Categories
Podcast Writing

25 Days in Ghana with my Mother

Larabanga, a Sudanese style mosque and the oldest mosque in W. Africa

This fall I spent 3.5 weeks traveling with my mother in Ghana, Africa.

Before embarking for this trip, I had never had a particularly strong desire to go to West Africa. I’ve always wanted to visit many different places, like Morocco, Peru, and Nepal, but West Africa never quite made it on my list.

By contrast, my mother has dreamed of visiting Ghana ever since attending graduate school. She is a professional visual artist and has painted textiles from around the world for longer than I have been alive. In graduate school, she discovered the Kente textiles, which are the traditional yellow, gold fabrics of Ghana, and she has always been curious to see where they are made.

My mother trying out the traditional Kente looms in the Bon Wire weaving village, Ghana.

The relationship between me and my mom is complicated. She frequently drives me crazy, so traveling in close quarters for several weeks in a foreign country was a bold test for our relationship. How does the old joke go? “Why do your parents push your buttons? Because they installed them!”

When people have asked how our trip to Ghana went, I’ve been saying that I condensed 10 years of therapy into 3.5 weeks. But even that — while there is some truth to it — doesn’t give enough credence to my role in the relationship.

Just prior to going to Africa, I proposed that my mother and I go see a therapist together — a preparatory measure that might help shepard the trip to Ghana. One of the things that I brought up in therapy is the history of co-dependence in my family.

I think of co-dependence as me being unhappy with someone else’s condition, so much so, that I feel the need to change someone else in order to be happy myself.

My mother’s father died of alcoholism, and while I did not know my grandparents well myself, I suspect that my grandmother was codependent with my grandfather. My mother’s brother, my uncle, struggled with addiction, and died of associated complications. And, I suspect, other members of my family have echoed these codependent patterns, as well. And then here I am, 3 generations later, realizing that I have been codependent with my mother.

When my mother is unhappy, I am unhappy. When she is angry, I am afraid of the consequences. As a 33-year-old adult man, I remain timid and intimidated by her emotions, and my default is to try to “fix” them.

I brought this up in conversation with the therapist. Some of it landed with my mother and some of it she denied, but regardless, speaking it aloud made a difference.

My intention for the trip was to show up loving and supportive of my mother, but refrain from letting her emotions affect my mood or trying to problem-solve for her. This concept set a new precedent for our relationship.

One of the hardest things to explain is the fact that I did not expect my mother to change as a result of my actions. The change that I was hoping for, and at least partially achieved, was in and for myself. At times throughout the trip, my mom was just as controlling as she has ever been. My work was to show up calm, compassionate, loving, and clear — no matter what she was doing in a specific moment.

The experience of this trip got me reflecting on where else in my life I may have acted with codependence. When I look back at my very first romantic relationship back in college, I see threads of the same codependency I have with my mother. My former partner and I were consistently care-taking for each other and unhappy if the other was displeased. That was not the only relationship where this has been the case. When I look at my history as a leader of teams, I have a lot of strengths: I am compassionate. I am a clear communicator. I care enormously about the well being of my people, but sometimes I care beyond a healthy limit. There are times when it is not okay with me for my employees to be unhappy.

“Love. Guide. And then let go of the outcome.”

I think of good leadership, whether with a family member, a romantic partner, or a business colleague, as having three principles: love, guide, and let go. Love them. Invite them towards what you are wanting. Then let go of the outcome. Historically, I have been unable to let go of the outcome.

While the trip to Ghana was by no means a magic cure-all, it pushed me to spend those 4 weeks practicing how to love, how to guide, and — especially that cursed third step — how to let go of the outcome.

The first week was really challenging. Primarily because Ghana was a very challenging location to travel through, but also because the consistency of daily practice and spending more time with my mother than I have since I was 18 provided a level of practice that allowed for long-term change.

