Thursday, January 28, 2010

It’s OK To Admit To Sometimes Being The Cowardly Lion

If we leave the highways and main roads where everyone travels, and explore that unknown path that is uniquely ours, it’s Ok to admit that we will sometimes get lost and become afraid. Being the main character in our own comedy-drama, we like to always remain the hero in our, and other people’s, eyes; but acknowledging the less than heroic truth may be exactly what is necessary to get to us to our true destination.

When our attempts to achieve a goal are repeated frustrated, we tend to internalize that experience and develop feeling of powerlessness even when external obstacles are no longer present. This phenomenon, called learned helplessness, was discovered by psychologist Martin Seligman in the 1960’s. This emotional reaction corresponds to a pessimistic or depressed attitude, in which obstacles are seen as personal failures, and as pervasive and permanent. In addition to being painful, this pessimistic or depressed attitude also leads to unmotivated behavior, in which we don’t explore, perceive or take advantage of available opportunities for success.

Though most of us will experience this sense of powerlessness and become unmotivated and intimidated in the face of repeated frustration, we can do something about it. The first step is to recognize that we have become the cowardly lion. As in many things, self awareness is the beginning of wisdom. In fact, I consider self-awareness and self-management as the first of 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. By becoming aware of how we are feeling and behaving, we begin to see that we have some other alternatives.

The future isn’t fixed. We’re painting it right now in the present using the colors of both our imaginations and reality. Words and images in thought and reflection become things in the world. We can build the bridge from here to where we want to be out of images and ideas made real through courageous reflection followed by action. When we think that we’re at a dead end, it is just a temporary failure of creativity which can be overcome.

As we observe our pessimistic, helpless and hopeless reactions, we gain some distance from them and we can challenge them rather than accepting them. We can learn to use the information we’re receiving that our particular methods of trying to reach a goal aren’t working; but at the same time we can deny the pessimistic reaction that nothing we can do will work. In most cases, our attitude and behavior will need to change before the external problem or obstacle can be overcome. As we perceive the cycle of negative thinking, we can identify it for what it is, a distortion of reality. As self-awareness reveals the distortions in our thinking and emotions, the grip of fear and helplessness is loosened, and we can begin to experiment with new actions aimed at achieving our goals.

We’re all capable of making mistakes in our lives or of experiencing failure due to external circumstances, and we are also capable of overcoming these situations. It requires being open to possibilities and trusting the creative process. We must believe that it is possible to get there and be willing to walk across that bridge. Sometimes we get tired and begin to believe that we can’t get to the other side of the pain and fear to freedom and our second wind. In fact, we become lost in the pain, and forget what it’s like to feel good and confident and right with ourselves. With practice we can learn to remember more quickly, that it is possible to acknowledge the real danger or obstacle, but to not remain afraid; to stay with the joy and the light and to find a bridge across the abyss.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes You can learn about the life and business coaching I provide at

Monday, January 25, 2010

Facing The New Economic Reality While Maintaining Hope, Compassion, Optimism, And Innovation

Even if you’re personally doing well right now, you can probably feel the general sense of economic constraint and limitation that we are under as a country (and for that matter globally). This includes huge budget deficits at national and state levels, unemployment over 10%, health care cost growing out of control, and global warming and other environmental problems. Even economies like China that are still growing rapidly are bumping up against global resource and environmental constraints as well as the limitations created by the interdependence among national economies. These strains are reflected in company and household budgets, and in the balance of economic optimism and pessimism felt personally by each of us. The effect flows in the opposite direction as personal pessimism and optimism influence our individual, family and corporate decisions about spending, saving and investment, and these decisions combine to impact the larger economy.

How do we get past denial, face the new reality and still maintain hope, compassion, optimism, and innovation? First of all, what is the reality? Is this just a cyclical recession after which we can go back to business as usual, or is this a transformation that requires a very different model for sustainable growth and development? We may not be able to answer this question on the national or global level, but we can each make some decisions about our own situations. We can see that economic security of the old kind is over: no more life time employment with one company leading to retirement with a pension; or a stable market in which a company can survive and thrive doing the same things for decades.

It seems that the only thing that we can rely on is that there will continue to be rapid change. In such an environment, our only security may be in increasing our wisdom; i.e. our skills and knowledge in the core competencies related to successful performance. I’ve found it helpful to organize these competencies using the acronym SOPPHIA (S-O-P-P-H-I-A); representing the 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. SOPPHIA is the Greek word for wisdom.

