Archives for the ‘Esoteric Minutiae’ Category

Easter Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies

Keeping minds open

Simply Spring

What better way to welcome in the spring than with beautifully hand-painted eggs delivered by bunnies? Better still, edible chocolate bunnies.

There’s something simple and marvellous about Spring. It’s the time when Nature awakens and invites us to do the same.

Nature’s Spring Clean

Now is the time to sweep away the cobwebs which have been collecting frost and dust over the winter and turn over a new leaf.

Spring offers us the opportunity for personal renewal, a chance for us to retrospect and blossom.

To paraphrase Ezra Pound, one of the greatest imagist poets of the twentieth century, the key to enjoying life is “to make things new”. We have to learn to lookout for the magical in the mundane to give meaning to the way we live every day.

Magic Moments

It is precisely when we are actively in search of unravelling colourful mysteries that we widen our points-of-view and enlarge our understanding of the world around us. Most important of all, it can lead to a clearer understanding of ourselves.

Before we can spot the magic, many of us need to first de-clutter a bad habit.

No Fluff, Just Stuff

In my experience, effective leaders and coaches are good judges of people and situations. The problem arises when this muscle of judgment becomes our default modus operandi. From being able to quickly assess people and situations, we become increasingly judgmental of others and of ourselves.

Against Better Judgement

What’s more, the more “expert” we perceive ourselves to be, the more assumptions we make because we judge often and we judge early.

According to executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, being over-judgmental is one of the top 20 flaws of highly successful people. I’m inclined to agree.

My Personal Fool’s Experiment

For a leader and coach to be effective, we have to learn to keep an open mind. We need to learn to postpone judgment. I’m currently experimenting with how to be less judgmental of others by being less judgmental of myself.

Over the years, I’ve come to realise that there is a direct correlation between my being judgmental of others and being judgmental of myself. Although I’m getting better at postponing judgment of people and situations, a bigger challenge remains.

Handle Yourself with Care

So what does “being less judgmental of myself” involve? In my case, instead of busily being self-critical all the time, it’s about being more gentle with myself.

Here’s the algorithm I use for postponing judgment of others and it works on postponing judgment of myself:

  • Recognition: Recognise when I’m being judgmental
  • Acknowledgement: Acknowledge that I’m being judgmental so that I can move onto the next step
  • Encouragement: Encourage myself to restore an open mind
  • Improvement: Improve myself based on that cycle of learning
  • Practice: Practice, practice, practice.

How do you keep an open mind for long enough to see things new?

If on a winter’s night a traveller

How well do you travel?

Travel Game

When I travel, I play a game. I imagine I am an ambassador, an appointed representative of Europe, the place where I live. I wasn’t always an ambassador of Europe, of course. I began life as a simple traveller, trying to get from A to B.

Growing up, I quickly went from being a traveller to an adventurer. If only flight class upgrades were so easy! I like to think I remain an adventurer to this day, sometimes performing feats of derring-do like Indiana Jones. At other times, I am an ambassador, establishing first contact and building relationships between us and different species across the galaxy like Jean-Luc Picard.

On Being an Ambassador

So what does being an ambassador mean to me? My idea of an ambassador is my dear friend John. By the time I met John, he had already retired after a lifelong service to the British Government and her Majesty the Queen.

John was a tall man, always well-presented. He was soft spoken, polite and amicable. Most memorable of all, he was humble and fun. He always knew exactly how to put people at ease, from small children to thorny politicians.

John was the kind of man who went riding with Lawrence of Arabia in the desert. He was certainly good at his job. And he was good because he cared for the work he did and the importance of acting for the greater good.

An ambassador understands their responsibility to others and behaves accordingly, both with those they spend time with as well as those they will never meet. Most important of all, they understand their responsibility to themselves.

An ambassador remembers to look up to the sky and into the horizon often to keep things in perspective. Do this enough, and you’ll start recognising the different flags of sky.

Future Encounters

If life is a journey, and I believe it is, then where does an ambassador of Europe go next? I’m working towards becoming a citizen of the world some day. And after that? Ambassador of Earth of course! By the time that happens, I hope to have acquired the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and humility to explain why humans are a valuable asset to our wider ecosystem that is the universe. I also hope to be fluent in the universal language of friendship, mutual respect and understanding.

Meanwhile, I send you greetings “Na-Nu Na-Nu!” (pronounced “nahnoo nahnoo“) from a peaceful hilltop village called Johannesburg just outside of Frankfurt, host to this year’s Play4Agile!

