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
Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive

How to Create an Amazing Brand with Michael Roderick

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Michael Roderick to discuss brand strategy and his work around creating “referrable brands.” This conversation covers a wide range of topics related to brand strategy, including his AIM model which stands for Accessibility, Influence, and Memory. We apply this framework to a variety of business examples, including my own efforts at Zander Media. I hope you enjoy!

Podcast Notes:

3:30 Michael’s background
Robin refers to:
Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
6:30 How Michael and Robin know each other
Responsive Conference
Responsive Org Manifesto
10:30 Teaching and learning
15:30 Transitioning from teaching to starting a business
Michael mentions:
Linchpin by Seth Godin
18:15 Michael’s talk at Disrupt HR
20:45 Referrable brands: Accessibility, Influence, and Memory
24:00 Michael’s podcast
26:30 Applying AIM to Zander Media
30:15 Influence
34:00 Memory
40:00 Lin Manuel Miranda, Geico, and Apple
46:15 Find more about Michael:
Small Pond Enterprises
LinkedIn
47:45 Find more about Robin:
Zander Media
Responsive Conference
Robin Zander Show Podcast
Newsletter – Personal
Newsletter – Responsive

Categories
Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive Robins Cafe Special Needs

How to Ask Better Questions with Daniel Stillman and Robin Zander

In this episode, my friend, Daniel Stillman, interviews me for his podcast, The Conversation Factory. We discuss how to ask better questions, the value of loving, non- judgmental questions, and my story.

I hope you enjoy today’s podcast as Daniel flips the script and interviews me on the art of asking questions.

Line Notes

1:15 How Robin describes himself

5:15 Responsive Org

Mentions:

Responsive.org

DonorsChoose.org

10:00 How do you define learning?

14:30 Asking loving questions

17:45 Practice versus performance intervals

22:30 Physical and emotional pain

Mentions:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

24:30 Asking loving questions

29:00 Robin’s interest in asking questions

32:30 Anat Baniel

37:00 The Option Institute

40:45 Categories of questions

Mentions:

Larissa Conte at Responsive Conference

45:15 Robin’s Cafe

47:00 Find Robin:

Categories
Culture Learning Responsive

Larissa Conte on Ritual and Transformation

Larissa Conte is a systems coach, ceremony designer, and rites of passage guide through her business, Wayfinding. She also works with The Ready doing organization transformation to fuel the future of work. Larissa specializes in facilitating transformation and alignment across scales to foster power that serves.

With deep experience in the energetics and mechanics of transformation, Larissa helps individuals and groups develop refined sensing and listening, shed what no longer serves, and dynamically steward greater creative energy in their lives and companies. Her work weaves 10+ years of experience in the diverse fields of leadership coaching, organizational culture consulting, ecosystems science, strategy design, holistic healing/wellness, ceremony, somatic intimacy coaching, and wilderness survival. She’s worked with hundreds of leaders across startups and the Fortune 100, and is based in San Francisco.

As change agents, within or outside of organizations, attendees of Responsive Conference are those most responsible for other’s transformation. Onstage at this year’s conference, Larissa will invite us to consider our own blind spots, and the taboos we are failing to address that keep us from doing our best work.

Show Notes
3:00 Thinking and sensing
7:30 Physical injuries and emotional challenges

  • Mentions: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

9:45 Wayfinding
13:00 Moved by feeling
17:30 Minimum amount of challenge for maximum change
19:15 Rite of passage
23:45 Larissa’s personal rituals
26:30 Beginnings and endings
30:00 Closing a meeting
31:15 What is going on culturally
36:30 Tensions coming to the surface
42:00 Unique voice

45:30 Redefine mastery
48:00 Resources:

Categories
Creative Culture Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 3, Purpose

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

The Morning Star Company

Doug Kirkpatrick was one of the earliest employees at The Morning Star Company. Founded in 1990, Morning Star would go on to trailblaze self-management in business. But as might be expected of any start-up, let alone one committed to innovative management, the company’s early days were intense times.

Morning Star is a tomato-ingredients manufacturer based out of Sacramento, California. The agribusiness and food-processing industries are notoriously old-school, known for strict command and control structures and rigid bureaucracies. The small group of employees who initiated the Morning Star project had a six-month window to start up the first factory and had committed to beginning operations on a specified day and even at a specific hour. They were a high-performance group, and Doug describes those initial weeks as a high state of flow, with each person striving cooperatively to bring the new company into existence. The company consisted of seasoned employees, and Doug, at thirty-four, was considered quite young.

Several months before the factory opened, the owner of The Morning Star Company, Chris Rufer, called a leadership meeting. The Morning Star founder and twenty-four members of the team met on the job site. They pulled steel folding chairs into a circle, and Chris passed around a page titled “Morning Star Colleague Principles.”

The sheet included just two points:

  •      Don’t use force.
  •      Keep your commitments.

The group spent several hours discussing what these principles meant. Questions cropped up. What happens if you have to fire somebody? What if someone quits? In the end, no one found a reason to reject these ideas, and every person there had reasons to embrace them.

Together, the group concluded that these two points were necessary and sufficient, and they would make up the core of all human interactions at the company. Adopting these principles wouldn’t change the day-to-day operations of the nascent company, but they’d have clear guideposts by which they’d proceed.

What they perhaps didn’t fully process at that moment (and what Doug has spent his career implementing, first at Morning Star and now with companies all over the world) was the far-reaching ramifications of adopting those simple principles. Consider, for example, that “Don’t Use Force” effectively implies:

  •      No one can require anyone to do anything.
  •      No one can unilaterally make anyone do anything.
  •      No one can fire anyone unilaterally.
  •      Each person has a voice within the company and each voice is protected; no democracy or majority rules.
  •      Checks and balances will be inherent.

At the time, it didn’t register how profoundly that meeting, and its eventual outcomes, would impact the team, and its members individually. As Doug said, “What we did would end up being very radical—but we were so busy we didn’t necessarily see it since it didn’t seem immediately to impact our day-to-day lives.” More than two decades later, those principles—don’t use force and keep your commitments—continue to serve as the bedrock of a successful, self-managed company.

