I didn’t expect to write this, however, learning about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain hit me hard. I’m going to get personal and go all over the map with this article – you’ve been warned. I’ve been aware of the link between depression and creativity since childhood. “Crazy” runs in my family (i.e. bipolar, multiple personalities, ADD, ADHD, depression etc.) so does creativity. People I love have attempted suicide, a few have succeeded.
For a long time, I assumed extreme emotional vicissitudes – fluctuations between highs and lows was simply the price of being weirdly creative. I tried therapy. For me, it didn’t do much and kind of pissed me off.
I eventually found my therapy in sports, friends and yoga + meditation.
In 2013 I was unhappy and yearning for — something. Happiness? Kindness? I didn’t know … but it led me to yoga teacher training, studying the sutras, and the eightfold path. These millennia-old traditions – connected my understanding of OB and the creative + design process with the essential nature of humanity. Slowly things started to make sense. It put me on a path of aligning my values, finding my people, starting my own business and truly ACTING on my values and living my creativity.
What I’ve discovered along the way is that the highs and lows are the extreme energetic transitioning through fear and love – the void and energy. That to create anything new, we have to journey into the void, dare to be alone and often really lonely. It’s painful but it’s part of the process of being human. The braver and more alive you are — the scarier the ride. Whether you call it the void, fear, an overactive survivalist brain, or demons, those feelings are real.
That tight grip on your heart, squeezing out all hope until all you can see is your imminent doom, that’s the feeling of your demons constricting the fourth chakra — cutting you off from energy, from the light, from your people, your truth, and the collective consciousness.
It’s real and what is also real is the fact that they can’t hold forever.
If you are going to create and venture into the unknown, and I realize for some of us that isn’t really a choice, grow your heart muscle, open it up wide, make art, make love, be kind. When the demons come and take away your energy, remember the darkness is in proportion to your ability to shine. Create your energy touchstones. Come back to your faith, your friends, and your art.
You are divine and human – and this is simply the price of the journey.
I love you. Have courage.
The George Washington Parkway is one of my favorite drives — for many reasons, not least of which is that it offers many fantastic views of our nation’s capital and scenic natural vistas. It was during a pre-dawn commute on my way to teach a 6 AM yoga, that I found myself contemplating creativity and the chakras.
And then you come to the Air Force Memorial… As an Arlington native, the Air Force Memorial is painfully new. It is literally a monument to technology, our ability to defy gravity.
Moving from survival to growth
According to Beau Lotto in his popular book, Deviate, thousands of years of evolution has wired the human brain for physical survival. This is normally a good thing, but too much of a good thing leads to imbalance. It is a problem when folks cling too tenacious to the world as it is and refuse to grow or change.
Power comes from our hearts (no. 4)
To innovate and grow we must move beyond survival mode and accept the risk that comes with moving past the comfort zone. As individuals, once you can assume that your physical needs are met — then you have the luxury of thinking about the future, long-term, happiness, you have the luxury of diverging, dreaming of the future. It’s interesting as individuals move to this stage to see the impact that this is having on our organizations and society.
#CombinatoryThinkind #Spirituality #Chakras #OrganizationalBegavior #Maslow #CreativeManagement #divergence #Convergence) #Taoism #gender #art #ChristianitybywayoftheDaVinciCode.
Instead of working on your resume – which most folks only do when they need a job — consider developing and maintaining a “Me Guide” which will be helpful to you and your team!
Connecting the dots on your digital tools, databases, and processes – has the added benefit of ensuring good data governance.
- College and degree
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“Everyone has a side-gig these days, I have a side gig!” Michael Dumlao, Booz Allen’s Director of Brand, exclaimed after his presentation on their re-branding efforts. I was impressed with his response. I’d been skeptical when Mr. Dumlao described Booz, the grandfather of management consulting firms, as “a 100-year old start-up.”
I’ve been part of enough change initiatives with large organizations to know the difference between “talking” about being more creatively innovative and actually making it happen. Mr. Dumlao’s answer suggested that their brand transformation had indeed crossed the talk/do chasm.
Earlier that week I had been discussing potential opportunities at a well known consulting firm, let’s call it Firm A – only to discover it has a policy not to allow “side-hustles.” Needless to say, I was bummed.