Love the One You’re With

Sweet Valentine of Success

For me, the philosophy of work has come full circle. When I was a child, I was encouraged to dream and “do what you love”. When I became a teenager, those words slowly but surely morphed into “love what you do”. When I reached adulthood, the wise and elderly around me changed their tune once more. “A job’s just a job,” they said. “Do what you can to make a good living, don’t get into trouble and you’ll have a job for life”.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

I wrestled for years with those three very different choruses. I desperately tried to reconcile my daily toil on the anthill with realising my dreams. Slowly but surely, those dreams ebbed away, hardened and broken by the relentless beat of the daily commute.

Then one day, I overheard a friend say, “Of course you can do what you love. Doing otherwise would be madness!”

As I considered this friend wise, his words forced me to do a triple take on everything I’d come to believe in. What if, just WHAT IF, some of the things I’ve come to believe in are not true?

Rediscover your dreams

For most of us, the advice of “do what you love” is impractical for a number of reasons. The most fundamental being that to do what we love, we need to first figure out what it is we love doing. That takes time and requires discovery through a series of experiments and experiences.

For many of us, our dreams have become buried so deeply in the sand on the beach of life, that the only way to figure out what we love doing is by identifying what we don’t like doing. It’s through a series of trial and error and process of elimination that we begin to pinpoint what it is that we truly love doing.

Career advisors’ advice

Career advisors’ advice can be distilled into three criteria when it comes to a happy working life:

  1. Do something you’re good at AND
  2. Do something you enjoy AND
  3. Do something that makes you a good living.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you get this far in search of your dream job. Most likely, you’ll still be confused as it turns out that what you like doing isn’t just one thing, but a combination of things that make up the unique job tailored to suit you. For instance, a travel writer, a singing chef or a knitting teacher.

Find your true purpose

In order to figure out what we enjoy doing, we need to try many things. By bringing what we love into our work, we begin to close the gap between the gruelling toil of daily work and our passion. And it’s through this series of experiments that we define meaning with our work.

For those of you who choose to read this blog, the reward of meaningful work is probably worth much more than its weight in gold. Why? Because meaningful work helps us discover our purpose.

Bring back the love

The first baby step then is to love the job you’re in, love the work you do. If this seems impossible, ask yourself, “What would someone who loved my job do?” Then begin to move in that direction, one baby step at a time. And if it feels like you’re Bambi skating on ice, that’s because you’re outside your comfort zone. The good news is your dreams are back in sight albeit in the distance. For now.

Re-define “success”

As you do this, you may discover that you fall in love with your job anew. After all, there must have been a very good reason for you to have taken the job in the first place, all that time ago. Alain de Botton helps us answer: What does “success” mean to you now? Begin by bringing back the magic. Happy Valentine’s!

Atheism 2.0

Rainbow Thoughts

An Encounter to Remember

Alain de Botton and I first met when I was 19 years old, between the covers of his first book, Essays in Love. Back in those days, we were both preoccupied with love. Between us, we would desperately try to define it, conjure it and acquire it. We would spend most of our time thinking about love, the only difference being he would write about it and I would read about it.

Ageing Curiosity

As time passed, we both grew up but we never grew apart. It seems that our mutual interests merely evolved with time. We continued to analyse the nuts and bolts of the body, mind and spirit of life, ranging from how Proust can change one’s life to the art of travel. As he continued to write, I would continue to read, nibbling on madeleines and sipping tea while dreaming of far off places.

Friends Re-united

Eventually our writer-reader relationship got buried by the sands of time until last Sunday. Imagine my surprise when we met up again, this time on, both in search of the missing pieces in secular life.

In search of Morality, Guidance and Consolation

I’m of course talking about what Alain refers to as Atheism 2.0, a flavour of atheism that takes the bits and pieces of religion (such as singing Christmas carols and visiting churches) that we enjoy to make our existence more complete, from daring to ask questions about life’s bigger mysteries (life’s purpose, death and disappointment) to creating connections (building communities and developing an attitude of service towards others).

I urge you to listen Alain’s Ted talk here. It really made me think.

Making Vital Things Matter More

As you stand by the water cooler today, looking out the window, ask yourself these three vital questions: Why am I here? How can I make things better? How can I make what we do together matter more?

And if you’re feeling courageous or simply playful, try asking these questions out loud and see where the conversation takes you, for it is in the search for answers that we find responses through our questionings.

