The Power of Connection

Greetings. As you all now, I have a strong belief in the importance of strangers in our lives. I also believe that each day we pass by more than a hundred people who could change our lives, even if it was only for a moment. But in our haste to get to the next meeting, or run an errand, or simply get home from a long or short day at work we rarely take the time to connect. In fact, we rarely look up to catch their glance. So I was struck when I recently learned about the work of a New York City photographer named Richard Renaldi who also has a passion for connecting strangers and for unlocking the discomforts and possibilities that make us all human.

His work is fascinating. He identifies “random” people on the street and “asks them to pose in pictures together as if they were family members, friends or lovers.” And the results are quite surprising and inspiring. Results that were summed up quite simply and brilliantly by one of the women he photographed when she noted:

We are probably missing so much about the people all around us.”

Follow this link to learn more about his work and to see a short and thought-provoking video of the things that happen when total strangers come together. Then try to imagine how you and your colleagues might do a better job of connecting all of the strangers in your company or organization as the real key to greater collaboration, innovation, business success, and creating a more inspiring workplace. After all, you too are probably missing so much by failing to really connect with, learn from, and grow with the people around you.

richard renaldi

We win in business and in life when we take a chance and connect with strangers. And when we dare to believe in our own humanity and the humanity of others.

Cheers!

Getting “Out of the Box”

Greetings. While I am keen on the importance of strangers in our work and lives, I have a bit of an aversion to the popular notion of thinking “out-of-the-box” as the key to greater creativity and innovation. Yet it is still a widely-used phrase in companies and organizations that are trying to figure out how to think and act in new ways. My biggest concern is that too many businesses believe that simply calling for “out-of-the-box” ideas, often accompanied by a “suggestion box,” will create a veritable landslide of brilliance as employees suddenly feel liberated to suggest amazing possibilities for new products, services, solutions, customer experiences, and new ways of doing the things that matter most.

If only it were that simple.

As we all know, coming up with (and implementing) the right new ideas takes strategic focus, real discipline and commitment, curiosity, humility, a willingness to take calculated risks and make some mistakes, a sense of urgency, and a culture that is truly open to learning, fresh thinking, new perspectives, and the insights of people and places that are very different.

Having said this, and in the spirit of trying to be as open-minded as possible given that some things are just plain weird, I must admit that a recent feature in the New York Times challenged me to be a bit less critical of “out-of-the-box” thinking…or at least one particular example. The article in question was about a remarkable innovation in the world of funerals in which the star of the show (a.k.a., the “deceased”) is able to attend their own service in a favorite setting or pose. Settings that include sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by favorite possessions or important life symbols like a bottle of Jack Daniels, being dressed like Che Guevara with a cigar hand, sitting behind the steering wheel of an ambulance, sitting atop a favorite motorcycle, or standing up dressed as a boxer in the corner of a boxing ring.

Yes, even I must admit that this seems to represent a new and graphic way of getting “out of the box” (or out of a specific type of box).

According to the Times, this new approach to funerals first appeared in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has now become increasingly popular in places like New Orleans…which doesn’t seem like a big surprise. And its growing popularity might even suggest a world of untapped creativity aimed at making us look as fantastic as possible until closing time. It even brought back memories of the passing of my favorite great uncle who had just returned to Boston after spending the winter in Florida. Upon seeing his tan self, one of his closest friends remarked: “The winter by the beach did him a world of good!” Not exactly. But as Billy Crystal use to say on Saturday Night Live, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

NYT FUNERAL-articleLarge

Which begs the question of how all of us might conspire to reinvent our industries in ways that get us out of the traditional context in which we offer value to our customers. And how we might do an even better job of customizing our offerings to the unique needs, desires, and personalities of those we have the privilege to serve so they can look as good as possible.

We win in business and in life when we seek to create greater meaning in our most important moments. And when we always try to look our very best.

Cheers!

Stuff Happens, Eh?

Greetings. Some of you have been wondering why I haven’t posted in the last few weeks and I have to admit that it wasn’t by design. It was actually by accident.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of being a keynote speaker at the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) “Executive Leadership Forum” in Lake Louise, Alberta. It was a fantastic event in one of the most beautiful places on earth. It was also a great chance to share and exchange ideas on innovation, collaboration, and employee engagement with a thoughtful and energized group of association leaders representing a wide range of industry and professional organizations. As part of my presentation I asked the audience to be more open and curious about the world around them and all of the remarkable strangers in it. I suggested that we could all learn something important from anyone else on the planet and that the best way to spark new thinking and growth was to step out of the comfortable confines of our workplaces to explore and make new connections.

