Archive for March, 2008

The KEY: What Is Your Confabulated Duck?

Dear Leader,
This Key is about what I learned from an embarrassing moment. It is about a trap we may fall into when strategizing, communicating and making investment decisions. In fact it is a trap you may fall into daily in any aspect of your life. It’s called the trap of confabulation.

Confabulation is the ability, or even the tendency of the brain to make up stories, to fill in the gaps by connecting the few dots that are there and making up other dots that are not there to complete the story. It is the confusion of imagination with memory. Here is the American Heritage Dictionary definition: “To fill in gaps in one’s memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts.”

In early March we stayed in a condominium in Fort Pierce, Florida. We went there to soak up the sun, to get some rest and to do some writing. It was a lake-front condominium and when we walked into our temporary home, I was delighted to see three ducks floating on the lake directly in front of our porch. There were other water birds in the area and on one occasion a loon swooped down out of the sky to rest on one of the ducks. See photo here. We were both amazed at how peaceful the ducks seemed. They moved and slightly buoyed with the ripples of the water and were peacefully resting near the pipe outlet to the lake. “They probably enjoy the little outflow of water,” we thought, “That may be the attraction of our area and why they stay so dedicated to this spot.”

In our seminars we often speak about balancing doing with being and about taking time for Reflection to balance the Action. These two weeks of reflective vacation are me walking my talk about the practice of reflection. The ducks in the lake are quickly becoming a great being metaphor for me. I watch them and photograph them, thinking that I can learn about being from these ducks. A few hours later when the owner of the condominium arrived to fix a door that needed repair I complemented him on attracting these peaceful ducks to the front of his house. He artfully explained, absolving me from the embarrassment of feeling completely stupid that these floating plastic ducks hold the irrigation system in place for the lake.

“Of course,” I thought. “Now that I know it, they do look like plastic ducks.” Like looking at the famous drawing that is both a goblet and two faces gazing at each other, depending on the way you look at it, or the line drawing of a woman who can become either old or young, when you change your line of perception. I took another look out at my real / fake ducks, alternating between these two perceptions. Next my mind produced excuses. The mind has its pride, its ego (mine) to defend; after all, how demented would one have to be to think that these are real ducks. My excuses:

First, they are nicely decorated – they really do look like ducks.
Second, the wind and the water ripples produce a constant movement which makes them look alive.
Third, they are 30 feet away and I’m not wearing my glasses.
And well, fourth, I am not from here, how could I have known, yada, yada, yada, excuse after excuse because I feel stupid to have thought that these were real ducks.

Now the teacher, learner, coach is kicking in. It says, this is a metaphor for the human condition. Can you harvest the learning here? So I sat down and put together this KEY about confabulation. Here are my thoughts as I reflect on my plastic duck epiphany:
1. If it looks like a duck but doesn’t act like a duck, it probably ain’t a duck.
2. Fake may look like the real thing but it ain’t.
3. There are many “plastic ducks” around. The risk is in preferring to believe they are real, especially since it is more rare to come across the real thing.
4. In a world full of fakery, the real thing, the truly authentic is all the more precious.
5. When we converse with each other, do we exchange “plastic ducks” or real ones?
6. The brain is a great confabulator. It loves to complete the picture to fit the paradigm you hold.
7. Most importantly, beware of becoming a “plastic duck” yourself. It’s better to stay real. To do real.

Great. I have turned my embarrassment about my urban lack of perception of ducks into a meaningful lesson. The philosopher in me is pacified and I feel better. Never waste an opportunity for a lesson, so here is my question to you:

What is your plastic duck? What are the things you confabulate stories about that are actually not true, and why? What opportunities are you missing by holding on to your plastic duck?

Now it’s your turn. Turn the key. Discover where you make up stories that prevent you from seeing things as they are and hold you back from realizing your opportunities. Please share your confabulation story.

PS. Thanks to Dr. Larry E. Webb, who pointed out that the bird isn’t a loon, it’s an anhingus, or water turkey, a common fish eating bird. And that the decoy “ducks” are not ducks but decoys of Canadian Geese. Let’s call this a confabulated confabulation.

© Aviv Shahar

Rituals – What Are They For?

You create rituals to help you stay focused on what’s important and to remind you of your intentions and values. Rituals help to bring forward alertness about a decision you made and direct you into action.
© Aviv Shahar

The Ducks Of Fort Pierce

Here are the ducks I write about in our upcoming newsletter The KEY. They brought forward an important insight. They are special ducks.


