, believing that “the magic” is in the action; believing things will work themselves out; believing the problem & solutions are “obvious”.  Too often we realize parts of the project are foggy … after we’ve started working on it.  We realize after we’ve invested a lot of resources that we assumed we understood the problem well.  The result is that our purpose isn’t quite right.  Or we had critical blindspots.  Or we didn’t understand what all stakeholders needed.

Planning needs to be done before starting a project. Often a “good enough plan” is good enough as we will learn & gain insights along the way – we should assume we will be learning throughout the problem-solving process.  Therefore the process should include plans to revise the plan so our learning can be incorporated.   

Planning should include stating what we believe our assumptions are, so that it’s easier to test & change them over time.  This also means we need to be willing to be uncomfortable as we develop a better understanding & and better responses to new or contradictory insights we gain.  This approach speeds up our learning.

The up-front “costs” of good planning are almost always paid back generously throughout the project:

  1. Each stakeholder may have a similar understanding of the problem.  Yet, there are always some subtle & important differences among team-members. Talking about the problem & different perspectives helps everyone to understand the problem more fully.
  2. A commonly developed map or model allows the whole team to understand & integrate new information faster & more effectively as it arises through the project.
  3. A communication processes & problem-solving culture is developed among the team that supports the whole problem-solving process.

The problem-solving process is an iterative process.  Starting with “good enough” plan & developing a common understanding makes it possible to adjust the plan with new information & insights.  

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Wise Problem-Solving

Wise Problem-Solving

Better Problem-Solving = Continuous Improvement = Wise Growth

Most of us learn problem-solving intuitively, rarely do we explicitly learn how to do it.  Yet, our problem-solving skills are critical to creating joyful evolution, especially as our problems become more complex.

Better problem-solving allows us to solve real problems, not just symptoms, so results are more effective & sustainable.  Problem-solving skills include both hard- (technical)- & soft- (human) skills.  The 3Ps of creating joyful evolution are:

  1. creating a culture of continuous improvement so we are always improving & enhancing what we believe is POSSIBLE;
  2. PEOPLE: developing our own capacities while engaging diverse stakeholders; and,
  3. improving our problem-solving PROCESSES.

The problem-solving process has several stages starting with a “good enough plan“.  A “good enough plan” saves significant frustration later in the process because we can set a good focus at the beginning & periodically revise it as we gain new information & insights.

This plan includes:

1. The Purpose:  Being clear why we are solving a specific (set of) problem(s) and being clear on what we hope to achieve, allows us to identify & focus on the things that really matter.  A desired outcome in the process is identifying what is possible (motivational vs. minimal) – how the real problem can really be solved sustainably.

2. Engaging Stakeholders: Often problems, especially complex problems, include many people who are affected by the problem itself & the possible solutions.  If we are able to involve the right people at the right times in the problem-solving process the solution(s) created will be much more effective & sustainable.  

3. Defining the Problem:  Fully understanding the problem can be enhanced by “mapping” or modelling the problem.  This allows us to understand who is involved and affected by the problem, what the processes and things involved in the problem are, and how the problem was created and why it persists.  

4. Rank & choose the components of a possible solution.  As the problem is better understood, parts of a possible solution start appearing.  With insight, it becomes easier to understand the importance of specific aspects relative to the overall purpose, and how the parts can fit together into a comprehensive approach that could generate the desired outcomes.

5. Decide on a course of action, then act & follow-through.  The course of action needs to define who will do what, when, and how.  Choosing the right measures are critical to track whether the actions move in the desired directions.  

6. Review & Improve:  Through the implementation process, it is important to measure and assess whether decisions are achieving the desired purpose.  If not, it may be necessary to review decisions, and work backwards to the solutions chosen, possibly going as far back as the planning process.  

Undesired outcomes should be treated as learning opportunities so the whole problem-solving process can be improved.  

Developing our technical & soft-skills of problem-solving is critical to creating sustainable & better results, especially as our problems become more complex.  This skill development is an ongoing process: as we learn more, as problems change, as “wicked” or complex problems increase, we need to develop our own skills, and we need to evolve our problem-solving processes.

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Shortcuts, rather than real change, make for long delays. …  If you have a genuine commitment to creating something – to embrace failure and learn from it – you won’t won’t feel a need to take shortcuts. You would even be revulsed by shortcuts … the veneer of success – as they introduce noise into the process of figuring out what really works … and what doesn’t.  

The key is to embrace resilience.  And the real goal of innovation & problem-solving should be to learn & adapt.  

Rob Asghar, Forbes

How Can Education Teach Creativity & Innovation? (TedTalk)

Seth Godin talks about why the education system is the way it is: to shape people to be workers in hierarchical industry.  Hierarchical industry needs people who look for “the right answers” and are obedient to their bosses.

But our economic, social and political landscapes have evolved.  into a knowledge economy that requires innovation and creativity – something that is in conflict with a pure hierarchy.

In the TedTalk, Seth Godin outlines how our education system needs to evolve:

  1. Instead of focusing on providing existing knowledge in lectures, spend time exploringunderstanding.
  2. Memorization needs to be replaced by skills of research & synthesis.
  3. Allow people to learn what they are ready for.
  4. Allow people to customize their own education – with guidance.
  5. Measure experiences and capabilities instead of memory.
  6. Increase collaborative problem-solving as diversity is necessary for the problems we really face.
  7. Teachers need to be coaches so knowledge is understood and can be applied to really understanding problems and creating innovative, relevant solutions.
  8. Learning is a life-long process.  It never stops.
  9. Emphasize the relevance of learning, rather than formal credentials from “famous schools”.
  10. Encourage people to solve-problems and create/invent relevant solutions.  Compliance & fitting-in hold back real innovation & evolution.
  11. Standing out and making a difference takes guts.
  12. Ask questions!  Start by defining the purpose?

TedTalk (17 minutes)

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The Evolution of Problem-Solving

The Evolution of Problem-Solving

“We are living at a moment of potentially enormous change.  … We are living in a time that demands that we, with our every action, [nurture and create] what we believe in.”  Joshua Cooper Ramo’s conclusion in “The Age of the Unthinkable

You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

We face bigger & more complex changes than ever before, requiring us to evolve our problem-solving approaches.  Despite the difficult problems we face, we can thrive & create joyful evolution.  

The increasing speed & complexity can be pretty overwhelming: it feels like there are more moving parts & people with different interests.  However, once we start developing the skills of problem-solving in complexity, it can actually be extremely engaging, enlightening & rewarding.


  • Enhancing our belief of WHAT IS POSSIBLE.  Whatever we believe is possible, is generally what we’ll get.  However, if we believe more is possible, we will look for ways to create more & better possibilities.
  • Working better WITH PEOPLE – ourselves & others.  Often we look to experts & leaders who are knowledgeable, talented and dedicated.  However, in complexity, we need to get many people engaged – each with different perspectives & parts of the solution.  Since the problems can feel overwhelming and the people we need to work with so different from us, we need to learn how to partner with our own emotions and enhance our learning-skills to increase our power & capacity.
  • Enhancing our problem-solving PROCESSES so we can understand the problem better including the direct & indirect influences on the problem, and create new solutions that we may never have even thought about before.

Problem-solving in an era of “enormous change” requires a whole new way of thinking: we need courage and humility to choose change.  We can all create joyful evolution.

At age 87, Michaelangelo wrote:

Ancoro imparo” or I am still learning.”

The purpose of this blog is to explore ways to create the evolution we want, whether it’s in our ‘inner circles’ (family, friends, etc), our communities, or our businesses.

I’d love to hear your perspectives & experiences.  Please post a comment or connect with me at catarina (at)  

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