First, the S in SOPPHIA is for Self. In an environment of rapid continuous change, it’s important to understand our own emotions and to be able to manage them. With practice and discipline, emotions can enable us to move rapidly and to make good decisions when there’s not enough time or information to use a more purely rational approach. Also, the ability to remain hopeful and optimistic in the face of difficult challenges requires managing the negative emotions that arise with setbacks.

The O in SOPPHIA is for Others. Our ability to understand and relate effectively to others (team members, customers, family and friends) is critical during times of rapid change. Cooperation with others has always been a key strategy for human survival. Compassion that balances self-interest is also a defining characteristic of what it is to be a human being, and is an essential component of what makes relationships work.

The first P in SOPPHIA is for Purpose. Purpose involved being clear about what you value, having the vision to see how to achieve results in line with those values, and having the commitment to bring that vision to reality. The second P is for Presence, the ability to be effectively present and focused, and to manage time. It’s easy to become scattered and overwhelmed when events are moving rapidly around you. It’s at such times that the ability to focus becomes very valuable.

The H in SOPPHIA is for Health. Physical and mental health is a resource that we rely on, particularly in stressful times. By developing and practicing healthy attitudes and behaviors, we can create a life style that enhances physical and mental health and increases our resiliency to the negative effects of stress.

The I in SOPPHIA is for Innovation. Innovation includes the ability to produce creative ideas, and to develop those ideas into services and products that provide value to others; and thus generate income or wealth. The more competitive environment requires that individuals and companies provide greater value to employers and customers respectively.

And finally, the A in SOPPHIA is for Assurance. Assurance is the ability to endure and to persevere through discomfort or pain, even when the available evidence for success is discouraging. For some, this assurance comes from religious faith, while for others it may come from another source.

I conclude that it is possible to face the new economic reality and still maintain hope, compassion, optimism, and innovation. But to do so requires discipline and practice. Coaching using SOPPHIA – The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom is a way to develop that discipline and practice.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes, you can learn more at

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Wisdom Of Innovation: Where Ideas Come From

Creativity or idea-generation is the beginning of innovation. Without creative ideas, there is nothing to develop into an activity, service or product that will provide value to others. But where do ideas come from? Did you ever notice that children seem to almost never run out of ideas. They can create an activity that absorbs their interest out of little or nothing. This is particularly true if they have playmates, but happens even when they’re alone. Creativity seems to be nothing more than child’s play. But ironically, it takes discipline to get into that child-like state of mind on a daily basis in order to create useful ideas.

The most commonly used technique for generating ideas is some form of group brain storming. Looking at the key steps in this method can give us insight into how to develop the discipline of creativity as individuals. The first step in brain storming is to have an area of interest to be explored or a problem to be solved; in other words, you must have a goal or purpose. The second step is to set ground rules that encourage participants to be as spontaneous as possible and to not censor either their own ideas or those of others. This playful and uninhibited state is similar to the normal state of a child; where thought, actions and reactions flow automatically without prescreening. Later in the brain storming process, one uses methods to cull the ideas down to the ones that are most promising and feasible. But that part is typical adult analytical behavior, and not as challenging as the previous step.

In order to function effectively in our complex social organizations, beginning with the family, then school and work; we have learned well how to control and limit our spontaneity and to conform to established norms. Therefore, regressing to that spontaneous, child-like state that is necessary for generating creative ideas can feel unnatural and even dangerous. And to be able to do so on a daily basis is quite challenging. So how do we develop the discipline of creativity?

I find it helpful to have a framework for this challenge. In my framework, creativity is the beginning of innovation, and innovation is one of The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. These are seven buckets of skills or competencies that have been shown by research to support success at work and in personal life. I use the acronym SOPPHIA (S-O-P-P-H-I-A), which means wisdom in Greek, to represent these 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. In examining creativity, I focus on two of these dimensions: P for Purpose, and I for Innovation.

Purpose is important in developing creativity as a discipline, because as we saw in brain storming, it’s important to have a goal or area of interest to focus on. Becoming clear about one’s life purpose, calling, and career goals provides both motivation and direction to creativity. It can take quite a bit of work and ongoing refinement to find and stay with your purpose, and to connect your daily activities to that purpose. But once you’ve made progress with this, creativity flows more easily.