Lake Louise

Following this suggestion, I decided to spend a few days after the conference discovering more of this beautiful corner of the Canadian Rockies. A few days to explore breathtaking mountains and glacial lakes that were still covered with snow, climb under a waterfall, hike to a remarkable teahouse, come within a few feet of grizzly bears, black bears with their cubs, caribou, elk, and bighorn sheep, and visit a natural and slightly remote thermal springs by the side of an icy cold river. And in the process, to meet a lot of locals and more fully appreciate the importance of strangers.

And that’s where the “accident” part comes in, because on the last day while climbing over some rocks on the way out of the thermal springs I took a bit of a fall. And while it didn’t seem like much of a tumble, I ended up dislocating and breaking my ankle and breaking my leg. Not the ideal way to end a trip more than 2,000 miles from home. But during the next few hours I could not have imagined a more helpful, supportive, and encouraging group of strangers. Strangers who were also at the thermal springs and who instantly rallied around my disfigured leg with a mix of concern, calmness, humor, and a keen resolve to get me from this remote place safely to the nearest hospital. Strangers who quickly came together to elevate my leg and my spirits, build a perfect splint, locate the nearest emergency transportation, and then help the EMTs to carry me up from the bottom of the canyon. Strangers who distracted me with their questions, stories, jokes, and optimism during the two and a half hours before the ambulance could get near us. And through it all, strangers whose kindness and passion for the word “eh” was a great source of comfort…even at the moment when one of them turned to me an said: “Dude, do you mind if we cover your leg up? It looks kind of disgusting, eh!”

We never know what we’ll find when we set out to explore the world around us.

Sometimes it is an idea that inspires new possibilities.

Other times it is a group of strangers who inspire us to see the upside of an accident and the real genius and compassion of others.

And always it is a chance to see ourselves in a different light.

Flying Home

We win in business and in life when we never stop exploring the world around. And when we use a bit more caution when climbing on rocks.

Cheers and thanks to new friends I hope to see again some day soon!

The Genius of Maya Angelou

Greetings. Maya Angelou was a remarkable gift to all of us. A woman whose early life was filled with adversity, she would become not only a renowned and revered poet but a person of rare vision whose words and sense of humanity would inspire people of all backgrounds, ages, and beliefs. At the heart of her writing was a powerful understanding of the importance, meaning, and dignity of everyone. An understanding that is essential to reaching our full potential as individuals, communities, nations, and even companies and organizations.

maya-angelou-dies

Maya Angelou also understood the value and power of connecting with strangers and of being more open to people who are different than us. In writing the closing chapter of The Necessity of Strangers, which is about the “power of travel,” I was inspired by a quote from her 1994 book Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

And we might even become remarkable collaborators and innovators.

As humans we are so similar, yet all too often we decide to focus on our differences as the reason (or excuse) for not connecting, learning, and working together in remarkable ways.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t share one of her poems titled “When a Great Tree Falls.” It is a poem filled with added meaning this week as our family attended memorial services for friends whose lives ended way too soon…

“When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”

We win in life and in business when we see the value of everyone. And when we commit to keeping everyone’s memory and special gifts alive.

The Magic of Connecting With Strangers

Greetings. I spend most of my time helping companies and organizations to think and act in new ways in order to deliver more compelling value to the customers, members, and citizens they have the privilege to serve. And a big part of my work involves teaching leaders and employees at all levels to step out of their comfort zones in order to connect with strangers, from around the corner and around the world, as a wonderful way to stretch their thinking and possibilities. Strangers who might know something we don’t know or might be the missing piece to our most important puzzle.

As it turns out, connecting with strangers is also a great way to learn and grow as human beings, beyond the confines of our workplaces. And we can all do this simply by making a new connection with someone else based on a sense of curiosity and openness and a belief that we can be enriched, and even build a powerful bond, with practically anyone else on the planet.

So I was touched by the following video of a project that connects seniors in a Chicago retirement community with Brazilian students eager to learn English. A simple initiative that ends up creating even more important and magical outcomes. And while it has powerful implications for our social, civic, and work lives, I’ll simply suggest that it is a great way to start the week and leave you to find your own meaning in this three-minute story…

Just click the picture…

brazilian students

We win in business and in life when we discover the magic of connecting with strangers, and when we allow ourselves to make an unexpected difference in someone else’s life.

Cheers!