One Apple A Day #680 – demanding situations, choices and freedom

“I suppose the role of character is for the individual to rise to a situation. If it were not for the situation, we would never have heard of him. So that you might say that character is the product of an exceptional demand by the situation upon human ability. I think the ability of the average man could be doubled if it were demanded, if the situation demanded.” — Will Durant

Will Durant was an American historian, philosopher and writer. With his wife, he wrote The Story of Civilization, 11 volumes covering the whole story of humanity. The words opening this post are extracted from an interview in which he shared his thoughts on thoughts on the “Great Men and Women” in history. The heroes, the ones who shaped history and whose lives we study in the hope to become better.

In the same interview, he said that “the hero is a product of a situation rather than the result being a product of the hero. It is demand that brings out the exceptional qualities of man.

I love the idea of the hero as someone cut from a different cloth, with exceptional skills, wit and brilliance. 

However, I know we are all made of the same substance. I know we all have within us the potential to be heroes. And I know that hard times, like the one we are living now, can bring out the hero and the heroine from every man and woman. But it can also bring out the worst, the villain.

What makes the difference is a small choice. The choice of how we want to respond to the challenge.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor E Frankl

One Apple A Day #691 – a role to play

“Nobody aspires to being a good manager anymore; everybody wants to be a great leader.” – Source 

This sentence made me think of the risks of defining who we are through what we do. Being a manager is not as cool as being a leader. Yet, depending on the contexts, I can manage, I can lead, I can follow. 

Anytime we define who we are through what we do, we are limiting ourselves within the boundaries we associate with that role. 

But like for actors, we are not the role we play. 

Sometimes we can, sometimes we can not choose the role we want to play. However, we can always choose to give our best in that role.

We may be rewarded for playing that role. That role will contribute to our growth, to our career, to the way we are seen by the world.

But, no matter how long we play a specific role, and how good we are at it, it’s not who we are.

Maybe, if we remember that, more people would aspire to play the role of a good manager.

One Apple A Day #672 – love + discipline

I was very, and I still am, deeply shocked by the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant. He was undoubtedly a giant whose legacy goes beyond basketball and sport in general.

His uncompromising dedication to his craft, playing basketball, has always been a trademark of his career. There are so many stories about his commitment and relentless pursuit of excellence. 

Yesterday, I was reading this one particular story, and I was trying to understand what can motivate someone to put so much work into something. It can’t be just the discipline or willpower.

I believe I found the answer in the letter he wrote in 2015, to say goodbye to basketball.

“I fell in love with you.

A love so deep I gave you my all —

From my mind & body

To my spirit & soul.”

It was love, then.

A deep, fulfilling love for the sport. A love so mighty to give meaning to all the hustle, the struggle, the pain, the sweat.

My friend Mark once told me that when you infuse love into your work, it becomes your craft.

That’s the recipe we can learn from Kobe. Love plus discipline.

Because discipline without love is sterile and hollow. Love without discipline is anaemic and fragile. But it’s when love meets discipline that the magic happens.


Photo: Kobe Bryant, Lakers shooting guard, stands ready to shoot a free throw, source

One Apple A Day #685 – Innocence Inc.

Yesterday I was going through my old notes, and I found some excerpts I saved from the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. 

It’s a book packed with inspirations and insights on how to nurture creativity, as the title suggests. But also on how to grow an incredibly successful team and company. 

The most fascinating aspect for me, however, is the story of Ed Catmull himself. The story of an incredibly talented engineer with no or little specific background in management who became a successful leader, leading hundreds of people, managing millions of dollars and dealing with the complexity of giant like Disney.

Yesterday, when I was reflecting on his journey, I had a sudden flash. Maybe the secret of his incredible success was precisely in not knowing how to be a manager and leader. Because he didn’t know what was right or wrong, what works and what doesn’t, what was possible and what not from previous studies or experiences, he had to create his unique way forward. With the innocence of a kid, he had to make sense of everything that was happening. Mostly through experiments and intuition. With the courage of an explorer, he had to take the plunge into what was, for him, uncharted territory.