I left my last company; let’s call it Firm B, because a similar policy left me feeling stifled and bored. My old firm had good reasons for its policy, it was risk-averse, and had strict compliance rules, especially relating to their audit work, and it makes sense not to allow employees to “compete” with the firm.
The reason the Firm A gave me for disallowing side gigs was that they expected all their employee’s energy to go to their work. (As a creative consultant I have to say, that logic reflects a lack of understanding and appreciation for the creative process.) For firm A’s policy to make sense, there has to be perfect alignment of interests between the firm and the individual and very probably perfect information exchange, as well as a shared view of risk. While I can imagine this to be possible, I think it unlikely.
These policies mitigate both value & risk
I remember reading once that in Silicon Valley, investors should look at what programmers work on in their spare time. Looking at these passion projects makes sense. Whenever I was assessing pilots and proof of concept pitches for the data innovation group, I found that the enthusiasm of the data scientists and programmers was a significant indicator of a project’s success, exceeding even the impact of senior leadership’s enthusiasm, and far exceeding expected financial gains. IMO, passion projects are incredibly efficient in terms of time management because folks access flow – an optimized often generative energy state. Also,
People learn by doing
Restricting side projects to a “hobby” – i.e. you can’t test out market viability, means that your best people can’t test and calibrate their impact. Such policies are disempowering and kill entrepreneurial drive. This is a problem if you want to retain “impactors” – a term I lifted from Jenny Blake’s book NYT best-selling book, “Pivot.”
Off the top of my head some benefits for allowing employees to engage in side-gigs
- Potential cross-pollination of ideas – across industries
- Empowering under-represented groups to understand their impact
- Helps employees mitigate financial risk
- Encourages employees to think like an owner
- Mitigate “boredom” and develops new skills
- Encourages external networking
- Allows impactors to “test” out ideas without the constraint of firm oversight or approval
Lastly, and most obviously, side gigs are rapidly becoming the new norm. According to Upwork, it’s estimated that 50% of millennials are engaged in the gig economy and that number is only expected to grow. I suspect that the most prestigious firms will find that side-gig restrictions will hurt their ability to attract and retain top talent.
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Blind-sided, crushed, devastated, hurt, frustrated, confused, that’s how folks have described the feeling of an unexpected negative annual review.
Communicate like an adult
No excuse for hidden agendas
People first management
Fearlessly seek out feedback – let nothing remain unsaid.
- Feedback can hurt, but it is also instructive, seek it out and embrace it
- Engaging in regular feedback lowers the risk and increases the likelihood of successful relationships (skip to 15-minute mark of this funny ted talk).
- Asking questions establishes that you value someone’s opinion & learning how to disagree with dignity creates mutual trust
- Finally, it’s also ok to disregard feedback that is not useful or aligned with your goals
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Mary Rose McCaffrey, Vice President of Security at Northrup Grumman did not hold back in her keynote address to McLean High School Women Leaders. In this age of #metoo, she reminded the young women assembled that there are still be plenty of men who will block you and tell you women can’t do the work. Her advice?
“Smile and do it anyway.”
Taking questions from the audience, her gaze alighted on one impossibly slender hand thrust up from the crowd.
We all have stories.
Her solution? Document it. She kept track of ever occurrence for well over a month. When she had more than enough examples she went to his boss with her evidence.
Long story short, he was removed from that position and she took over as director. I’d like to report,
The crowd went wild.
Well as wild as a bunch of high school girls on their best behavior can be. It was the sort of encouraging Lean-In kind of story that women need to hear to take on the world.
Still, I was uneasy, sitting there with over twenty years of work experience, the story made me pause. Frankly, I resent the need for CYA maneuvers. I admire Mary Rose McCaffrey, her poise, her stoicism and her strength. I don’t think I could have done what she did. The truth of the matter is,
I wouldn’t want to.
I’ve been in similar situations and have not handled them with such grace. By the time I realized just how biased and messed up the situation was, I didn’t feel like it was worth my effort to document it all. During the networking fair that followed the speech, I mentioned my response to another mentor. She reminded me,
- Objective Power. She had enough perspective and “power” to recognize that her director was gaslighting her. Too often as junior members of a team, without explicit power, we’ll defer to authority – and conflate objective truth with subjective difference. That got me thinking about where her power comes from.
