Experiment 1-2013: To change or not to change

April 25, 2013


Spring. Another applied or imposed experiment in transformation.

There has been some considerable time since my last post. Those of you who I know, have worked with, or follow me professionally—know that the last almost three years have been a time of incredible change both personally and professionally. The move to Cincinnati and accepting a position with a government research institute  were new chapters for a book in progress. The idea of a book came at an earlier chapter of great change when I divorced, started studying cognitive preference, and decided to go to grad school. I’ve seen a pattern of cycles in, not only my life, but the lives of friends, family, and clients. At those times, key aspects of life come into question—relationships, work, health. Even things that have worked well in the past become irrelevant if, they too, do not squeeze through the eye of transition to a new time.

As a teacher of change management, each experience has been been fodder for the book — “my life as a lab.” I’ve even adopted the blog environment as a place to flesh out ideas and write sections that I plan to eventually knit into the book. One of my own adaptations to technology.


What’s the point? Finding meaning. We all search for it—through some form of mysticism or science, or through our own efforts. To choose to look at change as an experiment, a study, a learning experience — to take it from a painful inevitability of surviving life to an opportunity for growth, adventure, or wild possibility. Transformation. Isn’t transformation what we all look and long for? Life begins with the expectation that transformation is a natural process. And some transformations are natural and unchangeable — like age. Somewhere in our ART OF CHANGE   mental maturing, we realize that natural transformation is not all desirable. For those who have abdicated responsibility for piloting their own ship, a moment of awakening brings panic. The entitled react with bitter disappointment and invest in staying that way. Those with or aspiring to independent spirit and a sense of adventure transcend fear, recognize, and embrace the opportunity before them.

And so the question is: To change or not to change? I choose to take pruning tools and wire in hand and approach life like a bonsai. Directing wayward limbs to bend in a way that harmonizes with where all your other limbs are headed. Trimming off unwanted growth. Painful. Perhaps, but even the cure can be beautiful. Molding life into a meaningful design and a reference for meditation.



Life as a Lab-Year 2.5+: New year, new decade, and new creations

November 6, 2010

The unfurling seed • a symbol of rebirth

Over a  year has passed since my last entry. Has my experiment in creativity died? No. It has exploded and taken off like a Toyota Prius recall. Stunning changes and creative opportunities have offered themselves. Shortly after my last post, I was offered a professional opportunity I could not refuse. In October, I took on the creative challenge of redesigning the Information, Resources, and Dissemination Branch at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio. The change has taken me on a journey of rediscovery and energized and reframed old knowledge. In this last quarter of a very big change year, I will be sharing those insights and how I have been applying them to the work I do both in Cincinnati and in the field. What is it that spurs reinvention and decision making? Change is often the impetus for decision making but, from what I’ve seen, often not out of choice. Fear and reaction rather than reinvention are more commonly what motivates big decisions. Communication scientists use the term “framing” to describe how information is presented. In my mind, change is a classic case of framing — making the choice to think about change as a grave threat or a creative opportunity. Yes, the subject of reinvention and decision making is  a good place to start.

Reinvention and Decision Making Several weeks ago I was in the Washington, DC area working with a client. I’d been asked to come in to work with senior management who were about to initiate the fruits of a year’s work in restructuring the company. The opportunity to visit the issue of reinvention seemed more than appropriate given the career overhaul I’d been experiencing.

Massive change is typically what we refer to as a milestone in day-to-day living. A psychologist once told me that people routinely do a mental retrospective of their life following a major life milestone like a birth, death, marriage, divorce, or a personal or professional move. In those moments, I have found that people  contemplate all they have done or haven’t. We size up our decisions and evaluate the wisdom of our personal leadership.

When I was younger, I inevitably saw difficult changes as punishment for poor decision making and ineffectual leadership. As I’ve gained much more experience in “challenging” milestones, I find them scary, exciting, and cathartic. The screeching halt they bring to the runaway train of daily life brings the thoughtful consideration of what, why, and how we are dealing with daily life. On my creative journey, I have discovered with these events (like everything else in life) — negativity and pessimism don’t add anything to the mix. They just chew up energy.

More behind bad decisions than bad judgement In my coaching experiences, people really give it to themselves on the chin when their decision making goes south. In this instance, we give ourselves more credit than we actually deserve for the the totality of the process. As I consider the people I have know and with whom I have worked, the obsession with fault finding in bad decision making seems to come from two camps: the over-responsibility camp and the ego camp. Those over-responsible have had it ingrained by authoritarian figures that they have complete control over all that goes into decision making. Those in the ego camp have by virtue of personality or preference come to like the power of believing they can control everything including all factors involved in the decision making process.

