About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

29 October 2009


My friend Josh Klein, young hacker of everything, told me I'm not too old to twitter. I decided to give it a shot. That was three and a half weeks ago. I've managed six tweets. I'm struggling. But, I'm optimistic. I've already got 40 followers. Is that good? No, but it's a start.

In addition to telling me my age should not stop me from jumping on the twitter bandwagon, Josh suggested that I start off by using twitter as a scanning tool for new ideas. Huh? "Simple enough," he said. "Just find some really smart tweeters and start to follow them." That made sense to me, so I asked him how to separate the smart tweeters from the not-so-smart ones. "There's no one way to do it," he said, "but if I were you I'd pay special attention to the ones who have the most followers." And so I did. Here are some of the folks I'm following:
Whoa! What is that all about? Almost 620,000 people following something called shitmydadsays? Can't be true! And yet, it is.

Some background. shitmydadsays debuted on August 3rd. For those of you who are counting, that's not quite three months ago. As of today 64 tweets are posted. The tweeter is Justin (no last name mentioned). Here's how he describes himself and what he is doing:
"I'm 29. I live with my 73-year-old dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says."
That's it? Yep. "Well then," you say, "his dad must say some pretty smart things to attract so many followers." I don't know about that. Here are a few examples. Judge for yourself.
"You're being fucking dramatic. You own a TV and an air mattress. That's not exactly what I'd call a lot to lose."
"You need to flush the toilet more than once...No, YOU, YOU specifically need to. You know what, use a different toilet. This is my toilet."
"It's just a fucking june bug, calm down. Jesus Christ, what happens when something bigger than a testicle attacks you?"
"I like the dog. If he can't eat it, or fuck it, he pisses on it. I can get behind that."
Rather bawdy, wouldn't you say? How about brilliant? Maybe. Maybe not. Funny? Yes and no.

How about 620,000 followers in less than 90 days? That's the important question here, and in the answer you're likely to unearth some secrets to building a highly recognizable and attractive brand.

  • Justin used just four words - shit ... my ... dad ... says - to both name and position his offering. Can you do the same for yours?
  • Justin used earthy language to communicate with his audience. Do you think he would've attracted as many followers if he'd cleaned up his act ... if he had said pearls of wisdom from my father - or something akin to that - for example?
  • Can you use the same approach and language to build your brand via social media that you did using traditional media? If so, how so? If not, why not?
"If we left brand differentiation to most CEOs, most companies would stand for "quality, service, and innovation," and there would be even less differentiation than there already is." - Blaise James, Gallup global brand strategist, as quoted by Gallup Management Journal
"'Can't please everyone' isn't just an aphorism, it's the secret of being remarkable." - Seth Godin, writing in his blog
"In every generation there has to be some fool who will speak the truth as he sees it." - Boris Pasternak
"The course of every intellectual, if he pursues his journey long and unflinchingly enough, ends in the obvious, from which the non-intellectuals have never stirred." - Aldous Huxley
"I have to tell it again and again: I have no doctrine. I only point out something. I point out reality, I point out something in reality which has not or too little been seen. I take him who listens to me at his hand and lead him to the window. I push open the window and point outside. I have no doctrine, I carry on a dialogue." - Martin Buber

25 October 2009

Life Is Short. Wear Your Party Pants.

This is Loretta LaRoche. She is an author, PBS TV personality, humorist, and stress management consultant. She appeared in our 2004 Masters Forum series. She talked about how to reduce stress in our lives by changing the way we look at things and learning to laugh, especially at ourselves. She was a stitch! We laughed until we hurt. We learned many lessons in the process. Here are some of them in Loretta's own words.
"We define ourselves by how much we have to do and how stressed we are. We are now a nation of human doings, not human beings. People would rather tell you how much they’re doing. The person who’s listening doesn’t care, because they’re practicing in their head how they’re going to counter how much you’ve done. So they’ll say, 'You think you have a lot to do? You should see what I have been doing!' Now, you haven’t won yet, so you have to add physical problems. You might say, 'I’ve been having headaches, backaches, frontaches.' What a sad commentary on life! We’re only here to distract ourselves until we die. That’s what this lecture is really about: Get a grip. You’re going to die. Don’t you want to live before you die? Don’t you want to be juicy? Don’t you want to thrive? Don’t you want to throb with delight every day? We’re all going to suffer - why practice?"
"The media wants to constantly remind you that you’re not enough, that something’s wrong, that there’s terror amongst us, that your lips should be fuller. Nothing is right, nothing. There are so many products on the market today that you can’t even get in your shower sometimes."
"So much is about structure: we have to have rules: 'I can’t have pineapple until 4:00; I can only eat meat at 11:00.' Who cares? Be quiet. Why don’t you tell me about something else? Wouldn’t it be fun to hear somebody say, 'I'm learning how to speak Chinese'? How much time are you taking doing these things and then complaining about it?"
"How many moments of our lives do we spend complaining and talking about what is not instead of what is? You know, we should go up to somebody and say, 'May god, my hair looks damn amazing today!' The pleasure concept of life is very important. This does not give pleasure - to always feel like I’m on the edge of not being okay. We spend so much time being careful about what we eat, but inside we’re dried up because we aren’t getting any pleasure. Put it on your tombstone - 'Was thin, died anyway'."
"People impose the tyranny of the should and the must on themselves. So at night you might be lying there shoulding on yourself, 'I shoulda done this, I shoulda done that'; or you might be going over what you must do in the morning, 'This is what I must do, this is what I must do' - that’s called musturbating. And we should on other people, too, because the nature of the mind is to be a saboteur. The Buddhists talk about the monkey mind. The monkey always wants a banana. The insistence is to keep talking to yourself in terms of not having what you need, or what you didn’t do, or what you should be doing. Isn’t that the way a lot of us are living - we’re waiting to finally get the accolades from 'they,' so we can feel okay. Perfectionism is a lot about shoulds and musts."
"The brain is not capable of multitasking. We are trying to teach ourselves something that’s impossible to achieve, because somebody came up with that word and now we think it should be part of the culture. No wonder people have lower productivity in workplaces: there’s all this baloney going on, all this fake stuff, and you believe it. What is the mission statement? It should be, 'We're here to have fun, first, and to create community.' Community and fun would be the mission statement, and then everything else would follow."
"How would an optimist behave? First of all, optimists see the world as a way to foster resiliency. Consider savoring all that you do. Have abundant pleasure in your life every day. Yesterday’s history; tomorrow’s a mystery; and today’s a gift - that’s why they call it the present. The other things optimists do is laugh a lot. They laugh at themselves in particular, because they know they’re the joke. Everybody in this room’s a joke; some people don’t get it. Don’t you hear this a lot: 'Do you know who I am?'? When I hear that I say, 'No, do you? You must be an idiot'."
"The most important thing an optimist can do is allow themselves to be playful with everyone they come into contact with. As you lighten up, so will the world. This is because your energy goes out into the world. Everything you do is felt by others. Even your thoughts manifest an energy that is picked up by everyone."
"Get a funky hat. Become as bizarre as possible. They’ve found that eccentric people live twenty years longer and go to the doctor rarely, because they’re living their bliss."
"If you think the worst and get the worst, you suffer twice. If you think the best and get the worst, you only suffer once."