Within the framework of your purpose, you can make creative a daily disciplined activity. Some days may be more productive than others, but practicing each day develops your ability to be creative. It requires setting aside the time, and inducing a relaxed but alert state of mind. Perhaps physical relaxation exercises or meditation would work for you; or another possibility is if you play a musical instrument or have some other kind of play activity that is relaxing rather than stressful. After you get into that relaxed alert state, then allow ideas to flow without self-censorship. The ideas may come as images, words or phrases; or observations about the social or physical world that seems to have energy, and to attract and hold your attention. You may not know why but you keep going back to them like a mysterious trinkets you’ve found. Their value is initially unclear. They may just have meaning and value for you personally or they may be the keys that unlock the universe. Perhaps the idea begins with a concept written about or discussed by someone else that strikes you as particularly salient. Then you integrate it with others things that you’ve been reflecting on and it becomes something new and different.

We exist in a continual bath of particles of energy and matter that we can’t see. Similarly, we are surrounded by a flow of events and circumstances, both external and within ourselves that have the potential to produce creative ideas; but often we can’t perceive them. We can discipline ourselves to be good receptive instruments for creative ideas through practice.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. What does creativity mean to you? Let me know at .

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Are You “In The Zone” Or Just Staying In Your Comfort Zone?

In the zone is the experience of flow, where an athlete, musician or other performer operates at a very high level, with heightened perceptions of the present, and a sense of almost effortless control and joy. This happens after getting out of your comfort zone and stretching yourself to meet a challenge that is at the upper end of your skill level. Is there risk in reaching higher? Sure there is. But there is also risk in stagnation.

We call it graceful, when an athlete, dancer or musician can execute complex physical maneuvers and make it all look so easy. But that grace is a result of rigorous and persistent practice, until the information needed for performance is encoded in the limbs or fingers themselves, and the brain has little to do except to experience the joy of movement and the emotional meaning of what is being communicated.

What keeps us from all becoming as graceful in our particular roles as we are capable of being? There are many skills that can enable us, and the lack of them can block us. I organize them into seven buckets, called the The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. I use the acronym SOPPHIA (S-O-P-P-H-I-A), which means wisdom in Greek, to represent those seven dimensions. Let me focus right now on two of these seven: P for Presence and A for Assurance. Presence is the ability to be effectively in the present, not distracted by the past, future or other concurrent events. Assurance is the ability to endure and to persevere, even when everything says you can’t succeed.

You may have noticed this pattern in yourself when you engage in an activity regularly. I’ve observed it in myself when exercising or playing the flute. When you begin the activity, you feel distant from it and not quite in sync. This is a lack of presence or engagement. After this warm-up period, your breathing and body movements become smoother and more synchronized, and you become more present in the moment. The activity become enjoyable and you want to continue.

After a while you become tired and/or distracted, and you want to stop the activity. This is where Assurance comes in. Assurance is a belief in or commitment to something, which produces a sense of comfort during painful or challenging situations. This sense of comfort enables us to endure and to persevere through the pain. From my experience with performing music and exercising, if you persist beyond the tiredness and discomfort with an attitude that is both focused and relaxed, you reach a new level where you are energized and the activity again becomes enjoyable, and you feel able to continue almost indefinitely. This is getting out of your comfort zone and moving towards being in the zone.

The pattern that I’ve described after you get past being tired, is similar to what happens when someone is in a state of flow, or in the zone. The difference is that the “in the zone’ experience usually happens when the situation is more intense and the stakes are higher, such as in a live performance; particularly one that is very important, such as a championship game. This pattern exists not just in the performing arts and sports, but in many other kinds of activities, such as at work or in your personal life.

The only chance of getting to the point of flow or being in the zone, and the superior levels of performance that go with it, is to first get out of your comfort zone. It requires developing the discipline of being present, and the assurance needed to endure and to persevere through the pain and discomfort, to reach the joy and grace of superior performance.

What are your thoughts about comfort zone and being in the zone? Let me know at

Monday, January 18, 2010

Are You Still Looking for the Wizard of Oz?

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we often have a powerful sense that there is a place in our life that we need to get to. Perhaps it’s someplace where we can engage in work that is a true expression of ourselves, and that is simultaneously valued by others; or a place where we can be comfortably at home with ourselves; or where we can love and be loved in relationships that work well. Like Dorothy, we follow the yellow brick road and have all kinds of mishaps and adventures, as we look for the wizard who will have the answers, and who will be able to make us smart enough, courageous enough, and compassionate enough to be happy with ourselves and also to be successful in other people’s eyes.