Shortly before opening, Doug and his colleagues celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday outside the same farmhouse where Chris Rufer had called that fateful leadership meeting. The company has gone on to become a model of self-management and the world’s largest tomato processor, handling between 25% and 30% of U.S. tomato crops.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Categories
Creative Culture Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive

Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization, Chapter 1

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, the first chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

 

On the Shoulders of Giants

Responsive has been built on a community of which I am just a single member.

I am grateful to the six people wrote the Responsive Org manifesto, and began a movement: Adam Pisoni, Aaron Dignan, Matthew Partovi, Mike Arauz, Steve Hopkins and Alexis Gonzales-Black. They put words to a problem faced by organizations today and gave us a language to describe the challenges and tensions that have long existed in the workplace.

I would not have written this book without the friendship of Steve Hopkins, who taught me how to run an un-conference, and the handful of collaborators with whom I produced my first Responsive events.

I’m indebted to the fifty-plus leaders who I’ve interviewed on my podcast, The Robin Zander Show, who described big ideas like non-hierarchy and holacracy in simple language and gave me hope that I could write a book to do the same.

 

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.

 

A Responsive Café

I have a vested interest in discovering what works for myself and my small team. Throughout this book, I’ll share stories about my small business, a coffee shop in San Francisco, where I work with my ten-person staff to serve coffee and avocado toast and to build community.

I founded “Robin’s Café” in late April 2016, with no prior experience as a restaurateur but armed with a clear purpose: to foster a nascent community that I knew could exist in our corner of San Francisco. We had exactly three weeks from inception to opening day, so, unsurprisingly, our first week of operations was a mess. Attendees of a conference I had organized on site wanted to support the café, creating a bona fide lunch rush on our very first day.

In those early weeks, we were a team of four, often making up recipes on the spot to cover orders. I look back on those times now, after having a tough day, and realize that no matter how terrible things might seem, it will never be as chaotic and insane as those first few weeks.

We desperately needed additional staff. One day, a man named Frank quietly dropped off his resume during our usual morning rush. I was up to my elbows managing an exploding keg of cold brew. But even in the midst of a coffee emergency, it quickly became clear that Frank was professional, playful, and knowledgeable about the food service industry. I hired him, and he soon became indispensable at the café.

On May 20, 2016, Frank had been scheduled to open the café. Around 9:30 a.m., I got a call that Frank hadn’t shown up. “Was he sick?” I wondered. I checked to see if he’d sent me any messages, but there were none. I called him, but it went to voicemail. A week later, I sent an email, mostly in jest, with the subject, “Are you still alive?” The staff and I just assumed that Frank became a “no call, no show,” something not uncommon in the service industry. Frank’s cutting contact was a simple case of job abandonment. Still, it somehow didn’t seem like Frank, and I wanted to make sure he was okay. I tracked down his brother on social media and messaged him. I heard nothing for several days.

Then, out of the blue, Frank’s brother called me. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” I remember him saying, “My brother is dead. He was hit and killed by a train.” In that moment of shock, while I digested what I’d just heard, Frank’s brother went on: “I want you to know how happy he was to be working at Robin’s Café.”

Frank’s death is a constant reminder to me of how truly transient and changeable business—and life—can be. As a small business owner in those first few weeks, I had to be resilient, not just in my response to Frank’s death, but to be able to mentor and support those at our café and in the community who knew him. I was determined to build into the ethos of our organization this realization that circumstances can change in an instant. I wanted my team to be resilient when times got tough and grateful for the days when work felt more like play. I like to think that in some way this commitment to resilience and good humor is a small homage to Frank.

That same ethos is what has compelled me to write this book and to share just some of the ways that ground-breaking organizations and individuals are exploring human-centered work. This book is an invitation to see the value of Responsive approaches and bring them into your organization as fits your vision and culture.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 1 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Categories
Creative Culture Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive

Jennifer Dennard at Responsive Conference 2016 – “Medium – The Future of (People) Work”

I hope you enjoy this talk with Jennifer Dennard from Responsive Conference 2016. Jennifer is the co-founder of Range Labs and the former Head of People and Culture at Medium, focusing on organization design, people operations, and diversity & inclusion.

Jennifer is passionate about helping teams work together better. In this talk, Jennifer talks about human resources and a future of work that is best for our employees.

This talk was recorded live at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in September 2016. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Categories
Creative Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive

Charles Best at Responsive Conference 2017 – “DonorsChoose.org – A Purpose Driven Company”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Charles Best (@CharlesBest), founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org.

Charles Best is an American philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers serving in US schools.

Charles launched the organization out of a Bronx public high school where he taught history. DonorsChoose.org is one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things” and was named by Fast Company as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.”

This video was recorded at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in New York City in 2017. Learn more: http://responsiveconference.com

Categories
Culture Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive

Steve Hopkins at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Culture First”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins), Director of Customer Success at Culture Amp and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

Steve is passionate about helping clients develop a responsive operating culture that they can be proud of. At Culture Amp, Steve does this by guiding clients through successful culture change programs using the Culture Amp HR and People Analytics platform.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Categories
Learning Love Podcast Responsive

Meg Poe at Responsive Conference 2017 – “The Most Popular Class at NYU on Love”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Meg Poe, professor at New York University.

Megan Poe is a psychiatrist and interpersonal psychoanalyst who teaches one of New York University’s most popular and fastest-growing classes. Her topic? Love! At this year’s Responsive Conference, she’ll explore with us what it takes to live, love, and work well.

In addition to her professorship at NYU, Meg has a private practice in New York City. Meg’s mission is to help people feel most present and alive in their creative flow and inner life. She specializes in helping adults create more-intimate, fulfilling relationships in their lives and work.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Categories
Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Responsive

Aaron Dignan at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Let’s Disrupt the Modern World of Work”

I’m pleased to share this keynote address by my friend Aaron Dignan (@aarondignan), founder of The Ready, at Responsive Conference 2017.