And who knows? You may discover a pot of goodies at the end of the rainbow or tumble down a rabbit hole and have a tea party!

Gifts Fit for Kings and Queens

Give the gift of kindness

This Christmas, I’d like to share with you 4 magical gifts you can use right away.

If you wish to get more organised…

… and become more effective and efficient in 2012, you must read and try “Personal Kanban” by Jim Benson and Tonianna Demaria. It’s a light and enjoyable read that shows us why and how important it is to a) visualise our work and b) set work-in-progress limits to achieve the goals we set ourselves. You can practice by applying Personal Kanban to make more of your holidays with friends and family!

If you wish to follow your dreams…

… and dance your dance but are hesitant to do so, let Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love” guide you in this beautiful talk on the genius behind art and creativity we all secretly aspire to. Learn to externalise the anguish of creativity and get a little help from your very own daemon (think Dobby, the friendly house elf).

If you wish to help yourself…

… and your tribes live happily after, prepare for the journey of transforming your workplace into a place where you long to belong with “Tribal Leadership” by Dave Logan et al. To learn more about Tribal Leadership in action, check out my interactive workshop based on the model. Like Dave says, “Birds fly, fish school and people tribe.” Go forth and tribe – why not try out the model with your friends and family?

My special wish this Christmas is…

… for all of us to have a safe, playful and fun-filled holiday. What better time to play then during the festive season? Make a gingerbread house, build a snowman, play Lego’s latest invention “Creationary“. Practice playmaking to magick any chore (such as large amounts of washing-up) into fun and games!

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Where the Wild Things Are

No place to work

My First Job

Working with graduates reminds me of my early working years. Many years ago, after a series of interviews, I landed myself a job working in online publishing.

Every day, I would go to work in a building shaped like a magnificent ship. Where the CTO would ride around the office on his Muji bike. Where in the kitchen were Smeg fridges filled with an infinite supply of still and sparkling bottled water. Where there was a Playstation and a pinball machine and we were encouraged to play. (“It helps to get the creative juices flowing don’t you know?” the designers would say.)

What’s more, on the top floor of the building was a bar-restaurant that bore an uncanny resemblance to the one in Ally McBeal. Those were the days during the boom.

The Way of One World

During this time, I learned a lot. That most of the “real business” got done down the pub over a beer. That if you wanted to succeed, you needed to work for a “big boss”. That some people went to work to do a good job while others did the minimum yet expected to get paid more.

Those were the days when managers would educate graduates like myself. The most memorable lesson was one from a recently- hired manager. He’d been with the company for less than 2 weeks.

“Portia,” he said. “If you want to get on in this world… The moment you get a new job is when you start looking for another!” This comment would be followed by raucous laughter from some of the crowd.

I didn’t know what to think when I heard both the advice and the laughter. My mind crowded itself with questions. How can you learn and improve if you’re constantly on the lookout for something better before you’ve acquired and developed your skills? As a manager, how much can you possibly care about the people and why would you help them grow if your mind is already somewhere else? Most important of all, how can you build something that lasts and why do it if you don’t expect to be here tomorrow?

Uneasy questions demand game-changing answers

It’s taken me a long time to reconcile my thinking and actions with the lessons I learned back then and continue to learn everyday about how organisations work.

Instead of accepting the status quo and playing the same game day in day out, recognise that we each of us have the power to change the game.

Instead of leaving behind any old legacy, let us create “inheritance” – something of value for those who come after us, an organisation that is at once prosperous and adds value to the world in which we live.

Instead of “doing deals” down the pub, let us reward people based on meritocracy – based on their performance at work; how much value they add and the amount of personal potential realised.

Instead of teetering on a knife edge performing an unsustainable balancing act of work and life, let us figure out what’s really important to us so that we can unite the two instead.

Last, but not least, instead of being caught up in the tide of commoditisation of everything we have and everything we are, let us figure us what’s for sale and what is not. Because once we realise what we have that even money cannot buy, we discover what it takes to change the game.

The Profundity of Bodypump

Christmas has come early for me this year. I know this because I’m carrying holiday weight two weeks in advance of the big day itself. That’s when I decide to step up my visits to the gym and reduce my daily intake of “Christmas-in-a-cup“.

Bloated Snowman

What’s Bodypump?