As we all know from the story, the wizard turned out to be a fake, and Dorothy could actually have gone home to Kansas at any time just by clicking her heels. What would it mean if we really believed that getting to that place of peace and fulfillment is within our own power, and doesn’t require waiting for anyone else to take an action to benefit us? If we truly believed this and started acting on it beginning NOW; the change might begin in our thinking, dreaming, and imagination; and in the productivity of our creative ideas. Perhaps there are limits that we have unknowingly put on our creativity, because we were afraid to mentally step over certain lines. Or maybe we have been limited in how we interact with people in ways that keep our work or personal relationships from being as successful as they could be.

As we begin to explore an expanded universe of possibilities, it’s helpful to have a global positioning system, a GPS, that helps us to know where we are. This GPS should be flexible enough to allow us as much freedom as we need, while at the same time providing a framework that stimulates our thinking and creative imaginations. What I’ve found helpful is to integrate the ancient concept of wisdom with the social scientific concept of competencies. This has resulted in a model called SOPPHIA, The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom, and the acronym SOPPHIA (with two P’s) represents seven sets of competencies or skills that have been shown by research to help people achieve success in their work and personal lives.

Let’s look at four of these dimensions that cover much of what creates both opportunities and challenges in our work and personal lives. These are represented by the letters S, O, P and I in SOPPHIA. The S is for Self, the O for Others, the P for Purpose, and the I for Innovation. By Innovation, I mean not just having creative ideas, but being able to develop them into activities, services or products that generate social value. This requires good skills in communicating and working with Others. Skills for reflecting about yourSelf and managing your own emotions obviously impact your ability to relate well to Others. Finally, being clear about your life Purpose, is what gives direction to your self-development efforts.

Using these four dimensions of wisdom (Self, Others, Purpose and Innovation) as axes to get coordinates in the GPS of our creative imagination, let’s go back to the metaphor of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was looking to get home. Let’s assume that getting home for you means finding your true vocation; the work in which you can express yourself and be fulfilled. Perhaps this involves building a business, or working on particular kinds of activities within an organization, or working as in independent professional. In any case, clarifying your main Purpose is a good place to start. Sometimes we focus on a result, like making a certain amount of money and end up trapped in a work or business structure that provides income but is mostly unsatisfactory. A better approach is to look back at your history and find the things that you have enjoyed doing, that you are good at, and that could potentially benefit others. From there, you can narrow the field down to some core interrelated activities.

Once you’re clear about your Purpose, you’ll want to work on the Innovation process. You must generate some ideas within your area of interest, that you could develop into signature activities, services or products that represent the unique value that you can provide to a customer or an employer. In many cases, these will be improvements on existing services or products; that represent your personal value-added approach. It could be simply, for example, the particular way that you interact with customers, that expresses your unique personality, and makes them feel truly listened to and cared for. Whatever the spark of the idea that you begin with, it’ll need to be further and continuously developed with the help of other people.

As you proceed down the path of Innovation and achieving your Purpose, you’ll find that the main limiting factors are skills in the dimensions of Self and Others. This is usually called emotional intelligence, and has been shown to have a greater impact than cognitive or mental intelligence on producing successful work results. Self-awareness and self-management skills and people skills are unlimited and sustainable resources, waiting for you to explore and develop. You can be helped most in this development by the right coaches or mentors. Coaches and mentors aren’t wizards who can give you the answers, but facilitators who can help you to find them for yourself.

Let me know what you think about all this at

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti: Compassion Survives the Horror

Can you imagine a world where everyone watched the horror of dead bodies piling up on the streets in Haiti, and no one did anything to help? Before you reply that this would never happen, let me remind you of the high school students at a dance who watched for two hours while a female student was gang-raped in the back of the school. And similar incidents have been reported on city streets in the US. Therefore, we shouldn’t take for granted the world-wide outpouring of compassion and assistance that is happening in response to the death and devastation left by the Haitian earthquake.

It is sad and frustrating that death is moving so rapidly, while the forces of life seem to move in slow motion. It’s taken precious days for a US hospital ship to be prepared, and it’ll take another week or so for it to get to Haiti. But along with the frustration and sadness, I feel gratitude that human beings are still capable of responding viscerally with compassion and reaching out to help; whether it’s sending money or going as part of search, rescue and medical teams.

In the day-to-day pressure of life, our concern is usually narrowed to our own affairs and to those close to us; and we can forget that we will actually hurt when strangers are suffering and dying. We make our calculations and decisions and take actions based on this amnesia. In fact, we’ve built our entire economic system on proud self-interest, and made it into an almost religious principle: If we each pursue our own self-interest, somehow magically, the invisible hand makes everything fair and alright for the common good.

