Whence “fear”?

So what’s with all this talk about fear anyhow?

A lot of friends contacted me directly about my last two posts, asking one of two things:

1. Were you writing about me?

2. What are you so afraid of, anyhow?

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the reaction.  First, because it’s a little taboo to admit that you have real fears.  And second, because all of us – but especially us over-schooled folks who have been rewarded throughout our lives for understanding the rules and playing by them – were taught to internalize fear.  Fear can drive you to get good grades.  Fear can get you into the right schools.  Fear can make you a good employee – for a while, at least.

(And I’m not saying that being terrified gets you success.  I’m saying that staying within the lines – first at school, and then at work – works pretty well in most places for at least a while.  And staying within the lines and following all the rules can teach you to be afraid of breaking out, afraid of putting yourself in a situation where there are no lines or rules.)

So why is fear on my mind right now?  It’s because a friend and great supporter of mine has been asking me to look myself in the mirror and figure out what’s keeping me from that next professional breakthrough.

So what’s my answer?  Since I’m pretty good at explaining things (to myself as much as to others) my first reaction is full of explanations: “Well, it’s because…” I begin.

And there are, to be sure, good reasons.  But if I think there’s a kernel of truth in the question I’m being asked, if I think it’s possible that being more fearless would help, isn’t it appropriate to explore:  How much do I believe these explanations?   Do I believe them completely?  Do I believe I’m acting like I really want to break through (which is different from thinking and saying I want to break through)?  And by acting, I mean structuring all my time and all my days around getting there – and being willing to sacrifice the urgent for the important?

Am I doing a good job?  Yes.  Is what I want to accomplish hard? Yes. Important? Yes.  Worth putting myself on the line for? Yes.

So am I doing everything I could?  No, probably not.

I bet you’re in the same situation: you’re doing a good enough job too.   You want to accomplish hard, important things that are worth putting yourself on the line for.  And you too could do more than you are right now, you could commit and re-commit yourself, and doing so would help you get there.

And if I can pass along the nudge that I’m getting to all of you…    Well then I’ve done my part to give a gift as valuable as the one I’ve received.

So that’s what all the talk about fear is about.  It’s a gift.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

The fear reels

Buddhists have a name for the constant chatter in our minds, the reel that keeps playing, pretending to be in the background, talking through our fears – they call it the “monkey mind.”

The monkey mind is the stream from one thought to the next to the next (“what did she mean by that email?…what does she think of me anyway?…I’m not sure I can pull this off…what if we don’t, then what…?…).  But it’s a treadmill – you never get anywhere, never reach any conclusions.

It’s pernicious because it’s pervasive and passive – so you may never confront it head on, and never understand how much it is holding you back.

I’ve found two pieces of advice helpful in taking this on.  The first was suggested by a yoga teacher years ago.  He said, at the start of class,“Take all the things that are worrying you, that are troubling and stressful and on your mind, and leave them outside of class – on the sidewalk.  Just for the duration of class.  I promise you they’ll be there waiting for you when class is over.”

I love this because it’s so practical and it’s actually asking less of us, so it feels possible: don’t stop worrying forever, don’t pretend that you will simply rise above.  Just commit to leaving the worries aside for 90 minutes. By promising yourself that you get to go back to your worries, you discover that it is easier to let go of them.  And sometimes, leaving them aside temporarily can free you from them permanently.

There’s another approach, equally deliberate, which is the opposite of letting go of the chatter: go straight towards the chatter, address the thoughts and take them all the way to resolution.  Instead of letting go of the loop, you break through by moving forward and making a commitment to a resolution.  The circle is broken, and the next time the thoughts start, you have broken the reel, and you’re free.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Fear-less training

What if you decided that the one thing you care most about is being less fearful?  If this mattered more than anything else, what would you do?

(I don’t mean fear of real things, like jumping out of planes or off of cliffs or in front of tigers.  I mean fear of doing things you know you want to do and can do and should do…but don’t do).

How many times would you commit to confronting the fearful situation this month?  This year?

How much time would you spend articulating, to people you trust (mentors, friends, spouses, supervisors, your dog), the thing you’re fearful of and why?

Would you write out what you’re afraid of somewhere?  Would you put it down on paper so you could look it square in the eyes, try it on for size, and see how mean and scary it really is (or isn’t)?