My suggestion is to kick some of Loretta's ideas around and see what insights come your way. A couple of questions you can start with are:
  • Do you have a monkey mind?
  • If so, what is it you always want?
"The future masters of technology will have to be light-hearted and intelligent. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb." - Marshall McLuhan
"The distrust of wit is the beginning of tyranny." - Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
"The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things - not merely industrious, but to love industry - not merely learned, but to love knowledge - not merely pure, but to love purity - not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice." - John Ruskin

A short clip of Loretta LaRoche

21 October 2009

Six-Word Memoirs

There's a literary legend that the great American writer Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a bar to write a story in six words. He wrote:
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
A couple of years ago, Smith, an online magazine dedicated to personal storytelling, picked up on the Hemingway legend and started a contest in which people - celebrities and just plain folk - wrote and submitted six-word stories of their own - as memoirs. The magazine received over 15,000 stories and selected a few hundred to publish in a book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Among those published are:
"Longed for him. Got him. Shit." - Margaret Atwood

"Well, I thought it was funny." - Stephen Colbert

"Liars: hysterectomy didn't improve sex life." - Joan Rivers

"After Harvard, had baby with crackhead." - Robin Templeton

"Seventy years, few tears, hairy ears." -
Bill Querengesser

"Found true love. Married someone else." - Anonymous
  • Do you think it's possible to sum up your life in just six words?
  • Are there some possible statements, questions, or ideas that speak to who you are?
  • Can you think of a single poignant moment, for example?
  • Is there a song - or movie, poem, book, story, speech, quote - that is particularly meaningful?
  • Can you recall a time when you were at a crucial juncture in your life, and the decision you made then? How might your life have turned out, if you'd made a different choice?
  • What is your six-word memoir?
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein
"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers." - M. Scott Peck
“Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not.” - Isaiah Berlin - The Crooked Timber of Humanity
"I didn’t have a 'mission statement' at Burger King. I had a dream. Very simple. It was something like, 'Burger King is 250,000 people, every one of whom gives a shit.' Every one. Accounting. Systems. Not just the drive through. Everyone is 'in the brand.' That’s what we’re talking about, nothing less." - Barry Gibbons, former CEO

17 October 2009

Pattern Recognition Rules!

In an earlier post, I featured the questionnaire that James Lipton uses on his television program Inside the Actor's Studio. I said I was intrigued by it because it allowed me to view his 200+ guests through a single lens. And, by holding the lens constant, I was able to see the differences between and among them.

I actually ran into this idea many years ago. I was introduced to it by one of my early mentors in the leadership development game, Dr. David W. Merrill, co-founder of what is now known as The TRACOM Group, and a true genius in the fields of individual, management, and organizational behavior.

Dave showed me a series of questions companies might use in the first step in the hiring process; he called it a patterned interview. The idea behind it was simple: hold the interviewer constant by asking the same questions - in the same order - to a group of candidates, thus making it possible to see the variety in both their answers and their behavior. This is important because if the approach of the interviewer varies, it becomes much more difficult to get a true reading on the differences between and among the candidates. In other words, the candidates' responses become the constant. Dave's simple explanation of this was, "Put 'em on stage. Ask a question. Be stoic and listen." In my view, Dave's questions can also be used as the basis for a conversation in which you and another take turns answering them. The end result is that you will know each other much better than before.

  • Will you please tell me what you'd like about such things as your educational accomplishments, work experience, personal interests and career goals?
  • What is your greatest success in life?
  • What is your greatest failure?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • If I asked your friends what five adjectives describe you best, what would they say?
  • What is your philosophy of life?
  • What is the most important thing we can do to help you succeed with us?
  • If we were to have any difficulty helping you succeed here, what would it be?
"People don't change much. As a result, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you were to pin me down, though, and ask me to give you the reasons why people change when they do, I would give you three: traumatic life experience, religious conversion, and prefrontal lobotomy." - Dave Merrill
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
- William Stafford