You can’t blow out a fire

“You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher”
— from Biko by Peter Gabriel

Through the course of our lives, we occasionally experience moments that light up a candle in our hearts.

It can be a journey, a retreat, a book, a random encounter, a moment with friends, a walk in nature, a concert, a speech, a workshop or something else.

Once that candle is lit, its flame allows us to see the extraordinary beauty that we hold inside.

Sometimes we share that moment with others, and the combined light from all the candles gives us an opportunity to see more.

More of our beauty and more of others’ beauty.

To lit a candle we need at least three elements.

First of all, we need the candle, obviously.
As human beings, the candle is our potential to shine.
A potential that, like a candle, won’t shed any light if we don’t light it up.

Then we need a spark to kindle the flame.
Sparks are everywhere around us, and they can take any form; people, places, words, images, silence, animals, elements of nature, objects.
Anything can become the spark we need in order to light our candle.

Then, there is the final element.
A vital one that is often overlooked.

Space.

Like all living beings, a flame needs to breathe.
We can’t lit a candle without oxygen.
To ignite the flame, we must create the space for the wick to burn.

It is amazing what happens when we create and hold a safe space for others.
They open up, surrendering to the space, and they kindle the candles within allowing their inner light to radiate.

When the space is created and nurtured by a sacred circle of people, the light becomes brighter.
It makes everyone shine.

And it is in that moment when we allow ourselves to shine that our fears show up.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

The flame of a candle is feeble.
A small breeze can kill it and bring us back to darkness.

So, we want to protect it.

Protect it from our limiting beliefs, the naysayers, the struggle of our daily lives, the small difficulties we encounter every day. We start worrying that someone may want to blow out our candle, for fear of the greatness they may discover if they lit their own.

To protect our burning candle, we hide it inside.

Someplace where nobody and nothing can blow it out and take that light from us.

Until, without air and space that same flame we want to protect, slowly dies.

But here is the good news.

You may blow out a candle. But you can’t blow out a fire.

Once the flames have started then the wind will only blow it, higher and higher.

Before a fire nobody can hide, they will all feel the warm power of liberating their inner light.

Anytime someone or something light up a candle in our heart, instead of thinking about how to protect it, we should ask ourselves a much more powerful question.

How can I use my candle’s flame to start a fire?

Photo by Joris Voeten on Unsplash

When Innovation hides in the small things

A lesson about innovation by a pirate who never existed

One of my favourites childhood heroes was Sandokan, the Tiger of Malaysia, a fictional pirate created by the Italian writer Emilio Salgari in 1883. The character became very popular at the end of the seventies thanks to two TV miniseries on the national TV. I cherish those evenings with my father in the early eighties, watching together Sandokan’s adventures in exotic islands.

In particular, there is a scene in the movie that I can’t forget. It’s part of the of the second series titled “The Tiger Is Still Alive: Sandokan to the Rescue”.

At the end of the first series, Sandokan was forced to flee from his island, Mompracem, after being defeated and having his wife killed. In the second series Jamilah, a young rebel fighting to free Mompracem travels to India to convince Sandokan to get out of his solitary exile and help the rebels in their fight for freedom. When she finally convinces him, they begin a perilous journey back to Mompracem.

When they are almost at their destination, they pass near a small village. One of the villagers runs desperate towards them and begs for their help. The sultan’s soldiers are robbing them of their harvest, beating and killing everyone who tries to resist.

Sandokan wants to help them while Jamilah is impatient to join the rebels to fight against the tyrant.

The dialogue between them is short but incredibly powerful. I still remember every word of it [the translation from Italian is mine].

[Jamilah]: Sandokan, at this time in every part of the world, soldiers are taking the harvest away from peasants. And even you can do nothing about it.

[Sandokan]: “I know, but I am here, now. And maybe I can do something; I believe that by avoiding the small and close things we end up never achieving those that are big and far.”

We all love big audacious goals and moonshot thinking.

On Youtube there are plenty of videos inviting you to think bigger, to have a high impact.

And it’s great to think big.

To aim high.

As long as it doesn’t make us blind to what’s close to us, and it doesn’t become an excuse to avoid taking action.

Quite a paradox. The shiny light of a big goal may stop us from seeing the small, sometimes tedious, things that compound to achieve that same big goal we are aiming for.

The risk is to achieve neither the big nor the small results.

This is particularly true when we talk about innovation.

Experts favour notable examples, the ones with a substantial transformative impact when they explain how individuals and organisations can become more innovative.

The reason is evident, those examples are the most visible, they are usually well known, and they work well in motivating everyone to aim high.

On the other side though, someone may feel excluded from the game of innovation.

What’s the point in playing at all if I can’t change the world?

As both Tarde and Schumpeter wrote decades ago, innovation is defined by the novelty criteria, not by the size of it.

Just take a look at the origin of the word innovation“mid-15c., “restoration, renewal,” from Late Latin innovationem (nominative innovatio), noun of action from past participle stem of innovare “to change; to renew”. Meaning “a novel change, experimental variation, new thing introduced in an established arrangement” is from 1540s.”