I had a similar feeling reading Steve Jobs biography. 

In a way, they didn’t follow the rules because they didn’t know the rules of the game. They were just themselves.

Now we study them to understand how they did it so we can learn from them and do the same. But maybe the most important lessons is to let go of what we know and reconnect with the innocence of our inner kid.

One Apple A Day #669 – intention and higher purpose

A few days ago, a dear friend shared with me this compelling article. It’s an interview with Captain “Sully” Sullenberger. Yep, that famous Sully who’s story became a movie with Tom Hanks a few years ago.

At the beginning of 2009, he saved the lives of the over 100 passengers of the US Airways Flight 1549 when with his crew he managed to safely land his disabled plane in the Hudson River.

The interview is about his mental discipline and how he learned to handle the immense pressure of being a pilot. But what most struck me about this interview is his perspective on leadership. There are many nuggets that you will find in the article, but his answer to the last question – How can you prepare yourself to lead? – has been in mind since I read it.

There are a lot of opportunities to make a difference in smaller or less obvious ways. There are ways to lead even driving in traffic: by choosing to let someone in front of you rather than cutting them off. Sometimes a small group will experience some social awkwardness, and then one person will take the initiative to say a word or do something. And people will follow them. That’s all it takes. Being the one to say, “This is where we start.”

This morning I was sitting in my morning reflections. Beside me a card that says “everyone has the power to affect the direction of an organisation” and in my head those words. 

That’s all it takes. Being the one to say, “This is where we start.”

I emerged from my meditation with two insights about my journey to nurture my inner leadership.

Being intentional in every word, choice, action. 

As Viktor Frankl wrote “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” When I choose how to respond to circumstances, and I act with intention, I practice leadership. 

Act with a higher purpose.

Anytime my intention goes beyond myself and my personal achievement, I practice leadership.

One Apple A Day #666 – self-leadership

This morning I was reflecting on Self-leadership. Lately, this word has been the topic of a few conversations, in particular within the context of organizations. It looks like there is a demand for more self-leadership, but what that does really mean? How do people with a high level of self-leadership show up in their private and professional lives? Am I expressing my self-leadership?

Bryant and Kazan, in their book titled “Self-Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out” provides the following definition.

Self-leadership is having a developed sense of who you are, what you can do, where you are going coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions and behaviours on the way to getting there.

To me, self-leadership is about alignment. I feel I am a leader of myself when I am fully in tune with my essence. When my actions, my words, my thoughts are coherent with who I am. And while I’m writing this, I realize that this alignment is also what I recognize in the great leaders that I admire. 

So know, Lao-Tsu words sound more potent than ever.

“Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”


P.S. Quite a fascinating number for today’s post. The (in)famous Number of the Beast, also known as The devil’s number. Out of curiosity, I did a quick search and discover that there are people who are so fearful of this number that they created a word for this phobia; hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. If you read up to here, I guess you don’t have that!

One Apple A Day #632 – outgrow your systems

I am a big fan of structures and systems. 

Maybe because willpower is not high on my list of strengths, I learned that they are vital to reaching any goal.

But there’s a caveat. 

They, systems and structures, should never become the goal.

If you want to reach a particular outcome, you can’t just rely on defining goals. No matter how S.M.A.R.T. your goals are, they are not enough to move you forward.

In the past, before I understood the importance of systems, I use to think that I wasn’t achieving success because my goals weren’t high, bold or smart enough.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” — James Clear

Goals are the starting point to set the direction. But it’s only when you design a system around those goals that you make real progress.

Unfortunately, it is easy to fall in love with the systems we create. In particular when they work, obviously. 

Systems and structures are very sexy for the rational mind. They are made of shapes and forms. That means that, no matter how flexible they are, they still have boundaries and limitations.

When the system becomes the goal, then we are limiting our potential to grow within the boundaries of the system itself.

The best system is one designed to support and sustain our growth, as individuals, teams or organisations. 

The ultimate purpose of a system is to become obsolete.

So, when we outgrow it, we can mould into an evolved version of ourselves.

