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Does curiosity make you a better lover?

It’s hard not to reflect on love and it’s connection to our health and happiness on this, the feast of St. Valentine.  Even if your reflective response is deeply and directly connected to your gag reflex.

Now, my general disdain for Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with the fact that I’m single.  I mean it.  Nothing.

It has most everything to do with the fact that Valentine’s Day has a tendency to make us lazy in love.  The holiday has become the perverse and proverbial get-out-of-jail-free card.  If you make any sort of effort on Valentine’s Day, your general indifference towards your beloved and lack of investment in the success of your relationship with said beloved, is somehow forgiven, tolerated and acceptable.

And that strikes me as decidedly not okay.

What if, instead of spending a fortune on overpriced red things, flowers and cards filled with false sentiment and saccharin, we spent time really wondering about our partners – who they are, how they feel, what they love, what they fear, how they are changing and growing and what we might do to support that growth?  What if we got curious – really curious – about the people we love?

In his book Curious?, Todd Kashdan suggests that curiosity acts as a positive spark in all relationships.  And given that healthy relationships are profoundly linked to our sense of well-being, it follows that sustaining a sense of wonder and curiosity about the people we love will help us grow – both as individuals and together.  Research findings suggest that “curious people treat their partners as vast unknown territories”.  Curious people continue to ask a lot of questions and that wonder leads to an ongoing and deepening interest that can last a lifetime and survive the challenging times that are inevitable in any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

So, yes, I do think Valentine’s Day is ridiculous.

And, yes, despite that disdain, I really do believe that love is the answer.

We just can’t forget to ask the questions.

The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. - Elie Wiesel

Day 7, Question 7: Why can’t I pack like George Clooney?

Before I get started, I wanted to acknowledge the fact that it is January 14th.  And I’m on Day 7.  Time moves slowly in my world.  And I might have been a bit overzealous in committing to a question a day.  But I remain committed.  Here are reflections on Question 7…

I flew to Copenhagen today.  Well, technically I flew yesterday.  I arrived today.  Time zones are a trip.  And for the duration of my trippy trip and the rest of my time in Copenhagen I will have six bags in tow.

Yes, six.

Now, before I acknowledge my shame, let me first justify.  I am here in Wonderful Copenhagen to lead a weekend-long strategic planning workshop with the Curiosity team and next week I’ll be teaching a research course at the 180 Academy.  I need things to do both of those things.  Facilitating materials.  Books.  Binders.  17 black sweaters.

A few weeks ago, I went to see Up In The Air, the new-ish Jason Reitman film starring George Clooney.  It’s a funny movie.  Touching too.  And even a tad depressing.  But the point here is that Clooney’s character, who spends a gobsmacking amount of time on the road, has serious packing panache.  He makes packing sexy.  Dead sexy.  He is George Clooney, yes, but still, the packing – it was inspired.

I suspect, however, that no amount of cinematic coaching and inspiration will separate me from my overpacking ways.  I like to have stuff with me.  Stuff to think with, stuff to read.  Stuff to wear, stuff to share.  And before this turns into a Dr. Seuss book, let me say that needing the stuff is not about having fancy material things with me.  I have one small bag of clothing and personal affects.  When I’m on a thinking and teaching mission such as this, I need to have inspiration with me.  I can’t think without books.  I can’t lead without post-it notes.  And I can’t teach without a very specific type of chisel tip marker in my hand and great examples of work that brilliant minds before me have produced.

Sigh.

Why can’t I pack like George Clooney?  Well, the truth is sometimes I can.  I went to Turkey for a two-month volunteering adventure with only carry-on luggage.  The next year I went to Paris for a few months with my own steamer ship.  Most of the time I do like to bring along a few things that help me think and live and love and  laugh.  Things that remind me of and connect me to what feels like home and the best parts of who I am.  And I think, despite his gorgeous packing habits, this is what Clooney’s character was missing.  Connection.  To people.  To a place.  To a purpose.

So, I’ll take my six bags.  And I’ll hate them as I carry them up five flights of stairs.  And I’ll love them because the contents mean something to me, they share something about me and help me be who I am.  And because they introduced me to a handsome Danish boy who helped me carry them off the street.

Like I said, connection.

Day 6, Question 6: What if we upgraded our social services as often as our technology?

