Principally Speaking: Solving Difficult Problems

I happened upon an interesting principle that understood and properly applied, can make life much easier.  This principle became obvious during a recent horseback riding lesson while working on my trot-canter upward transition.  Without boring you with the details, the principle I learned or perhaps better put, rediscovered, is this: the solution does not always lie at the level of the obvious problem, symptom or deficiency

Having considered something akin to this in my recent post on my company’s blog, I feel it is “in the air” and therefore worthy of further consideration.  Our medical system offers a fine example of what happens when this principle is ignored.    

The present system, which could be summarized as the “find-it-and-fix-it” approach, tends to downplay or even ignore the larger context in which the problem is set.  A headache, for instance, is often treated with aspirin, and little attention is given to what might be the cause behind the headache.  By focusing on the symptom, medical practitioners who work in a highly specialized system often fail to see the forest for the trees.

An equestrian can also easily succumb to this pitfall if he or she is not careful.  In the situation I mentioned earlier, the symptom was the horse tending to drop down on his inside shoulder.  Focus too much attention on that shoulder and the rider risks missing the many other factors that come into play to bring about the right balance (hind leg impulsion, maintaining the outside side, the rider’s position, etc.). 

To live effectively you must view your world holistically.  To the degree that your life is compartmentalized and not operating according to a unifying theme, you run the risk of competing elements and as we looked at before, a house divided is not sustainable.  Likewise, if you tend to focus or worse, fixate on the things that are not working properly in your life, you will miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

An uncle of mine once used an analogy that has stuck with me for years.  If you are driving on a mountain pass and your brakes fail, the worse thing you can do is to focus all of your attention on the failure and to pump the brake pedal obsessively.  You need to look up, determine the best path to slow down, stay calm enough to think logically about ways to slow and stop the disabled vehicle.  Sitting at my desk I can think of a few ways: drive gently into the bank and use friction to slow down, try the parking brake, downshift, and so on.  Anything is better than going over the cliff and suffering a total loss.  There are almost always more options than you might think initially.

Another complicating factor in this is that people love to identify a “single-point” scapegoat for just about any problem.  Scientists and other interest groups have been desperately seeking to point the finger at a single-point cause for the recent “colony collapse disorder” that has decimated the honey-bee population in North America.  This disorder could have a large impact on our food supply, so the problem and the interest in its resolution are real, yet trying to focus on one element, such as the proliferation of power lines, certain pesticides, or other favorite suspects is unlikely to provide a holistic enough approach to reverse the trend.

Where does this leave us this morning?  Well, first of all, when you experience a challenge or a problem in your life (it happens, believe me, I saw it on TV once or twice), don’t immediately jump to conclusions about why it happened, who is responsible and what their punishment should be.  Take the time necessary to understand the problem in its larger context. 

As yourself: what factors are at play, who are the stakeholders and who can help find a solution?  These are excellent questions that will help you resolve any issue.  Furthermore, always leave room for the fact that your perception may be skewed or incomplete.  It never hurts to approach these matters with humility.

The world’s problems are rarely simple anymore and in many cases, neither are the individuals problems that each one of us faces from day-to-day.  Our world is more interdependent than ever and determining cause requires persistence, equanimity and a keen eye and ear for the not-so-obvious.

Take care of the world you center in a new and more balanced way today.  It will make a difference.


The Top 7 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Life by Gregg Hake

Leonardo DaVinci once wrote, “Life well spent is long.” Socrates wrote some 2,000 years earlier, “Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.” To be sure, a life well lived is ideal, but optional.