Aaron Dignan sees the same phenomenon everywhere he looks. Our most trusted and important institutions – in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change.

Aaron is the founder of The Ready and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. We’re gearing up for Responsive Conference 2018, and excited to have The Ready leading an interactive Teaming simulation.

Learn more at responsiveconference.com

Categories
Creative Learning Podcast Responsive

Revolutionizing Education with Anthony Kim and Alexis Gonzales-Black

I am so excited for today’s interview with two guests. Today we are speaking with Anthony Kim (@Anthonx), the founder and CEO of Education Elements, as well as Alexis Gonzales-Black (@Gonzalesblack), a former guest on the podcast and speaker at Responsive Conference.

We are here today to talk about their new book, The New School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools. I had a blast conducting this interview and sitting down with them, and I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Show Notes

1:30 How Anthony and Alexis met
4:30 Holacracy at Education Elements
7:00 Check ins and check outs
9:00 Balancing tensions
12:15 Assumptions versus known facts
14:15 Alexis’ background in education
15:30 Recruitment and retention
17:45 Inefficient processes in education
24:00 Team of teams autonomy
27:15 Tailor Responsive concepts to fit your personal teams
30:00 Sharing information transparently
32:30 School structures have not revolutionized enough
36:00 The New School Rules book structure
38:00 Planning and predicting
42:15 How to make change with mini experiments
45:15 Creating better work conditions for teachers
49:30 Safe enough to try
52:30 Contact Alexis and Anthony:
Website: The New School Rules
Amazon: The New School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools – If you like the book, please leave a review!
Linkedin: Alexis and Anthony
Twitter: Alexis, Anthony, The New School Rules
Anthony’s Website: Education Elements
Alexis’ Website: Thoughtful Org

If you enjoyed this interview you’ll also enjoy my first interview with Alexis Gonzales-Black, where we discussed her backstory, rolling out Holacracy at Zappos and much more.

And, don’t forget, tickets are on sale now for Responsive Conference 2018 – where both Alexis and Anthony will be onstage!

Categories
Entrepreneurship Podcast Robins Cafe

Andrew Barnett on Coffee, Culture and Founding Linea Caffe

My guest Andrew Barnett (@andrewbbarnett) is the founder of Linea Caffe, a coffee roastery and wholesale company, which was one of the first vendors we began working with at Robin’s Cafe in 2016.

In this interview, we discuss how Andrew first introduced himself to me in those early days of the cafe, the humanness that he brings to his work, and his deep knowledge of coffee.

We discuss how the coffee industry has changed over the last 20 years, what it takes to create a thriving business, and why Andrew loves food service. He shares how he thinks about his company and what he does to build an inclusive culture at Linea Caffe.

If you’re interested in a unique perspective on building successful businesses and cultures, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

 

Show Notes

2:15 How Andrew and Robin met
5:15 Andrew’s interest in coffee and human service
8:30 The antithesis of Starbucks
11:30 Roasting coffee
13:45 Cup of Excellence program
17:30 The “Ah Ha” moment
20:00 Linea quality
24:45 Selling Echo Cafe to Intelligentsia
26:15 Third wave movement
28:15 Moving back to San Francisco and starting Linea
31:15 Andrew’s approach to people
35:00 Linea’s retail and roasting locations
37:30 What made this work for Andrew
40:45 Future of coffee
43:45 Find out more: Linea Website 

If you enjoyed this episode of the Robin Zander Show, you might also enjoy listening to my conversation with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins) on coffee, culture and the Future of Work.

Categories
Physical Performance Podcast Zander Strong

Zander Strong Ep. 5 – How to Surf

I’m Robin Zander, and you’re listening to Zander Strong, a podcast about movement in the modern world.

Today: the story of how I learned to surf, and the simple tactical steps that you can use to begin surfing right away.

It has been an eventful last couple of years! In February 2016 I came up with the idea to run a big event. In September 2016, having sold 250 tickets and raised sponsorship from the likes of Microsoft and Accenture, I put on the 1st Annual Responsive Conference. Somewhere in the middle, I also opened up a café.

Meanwhile, throughout this, I’ve maintained a physical practice. Over the years this has meant a variety of things: ballet, martial arts, gymnastics, other forms. At the end of August, I re-discovered surfing.

I grew up around the ocean, and first tried out a surfboard on a beach in Costa Rica in 2003. The board was terrible — waterlogged, the surf rough — but I’ve always planned on going back. I visited the San Francisco Bay Area’s Linda Mar beach this August, and have been out surfing almost every day for the last few months. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Form Follows Function

I’ve long believed that “form follows function” meaning that good form — including posture, positioning, or physique — follows from the movements we do. What I haven’t explored before is how significantly my mental state follows from my physical practice.

Surfing can be scary, don’t get me wrong. But there are also long stretches of peace, sitting on a board out on the waves. Surfers don’t generally talk much — at least not to a newbie like me. And there is something inherently pacific about sitting on the ocean, looking for the next big wave.

Emotional Matching

September 21, 2016 was a big day for me. It was the day after my 250-person Responsive Conference. For more than 3 months I had worked 7 days a week to make sure that the event was a success, and throughout that time had practiced Thai Kickboxing — an aggressive martial form that I tackled in intense 50-minute bursts.

Walking into my fight gym the day after the conference, I was hit by the familiar smells of old sweat and testosterone. Leading up to my conference, the aggression of Thai Kickboxing was exactly what I needed to combat the intensity of my work. That afternoon, I was surprised how unappetizing they were. I realized I no longer needed such physical intensity, closed my account, and went surfing.

Surfing Culture

As I do when I become obsessed with a new physical form, I’ve read a lot. By far the most engaging book I’ve read is the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. This autobiography is a coming of age story about the author’s relationship with surfing, of waves from around the world, and about an addiction that I’ve just begun to explore.

Another little tool that has been incredible in learning the ins and outs of the surf scene is Surfline. This free app shares buoy data and live video feeds of prime surf spots. It has gotten so that when I ask a local about the surf at our favorite spot, he’s likely to say “Fair to Good,” quoting the app.

