Four significant thoughts that have become more clear to me in 2015

think3.001In 2015 I was exposed to a lot of new ideas, concepts, and principles, primarily from the 52 books I read. Here are five concepts/principles that significantly affected me. [Click here for a post I wrote on Embrace significant thoughts.]

1. We have control of our lives, therefore we are responsible for our lives.

In the past 12 months, at different times and from different sources, I read the following statements.

  • It became clear to him (Viktor Frankl) that what sort of person he would wind up being depended upon what sort of inner decision he would make in response to his circumstances.
  • Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.  Steve Maraboli
  • Most human beings in their early lives develop only as far as necessary to cope adequately with their environment. (Moshe Feldenkrais) A smaller number, probably less than 20 percent of people, continue learning and growing more than necessary—all through their adult years. These are people who think of themselves as “works in progress” with a sense of growing and becoming that brings joy to their lives.
  • Life is a sum of all your choices.  Albert Camus
  • The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives…It is too bad that more people will not accept this tremendous discovery and begin living it.  William James
  • Don’t play victim or martyr; accept responsibility and authority for the consequences in your life.  Karl Albrecht

Together, these statements have solidified my conviction that ultimately, we have control over our lives because we control our choices, decisions, and attitudes. I am what I am because of the choices I have made. I take responsibility for this and will not blame other people for my misfortunes or adversities.

I wrote about this topic in the post Accept responsibility for your life

2. We need to fine-tune our crap-detector.

I learned this term from Karl Albrecht in his must-read book, Brain Power.

Albrecht says, “The truth is that we human beings are very easily manipulated. We don’t like to admit it, but we’re unconsciously manipulated every day. Some people make a living by capitalizing on the irrational behavior patterns they can induce in others.”

We need to maintain a healthy level of skepticism and be wary of those who want to mislead, deceive, and take advantage of us.

Just having this term—crap-detector—in my vocabulary has helped me be more discerning. I was in a meeting several weeks ago and “beep, beep, beep” my crap-detector starting humming. I had the emotional fortitude to speak up and expose the ruse.

I wrote a post about this titled Be skeptical – fine-tune your crap-detector

3. “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.” Hitchens

I am not a confrontational person. I’m a diplomat not a fighter. But this statement has challenged my thinking and wrestled me to the mat. It has helped me be more forthright and honest.

4. Our highest joy comes from giving to and serving others.

In 1954, Psychologist Abraham Maslow published a book titled Motivation and Personality in which he suggested that all humans are motivated by a common hierarchy of needs, commonly displayed as a pyramid in which the most basic needs—physiological (air, water, food and shelter)— are placed at the bottom. Once these needs are met we gravitate to the second set of needs—safety and security. When we’re convinced that these needs are met we long for love and a sense of belonging. Then comes self-esteem. The highest aspiration, he suggested, is self-actualization—“What a man can be, he must be.” A teacher must teacher; a painter must paint.

But in his later years, Maslow added another dimension of needs at the top of the pyramid, a need even greater than and more rewarding than self-actualization—self-transcendence—going beyond our own needs and individual experience and giving oneself to others. His final conclusion was that self-actualization is not the ultimate goal in life, but transcending self and focusing on others, is.

We must resist the natural tendency to focus on self and instead focus on others. Our greatest joy in life will come from giving to and serving others.

Visit the genba

Photo by PhotoDune
Photo by PhotoDune

Genba (現場, also romanized as gemba) is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.”

Japanese detectives call the crime scene genba. Japanese TV reporters may say they are reporting from genba. In business, genba refers to the place where value is created; in manufacturing the genba is the factory floor. [Wikipedia]

Genba is where action happens. Being there is advantageous. At the genba we see and sense things that might be missed from a distance.

For instance, when my daughter, Lauren, and her family were moving from Florida to Dallas, Lauren made a preliminary trip to find a good middle school for her daughter, Marin.

The long-range goal was to get Marin into Dallas’ TAG School (talented and gifted), which U.S. News and World Reports consistently ranks as the #1 public high school in America. There are several DISD middle schools that feed into TAG, so the chances of getting into the elite school is enhanced by being a student at one of the feeder schools. But the acceptance rate is low. When Lauren visited, school was about to start.

During her trip, Lauren insisted on visiting Dealy school (one of the feeder schools). I suggested that we simply call the school and talk to someone, but Lauren wanted boots on ground, so we went to the genba. Although we didn’t have any appointments, Lauren – in her typical kind and determined manner – negotiated a meeting with the principal and several key teachers.

During the conversations we discovered that the entrance application was due the next day, and the only way to apply at that late date was to do so in person at the DISD headquarters in downtown Dallas. We made the trip downtown (another genba), and completed the application. In the following weeks Lauren continued to communicate with the teachers and administrators she had personally met at Dealy.