There is no doubt that self-interest is an essential motivator of human action and has to be one of our foundational principles. But we shouldn’t have to experience the horror of death and suffering such as in Haiti, to temporarily remind us that the principle of compassion is just as fundamental. It so happens that at this very time, we are in the process of rebuilding a world economic system that has been devastated by our sacred principle of self-interest (actually greed). We shouldn’t be considered soft-headed if we insist on building a new world economic system and community that proudly elevates compassion to the same level that we put self-interest, as foundational principles. Disasters like in Haiti should remind us that self-interest and compassion are not polar opposite, but are part of the same human picture, if we only have the vision to see it.

What do you think? Let me know at

Friday, January 15, 2010

How Do You Hear and Get Heard With 100 Million People Talking?

It’s been shown that if you get a number of people working together on the same problem, they’re more likely to find a solution than if each one was working alone. So here is the problem in the form of a question: How do you hear and get heard with 100 million people talking? It’s both a practical question and a philosophical one. With the social web, everyone’s now a potential publisher and a video producer. The 200 million or more blogs and web sites out here in cyberspace create a world of possibilities; but how much genuine communication is there actually going on?

Let’s start with the belief that today is a new opportunity to make at least a little bit better, whatever we didn’t get right up to yesterday. So in the next few minutes, let’s see if we can roll that rock just a little further down the road towards mutual understanding.

Let’s start with a blank page and a blank mind, hearing only the sounds of the neurons idling in each of our brains. Let’s allow ourselves the freedom to think, not just with words, but with images, sounds, smells, tastes, sensation or whatever. Let go of even the idea of time. Also, don’t be afraid to let go of your pet ideas and obsessions. Don’t worry, they’re like your fingerprint or DNA, and they’ll find their way into anything you imagine. Now think again of the question: How do you hear and be heard with 100 million people talking?

Here’s what came to my mind:

1. Be clear about your purpose: Why communicate? For me, it’s to clarify my own thoughts and perceptions about myself, others and the world; to market my vision of reality to others; to hear some new ideas or possibilities that I hadn’t considered; for the fun and pleasure of it, like playing music with other people; it’s rewarding in and of itself.

2. Remember that communication is like conversation. Who’re you really interested in talking with? People are more likely to be interested in hearing you if you’re truly interested in them.

3. Use what you have: Whatever gets to the core of your own creative and emotive energy is what is most likely to motivate you to produce something that others will find valuable. Be passionate but open minded.

4. Be generous even if you are in need: Approaching people with a spirit of authentic generosity rather than neediness or greed is most likely to elicit a positive response.

5. Be humble: Acknowledge that there is so much more that you need to learn about what makes genuine communication happen:

So that’s what came to my mind And what did you come up with? I’m really interested in hearing. Reach me at

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti: Sustaining Optimism In The Face Of Disaster

We know from research in Positive Psychology that practicing optimism, gratitude and other positive attitudes have positive effects on health and on happiness. But how can one maintain optimism when faced with the death and devastation that is occurring in Haiti? Shock, sadness, helplessness, and anger, are some of the common emotions we may experience, along with a desire to help. After contributing in whatever way we can, each of us is left to deal with the unsettled emotions stirred by the images and sounds of people suffering and dying.

Amazingly, some people actually try to justify why it is alright for Haitians to experience this disaster. Televangelist Pat Robertson is reported as saying that their suffering is deserved as a result of a pact Haitians made with the Devil in order to succeed in their revolution against the French. While few people would say something so bizarre and uncompassionate, there is a human tendency to protect ourselves from guilt or from the thought that this might happen to us, by assuming that the person who is suffering must have done something to cause it; and therefore in some sense deserves it. This preserves our sense that the universe or God is just, and bad things only happen to bad people.

Ordinary people, theologians and philosophers have struggled with this issue of undeserved suffering, called theodicy, as least as far back as the writing of the Biblical book of Job. When faced with personal disaster, such as death of a loved one, or a community disaster like the Haitian earthquake, our sense of cosmic justice is offended. Ultimately, as part of the healing process of grieving, we usually find a way back to living with a sense of optimism and faith. When the grieving process is not successful, we can descend into cynicism and depression.