The Moment

Even as a young surfer, just beginning to transfer to an intermediate board, I’m struck by how much catching waves and not falling off comes down to mindset. As I’ve grown more confident, I’ve attempted larger waves — 6ft, 8ft, even 12ft. In the moment that I’m looking down from the top a sheer face of water, if I can control my fear I’ll be alright. When I remain calm, I stay on top of my board and don’t get pummeled. But even on 3–4ft days, if I get frightened and let that emotion run unchecked, the wave lands on top of me. My mental and emotional state, in that fraction of a second, shape the entirety of the experience.

Awe

Even amidst some professional success, entering in an entirely new industry, and managing two teams totaling more than 15 employees, some of the most memorable moments in 2016 and 2017 have occurred on the waves.

In mid-September 2016, amidst 16-hour days of event planning and logistics, I stole a few hours on the surf. Pacifica was fogged in, and I could hear fog horns in the distance. The waves were breaking 50 meters offshore, and birds were circling further out.

After 30 minutes on the water, it became clear that the birds were circling with purpose, and looking closer I thought I could see something in the waves. Then, a whale breached. For the next hour, I let promising waves go by to catch glimpses of the mammoth of the sea, slowly making its way north.

As usual, when I find a new physical form, I’m enamored. Whether this new love affair lasts weeks or years, it is special and new.

How-To and Mental Resilience

There’s a moment of thrill when you catch a wave, whether that is a two foot wave or a ten. The moment when you go from moving at the speed of your own arm strokes to be carried along as fast as the wave can carry you. Sometimes I experience a moment of panic, other times I am so much in the zone – in flow – that there’s just bliss. Of all of the parts of surfing, I believe that catching waves is probably the most important for a novice surfer. Getting familiar with the moment of riding a wave and that transition from powering yourself to be carrying by the wave is the hardest to describe and the most essential to understand. That said, don’t try to put all of the pieces of surfing together your first day out. It is not important to catch a wave in the moment that it breaks and try to stand up and try to steer all in one go. Go out on a slow day and rather than try to swim out past the point where the waves are breaking, ride some of the chop after the wave has crashed and as the waves are coming in towards shore. I am no expert, but I recommend a beach break where surfers gather in an area where the ocean breaks onto a stretch of beach, so that you don’t also have to contend with rocky terrain, shallow rocks, or coral. It’ll become a common mantra, but don’t try to tackle all of the aspects of surfing, or any physical form, in one go. Instead, find that small step – in this case the feel of catching a wave – and work to understand that experience and hone that skill.

Close your eyes. Notice how you are sitting, standing, or lying at this moment. Notice how you feel. Imagine that you’re lying on your belly on a surfboard. There are seagulls above you, the sounds of the ocean around you. You are in the lineup which is the area where waves begin to break. You see a wave growing behind you, and you begin to paddle towards the shore. It’s big but not so big that you are scared. You look over your shoulder and see the wave behind you and paddle even more furiously until suddenly you are no longer moving yourself but you’re being carried on the wave downhill and very fast. It’s almost like the wave has slingshotted you down the face of the wave.

Here are a couple of pointers that will make your entry into surfing much easier.

  1. Start small. If you try to do every aspect at once, you’ll have no fun and won’t keep coming back for more. However, if you tackle small steps at a time, you’ll see much easier successes and begin to find the joy and the small victories that will keep you coming back.
  2. Don’t go out on a big day. As much fun as it is to surf big waves, even as a novice, start smaller. You don’t have to go out in your first couple of surf sessions on the biggest days in order to catch waves or even practice standing up. Instead, go out when the waves don’t look intimidating, and even try to surf waves that have already broken so you are really just riding the white water into shore. Even those experiences can give you a taste of the thrill of catching a big wave and learning to steer.

If you’ve enjoyed Zander Strong, I’d love to hear about it! It would mean the world to me if you could leave a review on iTunes.

 

Categories
Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Robins Cafe

Adam Pisoni and Robin Zander – Live at Robin’s Cafe

This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at Robin’s Cafe with Adam Pisoni, co-founder and former CTO at Yammer, co-founder of the Responsive Org movement, and founder and CEO at Abl Schools.

If you missed it, I recommend starting with our first podcast episode back in 2016!

In conversation from stage and then Q&A with the audience, we discussed founding Yammer, the Responsive Org movement, and his efforts at Abl Schools to revitalize the U.S.education system. Exciting possibilities emerge when we reconsider that even behemoth institutions like the U.S. education system can become Responsive!

Adam has implemented a variety of future of work principles at Abl Schools. He has been very open about the challenges of building a diverse founding team at Abl Schools.

While there is a lot of conversation about fostering an inclusive company culture, very few Silicon Valley companies have an equal gender split between male and female employees, and even fewer have women or underrepresented groups at the highest levels of leadership.

We will explore the challenges and lessons learned at Abl Schools, and tactics any founder can apply in the effort to build a Responsive organization.

Show Notes

4:00 Intentions
7:00 Yammer and Conway’s Law
10:00 Starting Responsive Org
11:45 Theory of Responsive
13:30 Challenges of these changes
16:00 Iterate in the shape of your organization
18:00 Adam mentions:

19:15 Adams transition to education
21:30 Mindsets
24:30 Dropping out of high school
26:30 Education limitations
30:00 Diverse founding teams – podcast and article
36:15 Social emotional skills
40:00 Responsive Org tensions
46:45 Balancing success and time with experimentation
51:30 Egos and fear of failure
53:30 Integrative decision making
57:30 Value of experience
1:01:00 Diversity
1:04:45 Abl’s work in public schools
1:07:30 Measuring impact
1:10:00 Playing with boundaries of leadership and structure
1:15:00 Hiring that focuses on diversity
1:20:00 Purpose of diversity
1:24:30 VC’s reporting on diversity of companies they fund
1:26:15 Robin’s Book: Responsive: What It Takes to Create A Thriving Organization

Don’t forget to give a listen to my first podcast with Adam Pisoni, as well.