© Aviv Shahar

Innovation Workshop With Columbus

After returning from discovering America Columbus was honored in a series of celebrations. At one such party he was criticized by a gentleman who said: “What’s the big deal, anyone sailing west could have found America”. Columbus went and fetched a cooked egg and challenged all those present to balance the egg on its sharp end. One after the other they tried but they all failed. The egg would not balance and would not stand on the pointed end. Finally Columbus picked the egg and smashed the pointing end on the table just enough for it to balance the egg. To the amazement of all the egg stood balanced. Columbus looked around and proclaimed. “Anyone of you could have done it but I found the way!”

What are the lessons from Columbus’ workshop on exploration and innovation?

1. Discoveries and innovations often look obvious after the fact. After a truth has been articulated, after a discovery has been made known, after a development has been tested and refined, they often look simple and easily accomplished. But they were not obvious before someone articulated, discovered, tested and put them in front of people.
2. The bigger part of innovation is not what you do but how you do it.
3. Think outside the egg.
4. It’s not enough to discover America; you need to also sell it, or to sell your ability to discover the next America. Whether you come up with a technological idea, a service, a solution, a new process, a scientific breakthrough, a business model or a new creative design – It’s not enough that it is promising; you’ve got to be able to communicate it and deliver the good.
5. Be always ready to show what you know.

© Aviv Shahar

Mentoring Best Practices – Part Two

Mentoring can be a powerful and rewarding experience for both the mentee and the mentor. Here are some further best practices to help you make the most of your mentoring relationships.

Best Practices for Mentors:
1. Take a genuine interest in your mentee’s progress and development.
2. Establish two-way open communication.
3. Utilize active listening (L4) skills.
4. Make yourself available for questions.
5. Build confidence and trust.
6. Be honest and transparent.
7. Share personal experience and knowledge. Provide examples of personal successes, setbacks & challenges.
8. Introduce your mentee to clients / management / peer network.
9. Be open to hearing a different perspective from your mentee.
10. Demonstrate and model how you do things.

Best Practices for Mentee:
1. Take initiative to make the most out of the relationships.
2. Be curious.
3. Come prepared with area of focus and questions you want to work on.
4. Use active listening (L4) skills.
5. Be open and receptive to feedback.
6. Contact your mentor when you have a question.
7. Offer feedback about what’s helpful for you.
8. Think of ways to apply what you learn on a daily basis.
9. Cultivate the relationships based on interest, trust and confidence.
10. Communicate with your supervisor.

What to do when we do get together?
1. Get acquainted. Build the relationships first.
2. Discuss your current role and responsibilities, past positions and key experiences.
3. Tell a short version of your career story-line.
4. Find personal information that you are willing to share (hobbies etc.).
5. Share your strengths, aspirations & development needs.
6. Build schedule. Set the next three meeting. Consider logistics.
7. Ask each other what will make this a rewarding experience.
8. Negotiate expectations and agreements.
9. Make the meeting focus relevant to support your development needs and plans.
10. As you progress, expand the range of activities. Include shadowing, attending a business meeting, advice on a project/assignment and more.
© Aviv Shahar

“Who Are We?”

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight is an amazing testimony about the Left and Right Brain hemispheres, about a scientific passion to serve, about recover-ability driven by the human spirit and about “Who are We?”
The miracle of Taylor’s story is first in how she was able to stay totally curious in a middle of a stroke episode, revealing that her fascination with brain function is so deep that it was not erased at the onset of the trauma. The second miracle is how she was propelled into recovery by the insights she now shares.

© Aviv Shahar

Are You the Corpus Callosum Of Your Organization?

The corpus callosum is the largest bundle of nerves in the human body. It connects the two halves of your brain. It helps the right and the left hemispheres of the brain to communicate and coordinate their activity.
As with your brain so is the case with your organization. Certain parts represent and are more inclined to “left brain” functions and other parts are by a greater degree “right brain” inclined. The question is, do they talk to each other? Do they communicate and coordinate well?
It was the surgeon, Joe Bogen and the psychologist, Michael Gazzaniga who discovered that the left and right brain hemispheres have distinct functions. Bogen was trying to help people with epileptic seizures by cutting the corpus callosum. Seizures tend to begin in one spot and spread by chain reaction to the surrounding areas. His idea was to prevent the seizure from spreading to the other side of the brain by severing the corpus callosum. Gazzaniga’s job was to discover the after-effects of a “split-brain”. As with many other great discoveries, the right and left brain localized functions were discovered by accident.
Organizations can suffer epileptic seizures too. It happens when communication breaks down, when finance and R&D, marketing and supply chain, sales and logistics don’t communicate well with other. If the organizational corpus callosum is severed or not functioning and the different functions are fighting each other instead of serving a joint purpose, the organizations can suffer an epileptic arrest.
Your task as a leader is to enable the collaboration and integration of these functions and groups. Here is the leadership challenge:

Are you the corpus callosum of your organization? Do you help and enable the left and right hemispheres to communicate and integrate with each other? Do you facilitate a whole brain organization, where the output is greater than the sum of the individual parts?