To make a long story short, Marin was accepted into Dealy and, two years later, into TAG.

I really don’t think these good things would have happened unless Lauren had insisted on visiting the physical campus – the real place.

Here’s a hard-to-believe example of someone not visiting a genba. In my undergraduate studies at U.T. Austin, my German teacher was a young man who was finishing his Ph.D. in German studies. I was shocked to learn that he had never visited Germany; he had never even traveled outside the United States. What was he thinking?

Visiting a genba takes extra effort and resources, but it is usually revealing and therefore rewarding. It provides a multi-sensory encounter with the place in space where something happens and we are able to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell reality.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]


What? – The term genba refers to the physical place where something happens.
So what? – Often, it is advantageous to visit the genba.
Now what? – As an individual, develop a curiosity about places of origin; get out of your dog-runs and explore unfamiliar places where things happen. Learn to sense when an on-site visit would be beneficial.

Leaders – As a leader, define the genbas of your organization (you have many) and visit them. Remember, genba refers to a physical place. Where are your products and services made? Where are they delivered? Who are your stakeholders, and where are they?

5 most popular posts in 2015

blogging2.001Thank you for subscribing to my blog site. I hope my posts have been beneficial. I posted my first essay on December 10, 2014 and have posted once a week for the past 52 weeks. I started with 10 subscribers, I now have 3,500+

In my opinion, my five most important posts were:

My readers favored these five posts (based on comments and Facebook and Linkedin shares):

In the first quarter of 2016 I think you’ll like these topics:

  • Have a “Popeye moment”
  • Upgrade your conversations; talk about ideas
  • Don’t let emotions control your life
  • Cultivate your intellectual nutrient base
  • Balance breadth and depth

Don’t go to Abilene


The term Abilene Paradox was introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his article The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.

The paradox refers to a situation in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many individuals in the group. Involved is a breakdown of group communication because some members mistakenly believe that their own preferences are counter to the group’s, but they do not raise objections. [Wikipedia]

Here’s the story Harvey tells in his article to illustrate this phenomenon.

On a hot afternoon in Coleman, Texas, a family (husband, wife, daughter, and son-in-law) is enjoying a comfortable afternoon at home when the father suggests that they take a trip to Abilene (53 miles away) for dinner. The daughter says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The son-in-law, despite having reservations about the trip (the drive is long and hot), thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group, so he says, “Sounds good to me; does your mother want to go?” The mother says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. The food at the restaurant is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted and frustrated.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother says that, actually, she would have preferred to stay home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The son-in-law says, “I didn’t want to go but I thought everyone else wanted to.” The daughter confesses, “I just went along to keep everybody happy.” The father, who initiated the trip, then admits that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group is perplexed that they took a trip which none of them wanted. How did that happen?

Several years ago my family planned on “enjoying” the July 4th weekend by going to a public pool, slather on sunblock, lie out in 100 degree heat and sun, and sweat. Driving to our destination, my son-in-law had the emotional fortitude to say, “I really don’t enjoy doing that.” Following a moment of reflection, it occurred to me that neither do I. My wife volunteered, “I don’t like getting in the sun because I don’t want to get skin cancer.”

We were on our way to “Abilene.” I’m not sure who initially suggested the outing or why (perhaps one of us noticed that famous people seem to do it often so it must be fun), but after we honestly discussed the trip it was aborted.

The Abilene Paradox can be avoided. When a group is making a decision, each group member should be asked, “What are your true and unfiltered thoughts about this issue?” Or, if everyone is familiar with the term, just ask, “Are we going to Abilene?”

Steven Wolff, with GEI Partners, says, “To harvest the collective wisdom of a group, you need two things: mindful presence and a sense of safety.” He explains that mindful presence is “being aware of what’s going on and inquiring into it.” A sense of safety ensures that if I express my candid thoughts, I won’t be sanctioned.

If your group is unfamiliar with the concept and you sense that everyone’s “getting in the car to go to Abilene,” speak up and voice your concern. Don’t hesitate to rock the boat.


What? – A group of people may collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many of the individuals in the group.
So what? – This group dysfunctionality is frustrating, counterproductive, and a waste of time and resources. It can easily be avoided.
Now what? – As an individual, have the emotional fortitude to speak up when you sense that you and others are falling prey to this syndrome. Discuss this principle among members of groups that you are involved in: family, clubs, associations.

Leaders – Discuss this principle with your team; adopt “rules of engagement” that will eliminate the Abilene Paradox.

Harvey, J. B. (1974). “The Abilene paradox: the management of agreement”. Organizational Dynamics 3: 63–80