Three days after returning from Ghana, I evacuated my family from the Sonoma County fires and was grateful to discover an ease in leadership with my parents that had never existed before. Packing the house until midnight, getting up at 3am — all the while, trying to figure out which time zone I was in — allowed me to find a level of collaboration with my family that had never existed previously.

A walking safari in Mole National Park

I’m excited to bring this significant change into all relationships in my life going forward — into romance and every work relationship that I will have for the rest of my career. I look forward to transferring this skill and being able to show up more clearly than I was able to previously. Perfectly? Of course not. But with a new and improved baseline for loving leadership.

Last weekend, my mother called me up and my mind immediately jumped to several things that I had promised to do for her but had not yet completed — calling travel insurance, paying bills, etc. Before I could say that I was getting to them, my mother stopped me to say that she really appreciated everything I had done to support her in Ghana and during the evacuations.

That acknowledgement is not the reason I went to Ghana and took 4 weeks out of a busy career. I did not expect my mother to change in any way as a result of our time together or even appreciate my efforts. My work was about unpacking the complexities of our relationship. But that acknowledgement was definitely the icing on the cake.

My mother and my relationship is not perfect — and it never will be — but I’m grateful to have spent time putting in the work with her. And I look forward to more.

Categories
Writing

Responsive – First Chapter and a Taste of Things to Come

How To Use This Book

My career path has never followed a traditional route. My first job out of college was as a management consultant, with a gig as a circus performer nights and weekends. Of course, I couldn’t tell the consulting company that I was in the circus, but I also couldn’t admit to my fellow circus artists that I wore a suit to work. I am not content to live in such a binary world. I want to live in a world that encourages the full expression of every individual, and I am dedicated to building it. Improving the ways we work seems like a great place to start.

Responsive is a compilation of tactics and accompanying short stories about innovators on the front lines of the future of work. It is designed to be a choose-your-own-adventure exploration into how we work in the modern era, the approaches and perspectives employed by high performing organizations, and what makes those methods so effective.

While this book can be read cover to cover, I have designed it so that you can jump to those sections most interesting or relevant to you right now. Ultimately Responsive is intended as a reference guide as much as a road map—a resource you can return to again and again as you dive deeper into Responsive and the future of work.

Some operating principles for the Responsive organization

…as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are becoming less and less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in the past are counter-productive in less predictable environments. In contrast, Responsive Organizations are designed to thrive in less predictable environments…

— Responsive Org Manifesto

The world is changing more rapidly than we have ever seen before in human history. According to 2012 estimates, members of the S&P 500 were expected on average to remain in the index for only eighteen years, compared to the sixty-one years they might have expected in 1958. The anticipated lifespan of companies has dropped dramatically over the last few decades.

We also see this in the rise of the ridesharing industry—Lyft and Uber, among others—which was enabled by the proliferation of smartphones. This new industry seized a large part of the taxi market, which previously had been considered stable, if not untouchable. Similarly, the rise of home sharing—and most notably, AirBNB—was made possible by the hyper-connectivity of the Internet Age, and disrupted the traditional hotel industry.

Another example of the changing nature of the business landscape is the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon.com. The day the acquisition was announced, Whole Foods stock rocketed almost 30%, while the value of competitors in the grocery business dropped precipitously. The presumption, it seems, is that disruption of the grocery industry is now inevitable.

There’s a broad lesson in the emergence of ride sharing, home sharing, and the Whole Foods acquisition—which is that any organization or industry is liable to be shaken up at any moment. The goal of every company in the 21st century should be to become resilient, flexible, and have the capacity to respond to inevitable change. Industries, today, can change with unprecedented speed.

The Will to Change

Desire is the first, and probably most important, element needed for organizations and individuals to change. An organizational leader interested in changing their company will face a myriad of questions and decisions about how to initiate that change, but without first establishing the willingness to change across the organization, any future implementation will hit roadblocks.