- She was married. Clearly, she is extremely talented, but it also helps that she is married. As women put off marriage fvariousous reasons is important to consider what impact this will have on mobility. I remember a 2002 Women in Management leadership panel I attended right before business school, specially that 5 out of 6 of the women panelists were married. All of those that were married credited their success, at least in part, to having a supportive spouse. As a single woman this struck as kind of scary – truth be told it still does.
- She was committed. She wanted to be where she was, which speaks to her grit, but also that she had some agency. She was fortunate to have selected a field which was aligned with her strengths. All of which combined to make it more likely that she would put up a fight. Unfortunately, I see too many under-employed folks getting stuck, depressed, and disengaging.
- Luck. Finally, there is some modicum of luck having a supportive male leadership. All of which was helped on by her talent, her reputation and frankly her stoicism, which is typically a male style of leadership.
Women need to cultivate their personal power on their terms.
Career advice is not one size fits all.
Things got a little spicy at last week’s panel discussion on “Imposter Syndrome (IS).” This was not entirely unexpected – as Robert Dempsey explained in his intro, he’d purposely put together a diverse mix of forthright folks who weren’t afraid “to go there.” With that kind of permission, how could we not? All four panelists, myself included, are upwardly and have experienced feeling “outside” the norm – be that by gender, economically or culturally.
The inmates are running the asylum
How this plays out in the workplace
Some of my takeaways from the panel
- Imposter syndrome often makes you feel like you are alone, or isolated. One counter to IS is to actively seek out and actively cultivate and maintain a trusted tribe, who can give you the right kind of feedback.
- IS seems to affect innovators and folks creating their own path — with that in mind one can consider it to be a part of the process.
- IS also seems to affect those who are humble and possess a modicum of humility — as a coach or a manager, it should be considered a GOOD sign of an intellect that is confident enough to question themselves.
The first time I learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, was at Yale. His theory of human motivation has been useful in my career as a storyteller, marketer and change management consultant. I was, however, struck when the professor made the off-handed comment that,
“Some people’s pyramids are flipped.”
I wanted to stand up and pump my fist! “yes!” who cares about food, shelter, sex or money when you could go for “self-actualization.” Who didn’t want to create their dreams and make the world a better place? I suspect that most creative people and artists are wired similarly. Of course, surrounded by my more serious classmates, future financiers, and business process consultants, I kept my seat.
I did not, however, forget my lesson. Years later, while studying for my yoga teacher certification, I noted the similarity between Maslow’s pyramid and the seven energy chakras. After much meditation and considered in the context of human development, I think of these needs ranking different. Specifically,
It’s not a hierarchy. It’s a perspective.
In the context of career and life design, focusing on base needs is limiting. Instead, I encourage people to considered their from a human-centered or heart-centered place. The most successful people I know have had the good fortune of being able to lean into their interests, joy, strengths, and empathy. It’s lead me to conclude,
Happiness is a competitive advantage
Everything flows from the heart, it is the balance between your history and potential – the source of your energy. Doing heart-centered works leads to purpose-aligned confidence and communication (Chakras 3 and 5). It creates the momentum and courage to create and see the world (Chakras 2 and 6). That courage and strength allows for the vulnerability and compassion necessary to connect with one’s tribe and humanity (Chakras 1 and 7)
We are not building a life from the bottom up, rooted into the past.
We are learning to create balance so that we can fly into future possibilities.
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Creative leaders hold space for their organizations, to explore and take risks. Innovative cultures do two things. They empower their employees to contribute and they reward thoughtful failure. Too many organizations hoard creative permission. Creativity is reserved for those that have “earned” the right by proving themselves, climbing the corporate hierarchy – a process that is notorious for reinforcing conformity.
Is it any wonder that companies struggle to innovate?
We train people and organization on human-centered design techniques to develop internal processes.
In addition, we provide guidance for practicing mindset tools both for cultivating and growth-mindest. We also teach participants how to making emotion-neutral, and unbiased decisions; when (and when not to) reserve judgment, when to diverge creatively and when to drive towards a decision; how best to collaborate and offer effective feedback.
I blame Amy Cuddy, having recently finished her book Presence I’ve been keyed into body language. So when I came across feminist icon Gertrude Stein’s “portrait” in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, I was struck by her pose – specifically her lack of a power pose.
According to the blurb, the artist created it very intentionally in the shape of the Buddha, which is something I can appreciate – but still. My first impression was of a sad old woman, I stood above her as she looked down her face shaded, her back stooped.
I frowned. I wanted to see her enlivened, powerful!
And then –I’m not sure why — I did something weird.
I got my knees and I looked up.
As you can see
That changed everything.
It reminded me of teaching early in my career at Philadelphia’s University City high school (shoot out the Black Bottom). I was working with a student on her college applications – and she told me about another student who didn’t want my help and how she thought that was crazy. (I’m sure it was meant as a compliment).
Yesterday, I was reminded again because clearly, I needed it, that sharing knowledge is an act of grace. To learn requires admitting you don’t know everything, to teach is to learn, and to offer wisdom to those who need to be willing to accept it on faith.
Growing up across the river from Washington, I hated politics. I thought social studies was “boring!” Looking back what has always bothered me about politics is how power makes people act like assholes. Studying history it all seem so — inefficient – all that arguing didn’t matter until you do the right thing and stopped being selfish jerks. My younger self had no patience for the long arc of history to arrive at justice. Frankly, I’m not sure if my old self does either.
I left the D.C. area after high school and returned after nearly two decades. It’s a crazy time to be living here during the Trump years, although I suspect it would have pulled me back in no matter where I was in the world. It’s impossible and irresponsible to eschew politics these days.
My heart is breaking, watching our country tear itself apart. Blame the media, fake news, foreign trolls etc. I think what’s going on,
Is bigger than that.
We are witnessing the growing pains of a significant shift not just in U.S. politics but in humanity. It is the transition from a survival-focus to a growth-focus.
Stepping beyond the veil of “survival”
In his book, “Deviate” Beau Lotto observes the human mind has evolved for one primary reason – “survival.” For most of human history – all our systems and organizations and power has been constructed to ensure our physical survival.
In a survival mindset, the mind is focused, alert and primarily concerned about the physical self, the ego, and the tribe. In contrast, a growth mindset is relaxed, curious and expansive. Once basic physical needs, food, shelter, physical security are met and money is not a concern – a growth mindset is achievable.
Hippy Translation: If you’ve ever meditated on the chakras, you understand that it is the balance (chakra 4) of our humanity (chakras 1,2,3) and our “divinity” (chakras 5,6,7) – and alignment that is ideal.
Where the problem lies
That survival “game” is only the preliminary phase. Unfortunately, the winners of that “game” are reluctant to give up their power (money, status, political etc.) rooted in the physical world in favor of a more inclusive game with new rules and new values.
Those folks are locked in survival mode. It’s a narrow, dimmed focus, that “cannot afford to be kind.” Kindness, art, love, generosity, global community is a luxury for the delusional, pampered and weak.
That point of view is limited and sad (ugh — I hate how Trump ruined that world).
The world reflects what we give it. If we give it war, scarcity, and cruelty, it will reflect war, scarcity, and cruelty. In other words, whether you believe in survival or growth you are right.
“I didn’t even think about being happy,” was the feedback several top clients gave Marshall Goldsmith in his New York Times best-selling book, “Triggers.” It’s a sentiment that seems to be more prevalent among older generations. You work to live and to provide for your family. You can be happy when you retire or die. (If you think that sounds absurd, you are probably an artist, born after 1980, or European.)
What do warriors do when there is no war?
We need our warriors to stop fighting old battles and to give up the fight for the status quo or a reversion to an era of inequity (#MAGA). We’re better than that.
Our fight for survival has been a warm-up for our fight for understanding and growth.
Staring into the depths of the universe, into the tabla rasa of our understanding is as daunting as fighting for survival.
I think it’s a far more interesting and worthwhile game – and I suspect we’re going to need that creativity for this next phase as we discover how to live sustainably.