We don’t need to sooth our guilt, fear and helplessness by assuming that people are suffering and dying because they deserve it. We also don’t need to over-indulge in feeling of pessimism, anger and sadness. We must do everything we can to contribute and help to alleviate suffering, while allowing to re-emerge our natural, if seemingly irrational optimism, that life is worth living, that we will somehow overcome this tragedy, and that good things still lie ahead.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Wo- Man in the Mirror

From Michael Jackson’s song The Man in the Mirror, stretching back in time to William Shakespeare and further back to the Bible, it’s been understood that wisdom begins with looking honestly at yourself, and conducting your life according to that truth. In the folk sayings and scriptures of every culture, you’ll no doubt find the same basic principle. Just as surely, every one of us, including Michael, has failed this test at some point. And that’s why compassion and forgiveness (other aspects of wisdom) are the oils that keep the sometimes creaky machinery of human relationships functioning.

In the past, we mainly had to rely on hope that as we get older, we would somehow become wiser, almost against our own inclinations. But today we know from research in Positive Psychology, that these principles of folk wisdom actually work, and further, that they are skills or competencies that we can develop through practice. But rather than throwing out the ancient concept of wisdom for the scientific one of competencies, we can benefit from that legacy by combining the two. SOPPHIA – The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom, is a model that does this.

Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom, and was personified in mythology and in the Bible as a woman. In this case, I spell SOPPHIA with two P’s, to create a seven-letter acronym, representing the seven dimensions of wisdom. Each of these seven dimensions of wisdom is made up of skills or competencies that have been demonstrated to help people to be more fulfilled or successful at work as well as in their personal lives. The first dimension of wisdom is represented by the letter ‘S’ for Self. This consists of all the skills related to awareness and management of our own emotions and attitudes. The second letter in SOPPHIA is ‘O’ which stands for Others; and includes all of the skills related to understanding and relating to other people. The ‘I’ in SOPPHIA represents Innovation, the skills needed to generate creative ideas and to bring them into reality as products or services that produce social value or wealth. These are the three dimensions of wisdom that I’ll focus on today.

Now let’s get back to the (wo) man in the mirror. What do Michael Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and William Shakespeare have in common? The answer is that they each used great gifts of communication to convey complex ideas in ways that were immediately accessible to the masses of people. Each told stories based on themes, situations or characters that anyone could recognize and identify with. They used emotional intensity and deft esthetic techniques to engage audiences (who now become participants) in their stories. Thus they were all excellent entertainers, in terms of their ability to hold people’s attention, even on serious or painful topics. Some may take offense at the idea that Dr. King was an entertainer; but that’s partly what any great preacher or orator is. He or she doesn’t just convey information, but rather transports the listener into another place with the drama or humor of stories and the music of words.

It’s clear from looking at these three historical persons closely, that reaching high levels of achievement doesn’t require one to be a perfect human being. It does require that you tap into the core of yourself and release an almost explosive emotive and ideational energy; while at the same time expressing that energy in sounds, images, words, ideas, themes and stories that are connected to the shared present and past of a community (or world) of which you are a part. Each of us needs to do this to some degree in order to achieve our potential. This requires developing our skills and competencies in the dimensions of wisdom concerning Self, Others and Innovation.

This is process isn’t just limited to the arts or other expressive fields. All ideas, including scientific, business or engineering ones, are human creations and originate out of experiences of Self. Powerful ideas have that almost explosive intensity and their originators are usually very passionate about and almost obsessed by them. To have a social or physical impact, these ideas must be communicated to Others, in a common language (whether it’s the language of science, mathematics, music or something else). That communication must be persuasive enough to stimulate others to expend money, time and other resources on bringing the ideas into fruition as products, services, functional principles, works of art, etc.

The main tool needed to develop the dimensions of wisdom pertaining to Self, Others and Innovation is courageous reflection: looking at the man or woman in the mirror. This isn’t a single ah ha moment of insight, but a discipline that needs to be practiced and to become habitual. One of the primary aid that supports courageous reflection is life coaching. The goal of the life coach should be to help each person to find and set free that core of emotive and ideational energy that is connected to her or his life purpose; to communicate the contents of that energy to others based on shared interests; and together with others to build that shared future in which each human being can be a contributing member of a vibrant and sustainable community.

To learn more, go to

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wisdom in Times of Economic Insecurity

We may say that there is no true security in life, but certainly fear seems more realistic in times of personal or general economic insecurity. I think of economic value or wealth as flowing from innovation, one of The 7 Dimensions of wisdom. Innovation occurs when creative ideas are brought into social reality and become products or services; or improvement in products or services. To feel economic insecurity is then not only to be lacking material things, but also to have one’s sense of social value and creativity diminished. Therefore in a personal or a generalized economic crisis, one of the first things that must be recovered is the sense of one’s creative powers, the ability to generate ideas and to impact the world with them; to cast off the bonds of powerlessness.