If you have enjoyed The Robin Zander Show – which just passed 50 episodes! – or benefited from any of the work I’ve done over the last several years, take a look at my new book Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization.

It is out on Amazon. I’m extremely proud of this book, and it’d mean the world to me if you’d check it out!

Categories
Creative Entrepreneurship Podcast

Srini Rao and the Art of Being Unmistakable

My guest today, Srini Rao (@unmistakableCEO), is an author and the founder and host of the popular podcast, the Unmistakable Creative, where he’s interviewed over five hundred creative people. Former guests on the show include Tim Ferriss, Simon Sinek, and Seth Godin. His first, self-published book The Art of Being Unmistakable got the attention of media personality Glenn Beck, sold over 15,000 copies and hit the “Wall Street Journal” bestseller list.

My conversation with Srini starts and ends with surfing, which we both have a passion for, and forms the outline for his new book Unmistakable. Srini credits surfing with the launch of his podcast and the Unmistakable brand, and using surfing analogies to teach the principles of creating unforgettable work. We discuss behavior change, and how incremental steps add up over time – whether in a physical practice like surfing or in building a brand or business. We discuss the art of the interview, and what Srini has learned about people – and about learning – from conducting over 500 interviews.

I hope you enjoy this interview with my guest, and host of the Unmistakable podcast, Srini Rao.

 

Show Notes

3:00 Surfing
9:30 Srini’s new book: Unmistakable: Why Only is Better than Best
12:30 Behavioral change through consistency
16:30 Deliberate practice
18:00 The art of the interview
21:00 Curiousity and presence
25:30 Make a podcast entertaining by asking the right questions
31:00 A.J. Leon
33:00 The Compass: A Creator’s Guide to Instigating Something that Matters
34:30 Greg Hartle and The Art of Being Unmistakable: A Collection of Essays About Making a Dent in the Universe
39:30 Glenn Beck
46:00 Misinterpretations
48:00 Habits: The 8-Step Daily Routine That’s Enabled me to Write 100’s of Articles and 3 Books
52:30 Behavior shifts that start from physical movement
55:00 Scary surfing moments
57:00 The challenge of scale
58:00 Books:

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor
The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit by A.J. Leon
How To Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky
The Fear Project by Jaimal Yogis
Saltwater Buddha by Jaimal Yogis
All Our Waves Are Water by Jaimal Yogis
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
The Art of Being Unmistakable: A Collection of Essays About Making a Dent in the Universe by Srini Rao
Unmistakable: Why Only is Better than Best by Srini Rao

Find Srini:
Unmistakable Creative Website
Unmistakable Creative Podcast

 

If you enjoyed this interview with Srini Rao, you might also enjoy my interview with BJ Fogg, PhD on behavior change and much more.

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!

Categories
Podcast

Wikipedia, Culture and Poetry with Gayle Karen Young

My guest today is Gayle Karen Young (@MissGayle), the former Head of Culture and Talent at Wikimedia, which is the parent company for the Wikipedia. Gayle shepherded a company which grew to 300 employees serving half a billion users each month! We discuss her role, and what made it possible for her to support both company employees and the much larger Wikipedia community around the world.

Since leaving Wikimedia in 2015, Gayle has returned to her practice consulting practice and now works with a variety of companies and executives to create dynamic organizational cultures in which people are empowered to do their best work.

I have rarely been as moved by the careful choice of words as I was throughout this conversation. I was  impressed with Gayle’s depth of thinking about human development applied to organizations.

Gayle was one of our speakers at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

Show Notes

1:00 – 4:00 Gayle’s interest in organization design
5:00 – 9:00 Wikimedia Foundation
9:00 – 13:00 How the Wikimedia Foundation is organized
13:00 – 15:30 Diversity within the team
15:30 – 23:00 Gayle time joining Wikimedia and the Wikipedia blackout
23:00 – 25:30 Leading with consciousness
25:30 – 28:00 Buddhist monk influence –
28:00 – 30:00 Robin’s podcast with:

30:00 – 35:00 Organizational dynamics created by leader’s shadows
35:00 – 38:00 Creating open feedback loops and a growth mindset
38:00 – 41:00 The mythic and the mundane of leadership
41:00 – 44:00 The power of poetry and understanding the spirit of an organization
44:00 – 48:00 Encyclopedias and editors
48:00 – 52:00 Why Gayle left Wikimedia
52:00 – 56:00 What Gayle is working on now
56:00 – 60:00 Working from cities versus isolated islands
60:00 – 102:00 Robin’s life
102:00 – 110:00 Embodiment

Gayle’s Recommended Books:

Connect with Gayle:

On the web: http://www.gaylekarenyoung.com/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gaylekaren
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/MissGayle

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

Physical Culture with Cody Fielding

Cody1.1

D. Cody Fielding is a professional coach who has worked in the fields of fitness, wellness, and performance enhancement for more than 20 years. I met Cody in 2008, shortly after moving to San Francisco, just as I began my own career as a personal trainer, and he had a profound impact on my own thinking about movement and the body.

We conducted this interview in Cody’s private studio in the Mission District of San Francisco. Cody’s backgrounds includes the study and practice of biomechanics, posture, nutrition, evolutionary biology, psychology, and physics. He has worked with and studied the works of everyone from Joseph Pilates, Moshe Feldenkrais, Scott Sonnon, Mel Siff, and many others.

I’ve been consistently impressed with Cody’s diligence and examination of how to improve performance, but also the subtler elements that make a peak performer. Once, over coffee, Cody interviewed me with a quality of complete focus that contributed to my own desire to learn to conduct interviews. Similarly, over the course of one memorable hour Cody taught me how to throw a football, which is something I had never done previously. His thoughtfulness and thoroughness made learning to throw a football effortless, and for the first time, fun.

Cody and I delve pretty deep into what he calls “physical culture,” which is to say the study and practice of movement and the human body. I have learned an enormous amount about performance, movement, and the body from Cody and I hope you enjoy this interview.

