Gold gab ich für Eisen

When Prussia was at war with France in the 19th century, the Princess appealed to all wealthy and aristocratic women to donate their gold ornaments to fund the war effort. In return, they were given iron replicas that were stamped with “Gold gab ich für Eisen” (“I gave gold for iron”).

At social events, thereafter, wearing these iron replicas became a bigger signal of status than gold jewelry. Not only did they signal that the wearer was rich, they were now also identified as patriotic and noble.

Gold and precious metals, more money, more new features in that product, are all valuable and, at least on the surface, logical things to try and pursue.

But, so is meaning – the addition of which tends to be far less expensive and, generally, far more memorable.

(H/T Alchemy by Rory Sutherland, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Upon our hearts

I came across this Hasidic tale in Jerry Colonna’s book Reboot.

A disciple asks the rabbi: “Why does Torah tell us to place these words upon your hearts? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?”

The Rabbi answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So, we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”

As I reflected on this story, I thought about how it represented any effort to drive change in ourselves. Even when we know we ought to change, it is hard to break old habits.

So, all we can do is keep reminders of the change we seek to make all around us.. until one day the resistance breaks and the change falls in.

Strategy creation process – ideal vs. actual

Ideal strategy creation process: Start with desire to create good strategy -> think about big picture -> articulate strategy -> get alignment -> execute

Actual strategy creation process: Start with desire to create good strategy -> think about big picture -> dive into the weeds -> get too deep in the weeds -> try to articulate strategy anyway -> get called out for being too much in the weeds -> start with a blank sheet of paper -> get caught in the next set of weeds -> rinse and repeat until original objectives are met. :-)

In time, we learn to anticipate getting caught in the weeds before it happens.

Excuses to clean the slate

The start of a new year is a great excuse to clean the slate and start afresh. It is why millions of people around the world start the year with new year resolutions.

Another popular excuse to clean the slate is a birthday. A disproportionate number of first time marathon runners decide to commit to running that marathon after they celebrate the last birthday of a decade (29, 39, 49, etc.).

The beauty about being aware about such excuses is that we don’t need to wait for these dates to clean the slate. We can clean the slate after we get our next haircut, take a day off, start a blog, replace our current pair of glasses, go on a holiday, or buy new shoes.

Or, we can just shelve the excuse, clean the slate, and start afresh tomorrow.

The nature of the excuse, it turns out, matters less than the act of resetting, committing and recommitting.

Conflict to communication

We move conversations from conflict to communication when we stop worrying about articulating the logic behind our point-of-view and, instead, focus on demonstrating that we deeply understand the point-of-view of the person we’re attempting to communicate with.

Much of persuasion is learning to be persuadable ourselves.

Fervent nods

A reflection I’ve had recently is observing the effect of the frequency of my nods and the effectiveness of a conversation.

It works like this – the frequency of my nods increases with my impatience.

As you might imagine, in my attempts to nod fervently to show that I understand and I relate, I only end up communicating that I don’t really understand what is being communicated. So, the effectiveness of the conversation plummets.

It isn’t easy for me to “solve” my impatience. It is a flip side of some of my biggest strengths. But, it becomes easier to deal with it specific unproductive tendencies like this one by becoming more aware of them.

One step at a time.

Letterman and Obama

We caught David Letterman’s interview with former US President Barack Obama a few weeks back. There were two notes from that interview that resonated deeply.

The first was an observation that our kids are our hearts walking outside us. I’ve found myself thinking about that since. It has rung true.

The second was a question Obama asked Letterman at the end of the interview. He said (paraphrased) – “Do you ever look back and say – Man, didn’t we get so lucky?” He reflected on the luck that helped him along the way on his journey to the White House and the importance of reminding himself of the luck so as to never feel too self important.

What followed was a lovely response from Letterman who reflected about his friends going on a drunken trip with his friends when Martin Luther King Jr was leading the march in Selma, Alabama. He asked himself – “why wasn’t I there?” – and reflected on his privilege.

It ended with a lovely note from Obama about the importance of remembering to sprinkle some of that star dust that they were both lucky to have been blessed with in their lives.

That exchange reminded me of the fact that all of us have more star dust to sprinkle than we realize.

If we look around, we’ll always find folks who’d either benefit from a helping hand or would appreciate some perspective about an experience we’ve been fortunate to experience.

Here’s to sprinkling some of that star dust.