I live in Toronto and it’s cold.  The city has already issued a couple of extreme cold weather alerts this year, triggering additional services to support the homeless.  One day last week I was driving down the Allen Parkway and I pulled up to the stop light at Eglinton Avenue, where the Allen ends.  A homeless man was standing on the side of the road with a sign that read: “It’s cold.  And I’m hungry.  And homeless.  Please help.”  It was -20 C with the wind chill.  He had ice on his eyebrows.  I opened my window and gave him all of the change I had in my car and wished him the best.

As I zipped up my window and settled back into the warmth of my car, the technology reporter on the radio started chirping about the new Google phone – the Nexus One.  He was excited, talking about what a game changer it was, how it was really going to shake up the industry, give Apple a run for its money, “hell”, he said, ” it might even change the world.”  This, about a phone.

Now I realize that once upon a time, a phone did change the world.  And once upon a Steve Jobs, another phone shook things up.  But the contrast between a homeless man freezing on the side of the road and the fervour swirling around the Google phone and the mad dash to get one made me feel like we’d lost the plot.  And it made me wonder “what if we upgraded our social services as often as our technology?”

Maybe it’s too much to hope for a full social services upgrade with every cell phone/smart phone upgrade but it did get me thinking about what might change if services in the social sector benefited every time we upgraded our technology?  A quick search on the iTunes Apps store resulted in not one single App that facilitated the donation of money to charity.  You could track your donations and look up information about not-for-profit organizations, but nothing that would facilitate a donation.  And maybe that’s to be expected, since many not-for-profits have better things to do with their money than develop an App.  So, perhaps that opportunity, maybe even the responsibility, rests with the technology companies and the service providers.  What if every phone purchased came with a built-in iGive or GoogleGive or NokiaLikesToGive App?  What if the handset and/or service provider company matched every microgift made through that phone?  What if, as part of their upgrade service, our cell phone companies made sure that our perfectly good, not-so-fancy-and-exciting-for-us phones were delivered into the hands of people and organizations who needed them?  How might social services be upgraded if social investment was connected to our technology upgrades?

Now, it’s possible that I’m just bitter because the Google phone isn’t available in Canada yet.  And it’s possible that I’m bitter because it’s -20C.  It’s also possible that I’m just bitter.  But I think we can do better that a man freezing on the side of the road while a ridiculous percentage of the chattering classes are yakking on about a phone.

Social investment.  I’d like an App for that.

P.S.  And to put my money where my mouth is – and into the hands of those who need it – I’ve donated $50 to the Daily Food bank.

Day 5, Question 5: How do you curiosity?

Came across a great article by Amy Hoy on Fuel Your Interface.  The headline reads as follows: Wanna kick some interface designing butt? Hit the stacks. Cheeky, unexpected and nerdy.  Who could resist?

Amy suggests that even though she’s a pretty great interface designer, she isn’t a superhero.  She just has a secret weapon.  Reading research papers.  Yep.  Dusty, academic, may have only been read by 7 people before you, possibly pencil-in-the-back-of-the-hand boring, research papers.  Not glamourous but intriguing.

She provides an example of a research paper that was published in the late 1980s that talks about an approach to search that she likens to berry picking – one that would “show you your old search terms, so you could revisit them, in case your newest forays were unproductive. You could “pin” results to some part of the page for later, in case you found nothing better, or wanted them in addition to the new goodies you found.”  In short, a search approach superior to Google.  And someone – a woman named Marcia Bates – was writing about it in 1989.  And to date, there is no search product like it.

What the what?!

Yes, it’s a little bit of madness.  But in the publishing model of academia there are people who spend their entire careers doing research, testing hypothesis, describing social and scientific phenomena and sharing their findings.  They are contributing to their discipline in marvelous ways and producing incredible knowledge.  Knowledge that, quite often, does not result in the creation of something beyond the knowledge itself – like products or services or, in Amy’s case, the design and development of interfaces.

So, why wax on about the importance of boring research papers?  Because there are really smart people in the world spending years thinking about interesting things, doing incredible research and publishing it.  And in our tweet me, OMG, pingalicious world, sometimes our curiosity is fickle.  It can be shallow and superficial and last only for a few clicks on our favourite search engine.  We’re missing the good stuff.  The juicy business/category/sector/even life-changing stuff.