For those of you unfamiliar with Bodypump, Bodypump is weight-training en masse to pop music. In the early days, mainly only women went (something to do with it being perceived as “aerobics with weights”). Nowadays it attracts both men and women because it’s up to you how many weight plates you want to stack onto your bar. What you get out is what you put on.

Each class is made up of the usual sequence of warmup, followed by squats, then upper body training (biceps and triceps), followed by either lunges or more targeted training and finally always finishing with abs work. How good you are at crunches (and its variations) is a fair indication of how squishy/toned you really are. What they call your “core strength”.

Physical and Mental Training

Now imagine you’ve just signed up for a Bodypump class. The warmup’s gone fairly well and you’re not yet out of breath. You feel “warmed up”. Suddenly, from out of nowhere comes a steady stream of existential questions.

Booming Voice: “Why are you here?”

Voice-in-own-head: “That’s a very good question. To work out I guess. I’ve put on a bit of holiday weight and I’m hoping to work it off before the holiday binge.”

Moments later, displeased with the class’s progress or the answer, the Booming Voice poses a different question during the toughest of squat tracks.

Booming Voice: “What are you waiting for?”

Voice-in-own-head: “Another great question. It’s not an uncommon question I ask myself. I’m trying to give it my all, honest I am.”

Then a longer period of silence, leaving one more time to reflect on one’s previous answers to such wide-reaching questions confined to so stuffy and small a training room.

Finally, we get to core strength and we do the plank followed by side plank with rotations, same number of agonising reps on both sides. You have to try it to appreciate how tough it really is.

Booming Voice: “We won’t be here for long.”

Voice-in-my-own-head: “Best make the most of my time here then.”

And as the class wraps up with a cool-down, the Booming Voice leaves us with one final thought.

Booming Voice: “Well done. Good job. See you next Tuesday.”

Being a Work-in-Progress

Moments afterwards, as I get ready to return to work, I wonder how often we get asked such profound questions that truly shape our lives. And it is in searching for the answers that transforms us from who we dream of being to who we ultimately become.

Days of Old

Old Age

Sticks and Stones

Some days I feel old. I think about all the hip things the youngsters are getting into these days. Wonder if I should buy myself an iPhone and get into the whole apps-on-phone rave, replace my beloved paperbacks with Kindle versions, accept invitations from strangers on LinkedIn requesting to connect as “friends”.

That’s when I decide to take an alternative route to work. As I go past a familiar row of shops, ABBA strikes up and the music jolts me out of my reverie. Because I’m taken by surprise, I pay attention to the lyrics for the first time. “You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life“. Sounds like wise words to me. (Go on, you know you want to play it loud and play it proud!)

The cheery tune transports me back to my first visit to Sweden a couple of weeks ago for Oredev when I rediscovered an old friend, full of colour, sound and good humour. I’m referring to ABBA of course. And all this reminds me of a niggling notion I’ve been carrying in my head for sometime and it is this: the feeling of Agile.

The Feeling of Agile

Agile to me is a catalyst for personal and organisational change, so if you practice Agile on a daily basis, then you’re bound to feel silly or foolish at least once a day. Just as 5 – 10 minutes of play a day can keep the doctor and priest away, feeling silly is a sure sign you’re out of your comfort zone. And being out of your comfort zone demands courage. It can also lead to learning and personal growth.

The meaning of silly depends on you. Why stand up in front of an entire open plan office for a 15-minute standup meeting? Why try to improve when no one else seems to care? Why invite a new team member you barely know out for lunch?

Silly Me

I reflect on yesterday and scan for signs of silly, like a first aider fingering a wrist for a pulse. Much to my relief, I remember brainstorming ice breakers for a team building session with a fellow playmaker, among other silly episodes.

“What do you recommend?” she asks. To which I reply, “What’s the goal of the session? And the success criteria?” Once these are clear, the real fun begins. “There’s “Mad, Sad, Glad” which helps ground the team by looking back at how far they’ve come and where they are now,” I say, trying to come up with a range of options.

“Then there’s “The Profile Card Exercise” (which always contains surprises like “I love the Queen and I hate mushrooms”). And my all time favourite “The Superhero” – if you were a superhero who would you be? What kind of super power would you have?” This final suggestion gets an involuntary chuckle from my colleagues who overhear the conversation.

It’s true what they say, “you’re only as old you feel”. And I’d emphasise “as young as you want to be”. Silly is the pink flamingo in your drink. Or the cricket in your pocket. Do you dare to feel silly?

