A Rose by any other Name

jonnycash1Was Juliet correct in the meaninglessness of word assignment? The glaring irony of the person these words were uttered to, his own name now inseparably synonymous with love and romance, warrants some thought.

Words, like all symbols, can cause implicit reactions. Just as we have emotional responses to smells that carry us back to sitting in grandma’s kitchen, words can also create automatism.

We spend months or years or a moment deciding on the name that our offspring will be saddled with for the rest of their eternity. When I meet people who already have an association with my name it’s almost always positive. My name is generally a throw back to a generation of great aunts who apparently were always wonderful people. When we meet someone who already has an association with our name it takes time for them to allow you some place in the name.

When naming a company or a product or a person or a pet we go through a lot of turmoil, the thing is it’s usually the wrong debate. Do you like this name is the wrong question. The real question is, what are people’s emotional responses to those words, and are you going to be strong enough to create a new reaction in them?

Sue spent a lifetime fighting to change the inherent reaction people had to his name, if only he’d thought to hire Johnny Cash to market it for him he may have made it to his death with his ear intact.

Don’t ask other people what they like, ask yourself how hard you’re willing to work to make people’s association be what you want it to be.

Over and Over and Over and…

Denny'sdinerDo you ever feel like Bill Murray destined to spend eternity re-living the same events until your dense skull figures out how to do it differently? Try as you might, you seem to wind up in the same relationship, the same bad hire, the same reaction to your struggling employee, the same diet choices, the same response to your kid’s meltdown.

Einstein (or whoever actually said it) may have been right in his definition of insanity as being doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results but that doesn’t help us to get out of the habitual patterns of our lives.

You want to improve your golf swing or your public speaking or your writing, we’ve all heard the answer since we were knee high to a duck – “practice makes perfect.”

So why on earth can’t we get of our own way and stop living in these repeated patterns, why can’t we improve?

Practice isn’t doing the same thing over and over. Practice is observing how to improve from the last time and trying it differently, over and over.

In my 20’s I spent a lot of time driving around the country. I ate at Denny’s, a lot. I don’t particularly like Denny’s but I would plan my driving distances for the day around Denny’s. You see, I know Denny’s, I know their hours, I know what they serve, I know what it’s going to be like there. It’s not particularly good, it’s not necessarily what I want but I know it and I know the result will at least be familiar.

If you’re running into the same wall, even though this time it’s got stripes and polka dots, you have to be willing to journey into the unknown. What would happen if I ate at Minny’s Diner instead?

Did you just crash into the wall again? Stop. While your head is still smarting, stop. What could you have done differently? Don’t just repeat the same golf swing that didn’t land the ball in the hole last time. All your doing is guaranteeing that it won’t go in again. Try taking a deep breath and just observing. Observe yourself. Try something different. The change may make the ball land further from the hole but it’s the only way you’ll break out of the pattern that is failing you.

I Pledge Allegiance to…

pf-marchinghammersgrey1I pledge allegiance…a childhood ritual, whether your mouth blindly muttered the words in cadence with the rest of class while your mind wandered to count the number of friendship pins on Mary’s backpack, or you sat in political protest, or proudly boomed the pledge with exuberance. As children we were told what we are loyal to, as adults we can usually choose.

I went to the Fifth Avenue Apple Store this weekend. The Apple Watch lined case after case in all their vibrant colors. I got lost in the number of choices to customize, which face, what color, what size should your icons be. The watch pleaded with me to make it my own, to choose who I am and what I want the things in my life to look like.

Loyalty used to be demanded. Happiness and respect seemed to not be a factor in our loyalty. Allegiance was commanded through shaming, guilt, social pressure and lack of choice. People stayed in their jobs for a lifetime, children blindly obeyed authority and we watched the one or two channels we had.

In the ever-changing world of choice, loyalty is now earned not dictated. You are asking your customers, your employees, your partners, your family to pledge their allegiance to you. That is an enormous request. If you expect that kind of faith you need to wake up every morning and earn it. Be the kind of person and business who deserves that level of respect and dedication. Look at yourself and your business in the mirror and be the person that your children, your customers, your dishwasher, your vice president should put their faith in. And please respect and appreciate them for you giving you the chance to earn that place in their lives.

Safe enough to Rebel

whiteBoxWithLidIn high school writing class I was assigned to write about a place, I wrote about being trapped inside a gleaming, white box. I think my writing teacher asked me if I needed to see the guidance counselor. I always thought assignments were stupid, limiting my creativity. I pushed up against them to demonstrate that I couldn’t be contained by their ‘limited’ thinking. If the assignment had been to write about whatever I wanted I would have stared blankly at the page. I probably would have written about my summer trip to New Hampshire or whatever topic my rebellious teenage mind thought was an attempt to force me to conform to their suburban American mindset.

We want to stay relevant, we want to create new ideas, new ways of doing things, new ways of relating, and cool and unique products. We want to disrupt and innovate, evolve, invent and reinvent. Yes, we need to give our teams the freedom to create and innovate. We also need to give them the safety of a container to do it within and a box to think outside of. Without the box, where are the edges you’re asking them to find?

Mrs. Anderson gave me the freedom to rebel by giving me something to rebel against. The rules about how many words and the deadline gave me safety and pushed my creativity to find a solution within those boundaries. She could have celebrated the disruption but high school isn’t always the real world and insubordination isn’t always celebrated, even when the end result is a lot better than the original idea.

Letting Go AND Holding On

11952722_10207628666498585_7921099833688001210_oThe very clumsy sometimes painfully uncoordinated dance of letting go and holding on has landed on my world like tornado. This week marks the moment in time where I watch many of my girlfriends going through the absolute delight and complete agony of dropping their children off for their freshman year in college.

The newly arrived adults unleashed on the world, all of the excitement of autonomy and the freedom of creating their own path, the future in front of them and the absolute terror lurking beneath that the safety net has been moved.

My friends, the moms, their own emotions have turned them into pre-teen hormonal roller coasters. The reverence for the humans they’re releasing, the relief in having achieved this remarkable milestone, the sleep depriving anxiety over all that could go wrong that has now set in and the reality of being forced into a new chapter and a new self-identity.

They’re going to stumble, they’re going to fall, they’re going to have pick themselves back up over and over and over. They’re going to do amazing things and they’re going to mess up – a lot. And you, my warrior parents, you are going to have to let go and hold on. You have shown them values, exposed them to the world, taught them what matters and how to have strong character and now they are going to use all of that as they make their own mark. Just as you had to trip and maneuver your own way through, so will they.

I know your business, or your department, are your babies. Just as my friends watch their children navigate the world, as your business grows, you too will have to watch your creation unfold.

You have hired amazing people because you believe in them. You have taught them about why you do the things you do and what the company values are and how to make the right decisions.

Now let go and hold on. Let them make the impact you hired them to make. They are going to do things differently than you. That’s why you hired them. They may stumble, they may fall but you will be there to pick them up and get them going again. You can keep your safety net, but pull it back and watch the acrobats get better.