 

Categories
Physical Performance Podcast

Co-Founding AcroYoga, How to Create a Global Movement, and the Courage to Start Over with Jenny Sauer-Klein

_MG_0537

Jenny Sauer-Klein has accomplished something few ever do. She co-founded and created a global movement, AcroYoga, which has millions of practitioners around the world.

What is even more impressive is that Jenny also has the humility and courage to have build AcroYoga and then let it go. After 10 years of traveling and teaching, she has now embarked on her next program, Play On Purpose, through which Jenny helps rapid-growth companies integrate new talent quickly and create the trust and connection necessary for creativity to thrive.

Categories
Podcast

Vivienne Ming, PhD on Maximizing Human Potential

VivienneMing

This episode of the Robin Zander Show is an interview with theoretical neuroscientist, technologist, and entrepreneur Vivienne Ming, PhD (@neuraltheory).

Vivienne was was named one of 10 Women to Watch in Tech in 2013 by Inc. Magazine and is the co-founder and Executive Chair of Socos, an educational start-up which applies cognitive modeling to deliver personalized recommendations to support learners.

When I first met Vivienne over tea in 2014 I was so excited by what Socos was doing that I volunteered to help. (I’ve since become director of operations at Socos.) In this interview we discuss the tools and philosophies by which Vivienne has shaped her life.

Vivienne is a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience pursuing her research in neuro-prosthetics. In her free time, Dr. Ming also explores augmented cognition using technology like Google Glass and has been developing a predictive model of diabetes to better manage blood glucose levels. She sits on the board of Our Family Coalition supporting LBGT families and speaks on issues of LGBT inclusion and gender in technology. Her work and research has received extensive media attention including the New York Times, NPR, Nature, O Magazine, Forbes, and The Atlantic.

Listen to the entire interview here:

Categories
Entrepreneurship Practical Philosophy

When Everything You Have Learned Is Sufficient

I’ve never considered myself a sophisticated business person. Several years ago (albeit, after interviewing more than a dozen MBAs) I decided against going to graduate school in business, focusing instead on a less tradition career of which business is more the necessity than the focus.

That said, I enjoy learning. And “business” – encompassing everything from tax law through client sales – have increasingly become a part of my daily life. And still I’ve carried around the idea that compared to those who make the study of business their life’s work, I’m an amateur.

plane
What better way to pass the flight than by chatting about business? (Photo: Dizzy)

So it was that after 4 cups of coffee on a recent flight from New York City to San Francisco, as I was stretching in the back of the airplane that I got to talking with the flight attendant. He had a menu displayed on his computer and we started talking. It turned out that he and his partner run a Soul Food Truck in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I began to ask questions about his food, employees, marketing efforts, revenue and more.

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

“Unstuck” E-book Available for FREE Today!

I’m thrilled to announce the FREE release of my second ebook today: Unstuck. Check it out on Amazon!

I’ve been hard at work on this project for many months, and in many ways it is actually the work of a decade. In Unstuck I describe the trajectory of my last ten years of physical activity and exploration, breaking down specific tools I’ve cultivated in a wide variety of sports and physical activities.

Unstuck_small

 

Here’s a condensed version of my History of a Compulsion
1998 – I began as a runner by attempting and failing to keep up with family marathons
2000 – Competed in my first cross-country race
2002 – Achieved Varsity Cross-Country status, high status among runners but not in high school.
2003 – Began juggling, which did not elevate my social status but did introduce me to the world of circus arts

Gymnastics

November 2003 – Walked off the cross-country team at my peak, began rock climbing, fencing, enrolled in dance classes, discovered gymnastics
November 2008 – Landed on my head on a trampoline, thereby ending my aspirations of a career with Cirque Du Soleil
November 2012 – Hesitantly reentered a gymnastic gym
2013 – Mastered my gymnastics giant, front and back flips, handstands, and more

Blues Dancing

2011 – Hesitantly walked into my first Blues dance venue
2012 – Co-founded Fuse, a social dance performance company
2013 – Took multiple trips to Buenos Aires, Argentina to study tango

Martial Arts

1995-1998 – Repeatedly bullied in middle school
1999 – Helpless in the face of a pit bull attacking me and my dog Sandy
April 2013 – Attempted to learn 12 martial arts in 1 week
2013 – Continued to study and compete in Muay Thai, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, despite leaving sessions shaking with fear and adrenaline
2014 – Wrestled with a pit bull, fearlessly

2014 and Beyond

December 2013 – Took my first ballet class since 2009
January 2014 – Abandoned gymnastics, jiu-jitsu, Blues dance, and all the rest in favor of classical ballet
August 2014 – Joined a pre-professional ballet training program 30 hours/week
April 2015 – Contracted to perform with the San Francisco Opera

Categories
Physical Performance Practical Philosophy

Always Be Cross-Training – How Multiple Disciplines Will Help You Succeed

I am always cross-training. I’ve just returned taking letters to the post-office, meaning that I ran there and ran back. I could have used Shyp or driven to the Post Office but it took less time to run, and besides, I was cross-training.

I don’t mean cross-training in just the traditional sense. While I do find it valuable to run in addition to studying ballet, I was actually doing a lot more. If we could have fMRIs while I was running we would have seen a lot more activity than from just my running circuits. I was training. Specifically, I was training  jeté en tournant.

I cannot actually do jetés nearly to that degree, but I was mentally rehearsing even while running. A little like the scene in Billy Eliot where he is leaping down the street, whatever it is I am doing, I am always practicing.

There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

There is always going to be someone more talented than me. So I practice getting used to it, and train accordingly. I didn’t start dancing ballet at 8 years old like most professional dancers, or drop out of college to work for entrepreneurial titans like marketer Ryan Holiday. Consequently, to make up the time, I think critically and hustle.

Think Critically

Cross-training doesn’t just mean doing an activity that complements a primary purpose, like running might complement ballet. It also means thinking hard about specific directions you’d like to go. Though I’ve flirted with the idea of starting a new company, I haven’t done so because I’m not convinced that doing so is the best use of my time, talent and resources. Instead, I’ve begun to advise several other companies, simultaneously learning, cross-training a skill-set applicable for my own business, and helping out. All for a few hours a week.