While I typically prefer to consider the positive attributes of any subject in order to provide stepping stones for progress, sometimes it is valuable to enumerate the most common obstacles that prevent forward movement, to the same end. This list, while in no particular order, should help you to navigate several of the trickiest areas of human consciousness:

The Top 7 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Life

  1. Maintaining the belief that life is out to get you or that your world is conspiring to ruin your day or worse, your life. As Mark Twain poignantly suggested, “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” Life’s compulsion is growth, continual expansion. Motivated by the power of life, you can flourish like the flower that finds its way through a crack in the asphalt.
  2. Dwelling obsessively in the past. Robert Frost, the great American poet, penned: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” Don’t let the past rob you of the beauty, the wonder and the opportunities of the present.
  3. Living in constant fear of the future. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, philosopher and poet who led the Transcendentalist wisely remarked: “With the past I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” If you live in fear of the unknown, of what is to come, you will likely be paralyzed or at best distracted relative to the right course of action to be taken now.
  4. Failing to appreciate your resources, as they are presently configured. Henry Ward Beecher, a clergyman and social reformer in the 19th century, stated: “The unthankful heart…discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!” Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher who walked the earth some 1,900 years ago voiced this gem: “He is a wise man who does not grieve for things he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Make full use of your present resources – your friends, your things, your skills, your understanding and so on – and your world will expand.
  5. Cruising through your day on ‘autopilot.‘ Pulitzer Prize winning author Thornton Wilder declared: “We can only said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Good living requires a conscious, active and alert mind; existing does not.
  6. Refusing to forgive. George Herbert, a Welsh poet born in the late 1500s wrote: “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” Forgiveness lightens the present and enlarges the future.
  7. Seeking company in misery. W. E. B. DuBois, the tireless civil rights activist, issued the challenge: “A little less complaint and whining, and a little more dogged work and manly striving, would do us more credit than a thousand civil rights bills.” Commiseration varnishes over a wound that could otherwise heal. Helen Keller added: “As selfishness and complaint pervert the mind, so love with its joy clears and sharpens the vision.”

As I mentioned above, a successful and fulfilling life is optional. Either you make decisions and develop habits that allow you to harness the inexhaustible power of life or you move awkwardly and painfully down the slippery slope called “existence.” The choice is yours.


The Virgin Experience: Business Leadership

Dyslexic as a child and a poor student who left school at the age of 15, Richard Branson now runs the largest group of private companies in Europe.  With annual revenues topping $25 billion, Branson’s family of “Virgin” companies look to turn conventional business wisdom on its head.

Business has grown to be one of the most powerful forces on the planet.  Its effect touches virtually every sphere of human activity; business has the potential to improve people’s lives worldwide.  Likewise, business leaders have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference in the world.

Business leadership is not for the faint of heart.  A business leader is responsible for the lives and wellbeing of others and to varying degrees, for the wellbeing of his or her community, nation and the world.  As such, anyone interested in providing leadership in a business could benefit from cultivating the following qualities of character:

1.  Humility – once this is lost, all is lost

2.  Decisiveness – every choice involves risk, those who are decisive are comfortable with risk

3.  Equanimity – keeping your cool under pressure allows perspective; fanaticism of any kind is unsustainable

4.  Courage – leadership involves standing in the spotlight…get used to scrutiny, criticism and praise

5.  Compassion – great leaders care deeply about others; leaders who understand others can help them grow more effectively

6.   Curiosity – it may have killed the cat, but curiosity is the hallmark of today’s leader

7.  Resourcefulness – no matter how great the base of resources, there is always a need for wise and creative stewardship

8.  Vision – where there is no vision, leaders and their organizations perish

Business is about people and value.  Sustainable businesses find ways to add value and to meet people’s needs and business leaders must lead from the back and from the front. 

We live in an era of unprecedented transformation and disquiet and leaders who thrive in this environment must be fast adapters.  The way business is done has changed significantly over the last 24 months and as we considered yesterday, today’s problems require today’s solutions.     

When you have the time (sorry this one is roughly 30 minutes), I recommend that you listen to Chris Anderson’s interview of Richard Branson at TED 2007:

Have a wonderful day!


A New Shade of Green: Work Smarter, not Harder

Here is valuable insight on how to work smarter, not harder…

My father-in-law gave me a fantastic Wall Street Journal Article last week entitled “A New Shade of Green” by the first director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), William Ruckelshaus (see  His basic argument is that today’s environmental challenges are far different than those faced by our country and the world when the EPA was formed by President Nixon in 1970 and as a result, the solutions must change as well. 