 

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

One Apple A Day #614 – love the world

“We live in this world when we love it.” – Rabindranath Tagore

I read this quote a few days ago. 

I read many quotes every day. Our digital spaces are flooded by aphorisms and quotes. Unfortunately too often they are wrongly attributed when not fabricated. 

But this one got my attention because lately, I’ve been often engaged in conversation about “how things are in the world, how they should be and what can we do to change it“.

I’ll be honest, it’s a conversation that makes me a bit uncomfortable. 

In part, because it can quickly become judgmental. 

“Society is broken, but the majority can’t see it.”

In part, because it can easily trigger anger and bitterness.

But mainly because I struggle to have clarity about how to improve myself, imagine the world.

So, when that quote captured my attention, I asked myself some new questions: what would I do with someone I love? Would I try to change them? Or would I try to love them as they are? And what about someone who loves me, what would I desire for them to do?

I’m still reflecting upon those questions. My heart says that I would do my best to love them as they are, and show up every day living in my full potential. So I can hold a safe and sacred space for them to shine. And change, if that’s what they need to do.

My mind, as usual, is a bit more confused.

By the way, when I found that quote for the first time, it was misattributed to Gibran. In my search to find the real author who channelled those words into the world, I also found another quote that will contribute to my reflections.

“Love the whole world as if it were your self; then you will truly care for all things.” – Lao Tzu

P.S. The opening image is a photo of the Earth from the space taken during the Apollo 15 mission. I find it irresistible. How can you not love it?

One Apple A Day #579 – Let them be

The other day I went outside into the shared backyard. The neighbour was there, staring at some plant that he is cultivating.
When he noticed my presence, he called me over to show me something.
He was observing a pumpkin plant growing and climbing a net. Its stems were crawling on the net, curling and revolving around the wires. The plant was clinging on the net to expand and stretch its branches.

“See? She knows what to do. Nobody teaches her, she just knows what to do. Plants are si wise.”

I was listening to the old man while observing that small sign of nature’s wisdom.

Plants know what to do. Unfortunately too often their natural wisdom doesn’t match with our desires.
We want more and faster.
We seek order.
But nature it’s often slow and messy. So, instead of letting the plants follow their natural wisdom, we force them into our idea of order. We impose our control on them.

While I was there, talking with the old man, I realised how often we do the same with anything that doesn’t fit our idea of how things should be.
Like with kids anytime we want for them to behave like adults.

I just had the fortune to witness the incredible beauty that sparks from a group of people when you give them the space to shine. It was amazing.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do to foster the culture of an organisation is nothing.
We should just step aside and, for that liminal place, hold the space where the natural wisdom and beauty of the people can emerge.
It’s not easy, I know.
It requires a lot of trust and strength.
But when you do it, magic happens.

Just let them be.

One Apple A Day #523 – a piece of cloth

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” — W. Edwards Deming

Talking about synchronicity; this morning I found this quote in the book that I’m currently reading, and it would be the perfect summary of a conversation I had yesterday afternoon. I was talking with a friend about the role leaders play in the change processes within their organisations.

The image that keeps coming back for me is “a piece of cloth”.

An organisation can be seen as a piece of cloth, an intricated system of interwoven threads. Every organisation has its own unique size, material, fabric and texture. So, each piece of cloth will react differently to changes. If you pick a point in the fabric and lift it, depending on the strength and elasticity of the threads and the weight of the material you may be able to lift the whole piece from that one point. Or you may be able to hold it only for a moment before it is pulled back in place by the strength of the texture.

So, if you lift the cloth from one single point, the rest of the material will follow with some delay. And, no matter its unique characteristics, the parts that are farther from the lifting point, will be left behind. Sure, that lifted point will stand out, but what happens when it is released? It’s highly probable that the whole piece of cloth will fall back in the previous flat state.

What if instead of lifting the piece of cloth from one point, we lift it from many points at the same time? Or even better, what if we create a system, like a frame, that will allow raising the whole piece of cloth at the same time?

Just replace “piece of cloth” with “organisation” and “lifting point” with “leader”, and I believe the questions still work.