Would you start more things?  Would you send them out more quickly?  Would you figure out where you sabotage yourself just when you’re getting off the ground?  Would you discover that you’re the only one who’s convinced you can’t do it?

The first thing, I think, is deciding – really deciding – that you want to be less fearful.

Once you’ve decided that, what would you do?

(For example, would you say, “Yeah, that’s interesting,” and then go on to the next blog you read or the next email?)

I know I would, and will, do more than I’m doing now.


add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

TED 2010 postscript – conference tips

I’m still getting my feet back on the ground after spending last week at TED2010.  I left the conference with a much broader sense of possibility and a renewed commitment to thinking big.  Many of the talks were dazzling, and while there was no one “best” talk,  the most significant one may have been Bill Gates’ talk about the need to think seriously about nuclear power as a way to address climate change.

So what makes for a great conference?  While TED is unique in its ability to bring together some of the smartest, most influential, most groundbreaking thinkers, there’s still a lot that TED does as a conference that others can and should borrow.

Here’s what I would copy if I were running any other conference:

  • Single speakers talking – no panels. I’ve come to believe that the best way to waste the skills, talents, and insights of four great speakers is to put them all on the stage together with an inexperienced moderator.  One person sharing a compelling vision beats out four people tripping over each other.  (Caveat: a panel is not the same thing as an interview or a debate, which can work…but even those should be used sparingly).
  • No parallel tracks. While TED2010 (including TED University; TED Fellows; audience speakers; and the main TED talks) probably had more than 100 speakers, there was one single track that everyone participated in.  This focused attention and energy, gave people a common experience, and optimized the use of the conference space.
  • Intersperse music and dance. No matter how great your speakers, by the early afternoon, energy will be waning.  TED2010 put fabulous performers on the stage (the string quartet ETHEL; dancers from The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD); Natalie Merchant; David Byrne; and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro).  The music was transcendent, and it reenergized the audience and brought life to the conference (and to the post-conference parties).
  • “Radical openness.” www.ted.com is one of the most-viewed video sites on the web.  In addition to fulfilling TED’s vision of “ideas worth spreading,” the knowledge that a great TED talk could be seen tens of millions of times raises the bar for all of the speakers.  While most  conferences won’t get global visibility, each conference has a core constituency that cannot be in the room.  Making talks available to those who couldn’t come does two things: 1. It spreads the message; and 2. It pushes speakers to improve the quality of their talks, because they’ll compete for attention.
  • Giant-sized name tags that everyone wears. Pretty self-explanatory and easy to execute.  Make the first name bigger than everything else.
  • Cocktail parties and buffets, not seated dinners. When the sessions end, people want to meet each other.  Sitting people at a 10-top table so they can only talk to two or three people for two or three hours is a no-go.

There are a million other things that make TED special, but applying just these core ideas would make almost all conferences so much better – enough so that people might come to attend the conference talks (rather than just to meet the other attendees).

And if we’re not willing to raise the bar here, we may as well just get people together and only have them talk to each other.  Publish who else is going to be there and hold a massively parallel conversation, not a conference.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

TED2010 – Wednesday

A long, exciting day that I won’t try to capture in full.  Some quick notes, after hearing loads of great talks.

First, and of course, stories, stories, stories, every time.  This is how we process information, this is how we stay engaged as an audience, this is how we connect.

But what I saw more of today than I expected was that nearly all the speakers who connected with the audience used either humor or poignancy, with humor winning out as the most common and effective way to connect (probably because poignancy is harder to create).  I want to spend more time thinking about humor, how to use it the right way, and how and whether anyone who wants to be a good public speaker can learn from stand-up comics.