The basic approach to handling the environmental issues in our country has been what Ruckelshaus termed “top-down, command-and-control” tactics.  The bulk of the environmental problems we faced in the 50s, 60s and 70s were thought to be due to weak state regulatory programs.  The states competed so fiercely for plants and jobs that regulating companies to protect the environment was rarely done.  

“Fast forward to 2010,” notes Ruckelshaus, “In so many ways the problems of the 1970s seem almost quaint now – simpler problems of a simpler time.  Our biggest challenge now is to make sure we don’t succumb to inevitable tendency to fight the last war.  Yesterday’s solutions worked well on yesterday’s problems, but the solutions we devised back in the 1970s are not likely to make much of a dent in the environmental problems we face today.”

What an excellent point!  Not just in this area of consideration, but in every area of consideration of human progress and achievement.  Just because an approach worked in the past does not mean that it will work – or even be relevant – now or in the future. 

Today’s problems call for today’s solutions. 

People look to the past to determine what to do, but is that really wise?  We can look to the past as a guide, but to expect all factors to be the same is sheer folly.  Change is the one constant and adaptability seems to be one of the most important factors in not just survival, but sustainability.

The trouble with new approaches is that people are often resistant them right from the get-go.  Ruts are worn in consciousness over time that are hard, if not impossible at times to redirect.  Familiarity breeds comfort.  The belief that “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” stops many potentially great men and women from realizing their potential.  A sad state really.

When we consider health care, economic policy or education in our country, for instance, it seems that new, innovative thought is the exception rather than the rule.  The knee-jerk reaction and only mutually acceptable solution to a bigger problem seems to be to throw more of the old solution at it in hopes of plugging the dam.  At a certain point, however, as we have seen with every great civilization in history, a finger in the dyke won’t hold for long.  At some point the causes have to be handled, not just the symptoms.

Take time to think about your world.  If you find yourself trying to fix something now with an approach that worked in the past without giving it much more thought than just remembering what you did before, get ready for failure.  Take the time required – where possible – to bring integrity, instead of expediency, to the table. 

Your world will thank you!


Peace on earth: Dream BIG!

Everybody can be somebody.  Everyone is free to make a difference in this world.

Raul Midon, guitarist and singer, presents a pair of lovely songs at the TED 2007 conference.  The first, entitled “Everybody,” is inspiring and as the TED summary notes “category-defying” and the second, “Peace on Earth,” carries a powerful message that I hope inspires you to greater conviction in your pursuit of a meaningful and valuable life.

Sometimes I feel that we human beings as a race get so caught up in the day-to-day that we fail to step back and consider the larger goals common, I would hope, to humanity.  Have you ever wished for peace on earth?  What would it look like?  How would it be achieved, let alone sustained?  Would we miss the drama of conflict?

It is hard not to be overwhelmed by ubiquity of failure, conflict and illness these days.  Everyone I know has been touched or knows someone who has been touched by a serious health issue recently.  Conflicts between people, between families, between nations are rife, yet in all of this there remains a great promise.    

Horace wisely noted in his Satires that “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.”  We humans are an incredibly resourceful lot.  Somehow despite our egotism, self-centeredness and short-sightedness we always seem to come up with ingenious to handle even the most challenging situations, and with our chins held high!

Whether our cleverness and adaptability is fueled by the survival instinct or some higher inspiration, we as a people always tend to keep moving.  Winston Churchill, a great leader in his day, summed it up nicely: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Don’t stop and wallow.  Keep your wits about you and keep moving.               

Dare to dream of a world gone sane.  Rise up and reveal the naturally wonderful expression that is uniquely yours and do your part to make peace on earth more than just a tarnished dream.  You can’t give what you don’t have, so the first step is to cultivate a deep and unwavering sense of peace in yourself. 