Each organization will differ in how pervasively they want to introduce Responsive principles—and that’s okay! It may not make sense to implement every facet of Responsive into your organization. As we’ll discuss in the pages to come, incremental changes can lead to big impacts, while still keeping employees and customers on board. Adapting your Responsive approach to fit the needs of your organization is essential. To quote former president Barack Obama, “Change is never easy, but always possible.”

Adapt to the Needs of Your Organization

One of the most exciting and intriguing challenges presented by work in the 21st century is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The key is to focus on the specific needs and the ecosystem within and around your organization.

What environment does your company operate within?
What factors are changing that have the most significant impact?
What aspects of your organization are most ripe for disruption?

We’ll explore all of these questions and many more as we make our way through a variety of stories and examples of organizations implementing new and different ways of working.

Rethink Technology

While technology isn’t the specific focus of this book, it is woven throughout. The ability to communicate near-instantaneously across the globe enables collaboration and remote work in unprecedented ways. As we consider how we organize and work together in the modern world, we can’t overlook the influence of technology.

Change Structures as Needed—Even When it’s Hard

We’ll hear more about General Stanley McChrystal and his aide de camp Chris Fussell (Chapter 4, How We Organize), who together implemented what has come to be called a “team of teams” approach to military strategy during the Iraq War. This approach was counter-cultural to the command and control operations of the U.S. military at the time. But as Chris describes in his book One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams, they were trying to defeat a 21st-century threat with a 20th-century playbook. Al Qaeda terrorists were spreading propaganda using YouTube and formulating plans via Internet forums, which translated into quick action. Meanwhile, the U.S. military was hobbled by its traditional command and control decision-making processes.

It took a complete rethinking of how the Navy SEALs structured their decision-making to devise a new hybrid hierarchy/network model. This model empowered the people closest to the action to make the moment-by-moment decisions necessary to meet the challenges of a new and agile enemy.

Responsive doesn’t argue that change is easy, only that it can offer benefits while addressing the limitations of previous systems.

Tackle the Gaps of Legacy Practices

We’ll also get to know Adam Pisoni (Chapter 4, How We Organize, and Chapter 9, Inclusion and Diversity), who co-founded Yammer, the Responsive Org movement, and is now founder and CEO of the education company Abl Schools. Abl Schools is changing how principals and administrators relate to their teachers and allocate resources. The idea is to help schools better manage their day-to-day operations to be able to achieve their educational goals.

The education system in North America is still reliant on an assembly-model way of teaching and thinking. Consider the structure of most schools: there are grades, segregated by age; there are alarm bells which tell students when to move from one classroom to the next, and the most common form of learning is to sit passively and absorb lectured lessons.

More subtly, subjects get taught according to a linear progression. Math education in the United States, for example, moves from algebra to geometry, to advanced algebra, to precalculus, to calculus. This sequence trains students to think about math in a way that only entrenches a hierarchical, linear view of how the world works. Simply put, schools in the 21st century are still designed to produce people to work in factories.

Exciting possibilities emerge when we reinvent behemoth institutions like the U.S. education system by experimenting with new approaches that leverage technology and use innovative models of collaborating. What is necessary is the willingness to experiment.

Plan for Incremental Change

It is more efficient to navigate organizational change by utilizing small, systematic adjustments than by making large, dramatic changes. Consider a ship plotting its course. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to navigate by charting a path and then checking for accuracy several days, or even months, later. Most likely the ship will end up far off course. It is more effective to estimate the desired direction and then make incremental adjustments along the way.

As Steve Hopkins, co-founder of Responsive Org and VP of Customer Success at Culture Amp, notes, organizational design “happens in the millions of micro-decisions that people make.” Several stories in this book highlight how navigating by incremental changes can be highly effective. Small actions may feel ineffectual, but those steps can add up to a marked change in culture and operations.

Focus on People

One of the most exciting developments in forward-thinking companies is an emphasis on people—that is, the human experience of work. Humans are no longer seen as cogs in the machine of business. Some of this is due to shifts in bargaining leverage: it is easier than ever for employees to change jobs or create enterprises of their own. Younger generations just now entering the workforce expect positive work environments and purpose-driven companies. Organizations themselves recognize that their success increasingly calls for creating cultures and environments where their employees love to work.