No mention of the size of the change in the original meaning.

But also in a recent, and one of my favourites, definition of innovation by Scott Anthony, “Innovation is something different that has impact”, there are no references to the size of the impact.

What emerges from these definitions, is that a minor innovation is just as important (or maybe even more) as a radical innovation.

Innovation can manifest at the most modest of levels. It can be even unnoticeable when it appears, though the impact may be huge in the long terms.

So, what happened?

Why are we so focused on the big innovations that we overlook the small ones?

Gabriel Tarde gave us the answer over 100 years ago, in his “Les lois sociales”. He explained that we speak too much “of great men when in fact we should be speaking of great ideas, which often come from very small men, or even of small ideas, of the tiny innovations each of us contributes to the common enterprise”.

We love innovation heroes.

Those individuals and organisations that spectacularly change the world.

But what about your world?

Your life?

You?

Do you think you can do nothing and wait for some great innovators to make your world better?

What I learned from Sandokan is never to underestimate the power of a small act.

Innovation is a mindset.

There are infinite opportunities to innovate everywhere around you. They may be tiny, hard to see. But they can start a ripple effect that will innovate your world.

If you’re not ready to innovate the small things close to you, you may never create the big and far impact that you dream about.

 

Originally published on medium.

Don’t fear the cracks if you want to innovate

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
— Leonard Cohen

I am excited when I discover a crack on something.
Ok, maybe not so much when it’s on the wall of my house.
But when it is on something intangible such as an organisation, a process, a software, a methodology, an idea, a thought, an argument, a relation.

Then, I am thrilled.

And not because it’s an opportunity to use my skills to fix it.

Cracks are created by stress and tensions; the typical symptoms of a change or growth pushing to happen. And because innovation is about changing something to create something new and different, I see in any crack an opportunity to innovate.

When I found a crack on something, I ask myself “Is there anything that wants to emerge here?”.

Maybe, the best option is not to fix it. At all.
On the contrary, it may be better to widen it.
As lobsters do.

Image from University of Washington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A lesson on innovation from the life of a lobster

Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard protective exoskeleton. In other words, they don’t have an internal skeleton but an external one, a shell, that supports and protects their body. The shell of a lobster is hard and inelastic, so it doesn’t grow over time.

But the lobster does, and while it keeps growing, its shell becomes smaller and smaller. At some point it gets so painful to stay in the shell that the lobster has only one option; to shed the old shell, get out and create a new one. This process is called moulting, and a lobster does it multiple times during its life. During the moulting process, the lobster, with its new softshell, becomes vulnerable and must hide from predators for at least a week or two.

Lobsters take stress and pain as signals that it is time to grow.

So they crack their shell to build a new one.

In doing so, they accept the risk of being vulnerable for a while.

What can we learn, from the lobsters?

When we find a crack in our life or in our organisation, we are presented with various options.

  • We can ignore the crack in the hope it will disappear, or at least that it won’t get bigger. Unfortunately, the tension that created the fissure won’t go away just ignoring it. It will keep working until, one day, everything will crumble, and we will be left only with some rubble. I did it in one of my previous jobs, and it didn’t end well. I moved with the feeling of having lost a great opportunity.
  • We can fix the crack using the best tools and products. Unfortunately, mending the breach doesn’t eliminate the tension that generated it. The crack may appear again in the future, maybe even bigger and impossible to fix. I also tried this, with my marriage. When the fracture came back, it was too big to deal with. We couldn’t do anything but parting away.
  • Or, we can open up the crack and deal with the tension beneath. What wants to emerge? What is pushing behind that crack?

The problem with opening up a crack is that we don’t know what we may find. And, even more scary, in doing so we will have to expose ourselves.
Like for the lobsters, we will become vulnerable.

But, we will also connect with the tension that generates that crack. A tension that we could transform in new energy to innovate and grow.

In the end, the choice is ours.

My coach helped me understand that for me, being vulnerable is an act of strength. This is why I now look at cracks with excitement. They are opportunities to innovate

What about you?

What are your going to do, next time you’ll find a crack in your shell?

Are you going to take some pills and live in the painful, cramped space of your limiting shell, or are you going to act like a lobster and take your chance of being vulnerable to innovate?

Self-awareness is my best productivity tool

I grew up in the North-East of Italy, one of the most productive areas of the country. When I was a student, I remember that the adults around me were all working a lot and hard. My father worked 10 hours a day, five days a week, plus Saturday morning. Everyone used to measure the health of a factory with the number of extra hours that the workers were able to do in a week. Then the crisis hit Italy. I remember people talking about the companies having issues saying “it’s bad, they had to stop working on Saturday”.

That working culture is an example of the “Religion of Hustle” that Mark Manson excellently describes in this post. I found the same working culture when I started working in the digital industry. Both startups and agencies were, and still are, celebrating the hustle. Yes, everyone talks about work/life balance, but then the employees that sacrifice the weekend for a project are praised. It’s the competition baby. Do you want results? You need to work hard. More and better than your competitors. And it may work, sometimes. But most of the time, it generates stress, exhausted people that have to take a sabbatical year to recover, and average results.