As a result of a talk I gave at Design For Dance, I’ve begun to explore Design Thinking. Instead of spending $40,000 and two years in school, I’ve begun to get acquainted with the domain by readings – a lot! I might found another company company in the future and I might go back to school in design. Right now, I’m thinking about what I’m interested in and looking for the connections across disciplines. In other words, cross-training.

Categories
Dance Physical Performance

When Practice Makes You Worse

I was on the dance floor, having repeated the steps half a hundred times. The beautiful woman opposite me was still smiling, but it wasn’t just my imagination: the corners of her mouth had started to turn up into a sneer. The teacher to my side, said “No, like this!” and demonstrated one more time. It was a simple dance movement, a Swing dance step that thousands of people know by heart. I tried, and failed – again. I just couldn’t get it.

I went to bathroom to splash some water on my face. I had come out to try a new type of dance as a fun experiment, and here I was stressed out and making zero progress.

Robin-dance
As I stood facing the mirror, I thought for a moment about practice. I imagined all the times I had failed to learn to flip. And those times attempting the gymnastics giants when I had fallen on my head. The frustration of doing tango poorly in Argentina or of feeling out of place practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In that moment, something gelled and I realized that most of what we know about practice is wrong.

Here are some of the ways that my practice was actually making me worse:

  • Less variation over time
  • Rote practice resulted in less retention
  • So much feedback hurt performance
  • Creativity was dampened
  • Lack of community
  • Frustration
Categories
Physical Performance

I “Should Have” – What I Learned In 6 Days Not Working on a Caribbean Beach

We all have “should haves.”  Any time we want something we repeatedly tell ourselves ways that we “should have” done better. I am recently home from 6 days in the Caribbean and I “should have” practiced more ballet.  In this post I’m going to explore some of the intentional and unintentional positive consequences of taking time off, and how unrelated skills can transfer to a primary focus.

The view from my patio

The Value of Rest

Less than a day home and I am reflecting on how I might have used my time abroad better. However, I’m also examining how what I did will supplement my training. Like most who work hard in their domain I am not great at taking time off. While the idea of relaxing with a mojito on a white sandy beach might sound like fun, I spent much of my first day in Mexico fretting that I wasn’t practicing ballet or building my business. I found several different ways around this dilemma, which I’ll detail.

Why It Is Hard to Turn Off

Before going into the reasons, though, let’s look at some of why it is hard to take time off. I’ll start with a fitness metaphor. I believe (and scientific studies confirm) that training different parts of the body on different days is valuable, and that even a rest day is useful every week or so. Why then was it hardy to let go of work on the beach? I believe rest is useful in fitness, but why not then in another? As soon as I let go of my self-blame over not working I was able to ask that question without judgement and realized I derive some satisfaction from the feeling of productivity, even if that internal worry concern is just the circling of a treadmill. What this meant is that I while I can intellectually rationalize the value of rest, when it comes to resting on the beach I didn’t actually believe that. A short series of questions enabled me to apply what I believe about variation and rest days in exercise to resting on the Caribbean. Here are a couple of specific stratifies for enforcing rest:

Categories
Physical Performance

The Last Three Movements

I recently listened to an interview of Josh Waitzkin by Tim Ferriss. Josh Waitzkin is the subject of the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer and the author of The Art of Learning, an elegant account of the journey from novice to peak performer. The podcast is action-packed, but here is one specific take-away that I have started applying, and that anyone can use.

Josh talks about Billy Kidd, former Olympic Gold Medal downhill skier. Billy Kidd once asked Josh: “What are the three most important movements in any ski run?” Josh explains that the most important are the last three movements because they shape the muscle memory that the skier remembers as he makes his way back up the mountain.

The last moments of any physical activity are so easy to do sloppily. Many times at the end of a ski run I have found myself finishing with shoddy, ill-considered movements. And yet that poor performance at the end does have a lasting impact. If the last movements are sloppy, we continue to practice sloppily. However, if we execute with fineness, we are much more likely to maintain that same pattern thereafter.

I remember as a cross-country runner in high school running races with no chance of being overtaken or overtaking the next runner. It was tempting to stumble across the finish line, to not give the last 100 yards my all. Over time I learned that the internal reward for finishing at my very best shaped  my whole experience of the race. I found myself wanting someone to compete against, or short of that creating an imaginary runner to struggle against. By creating additional pressure at the end of the race I encouraged myself to try up until the very end and came away feeling better about the whole experience.

As I put together Josh’s account and my experience running I remember a cognitive bias know as the Peak-End Rule. It turns out we do not evaluate past experiences based on anything sensible like an average of an overall experience. Instead, as a heuristic, we remember a combination of the peak experience and the very last moments. Take, for example, an experimental subject who is subjected to painfully cold ice water for 5 minutes. If the ice water is kept at an extremely uncomfortable temperature for exactly 5 minutes, the subject will report the experience as more negative than if they experience the same water for 5 minutes plus 1 additional minute at only a slightly less agonizingly uncomfortable temperature. That is to say, someone who experiences 6 minutes of discomfort, where the last moment is slightly improved will report a better overall experience than someone who just experiences 5 minutes of discomfort! This is a wild bias but explains Joss’s theory of physical performance – that the last three movements matter a great deal.

In recent months I have been practicing ballet every day. Ballet classes are designed to end with the most dynamic movements – my favorite. But now more than ever I will strive to make those last three movements my most precise of all.

Categories
Physical Performance

Beginning Ballet

I vividly remember the first time I stepped foot into a ballet studio. I was 18, a freshman in college, and so excited to have discovered a new world of dance. I was wearing tight corduroy pants that day and coming in off of my psychology 101 class. Curious, excited and not at all knowing what to expect I stepped into the ballet studio.

Now, I wonder how I ever went back after that first day. Shamefaced and humiliated to find that I was the only guy in a class full of beautiful women, doing movement that I had not known previous was possible for the human body to do. And I was trying to “dance” in corduroy, where my teacher and all of the students in the class were wearing tights.