As I’ll describe in later chapters, Adam Pisoni is emphasizing an inclusive company culture through his efforts to build a diverse team at Abl Schools. At Culture Amp, Didier Elzinga is relinquishing traditional assumptions about compensation to improve his company Culture Amp. And the founders of Buffer are embracing salary transparency to ensure equal treatment of its employees.

I can’t wait for you to read Responsivewhich comes out on Monday.

I hope you’ll join us for the launch party and a Responsive Salon with Adam Pisoni, 7pm on November 20th at Robin’s Cafe in San Francisco.

I have lots of exciting things planned in the months and weeks ahead, so stay tuned.

Most of all, though, thank you! I would never have published this book without the support of you – my readers and listeners.

Categories
Creative Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Writing

Pam Slim on Capoeira, Building a Body of Work, and the Value of Small Business

 

My guest today is the award-winning author, speaker and small business strategist Pamela Slim (@pamslim).

I first began following Pam’s work with the publication of her first book, Escape from Cubicle Nation, and have watched with enthusiasm as she has transitioned over her career across several very different industries and classes of business.

Her latest, bestselling book, Body of Work, gives a fresh perspective on skills required in the new world of work for people in all work modes, from corporate to nonprofit to small business.

As the founder of K’é in downtown Mesa, Arizona, she now supports small businesses through classes, networking events, and virtual programs.

As the owner of a small cafe in the San Francisco Mission, I was very interested to hear Pam thoughts on why small business is not only necessary but also a great place to build within, with enormous potential.

We discuss a trait that Pam has embodied throughout her career, which I think of as being a lifelong learner or autodidact – and what Pam calls being a multipotentialite.

Pam will be speaking at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference on Sept. 18-19th 2017 in NYC. I hope you enjoy this interview and hope you’ll consider joining us!

Show Notes

03:00 Capoeira
06:30 Lessons learned from Capoeira
09:30 Pam’s move to Mesa, Arizona – Pam mentions the film “Dolores” by Peter Bratt
14:15 Small business is sexy
18:30 Tactical learning
21:30 Work mode
27:30 Different aspects of self
29:30 Pam’s time in college studying in Mexico and Columbia
33:00 Having multiple career choices – Pam mentions How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick and her TED Talk
36:00 Body of Work in practice
38:30 Characteristics of Pam’s Incubator
41:00 Building networks
44:00 Growing small, innovative businesses in small, unexpected locations
49:15 New cities becoming hubs
52:00 Enjoying the process
55:00 Pam’s physical practice
57:45 Learn more about Pam:

Pam’s Website

2nd Annual Responsive Conference

58:30 Parting thoughts

If you enjoyed this episode with Pam Slim, I think you will enjoy the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference this September 18-19th in New York City. 

 

Could you do me a favor? If you’ve enjoyed the Robin Zander Show, I would really appreciate a review on iTunes. Reviews help others find the podcast, and more importantly let me know that you’re enjoying what you’re hearing. Thank you!

You can also keep track of the podcast and all of my projects via my newsletter. Just visit RobinPZander.com and click Newsletter.

Categories
Creative Entrepreneurship Physical Performance Podcast Writing

Jenny Blake on Fear, Physical Routines and Learning to Pivot

 

Today’s guest is my friend Jenny Blake (@jenny_blake) an author, career and business strategist and speaker who helps people organize their brain, and build sustainable, dynamic careers. She is the author of PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One and led a workshop at the 1st annual Responsive Conference in September 2016.

Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients pivot their career or business.

Jenny is brilliant at building simple systems which delegate responsibility and automating decision making. We break down what that means early on in the interview! and she shares a lot of specific personal examples.

We discuss her regular yoga practice, and how a physical routine have helped her build a sustainable career.