In Search of Happiness

Unconditional Friendliness Inside

Emergency Self-Rescue

Are you having a thrisis? How do you know if you’ve got it? And if you are suffering from a thrisis, what can you do about it?

I recently came across the term “thrisis” and it’s been playing on my mind ever since. A thrisis is a mid-life crisis in your thirties. Given my birthday last month, I’m certainly susceptible. In fact, I think I may have contracted it some years ago but didn’t know what to call it.  The Florence Nightingale in me tells me I should get it seen to ASAP.

An open mind seeks possibilities

Now that I know there may be an issue, I sign up for a seminar on “Happiness” by Charlie Morley, all the while telling myself to keep an open mind. In doing so, I discover I’m an “optimistic sceptic”.

According to Charlie’s research on Happiness, Happiness is “a fundamental friendliness towards life”, otherwise known as “unconditional friendliness”.

To be happy, Charlie says we need to differentiate between what we can change and what’s outside of our control. The reality is, most of what exists outside of us is full of uncertainty and uncontrollable. Trying to control the uncontrollable is like trying to swallow the sun. The only thing for certain is that it’s sure to give you more than a sore throat.

Instead, look around you and observe what’s going on. By observe, Charlie means to simply acknowledge what’s happening, without judgment. This allows us to make friends with our mind and, by doing so, increase our awareness of what is and what isn’t. When we are able to acknowledge what has come to pass with unconditional friendliness, we give ourselves the chance to change the way we see the world.

The 3 Paradoxes

Charlie identifies 3 paradoxes towards happiness:

  1. Help others to help yourself. This is also known as “selfish selflessness”. It’s WIN-WIN even though it’s not altruistic.
  2. Thinking more about death is good for you.It’ll shake you up to wake you up,” says Charlie. Pop quiz: what do buddhists talk about most when they get together? Death, according to Charlie.
  3. Happiness is a habit. It takes a lot of practice. The first step is to “accept” your unhappiness. By doing so, you acknowledge where you are and that allows you to move forward.

Pause for Thought

Come to think of it, thrisis is unlikely to be only an age-related condition. In fact, this condition might be part of what many of us experience day-to-day but don’t call out by name. The French call it “ennui” and I’m sure other cultures have a name for it, too.

My one consolation, the Agile principle of “Fail early, fail fast”. The quicker I discover there’s something wrong, the quicker I can begin to address it and the more time I have in sorting it out which should increase my chances of getting it sorted. Call it “Optimist’s Logic”. What’s more, my spidey sense tells me there’s an adventure in all this, so things can’t be all that bad.

How can you express unconditional friendliness right now? And tomorrow?

How does your garden grow?

Patience is a Virtue

Green Fingers

I’m green to gardening. I took up gardening recently and have been pleasantly surprised by how a spot of rooting around in dirt can refresh the mind and provide a different perspective on things.

My 3Ps of Gardening

“P” is for Patience. How long does it take for a seed to turn into an oak tree? Depending on your perspective, quite a while or not long at all. One thing’s for sure, it takes time. And no matter how much we try to hurry the seed along, Nature will run its course. Assigning ten gardeners won’t make the seed grow faster. In fact, fussing about with the seed could put it in peril. Better then to provide what the seed needs and give it the time and space to grow. That’s what good gardeners do.

“P” is for Practice. There’s lots to learn when it comes to gardening. Depending on your goals, interests and stamina, it’s a lifelong experience. As my father says, “A garden’s for life. And it needs you.” Given this commitment, it’s natural to want to make repetitive tasks, like weeding, as effective and efficient as possible so you have time to “grow” things. This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule“, that’s the time it takes to get really good at doing something.

“P” is for Pragmatism. Asking someone to create a garden overnight is like asking someone to swallow the sun. It’s physically impossible. Even if you manage to plant everything, the plants still take time to bed down, breathe and fill their space. It takes time for visitors like the birds and the bees to discover the place. It takes time for a garden to come alive. Gardening is about recognising potential. Through the art of the possible, we move forward, sometimes with great leaps forward and mainly with baby steps. Especially if you grow your own and have only the weekends spare.

Going social with gardening

I’ve spent less than 24 hours toiling in my garden and I can already see it’s going to be a lifelong adventure. Most importantly, it’s helped me look at work from a fresh perspective. It’s given me the idea for what I call “Social Gardening”, the concept of applying the principles and practices of gardening to work. One that is filled with challenge, anticipation, and hope. And, of course, fun. Lots of it. Watch this space!