My list of memorable people/talks from today:

  • Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, got a deserved standing ovation for his fabulous talk about a fish farm in southern Spain that is the future of sustainable food.
  • Jamie Oliver, another chef, made a hugely compelling case for the urgency of fighting obesity, and his TED2010 wish is to attack this problem (one stat: 10% of US healthcare spending is on obesity-related illness – $150 billion / year)
  • Jake Shimabukuro wowed everyone with his virtuoso ukulele playing (Sheryl Crow was incredible too, but it’s not like that’s some big discovery I’m sharing)
  • William Li gave us all hope about the power of angiogenesis (blood supply to cancerous tumors) as the future for fighting cancer (and gave a list of foods with antiangiogenic foods we should all eat more of)
  • And Tom Wujec cracked me up with his data that shows that for a design challenge involving dried pasta and a marshmallow – with the goal of building the highest tower – recent MBA grads fare the worst, and do much more poorly than kindergartners (I can’t find the link)

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Blogging TED

I’m at my first TED conference, just arrived yesterday, and I’m trying to sort out how to blog while here.  I’m not too interested in writing “here’s what just happened” posts for a number of reasons (not least of which is that others can do a fine job of this), and given the length of the days and the number of great ideas and people here, I doubt I’ll be able to synthesize enough in real time to come up with traditional posts.

So my thought of the day, which I’ll either keep up for the week or not, is to share what I’m coming across that seems interesting, surprising, and delightful.  (Needless to say, I’m being absurdly picky with my list)

  • I had a fun conversation with Cindy Gallop who just launched ifwerantheworld.com today.  Think Twitter meets the alter-ego of your beer-guzzling Facebook profile meets distributed volunteering meets fancy, elegant user interface.  Worth checking out.
  • From the conversation I had with David Hornik I can tell that his VentureBlog is worth reading
  • I’m dying to figure out if there’s a way to take online gaming platforms like Zynga and use them to get people obsessed about doing good things for the world
  • If you’re interested in addressing the problem of small firearms (especially AK-47s) in sub-Saharan Africa, you might want to check out foundry47.org

Also I’ll be Tweeting more than I normally do, so if you’re interested follow me on Twitter, and if you’re interested in keeping up with TED you’ll probably enjoy searching for the #TED hash on Twitter search.


<p align=”center”><a href=”http://del.icio.us/post?url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;title=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/delicious.gif” alt=”add to del.icio.us” title=”del.icio.us:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://www.blinklist.com/index.php?Action=Blink/addblink.php&amp;Description=&amp;Url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;Title=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/blinklist.gif” alt=”Add to Blinkslist” title=”blinklist:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://www.furl.net/storeIt.jsp?u=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;t=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/furl.gif” alt=”add to furl” title=”furl:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://digg.com/submit?phase=2&amp;url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/digg.gif” alt=”Digg it” title=”Digg it:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://ma.gnolia.com/bookmarklet/add?url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;title=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/magnolia.gif” alt=”add to ma.gnolia” title=”ma.gnolia:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://www.stumbleupon.com/submit?url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/&amp;title=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/stumbleit.gif” alt=”Stumble It!” title=”Stumble it:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://www.simpy.com/simpy/LinkAdd.do?url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;title=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/simpy.png” alt=”add to simpy” title=”simpy:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://www.newsvine.com/_tools/seed&amp;save?url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;title=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/newsvine.gif” alt=”seed the vine” title=”newsvine:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://reddit.com/submit?url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;title=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/reddit.gif” title=”reddit:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://cgi.fark.com/cgi/fark/edit.pl?new_url=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/;new_comment=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/fark.png” title=”fark:Blogging TED” /></a> : <a href=”http://tailrank.com/share/?text=&amp;link_href=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/&amp;title=Blogging TED” title=”TailRank”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2006/11/tailrank.gif” alt=”TailRank”></a> : <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=http://sashadichter.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/blogging-ted/&t=Blogging TED”><img src=”http://sunburntkamel.wordpress.com/files/2008/02/facebookcom.gif” alt=”post to facebook” title=”facebook:Blogging TED” /></a></p>


add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Questions and answers

A close friend and loyal reader of this blog has asked me a question enough times that I thought I’d share it and take a stab at an answer:

“A number of your posts have questions without any answers, and you sometimes pose these to your readers as if THEY should have the answers.”

Implicit in the (paraphrased) question:

  1. Your job, Sasha, is to give or find answers for your readers
  2. If you don’t know the answers, how do you expect that your readers will?

Fair enough.

So here’s how I think about it.  When I started blogging a year and a half ago, I had no idea what I was getting in to or how big a step I was taking.   What does it take consistently to develop observations/thoughts/insights/questions and making them sharp enough that they’re worth sharing? This is the gift from readers to the blogs they follow, because without readers what you’d have is a journal (something I’m sure I would have abandoned long ago).   Without the audience, the thoughts won’t get completed; the ideas would lie there, undeveloped and fallow.  This is one of the many reasons I’m thankful to all of you for reading and for spreading the word.