Jenny and I also discuss fear, a theme embedded throughout her book PIVOT. We discuss where fear has impacted her business and her personal life, and how she thinks about tackling those.

Whether for an organization or person looking to PIVOT, or just for tactics for simplifying decision making – and life – I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jenny Blake!

Show Notes

02:30 Finding systems
06:15 Explaining systems and delegation
12:15 Jenny’s flow and new book PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One
14:00 Robin’s flow
17:15 Writing
20:00 Jenny’s trends for writing: Toolkit
22:30 Jenny’s family
25:30 Jenny’s desire for teaching and business as a child
28:00 Jenny’s physical practices
29:30 Fear
33:00 Jenny’s relationship
36:00 Fear in physical activities: muay thai and surfing
42:30 Personal responsibility:

Loving What Is by Byron Katie
The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

44:30 Jenny’s coaching
47:30 What’s next for Jenny:

Building Pivot

50:30 What’s next for Robin:

2nd Annual Responsive Conference
Robin’s Cafe
Leadership Retreats

53:00 Find Jenny:

Pivotmethod.com
Toolkit – for authors
Pivot Podcast


If you enjoyed this episode with Jenny Blake, I think you will enjoy the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference this September 18-19th in New York City. 

 

Could you do me a favor? If you’ve enjoyed the Robin Zander Show, I would really appreciate a review on iTunes. Reviews help others find the podcast, and more importantly let me know that you’re enjoying what you’re hearing. Thank you!

You can also keep track of the podcast and all of my projects via my newsletter. Just visit RobinPZander.com and click Newsletter.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Podcast Writing

Steve Scott: Authority on Publishing, Writing 60+ Books, and More

steve_scott_mep-940x646

My guest today, Steve Scott (@stevescott1), is an authority on self-publishing. Steve is an extraordinarily prolific writer, author, and Internet entrepreneur.

Steve has published 60+ books on Amazon, several of which made the difference for me to publish my first book start writing and publishing. I first learned about Steve Scott from an interview he did on the James Altucher podcast in 2014, and have Steve to thank for the publication of my own first book “How to Do a Handstand,” which went on to be a National Bestseller in Japan.

Categories
Writing

Lessons Learned from Two Failed Book Launches

In the last 12 months I have failed to launch two separate books. It has been a process of being eaten to death by ducks, which I consider to be a somewhat humiliating way to die. While I am proud of how I have handled myself in the face of numbers difficulties, I have regrets for the impediments to action.

In November 2013 I was preparing to launch a Kickstarted publication containing worksheets and tools for special needs families. I postponed this launch (perhaps indefinitely) to better be of service to my friend Raun Kaufman’s book launch.

new3d
In April 2014 I was preparing to launch a free e-book consisting of interviews with special needs parents. Days from publication I canceled this launch at the request of a lawyer. Regardless of legal right, I preferred to maintain cordiality with the organization that I was promoting.

Autism-Hope-cover

It has been an amazing process and I have discovered deep love of writing, publishing, and promotion. What I will examine, though, is the underbelly. The reasons behind why I failed twice in six months to publish resources that I see a need for in the world. I hope these will be useful to inspire others towards learning new things, and help avoid mistakes and especially the fear of failure.

Eaten to Death By Ducks

There is no one moment that I can point to and blame. There is no person to blame but myself. Each decision was my own and it is useful to see where decisions lead. Instead of tiny steps towards the end goal, in the last weeks before launch I took tiny (unintentional) steps away. There was a conversation with a friend where we discussed postponing by a week. There was a conversation with a lawyer where I had to consider my next moves. All decisions and responsibility rested with me, but by taking tiny steps away from the end goal I was eventually subsumed by minutia and failed to launch.

Set Dates, Stick to Them

I am extremely self-motivated. When I set out to do a thing I get it done. And one of the problems I have discovered with self-publishing or internal deadlines is that then I am responsible only to myself. By having no one outside of myself monitoring the launch dates of my Kickstarter, of example I was arbiter. By having no one else dedicated to a specific date it was well within my jurisdiction to postpone. If, instead, I had had commitment to backers, my clients, etc. it would have been harder or impossible to postpone.