I want to leave this world a better place for my two sons and the generations that follow them.  That won’t just happen magically.  It will require diligence, courage, inventiveness and continually raising the bar in my living.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to leave our children the gift of peace on earth?  Sounds a little sappy and most I imagine would say that such a hope is a pipe dream, but somebody has to dream big.  So why not me?  Why not you?      

You can be somebody.  You are free to make a difference in this world.


Be willing to be surprised by your world.

Appearances can be deceiving.

A great many people I’ve known through the years prided themselves on their ability to “size up” or to “get a read on” a stranger in the first moments of an encounter.  While this is perhaps a useful capability, I have always taken great caution when exercising it myself, leaving ample room for the adjustment of my initial perception.   

Never underestimate your fellows. 

The more I get to know my friends and close associates, the more I am impressed by their incredible array of hidden talents, capabilities and passions.  I learned early on to always leave room to be surprised by the breadth of capacities some people are capable of revealing or similarly the depth of capability others have in specialized areas.  Life is wonderful that way, always offering gifts to be admired and appreciated.

You may have heard of Paul Potts, a British cellular telephone salesman  lacking in self-confidence who tried out in front of Simon Cowell and a full audience for the show, Britain’s Got Talent.  When asked what he was going to perform, he said he planned to sing opera.  The judges gave one another looks that appeared to say “get the gong ready.”

The music started and here’s what happened…

Did that give you goose bumps as it did me?  Whenever and whenever genius finds expression, it’s worth taking note.  As Simon Cowell noted, it is a “breath of fresh air.”  Potts went on to win the competition and is now performing internationally.  In a later interview Potts noted that he was often bullied as a child and he had always felt that the one thing he had that could give him comfort was his voice.  How wonderful that he was finally given proper stage for the expression of his unique creative genius!  

Rarely can you read a book by its cover and correctly guess its contents.  Be willing to be surprised and delighted by your world and you will find a whole new world unfold from the familiar and perhaps stale one you’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

I’d love to hear your stories of people who have surprised and impressed you and as always, I am looking forward to your comments.

Have a wonderful Sunday!


Life is real! Life is earnest! (Be not like dumb, driven cattle.)

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, – act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solenm main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow’s beautiful words filled me this morning with  renewed sense of commitment to the full and generous living of life.  How easy it is to fall into the well-worn rut of living “like dumb, driven cattle.”  All it takes is a steady resistance to the idea that you could be a “hero in the strife.”

“That’s not for me.”  “Somebody else will take care of that part of life.”  Excuses abound for not revealing heroism, genius and brilliance, don’t they?  “I’m not ready.”  “I’m shy.”  “I’m afraid of what people might think.”  “There’s nothing special about me.”  “I’m just an average Joe/Jane.”

Not true!  I firmly believe that each and every one of the billions of human beings born on this great planet over the ages had and those living have the potential for greatness.  Greatness is revealed as there is victory in the “world’s broad field of battle,” yet how few can say with any degree of honesty, “I have overcome the world.”

In what ways do you feel victimized by your world, your circumstances, the choices you’ve made in life?  While this is perhaps not the prettiest or most pleasant thing to look at, it does offer plenty of starting points for taking a new tack.  You, as a human being endowed with the capacity of free will, in an era of unprecedented freedom of choice, can overcome if you so choose.

How do you overcome?  By ceasing to struggle.  The presence of a struggle in your heart or your mind indicates subjection to that with which you are entangled.  Giving up struggle does not mean not caring.  Rather, releasing struggle involves opening yourself to the perfect answer, the right action, the best choice, given the circumstances at hand.  Remember the Chinese finger puzzle?  The more you struggle the tighter the grip of the puzzle.  This principle is well-known in hunting, as the preparation of traps typically involves its reliable operation.

You cannot achieve greatness if you are bound by self-imposed shackles of subjection.  Subjection is only a state of mind, yet it can imprison even the most potentially brilliant of men and women.  Take care not to relinquish your free will, lest you become “like dumb, driven cattle.”