Thank you.

The big unanswered question before you start blogging is: what’s “good enough” for a blog post?  At the outset, you can share all the totally-unique-this-one’s-really-important thoughts you’ve been storing up for a while.  But then you run out of those.  And, for me and for this blog (which isn’t a “I read this blog/article, and here’s my take on it” kind of blog) I know that if I thought each post had to contain a world-changing insight, I’d never post anything.

For me, blogging is the discipline of continuing the conversation I’ve begun with my readers and fellow bloggers, constrained by the time I’ve allotted to blogging given my already too-full plate. So when it’s time to post I am where I am: sometimes I have an insight, sometimes I have an observation, sometimes I have a reaction, and sometimes what I have is a question I think is worth asking.

And here’s the secret: when I ask the question and I don’t share the answer, it’s because I don’t KNOW the answer.  But forming the question and honing it into something worth posting requires refinement, it requires getting to the heart of something that’s I think is worth exploring.

And my hope is that you agree that figuring out which questions are worth asking is as important – maybe more important – as my take on answers.  If I can help you discover a question worth asking, you’re confronted (and I’m confronted) with thorny issues you (and I) would rather run away from.  By sifting through and distilling a good question, I hope to offer up something worth answering, a direction for focusing your (and my) energies.

So on the days I don’t have answers, success is a tough question that readers decide is worth sitting with, worth grappling with, worth sharing with a friend, and worth resolving.

(And when you come up with a great answer, by all means, let us know.)

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

What the dogs know

My dogs can tell the difference between the sound of emptying a clean dishwasher and filling a dirty one.  They can even tell the difference between the sound of doing dishes and of moving food from one container into another (when food inevitably falls on the floor).

Sure, it’s Pavlovian, but it also speaks to how much you can know by honing in on the one thing that matters most to the outcome that you care about.

Do you know what that one thing is for you?  If not, how can you find out?

Which side of the table?

Which side of the table do you want to be on?  If you are in any sort of client-facing, relationship-driven, or advisory role, you can orient yourself one of two ways: “across the table” or on the “same side of the table.”

The “across the table” strategy is the purview of the expert, and is adeptly practiced by many (but definitely not all) management consulting firms, bankers, expert witnesses and gurus.  Its hallmarks are complex financial models and the use of terminology and frameworks and abbreviations that demonstrate domain expertise and separation.   The examples the expert cites are hallmark successes to illustrate the broader theory, and the desired result is to affirm her client’s fears while leaving him with a vague, warm sense that the expert knows what she’s talking about and that he’s in good hands.  The strategy is working when meetings give the sense that the expert cannot be easily replaced, and as a result she is hired for the next job.  This strategy works best with clients with limited time and experience, in politicized environments, and where managing risk and covering your bases is important.

The “same side of the table” strategy dispenses with most of the bells and whistles of the expert.  The adviser establishes credibility by laying her cards on the table, explaining her motives and her desired outcomes.  In the pitch, failures are cited as often as successes, and the advisor wants, literally and figuratively, to find herself on the same side of the table as the person being advised.  Terminology is simple, there are lots of appeals to common sense and shared experience, and the advisor’s aim is to share the tools she uses with the client, to make herself dispensable.  This too, importantly, can often result in the adviser being hired again.

The first strategy is the dominant one, and it can be hugely effective because we’ve been trained over the years (starting in kindergarten and moving on from there) that someone out there knows more than we do and that we can buy expertise from others, because their expertise outweighs the fact that they understand our situation far less well than we do.  And, from the expert’s seat, it’s accepted that a little slight of hand and obfuscation is a small price to pay for the overall betterment of the client’s situation.

Switching to the “same side of the table” takes years of unlearning the burned-in, rewarded traits of low-level smokescreen, dressed-up financial models and frameworks, and the intellectual laziness that complexity can paper over.  But pulling this off is, among other things, the difference between your average conference presentation and a TED talk (transcendence comes when a marine biologist explains the fastest appendage in the world in a way that millions can understand it).

Crossing this chasm is worth the leap, but make no mistake that it is a leap, and in the transition you’ll often stumble and find yourself get caught in the middle.  That’s OK, it’s a sign of progress.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook