Rooftops and Satellites

What happens when you mix Colin James, Roger Von Oech, Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe? (aka a musician, a creativity specialist, and two video specialists?)

Well, you get me! At least, you get what my mind has envisioned by trying to recognize patterns and find meaning in what each of these individuals has to share. I woke up this morning to James’ “Love is calling” (, read from von Oech’s Innovative Whack Pack, and reviewed Voltz and Grobe’s “Four rules for successful viral marketing”.

von Oech challenged me to drop my assumptions, because they are not always a reliable predictor of the future. In fact, the more assumptions we make, the less likely we are to find the unexpected. So instead of assuming my day would be normal, I looked for something unexpected. I chose to believe I could find messages and opportunities in James’ music, in the Voltz and Grobe literature, and in my immediate surroundings. Here’s what I came up with, as it relates to both my professional career and my personal life:

  1. Engage people: I talked about team building initiatives a short while ago. I asked for input and ideas, and I assumed I would get a smattering of input from a few friends who read this to be nice to me. Instead, I received input from places and people I had not expected. Lessons learned? Expect the unexpected. But if you want people to react/respond/contribute, engage them in an activity.
  2. Use emotions: Colin James’ song tugs at my heart and his lyrics provoke emotions. Emotions are a part of everyone’s reality, both personal and professional. Recognizing that reality is honest, and reaches down to people’s souls. In workshops, in conferences, speaking engagements, and everything else, reach out through emotions.
  3. Don’t waste our time: Avoid long introductions. Avoid too many words. Voltz and Grobe refer to “money shots” in movies – those provocative, memorable scenes that viewers focus on and remember. When running a workshop, make certain everything you do has purpose and contains mostly “money shots”. Use emotion, engage your audience, and jump right in!
  4. Be unforgettable: “Over the rooftops and satellites, I hope you hear me out there tonight”. James describes something that people haven’t heard before. He brings together rooftops and satellites. Way cool! I may forget the rest of the words to the song, but not that. So in business, in life…show people something which they will not easily forget.


    One of my Olivias, being unforgettable!

Now, those are just moments of clarity that I’ve come up with today…they may change tomorrow, but for today, they work. I’ve got two workshops coming up. I am going to use these reflections and incorporate them into my facilitation plans. But here’s my challenge in which I hope to engage you:

I want to collect a series of THE VERY BEST warm up activities that you’ve ever experienced. I’ll share one of mine: At the beginning of a one day workshop, I often ask participants to write down what they would do/be if they weren’t doing their current job. It allows everyone to dream for a moment, to admit he or she might like to be a musician, a fishing guide, a sommelier or something entirely different. It engages people, it provokes emotion, it doesn’t take or waste much time, and often people remember your preferred occupation over the one that you really do!

I'm ruling out professional seamstress to my alternate profession list. I think I just pinned my hair to this mitten!

I’m ruling out professional seamstress on my alternate profession list. I think I just pinned my hair to this mitten!

So, your task is this:

Please reflect on workshops you’ve attended, on those you’ve facilitated, and let’s prepare a list of the best warm up activities out there. Add them here  on the blog as a comment, and you’ll have access to what everyone shares. 


Don’t sweat the small stuff!

I am (once again) reading Richard Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff”. I know that there are volumes of spirituality tools, books and websites  designed to help change your life and achieve all possibilities, but I’ve never come across anything as simple and direct as Carlson’s work. His words always hit home:

“If we would just slow down, happiness would catch up to us.”

Roxy, getting ready to "read" this most amazing book!

Roxy, getting ready to “read” this most amazing book!

“One of the most dynamic and significant changes you can make in your life is to make the commitment to drop all negative references to your past, to begin living now.”

“Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It’s being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.”

It was the last one that struck me yesterday. I was in a  conference call and I obviously needed a reminder about listening. Conference calls are brilliant for today’s work environment: they reduce our combined carbon footprint, they bring together people who might otherwise not have a chance to meet, and you can sit at your desk to participate.

But they do have their down sides. Participants can multi-task, like search the web for a new (insert your favourite passion…fly rod, running shoes, sheet music, etc.). You may forget to use the mute button at an inopportune time. And because you’re not in a formal meeting, you may not give your undivided attention to the call.

I was looking at another document on my desk (okay, an article about skiing in Whistler). Someone referenced a piece of work that I believed was not well put together, and I quickly made a negative comment about it. She immediately countered my comment, and I found I was preparing in my mind what I was going to say back to her. I had missed the preliminary discussion, and then I realized I had actually missed some of her comments because I was too busy thinking about my response. I was guilty of not giving my undivided attention and respect to her and other meeting members. STUPID ME!

I had to stop my mind, erase my planned response. I had to be patient and actively listen with a critical ear, not a defensive, quick-to-judge ear.

I found out, by simply listening to the ongoing conversation, that I had not communicated my thoughts effectively at all! And I still wanted to jump in and say “No, no, I really didn’t mean it that way” Instead, I just listened to everything she had to say, waited until she was done, then waited some more until other comments were made. I then apologized to everyone for my lack of clarity and my short fuse, and promised that I would participate more fully from now on.

Carlson would most likely have a few things to say. He’d remind me that I made a mistake, but that I could reflect and learn from it. He’d tell me it is okay to let others be right, and if I do, they will be less defensive and more supportive of all ideas. Then he’d tell me not to sweat the small stuff, and the conversation on the call was, indeed, small stuff.

In my next conference call, I’m going to plan to listen from the start. I’ll slow down my responses so I can listen even better. And more importantly, if I am chairing the call, I will make one of the ground rules that we all need to listen completely and critically, and think carefully before we launch into what we believe to be right.

“Mistakes are really not that big of a deal. In fact , as most of us acknowledge we need to make mistakes in order to learn and grow”

I guess I learned a lot from this call!

Stop, look and listen

My running buddy, ready to go!

My running buddy, ready to go!

Noon o’clock, time for a run. On go the tights, jacket, my winter IceBug running shoes, iPod and out I go. 6 degrees with a breeze on my face that feels almost like spring. I’m listening to Sprag Session ( playing in my ears, and I’m pumping up the Escarpment hill with my most wonderful running companion, Lucy Blue.

When Lucy and I reach the top (and my breathing starts to slow down), I take a glance over my left shoulder…and come to a complete halt. The view I see are fields of white, green and brown, with the Toronto skyline in the distance. It is both elegant and peaceful, and takes my breath away.

Remember when you were a little kid and your parents taught you to “Stop, look and listen”? Why that thought came into my head, I don’t know, but since I was stopped, I thought I’d complete the steps by looking and listening.

I looked. Not just a glance, but a long, careful look. Then it occurred to me that I was only looking in one direction, so I took a few steps and turned 360 degrees. I not only saw Toronto, but I saw the red pine forest behind me, the snowy, gravel road ahead of me, and a red-tailed hawk that I would have missed if I hadn’t turned.

Just for fun, I crouched down to look at the world from a lower level – the level from which Lucy sees the world. The dirt on my shoes was much clearer (and closer), and I realized that she couldn’t see over the grass to see Toronto! Her line of sight was much different from mine, though we were traveling together.

I listened then. I could hear my own breathing, slower now, and that of Lucy’s. I heard the wind in the pines, and whistling call of a blue jay, almost like a summons for me to stand up and get moving. The sound of my steps, crunching in the muddy gravel, was louder than I expected. Lucy was ready to bounce and play again – she is such a joyous running buddy – and we headed west with a renewed sense of adventure.

I rarely stop when I am running. I tend to suit up and just go, letting the cares of the world slide away while I focus on form, breathing, movement. But my stop, look and listen session was a gift I gave to myself that made the entire experience a better one.

This got me thinking about my work, and how I need to spend more time stopping, looking and listening.  I have a tendency to try to work as fast as possible, to provide my clients with their outcomes as soon as I can. But there is a time and place for stopping mid stream, looking at the work to date, and then listening to the client, to my colleagues and my own conscience, to ensure I am providing the best quality work possible.

We are all so busy in our personal and professional lives that stopping sometimes is the furthest thing from our minds. But if you stop, only for a few moments, you can focus on things that are not in motion. You can see things from different perspectives, and find things you might otherwise have missed. You may appreciate those who travel with you a bit more as well, because you see and understand their efforts. Stop, look and listen. And learn.

Finding Beauty in the Mundane

Every few days, I think “what am I going to write about in my blog?” Usually, I take my regular walk out to the get paper and something strikes me as special, unique or otherwise worthy for sharing. This morning, I was walking while the sun was rising, and I was smitten by the beauty all around me. The fog was lifting, there were birds on the hydro wire, my dogs were following some scent that had their tails wagging, and I was lost in contemplation.

But despite all that, nothing struck me as news worthy to enter here – nothing seemed to inspire me enough to share.

So, as I do when I was to kick-start my day, I turned to Roger Von Oech and his Creative/Innovative Whack Packs ( for some inspiration. I pulled out a card and read: Find Beauty in the Mundane. Von Oech reminds me that I can find beauty in the mundane patterns of everyday life, perhaps in the shapes and colours of rust on a sink pipe, the gentle crack and snap of the wood stove, or the patterns of the ice forming on my deck.  Looking for this not only forces us to reassess the criteria by which we decide what is beautiful, but it also requires us – because of the ephemeral nature of many of these phenomena – to focus on the here and now.

Here and now. Sometimes the “here and now” gets lost in the “hurry up and plan”, “get ready for” and “how will I deal with all I have to do tomorrow”. I know I am guilty of that, especially now that I am planning on moving, and much of my thinking is focused on the future. I find myself staring off into space, plotting and planning for how I will pack, organize or do other things. I am not even noticing the here and now.

Von Oech reminds us that we need to be open to the present moment, and that means using all our senses. We tend to overlook beauty that is found in life’s inconsequential details, but when we notice it, it pleasantly surprises us.

I took a moment. Rory was packing up his car, and he bent down in the gravel driveway to hug Roxy. His 6 foot 2 inch frame was all bent over, with knees almost in the dirt. It was beautiful.