Work With People You Enjoy

This is one of my greater mistakes. I have studied with several amazing teachers and mentors, but have been limited by what is available within their protective umbrella. Unfortunately, some of these teachers have also been very protective of their specific domains such that when I go to promote their work through unusual means or create under their auspices, I have been readily shut down. We are social animals and it is important to collaborate with others on projects bigger than ourselves. But I have learned to choose more carefully the people with whom I want work and the projects that I will work on.

Do Work You Love

I love the study of how humans learn movement, and practical philosophies that can expedite the learning process. As a result the topics of all that I was writing about and promoting fit within my domain of expertise. While my enthusiasm for specific projects waxes and wanes, my dedication to the overall studies that are summarized in my works has never faltered.

I recently did publish my very first book “How To Do A Handstand.” And I have more on the way. I suggest staying staying tuned via my mailing list, where I send out periodic updates and a monthly learning challenge I’ve tackled.

Categories
Writing

Building the Habit – Writing Regularly For 1 Year

I recently picked up “The Magic of Thinking Big.” I opened up David Schwartz’s book to a random page and ready: “Belief in success is the one basic, absolute essential ingredient of successful people. Believe, really believe you can succeed, and you will.”

Believe (Photo credit: Uglyagnes)

I put the book aside and wondered to myself where I self-limit by believing there is something I can’t do.

I’ve been blogging irregularly since 2009, without a clarity of purpose, and without a clear voice in my writing. I am working on a book but am struggling because I don’t know how to communicate some of my important points. In the past few years I’ve developed the belief that I can’t build an audience as a blogger. A few minutes later I was resolute; I was going to change.

I had reached a decision. I was going to blog every week for a year to practice and in an effort to find my voice. Who knows, maybe while I am at it some folks will even be interested in reading what I write! I’m doing this as an experiment in getting over my belief that I can’t.

To begin I’ve compiled a couple of tools I’ll use to help out.

Categories
Writing

Books I’m Reading This November

This month I’ve been reading several amazing books. “Flourish” is the new term a world-famous happiness research is calling a set of criterion which describe a person’s well-being. Mieville continues to describe complex and beautiful worlds unlike our own, yet intriguingly similar. And Richard Branson is himself – extraordinary…

Just a few new books (Photo: Natalia Osiatynska)

On a flight from New York to San Francisco I read a fair portion of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin Seligman. This exceptional psychologist has spent more than 40 years researching behavior and emotion using everything from rats pressing levers to reforming a private British school into a Happiness University. Seligman now researches what he calls “flourishing” which consists of several factors that make up the well-being of a human. In this exceptional book he describes the development of his research and teaching at University of Pennsylvania and provides a wide variety of extraordinary tools that his readers can begin to apply immediately to improve their own lives.

Note: my favorite of these is his gratitude training exercise. Seligman has conducted extensive longitudinal research proving that as little as three statements of gratitude written per day dramatically increase positive outlook on life. What are you grateful for?

I have recently started China Mieville latest work of speculative fiction Embassytown. As always, I am amazed at Mieville’s unique capacity to draw his audience into a world recognizable and alarmingly different from our own. His landscapes are beautiful, rich, and compelling. His characters tell the story of their worlds through the narrative of their lives. Embassytown is a compelling addition to Mieville bibliography – hauntingly beautiful and more relevant to our lives than the made up world initially appears.

Another favorite this month is Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson billionaire, entrepreneur, and passionate Brit.  Branson is the founder of the Virgin group (which includes the airline Virgin America and the Virgin record label, among many others). Losing My Virginity tells the story of Branson’s life from his earliest days founding the magazine Student through the birth of the Virgin records and into the modern day. Richard Branson’s humor and fun loving spirit pervade and make this story of one man’s success fun to read and useful to learn from for all.

Hope you enjoy these!