And yet, I did go back. Something about that first class and my early exposure caught my imagination. The pointe shoes, the elongated legs, the fluidity of the students taking their arms in elegant circles. The students’ limbs seemed almost to reach beyond the boundaries of the room.

Pointe shoes (Photo: Kryziz Bonny)

I continued taking class all of the rest of that year and in fits and starts through the rest of college. Rarely did I step away from the barre, as ballet offered at Reed College was just a twice-weekly barre class – no practice working off the barre, no center work, and no leaps. And yet even that little bit was enough to instill in me an appreciation of ballet that has lasted more than ten years, and that will, I don’t doubt, last the rest of my life.

Categories
Physical Performance

Do Less, Move Better & Learn More

When you hear “movement” what you think of? Probably something kinesthetic, something related to the human body in motion. This is a great beginning – and a limiting definition. Movement is related to everything. Digestion is the movement of food through our body. Speech is the movement and articulation of air pressure through our vocal cords. The perception of speech is the movement of our neurons for the purposes of interpreting that air pressure. The human body breaks down and reconstructs the entire skeletal system over the course of every seven years. Neat, huh? Movement really is everywhere and everything we do.

2005 8
Robin on a German Wheel cerca 2005

This is relevant because it is an entry into the conversation of learning. Whether we’re talking about learning to ride a bike, drive a car, interact socially, eat food, or behave in a way that society deems normal, improving movement improves learning and improves life.

If I am standing up my brain has to process the floor, the air around me, and whatever it is that I can smell and see and hear. If I’m wearing shoes my brain has to make sense of the shoes on my feet, the shirt I’m wearing on my arms, on my chest, on my back, on my belly. Not to mention that I am standing! If I am lying on my back on the floor I/my brain can take more time and attention to process the feel of my back on the floor, my bottom, my legs, feet and head. Our brains are constantly organizing and making sense out of all of these inputs–that is a lot of work!

Try This Exercise

Play some music that you don’t ordinarily listen to. Play louder than you usually listen to music. Begin to jump up and down out of time to this music. Simultaneously, your right thigh with your left hand. Blink your eyes open and closed very quickly. And now finally add in reciting aloud your 13 times tables.  Hard to do, right? In juxtaposition lie on your back on a comfortable floor in a quiet room and see if you can, easily and gently, count your 13 times table. It easier to do? To do something that is challenging or to learn something that is new it is much easier to decrease the demand we place on the brain. In other words, when you are trying to learn something new, try less hard and you’ll get better results.

Categories
Practical Philosophy

Closing the Creative Gap

Learning anything worth learning is tough. And especially for those of us who want to not just learn a skill but excel, there are a lot of ups and downs. It seems that the more exciting a venture is, the more I’m liable to turn manic-depressive. This is actually the reason I created the header of the Learning Curve Experiments blog- to remind myself that learning is full of ups and downs, victories and setbacks, along the way.

So when I saw this video recreation of Ira Glass’ talk on “Closing the Gap” it struck a cord. It is hard to fathom Ira Glass as other than the calm and loving voice we know him to be. (Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve heard his voice.) But apparently even Iran Glass was once a beginner.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

Ira gave a talk at Reed College in 2010 during which he insisted that when he started out in radio he sucked. Ira Glass not good on the radio? Inconceivable! But in watching this video I’m reminded that in any endeavor we can only start from where we are and move forward from there. The more we try, the more our skills catch up to our taste.

So here’s to taking steps forward! And maybe – just maybe – celebrating some of the pit-falls along the way.

Categories
Physical Performance

Play More

We all know theoretically that being playful is not only more fun, but can be useful. And yet we give ourselves so little freedom to explore and play with freedom and curiosity. I am often struck by the specific circumstances in which people do give themselves permission to play freely. My 10-month old nephew is prime example. As soon as people see him, they bend down, squeal, and join his games.

IMG_0416

In some situations I am extremely playful. The first time that I entered a gymnastics gym at 18 years old I was overwhelmed that such a place existed – and that I could be allowed in! I remember running the distance of the gym, between trampoline, high bar and tumble track, marveling that all of this equipment existed in the world and that I could play on it.

But what gives us freedom to play under certain circumstances and not in others? Why, with my nephew, do strangers on the street allow themselves to say hello when otherwise they would look away? How did my enthusiasm in gymnastics make it possible to do the impossible?

The Body In Pain

When someone is in pain their brain literally shuts down. fMRI show that there is much less neural activity when the body is in physical or emotional pain. Pain therefore literally leaves less room for learning. Thus, one function of play is to expand neural activity, increasing the likelihood for new connections to be formed within the brain. 

The Humor Shortcut

If I’m uncomfortable I cannot be playful. Fortunately, the reverse also hold true: when I am playful I automatically become comfortable. Lat week I made my first I attempt at stand-up comedy. I joked about getting beat up in middle school. On stage the events were so exaggerated that the results were funny (at least to me!). The experience of talking about experiences that were at the time very challenging required a degree of mental flexibility that I found freeing. Creating a humorous situation out of a controversial one is just another way of stretching the brain and creating new connections.

Limitless Options

If play allows for a flexible approach to the study of anything, seriousness limits the ways in which we can explore. When we are stubborn or stuck there are literally fewer options available.

Engagement

In addition to playfulness allowing for broader exploration, it creates the possibility for more active, enthusiastic engagement with the material presented. How come? Playfully presented material is more likely to be remembered. We remember experiences we enjoy.

Play Is Fun

Finally we have reached the simplest and most compelling reason of all: play is more fun. Simple as that. Who has a more enjoyable experience: the man who awkwardly averts his eyes or the woman who squats down to look my nephew in the eyes and make funny faces? I know which activity I enjoy more (and – of course – I have never awkwardly averted my eyes! Not ever…)

Where This Leaves Us

In the last few weeks I’ve been noticing where I am playful and where I’m not. By noticing trends I’ve begun to take the level of flexibility and enthusiasm I have in certain areas and transfer into others. Begin to notice where you are the most playful in your life. To begin, I suggest noticing where you are playful in your life, too.