I challenge you today to stop and breathe, in and out. Look around you, not at the artfully crafted, but at the mundane. What beauty can you experience that you might otherwise have missed had you not looked for it? What is humbly beautiful in your life and in your current situation? Share it here….tell me about that beauty.

Team building support!

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

Ken Blanchard

I got thinking: I was listening to the CBC yesterday, and I heard the comedian Maz Jobrani discussing his new movie “Jimmy Vestwood, Amerikan Hero”, and how he is raising money through crowd funding to pay for it. (Crowd funding describes the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. You may have heard of Kickstarter, which is a popular initiative for musicians.) When asked about how he was using crowd funding, Jobrani told the announcer about the advice he was given – PLAN AHEAD BEFORE YOU START ANYTHING!

So he spent a year making contacts, talking to friends, family, his multitude of networks, and laid the foundation for the crowd funding process. And he’s well on his way to making his budget for the movie.

The idea: Which got me thinking. No, I’m not going to do a movie! But I can also use my networks and contacts via the internet to help me in my work, especially if I broaden my notions of “Team” to include pretty much anyone who reads this post!

So, welcome to my team!

Now, I need your help. I am going to be doing a team building activity with my Parks folks later in March. There are about a gazillion team building exercises I can choose from, and I would like to know what works, what resonates with each and every one of you, and what you would recommend.

Your task: I would appreciate it if each of you would reflect on your experience and share with me/us you best team building exercise. What did you like about it? How hard is it to do? What did it accomplish?

If you would do that here, then anyone who contributes will end up having access to (hopefully) a variety of effective, interesting and easy to deliver team building exercises. Please take a moment and share your ideas. Instead of crowd funding, it is crowd training, and we all win!

Everyone is a winner when we work together! (Nice trophy!)

Everyone is a winner when we work together! (Nice trophy!)

Pond curling lessons

For most people, the month of December means getting ready for holiday celebrations. For me, and for a fearless crew of pond curlers, it means it is getting close to the annual edition of DLIPCC (Dumbell Lake Invitational Pond Curling Championship). We anxiously await the e mail from Gary “Button Weight” Buss, Pond Curling Czar, updating us on rink conditions, new regulations, participants list, and whatever else he thinks we need to know.

The DLIPCC Trophy!!!

The DLIPCC Trophy!!!

Teams of two hit the ice and spend the day battling against one another for the much coveted trophy. My name, believe it or not, is on the trophy, along with Caleb MacKay, after winning the inaugural competition. This year, to my utter and total delight, my partner was Kerry Philippi. If I ever had a chance of getting the trophy again, it would be with Kerry.

Pond curling, like many other sports, is as much about communication as it is about skill. If you and your partner can share information with clarity and speed, as well as throw your rocks with accuracy, you stand a good chance of making it to the semis in this event. Kerry and I could do both! In fact, in hind sight, it never occurred to me that we couldn’t.

Funny that, because Kerry is deaf and she doesn’t read lips. So no amount of me trying to enunciate more clearly, or talking more loudly was going to help. Kerry signs. Naturally, I don’t. Communication could have been very, very challenging.

We were hopeful!

We were hopeful!

But it wasn’t, because Kerry and I relied on different ways of communication that didn’t involve words. When one of you can’t hear, and the other can’t sign, you need to look at each other in the eyes, all the time. By doing so, we were able to constantly “read” our partner’s mood or concerns, and words didn’t matter, because we were connected to one another.

We also got close to each other. When the other team was yelling to one another across the ice, Kerry and I would meet at the centre, hold on to each other’s arms or hands, and share our information. We were always making decisions standing next to one another, never alone, and because of our proximity, we could be certain that we understood each other.

Finally, Kerry had this habit of forgetting her hat at one end (she would remove it so it didn’t fall over her eyes when she threw her rock…she is such a professional!). Instead of yelling to her that she forgot it, I had to take a bit of extra time, slide down the rink and bring it to her. By taking the extra time, we had another opportunity to study the rink and make our decisions about what we would do.

Can you find the three lessons that I can take from pond curling hidden in my words? First, if you running a workshop or have a speaking engagement, make eye contact with as many people as possible. You will be connected with them, just like Kerry and I were connected.

Get close to people! Instead of hiding behind a podium or a stage, be prepared to move towards your clients, partners or participants. Nearness means you can communicate with your eyes, your words and your presence. Communication becomes much more powerful and much easier.

Take a bit more time. In this frenetic business life we all lead, we tend to rush about and misunderstandings are easy. If you take the extra time, you can study things a bit more closely and you will find you have more opportunities for positive change, for better communications and for success.

WE MADE IT TO THE SEMI FINALS!!! But we were up against Mike Wieler, Pond Curling God, and his partner Ethan MacKay. We were the first (and only) team to hold them to a no-pointer in a single end. But Mike and Ethan managed to out-play us, not through better communication, but better rock placement. No worries, we had a blast, and we will be a force to be reckoned with at next year’s DLIPCC!!! We will look at each other in the eye, we will get close and we will take our time. Who knows what the outcome will be!