© Aviv Shahar

Mentoring Best Practices – Part One

For Managers participating in our Top Talent, High Potential and Leadership Development Programs that include a Mentoring Engagement. Here are Mentoring Best Practices to help you make the most of your mentoring relationships. Further discussion about the difference between mentoring and coaching can be found here.

What is Mentoring?
Mentoring is:
1. Transferring relevant experience to help the mentee succeed.
2. Working in an informal environment to develop skills and acquire knowledge.
3. Finding ways to challenge and grow beyond current responsibilities.
4. Helping to adapt to challenges, opportunities and to change.
5. Developing a relationship focused on personal and professional growth.
6. Fostering understanding of organizational dynamics and culture.

Mentoring is not:
1. Managing job related responsibilities.
2. Evaluating performance.
3. A substitute for the development process between supervisors and subordinates
4. On-the-job training to remedy substandard performance.
5. Formal coaching engagement.

Mentoring Guidelines:
1. The mentor is not in the mentee’s direct chain of command.
2. Look for opportunities for face to face. When this is not feasible meet on the phone. Ideally, the mentor and the mentee meet face to face once a month.
3. A typical monthly meeting can be 60-90 minutes.
4. Additional phone dialogue between meetings can address specific questions and advice.
5. The mentee is responsible for setting up meetings.
6. Regular, periodic and predictable meetings create commitment, rhythm and momentum.
7. Mentoring issues should be kept confidential.
8. Discuss and agree on boundaries.
9. The best mentoring relationships promote frank and honest exchange.
10. Develop your practices and agreements as you go along.

© Aviv Shahar

True Joy

True joy is the fulfillment of a need.

Joy is when your work and service answer another person’s need. Fulfilling the need provides meaning and purpose and validates what you are here to do. Joy is found in the realization of your purpose in living.

© Aviv Shahar

How To Travel Jet Lag Free – The “SLOW” and the “FAST” Systems

To apply my “Jet lag free travel” strategy, understand that we humans have two energy systems. One system is slow in nature. The other is fast.  The fast system handles new impressions, quick and unpredictable twists and turns and the instant responses you are required to produce. In your house you have the patterns of your life, which include how you get up in the morning and basically all the things you do every day. These repetitive activities create patterns that provide continuity, stability and settlement. So you have two systems. The “Slow System” maintains stable patterns and keeps the long view. The “Fast System” is reactive and is at the ready to counter and respond quickly to threats and opportunities. Think of SLOW like a pool of water. Think of the FAST like a bolt of lightening. The lightening jumps quickly. The pool of water needs to be maintained, regulated and cleaned. High intensity living that swiftly moves from one lightening strike to the next can lead to over exhaustion and can cause you to become brittle.  In a healthy scenario the FAST and SLOW system balance and help each other.   The SLOW system needs the anchor of your physical location. The FAST can travel with ease. When you leave your house on a long trip across multiple time zones the intricate balance of the SLOW and FAST systems gets ruptured. That is what you experience as jet lag.

Each of the two energy systems has an anchor in your body. The FAST likes to work through your mind. It’s the central terminal of incoming and outgoing impressions, where the FAST system is at the ready.  The anchor of the SLOW is the digestive system. Its process, phases and cycles are vital for the well-being of your SLOW energy system.

Jet lag is a phenomenon where the two systems, the “FAST” and “SLOW” go out of synch. For example, when I travel from Seattle to Israel, a 23 hour door to door trip through 10 time zones, by the time I arrive there my Fast System is in Israel but my Slow System has not yet been able to get in synch with the day/night patterns of the new location.

How do I fast-forward the synchronization of the two systems? If I can do that, if I can accelerate the synchronization of the SLOW and the FAST systems, I will be jet lag free. That’s what my Jet lag free methodology does and what the jet lag free wisdom is about in a nutshell. It’s based on separating or rather treating separately the FAST and the SLOW systems to allow a better synchronization at the place of destination.

Okay, so what does it mean and how can you do it? I’ll go into it on the next post in this series.

© Aviv Shahar

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