A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

26 April 2010

The Butterfly Effect

Being in the business of change, I continually run across (and often use) various buzz phrases and adages that are true enough, often enough to warrant repeating. One popular one among business coaches goes, "If nothing changes, nothing changes."

It's a simple enough idea, closely related to the perennial favorite definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting the same outcomes we've always gotten. That's great, if for example you've always gone to the same dentist and never had a cavity, but not so good if you've always advertised in the same outlets and never gotten the customers you were looking for.

I recently returned from, of all things, a yoga retreat at a beautiful wellness center in the Berkshires. While I was there, I realized a hugely important corollary to the "if nothing changes, nothing changes" adage. You see, I have sometimes found myself paralyzed by the magnitude of what needs changing. I decide, for example, that I'm sick of my front yard looking terrible, with scraggly weeds and patches of bare dirt. But then I contemplate what would be entailed in fixing it -- tearing out the hopeless lawn, adding new plants, setting up a water-wise irrigation system -- and I get so overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing. A few weeks or months later, I get fed up with the status quo again, and go through the same cycle. Each time it gets more frustrating, but nothing changes, so nothing changes.

Here's the thing I discovered on my yoga retreat. I came to a real, down to the depths of my gut understanding of the notion of "enough." And I realized that if I planted one tree, or mulched one small bed, or installed one rain barrel, it would make a difference. And if I took one step each time I felt ready to do so, I would accomplish the whole project. (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!) Most importantly, I realized that doing one little thing would impact my attitude. And sure enough, when I planted a few flowers in pots, and grouped the pots together in the garden close to my front door, it shifted my attitude about it so much that in short order I had mulched a large area in front of the house, put in a rain barrel, and ordered a couple of new trees. The project is far from done, but more importantly, it's far from UNdone. Now, instead of despairing every time I pull into my driveway, I am delighted by the bright little cluster of flower pots that tells me "hey, you've done enough for now. The rest will wait."

If nothing changes, nothing changes. But if anything changes, everything changes.

What's the "one small step" you could take on a huge project that will be enough to provoke a giant leap in your attitude?

Writer's Block

I've been having some computer troubles since I returned from a trip out of state, and the combination of those two factors has made it virtually impossible to keep up with my online activities. This has been doubly frustrating because my recent travels and other experiences have given me so many ideas to write about!

Fortunately, I think the logistical storms have passed, and I look forward to rediscovering all the little notes I've written to myself to remind me about all those ideas. We'll see what thoughts have survived the temporary upheaval. It all certainly serves to reinforce one of David Allen's key points about productivity -- if your tools lack the features and functions you need, or if they are not working perfectly, they act like an anvil around the neck of your creativity.

I also discovered how a little, relatively invisible problem with a computer can turn into a big one if you don't pay attention to the small cues that something is not right. (After 30 years of working with the silly things you'd think I'd have caught on to that one!)

Today's free advice, worth every penny you paid for it, is: don't put up with flaws in any tool you need to be productive. If you don't love it, or it doesn't work perfectly, it's time to get it fixed or replaced. The cost in money to have the right tools is a pittance compared to the cost in time, trouble, frustration and sapped creativity to tolerate stuff that doesn't work for you.

01 April 2010


Not that I recommend this strategy, but being sick for a few days offers an opportunity to catch up on one's reading, and I have been. I'm not a particularly fast or voracious reader, yet I've finished two books in the last two days and am well on the way to finishing a third. All this to say, I have some reflections to share about my recent reading.

I saw some parallels between these two very different books -- one called "The End of The Dream" by Philip Wylie (1972, long since out of print) and the other called "A Simpler Way" by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers (1999). Wylie's book is a classic speculative fiction "if this goes on" cautionary tale of a global apocalypse brought about not by war, but by a systematic ransacking of the natural environment that led to a dramatic rise in sea level, widespread disease and starvation. The other book is an imaginative nonfiction exploration of human evolution, starting from the premise that species evolve, not because they have to, but because they can. Creatures adapt, then, in highly creative and experimental ways, not with any particular end in mind, but to see if the change has a desirable benefit. Not exactly to avoid death, but to enrich life.

Wylie's premise is that human greed and shortsightedness ultimately led, in his imaginary future, to environmental ruin and thus human ruin. Wheatley and Rogers operate from a very different premise -- that humans, like all animals, will choose life and life-affirming activities, and that the over-structuring of organizations, rules, processes and procedures interferes with those life-affirming aims.

Einstein said, "you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." While this may not be literally true, in the sense that when you have enough resources to work with, you can have both a Peace Corps and an Army, the essential contradiction makes it nearly impossible for any one individual, entity, or even nation to apply equal resources to both. The same is true of any two contradictory notions. It is difficult to apply equal resources to environmental protection and explosive industrial growth. Or to individual freedom and excessive regulation or bureaucracy. Or even to "struggling for survival" -- avoiding death -- and embracing the fullness of life.

To bring this heady monologue back to earth, then, here's the question: what are the fundamental contradictions preventing you from creating a full life, a free spirit, a thriving business? What beliefs are getting in your way, about yourself, your community, your industry, the economy, the government? What do you need to let go of, in order to reach for what you really want?