Yes, it’s harder.  But if you read, you win.  So, get yourself a reader’s card from your nearest university library and read a research paper a month.  Dig into your curiosities.  Show them some respect.

And find an academic to hug.  All that hard work and clever thinking and you’re going take it and do something wonderful.  It’s the least you can do.

To read Amy Hoy’s article, please visit http://www.fuelyourinterface.com/wanna-kick-some-interface-designing-butt-hit-the-stacks/

Follow Fuel Your Interface on Twitter @fuelinterface

Day 4, Question 4: What’s Your Sentence?

Question: What’s your sentence?

I’ve always been a great admirer of Dan Pink’s work (www.danpink.com).  From the very beginning, he has felt like a kindred spirit.  I read Free Agent Nation as I was quitting my consulting job many moons ago and it felt like he was giving me a serious free agent high five.  I read Whole New Mind when it first came out and sent copies to all of my friends with MBAs and included a small (smug) note that said “I’m so sorry you didn’t take a sociology and film degree”.

And while I have yet to crack the cover of his new book Drive, it’s clear that he’s done it again.  His talk about the drivers of motivation at TedGlobal last summer was both funny and thought-provoking – a delicious and all to infrequent combination.  But what I’m most excited about, pre-read, is the video that was released on January 1 called “Two Questions”.

I’m particularly captivated by the first of these two questions: WHAT’S YOUR SENTENCE?  The video explains that Clare Boothe Luce (who was one of the first female members of congress) approached J.F. Kennedy (when he was president) and told him that a great man is a sentence.  Just one sentence.  Not a long, rambly, meandering paragraph of lots of sentences.  Just one.  She was worried that he was trying to do too much rather than focusing on one or two things that really mattered and would ultimately become his legacy.  Her suggestion for Kennedy (and Pink’s for us) was to figure out that one sentence and use it to navigate his presidency.

POW. ER. FUL.

It’s powerful because of its simplicity, its timeliness and its endless applications.

If you’re a person who wants a great life, what’s your overall life’s purpose sentence?

If you’re in a partnership, what’s your partner sentence?

If you’re an entrepreneur, what’s your business sentence?

If you’re a marketer, what’s your brand’s sentence?

If you’re a fundraiser, what’s the one sentence you’re going to take to your next donor conversation?  The sentence that connects their motivation for giving and your organization’s motivation for being?

If you’re a leader, what’s your leader sentence?

If you’re an employee or a member of a team, what’s your contribution sentence?  What’s your team’s sentence.

If you’re a parent, what’s your parent sentence?

If you’re someone’s kid, what’s your “I’m someone’s kid” sentence?

(And yes, I realize that so many sentences can quickly become a paragraph…)

I both love and feel terrified by the discipline and focus required to craft one, single sentence.  But I’m deeply motivated to do it – for myself, for my business and our team.  (Sidebar: Curiosity team who is prepping for our weekend planning retreat in a couple of weeks, be warned.  It’s going to be all single sentences, all the time.)

So, the bottom line is this.  I heart Dan Pink.  I want to thank him for naming and celebrating who I am – a woman with a free agent spirit and a whole new mind who is committed to motivating herself and others.

I’m working on my sentence.  What’s yours?

To watch Dan Pink’s TedTalk visit: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

To view the Two Questions video visit: http://www.danpink.com/archives/2010/01/2questionsvideo

Day 3: Question 3

Question: What are you doing?

I spent a lot of time with my niece Hannah today.  She’s two and a bit.  And she is off the charts curious.  One of her favourite questions right now is “what are you doing”?  She’ll wander (and wonder) up and ask you this if you’re reading, making cookies or tipping cows.  What’s inspiring about witnessing and participating in this exchange is that she’s (a) curious enough to ask the question, (b) really interested in the answer, and (c) almost always responds with an “I wanna do it” or a “show me”.

This is, of course, how kids learn.  It’s also how many of us oldies learn but it’s easy to lose touch with that asking feeling.  As adults, we tend to get rewarded for knowing not asking. And, let’s be frank, we tend to do what we get rewarded for.  So it’s a good reminder to get back in touch with what Buddhists call the Beginner’s Mind.