To lack the money and resources for necessities like shelter, food and health care leads to real physical pain and suffering. But to fear the lack of money and resources is a pain in the mind that must be overcome in order for the creative idea-generating capacities to function. It is that creative capacity that can frees us from the chains of economic want in both the near and long term. This creativity can include ideas on where and how to find work, as well as ideas that can ultimately make you economically independent.

Assurance (or faith) is another of The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom that comes into play in the difficult journey from idea to a successful result. Assurance is the ability to endure and persevere even when it may seem reasonable to quit, or when there appears to be no reasonable or observable basis for hope of success. One gets to that point sooner or later in any serious endeavor. In the Bible, the Book of Hebrews defines faith this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Whether or not one is Christian or even religious in any way, faith of this kind (being sure of what we hope for and cannot see) is exactly what can give us resilience in challenging situations. It is not rational in the usual sense, but it is an essential part of what helps human beings to survive extreme challenges or to achieve high levels of performance.

In his books Seasons of a Man’s Life and Seasons of a Woman’s Life, Daniel Levinson provides long term and in-depth case studies of the careers and life development of men and women from a variety of occupations. One of his interesting findings is the importance of having a dream or vision for one’s career, and also the inevitability of disillusionment that one experiences at midlife or thereafter. Even those who are clearly successful in terms of position, money or awards and acclaim, experience a sense of their own limitation as they grow older. Perhaps this is related to a growing realization that regardless of one’s achievements, death is inevitable.

This disillusionment can also be caused at any point in your career by a general economic decline, or by a decline in your specific economic situation and prospects. This can include being fired or laid off or losing your business or home. If the situation goes on for some time, it is likely that you will be challenged by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. At such times, it is especially important to reconnect to the creative spark within you, and to nurse it into a flame.

Don’t expect to necessarily follow the same path you were pursuing earlier, but do nurture that hope and faith in your creative possibilities. Everything of social value, including all the wealth, technology and knowledge and art, began as an idea in someone’s mind, and had to be laboriously brought into reality. Each of us still has the creative capability, and especially in times of economic insecurity, we must mine that ore of wisdom and continue to create value.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Assurance: The Wisdom of Faith vs. Fanaticism

Faith in something or someone has been shown by research studies, as well as by historical evidence, to give people resilience and endurance in the face of difficult and even extreme challenges. This includes dealing with illness, loss and disaster, as well as when achieving victory in activities as diverse as sports, science, charity and political causes. That is why I consider assurance or faith one of The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. However, we also know from current news of terrorism as well as from history that faith (belief in any cause) can easily turn into fanaticism; with destructive consequences up to and including murder and genocide. Given that faith of any kind is essentially irrational, how do we distinguish the positive and life-giving kind of faith; from the deadly or delusional?

Faith is not limited to religion, as people can hold strong beliefs in just about anything. But since religion is where faith is most easily seen, I will use that as an example in discussing the differences between positive and negative faith. God has been used to justify just about any atrocity one can imagine. We are all familiar with the radical form of Islam that justifies suicide bombers killing people indiscriminately. A similar kind of thinking is also found in parts of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible or the Jewish Torah. When the Israelites settled in Canaan, God supposedly directed them to kill all the previous inhabitants, including women, children and animals. One can therefore find justification for extremism in just about any religion or belief system. This line of thought led me to ask in a song I wrote a few years ago:

If my Bible is the perfect truth,
And your Koran is the same to you,
Is God then on my side alone?
Or is God on your side too?

Whether we are talking about religious faith, or faith in some other idea, thing or person, its creative and destructive capacities are determined by the extent to which it does or does not allow for the existence of different beliefs. At the most destructive end of the scale, we have what I call the stage of Domination or Annihilation. Here only we have value or truth, and everyone else is a liar, evil, and deserving of destruction. At the next stage in the development of faith is Tolerance. With Tolerance, we do not necessarily see much value in beliefs other than our own, and we have no real interest in learning about them, but we are willing to let the people who hold them continue to exist. That may not seem like much progress, but it is a very big step in terms of the potential for the survival of humanity.

Beyond Tolerance, we can move to another level of development that I call Engagement. With Engagement, we are actually interested in people who think differently from ourselves and pursue opportunities to learn from each other. Through this process of Engagement, we eventually come to understand that essential humanity that underlies differences in beliefs, and we reach the stage that I call Universality.