The problem is that work is not a linear function; productivity does not increase linearly adding more work. As Manson explains, most of the works produce diminishing or even negative returns over time. If you push hard, for a long time, you will reach a point when your brain tires out. After that the incremental gain is marginal, you will start making bad choices that can even have adverse effects on the final results.

In his book “The 4-Hour Body”, Timothy Ferris explains the concept of the Minimum Effective Dose. The MED is the smallest dose of something that will produce the desired outcome. Anything beyond the MED is wasteful. The MED to boil water is 100º at standard air pressure. Higher temperatures will not make it more boiled. They will just consume more resources.
For you to be productive, it’s important to know which is the desired outcome of your work and what is your MED of work needed to produce it. As every productivity expert says; you need to work better, not more.

And you are lucky. There are plenty of books, website, classes and tools that propose strategies to increase your productivity. They teach you how to work better rather than more. So, it is easy. You just have to pick a strategy, learn it, apply it, and you will get the results.
My experience is that it’s not so simple. I’ve seen teams go through a painful process to adopt new tools and strategies without any measurable results. As part of my growing journey, I tried a few tools myself. Some worked, others not at all.
Why is that? All these strategies are proven to work. They have plenty of testimonials from people and companies that have achieved remarkable results. If it works for them, it should work for me. Or not?

“Because see, this may surprise you, but not all work is created equal.” — Mark Manson

Not all work is created equal. And I would add, not all workers are created equals.
Picking a strategy or a tool is not enough to get the results you want. Every work has its specifics. What is effective to manage the creation of furniture may not work if you’re trying to write a book. Even when jobs are similar, the workers are most likely different. Circumstances can be comparable, but we are all unique. You have only one way to choose the right tools and strategies; to know yourself better.

Before anything else, the first tool you need is self-awareness. You must understand your limits, your weaknesses and your strengths. You must find the leverages to increase your productivity. Once you increase your self-awareness, you will be able to make the right choices to improve your productivity.

“Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes results.” — Robin Sharma.

Inspired by the words of my friend Sujith of Being At Full Potential, I understood that I was looking at productivity from the wrong angle. I was focusing on the things I was doing while forgetting to nurture who I am. My uniqueness.

When the BEING comes alive, the DOING thrives.

In the last months, I put aside most of the tools and the strategies I used to manage my time and productivity, and I turned into listening mode. I pay more attention to my emotions, when I’m productive and when I’m not. Every morning I download my thoughts on a journal. Writing is my way of listening to myself. I keep a “good time activity log” — inspired by Designing your life — to track the moments of the day in which I’m engaged. And the more I know myself, the more I can tap into my strengths, and I can use my energy and time efficiently.

Self-awareness is my best productivity tool. What about yours?

 

Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

Article originally published on medium on May 29, 2017

How do you want to be remembered?

Alfred is a wealthy inventor and businessman. He has built a fortune thanks to his inventions. But he is also a tormented man. His inventions have been used for good and, unfortunately, for evil actions too. It’s 1888, no Internet or television yet. News travels a lot slower than now. Alfred has just lost his brother Ludvig in a tragic accident in Cannes. You can imagine his surprise when he read the obituary in a French newspaper.

“Dr Alfred Nobel, who made his fortune by finding a way to kill the most people as ever before in the shortest time possible, died yesterday”

They mistook the death of his brother for his. The title of the obituary was even harsher.

“Le marchand de la mort est mort”

They called him the merchant of death. Probably this is the reason why he established the famous Noble prize. He wanted his legacy to be about something good and positive, not about death.

This made me think of my father. He passed away unexpectedly in 2013. He was a good man. A man of strong integrity and with a big heart. He was also a little stubborn, but in that good way that makes you achieve your goals. Most of all he was my dad. I knew him mainly for our relation inside the family boundaries. A relation with its highs and lows, like any father and son relation. He was also active in the local community so I was aware that the whole small town was touched by his departure. What I didn’t expect was the hundreds and hundreds of people that came to his funeral. There wasn’t enough space in the church for everyone. Most of the people had to stay outside. They blocked the road, and we had to place loudspeakers outside. It was overwhelming. During the weeks after the funeral, I met countless people who told me how their life had been touched by my father. I didn’t know. He wasn’t just my dad. He was much more.

Both these stories speak about legacy. About the impact our lives can have on others and how they’re going to remind us.

In the months after I lost my father, I started thinking about my life, about what I was doing. What I was becoming. I started my inner journey to understand what I want to achieve, who I want to grow into and what is my purpose. I’m still traveling and for now, I have gathered questions more than answers. But I always prefer a good tough question to an easy answer.

One of those questions is “How do I want to be remembered?”.
I want to be remembered as a man who left his world a bit better than how he found it.

Like my father did.

The fact about Alfred Nobel is true. It’s uncertain if the wrong obituary is the reason that leads to the creation of the Nobel Prize, but it has most likely contributed. You can read more about him in this article.