But it’s Hannah’s demand to be included in the doing, and be shown how the doing happens, that is the most provocative reminder for me.  Too often, in life and in work, we settle for a simple explanation, even when it doesn’t provide enough information or we’re left wondering “what the WHAT?”  We don’t ask for more because we’re too embarrassed or proud or busy or cool to ask for more insight and involvement.  Or we settle for a simple explanation because we think we already know all there is to know and what more could we possibly learn?  A sure sign of adultitis – and arrogance.

A few years ago, as part of a master’s program, I was introduced to and taught the practice of Positive Deviance (PD) by a brilliant man named Jerry Sternin.  PD is an approach to organizational or cultural change that is based on the notion that within every group of people that performs a similar function and finds itself faced with a challenge, there are some people within that group – the “Positive Deviants” – who have figured out a way to address the problem and function more effectively, even though their access to resources is exactly the same as everyone else.  Change agents who use the Positive Deviance approach to facilitate organizational and social change believe that the problem and the solution share the same DNA.  Simply, the solution to any given problem lies within the group or community that is struggling with it.  If the superior practices and behaviours of the Positive Deviants can be identified, isolated and used to help encourage and inspire other members of the group to adopt the successful behaviours, the outcomes of the entire group will improve.

In the PD approach to research and organizational and social change, there is a strong focus on behaviour and identifying the specific actions that Positive Deviants take to be successful.  Questions like “what are you doing?”, “how are you doing it?” and “can you show me how?” are critical and the learning that results from digging into specific practice is what provides the basis for change.

Kids do this intuitively.  They want access to the practices of the interesting and successful adults around them.  And they want practice doing the practice – they want to be active participants in figuring out how to do things well.

What would change in your life, your relationships, your work if you really got curious and got curious beyond knowledge and simple explanation and into practice and behaviour?  What would happen if you asked the successful people around you (and they could be successful in any of ways that are relevant to you) what they are doing and if they might show you how?

I’m not going to make any new year’s resolutions this year.  I’m going to identify the people who are doing some things I’d like to do and start asking them to show me how.

And right now, Hannah is demanding an ice cream cone as payment for her coaching and insight on behaviour and practice today so I must away…

For more information about Positive Deviance visit http://www.positivedeviance.org/

Day 2: Question 2

Question: What if you went on a first date with your mom?

Now, let me be clear.  I’m not wondering about what might happen if I took my mom along on a first date.  (Perfectly clear on this outcome.)  I’m wondering what might happen if I went on a first date with my mom.

As the holiday season wraps up, I’ve been reflecting on the time spent with my large immediate family.  We are 13.  Two (truly) extraordinary parents and six marginally normal, phenomenally talented siblings, two exceptionally patient spouses-in-laws and three delicious little nieces.  It’s a loving, loopy bunch.  And yet, in spite of the love, the deep respect and our advancing adult ages, we can, on occasion, find ourselves reverting to communication and relating patterns of yesteryear.  What is this madness?  What devil takes over me when I find myself assuming the posture, tone and attitude of my former 16 year-old self?  I don’t think it’s relationship baggage (okay, it might be a small purse and a carry-on full of denial).  I think it’s more about assumptions.  And history.  The deeply held assumptions that develop as a result of shared history.

What would happen to our relationships – with our moms, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our teams, our clients, our customers – if we took a break from these assumptions?  What would change if we approached these important people in our lives with a renewed sense wonder, openness and a true intention to get to know them (again)?  What if we invited them to share some stories, to tell us what’s going on for them right now, to find out what they’re looking forward to and what they’re worried about?  What if we approached our next conversation with the people we know, the ones we think we’ve got all figured out, as we might approach a first date – with a sense of anticipation, a hint of trepidation, an openness to learn about the other person and a willingness to share something of ourselves?  What if we got curious and courageous enough to take a break from the past and learn and share something interesting and meaningful that is located in the present?

This is the crux of my team’s work as a researchers, concept-makers and educators.  Somehow, it seems much easier and more fascinating to explore that’s true for people we don’t know.  Mostly because we don’t know them.  We’re assumption-free.  Conversation and storytelling and show and tell is part of our learning and discovery process.

So, I’m going on a first date with my mom.  I’m going to be open, interested and curious.  And in the spirit of giving up assumptions, I might even pay for coffee.