What does this mean in terms of self-development or leadership development, beyond religion? First, it is important to believe in and be passionate about something. One cannot achieve fulfillment or much of anything in life without this. However, one’s passion for a particular idea, thing or person should be matched by interest in and curiosity about how other people view the world; with the understanding that we only have a future to the extent that it is built upon a shared vision.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Wisdom of Listening

The skill of understanding and relating to others is one of what I call The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. The ability to listen is central to establishing and maintaining effective relationships. Purpose or calling gives direction to a life, and listening to others is essential to obtaining and providing the mutual support that each us needs to achieve our purpose, and a fulfilling life.

To listen effective means both to hear what the other person is saying, so that you can repeat it, and to empathize (not sympathize) with the other; that is to be able to experience the other’s perspective, even if you strongly disagree with it. This requires being fully present, another of The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. This in turn requires self-awareness and self-management, one more of The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom.

Some of what can get in the way of listening include the struggles within ourselves in which we are distracted by regret or longing for the past or anticipation of the future (whether that is the next thing we plan to say, our next meal, the person we will see later that day, or something more profound). Perhaps it is also disbelief that what is truly significant can be found in the present moment, or in the words of the person to whom we are supposedly listening. In a sense, it reflects a lack of conviction about both us, and the other person in the conversation. It’s similar to when we find ourselves envying someone else’s life or accomplishments. In such moments, our own lives seem somehow not as authentic or real as the other person’s.

If would be easier to be present, and to actively listen, if we were convinced that this moment and this conversation are potentially as significant as any in our lives. It also helps to have an unquenchable curiosity about other people; the sense that there is the potential for a fantastic discovery in even the most pedestrian conversation. Another thing that helps is if one obtains genuine pleasure and joy from helping others; rather than being pushed by a sense of guilty obligation.

Of course, we must also acknowledge that some people are at times immune to good listening. They will continue droning on without regard to the other person, as though they are really only speaking to hear themselves. In such situations, the counterpart to good listening is the ability to gently but firmly get the other person back on track with a question, or to change their emotional state from one of anxious self-absorption to one that is more relaxed and engaged. The latter can sometimes be accomplished by relaxing one’s own mind and body posture. Unfortunately, sometimes, the only solution is to acknowledge one’s own limitations and to exit the conversation as quickly and kindly as possible.

Friday, January 1, 2010

From Idea to Innovation: Bringing Purpose into Reality

Once you become clear about your purpose or calling, how do you move forward? Usually fulfilling a life purpose involves taking it from an idea or concept to something that involves other people’s lives and their participation. Innovation, which I call one of The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom, requires more than creativity. Whatever the field of endeavor, whether the idea is making a better machine, or a new paradigm in art, religion, business or world peace, it becomes real by being communicated, marketed and sold. There may or may not be money involved in the transaction, but other people must buy the idea, and accept it as useful and meaningful in their lives.

Even developing the idea into a workable prototype requires collaboration from other people, who must be convinced to invest their time, energy, and perhaps money into it. This point is obvious in regards to products and services that are sold by businesses, but may not be as readily understood for artistic, scientific, religious, philosophical concepts. Your idea or passion may also be to do something that is not new; but what is new is that you will do it with your particular style and personality.

Some people get excited and engaged by the process of generating ideas, but soon lose interest, and the idea never comes to life. Let’s face it. It can be threatening to commit to an idea and to get other people involved in it. What if it doesn’t work? And at the very least it requires accepting criticism, and changing and adapting your idea to make it useful to other people. Also, selling anything, an idea or a product or service, is emotionally challenging. To be successful at it, you have to not only get used to rejection, but to actually learn from it.

There is also the natural reluctance on the part of many creative people to the perceived crassness and grubbiness of selling. It is so much easier to just go on to the next exciting idea. Perhaps that’s the difference between a vision and a dream. A vision is a prelude to action, whereas a dream is just something that happened last night while you were sleeping. Proverbs states that without a vision, the people will perish. In the original spiritual sense, a vision was divine guidance that a prophet received in order to lead the people away from impending disaster, or towards victory and paradise.

We cannot predict the ultimate impact that any one of us will have by pursuing our purpose. It may seem like a small personal activity that is only connected to a limited number of people. But the butterfly effect works in the social world as well as in the physical one. You may recall that the butterfly effect states that a butterfly flapping its wings can set off a physical chain reaction that ultimately impacts on the weather on the other side of the globe.

In any event, regardless of the impact on others, you can only find fulfillment by pursuing your purpose. Therefore, return to another of The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom, the skills of self-awareness and self-management. There you must confront your fears and find the courage to pursue your purpose, from concept or idea to innovation and the creation of social value.