Science provides a reality check for all of us consumed for whatever reason in believing bad decisions are all on us. There are great science books written for lay audiences that chronicle research showing us how brain function and injury can profoundly impact decision making. One of the most fascinating tells the story of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker at the turn of the century, who was struck in the head by a steel rod gone awry at a job site. He survived the injury surprisingly returning to his job in a week, but never returning to the person he was before.  The story and it’s implications are the focal point of neurologist Antonio Demasio’s book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. It is fascinating.


Model of Gage skull



Recently and quite by accident, I stumbled across an excellent television series on the human brain hosted, to my surprise, by Charlie Rose. For the past year, he has been bringing together great scientific minds in brain research. His September program on decision making is excellent. Check it out at:


In the end, it is stunning how many elements of the process we don’t control. For pessimists that will open the door to a new dilemma — the panic of NOT controlling everything.

Framing and Your Power to Choose Regardless of what is happening in your “noggin,” you can consciously choose to frame change as an opportunity. Like decision making, being able to maintain attention to and support the choice you make may be aided or challenged by your inborn preferences or filters making you a pessimist or optimist, someone affected by attention deficits or ability to focus, along with a myriad of other potential barriers to the task. Nevertheless, the fact that consciousness is the overriding factor here — means that you have an element of control regardless of your other challenges. Consciousness means you can recognize the  failure to meet your objectives (like avoid the chocolate cake) and strategize alternative methods of reaching your goal (like don’t buy the cake). More importantly, you can choose to frame the way you look at “failure.” You can choose to see it as a valuable lesson in finding the truth or solution whatever it may be. That’s a tremendous opportunity.

Cognitive Preferences and Decision Making One other area of mental preference that you can train yourself to be conscious of is your cognitive style. Knowing and understanding our cognitive preferences can help us find strategic methods of decision making that can make the process more comfortable for us. The same understanding can provide information on our non-preferred ways of processing decision making information. How is this helpful? Using a non-native way of thinking stimulates the mental friction that can lead to better and more creative decisions. Going back to the Herrmann Whole Brain Model, here’s how basic cognitive preferences can impact decision making style:

A quadrant (upper left brain quadrant)-analytic approach bringing together facts, statistics, evidence

B quadrant (lower left brain quadrant)-sequential, step-by-step, linear approach to looking at the problem and sizing up solutions one by one.

C quadrant (lower right brain quadrant)-interactive approach soliciting the counsel of friends and trusted individuals

D quadrant (upper right brain quadrant)-non-linear, integrated approach synthesizing a wide selection of information to come up with the best, most creative solution


Energy At the end of the day, it’s all about energy. Choosing to be creative — to frame things positively, is about possibility and the hope of the possible is energizing. That is when things happen and the cycle continues. We are able to reinvent or return to the drawing board to create anew whether that is a new relationship, a new job, a new invention, a new government, a new cure. Creating possibilities.


Next time — thoughts on creating a new identity in a foreign culture.

Week 22-The True Colors of Grey Matter

August 4, 2009

Big Trees and Other Awe Inspiring Manifestations

Two recent events stirred the grey matter canisters in a big way. One was a trip to California for the premiere of Camp Donna – a week of one-on-one with my youngest sister’s three children (3, 7 & 10) who I see about once a year. The second was a nothing out of the usual series of brain dominance assessment profiles for new clients. Both were evidence that there is a kaleidescope of color buried in the monochromatic wrinkles of our grey matter  — all threads in a vast creative fabric ( to carry the metaphor a hair further).


The week in California once again shocked me out of routine and screamed at me to remember  how creativity explodes when you change your environment and routine. Of course, it helped that my nieces and nephew are still young enough to see the magical and mysterious in art. How fragile that balance of agony and ecstasy. I saw the focus can so quickly shift from blissful experimentation to the futile quest for perfection. For me, introducing art and guiding the magical mystery tour reinforced past experiences that teaching something brings the teacher new insights and shows you what you know and what eludes you.  In the process of providing artistic field excursions, I realized that sometimes I inadvertently sabotage  creative exploration by  self-consciously replacing play with grand expectations. My best work comes when I can detach from the outcome and leave myself free to paint without judgment. A case in point is the little painting below. Intended only as a way to explain to my nephew how watercolor works as successive layers of transparent color, it turned out to be quite a nice little painting. I’d let go of investing in an outcome and was pleasantly rewarded for allowing my intuition run. There were similar lessons in the other two paintings done while I was there.


2009 View looking east from Paul Masson winery. Saratoga, CA. Watercolor.
2009 View looking east from Paul Masson winery. Saratoga, CA. Watercolor.





On another painting field trip, we visited Big Basin State Park http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=25230 to see the redwoods and find more artistic inspiration. We settled in to paint aware of a deadline for leaving the park.  Conscious of time and annoyed by mosquitoes, I felt inadequate with an 8.5×12 paint book and foot after foot of bark. How could I ever do justice to such magesty? As I painted, I was very unimpressed with the piece. To me, it looked overworked, the bark seemed clumsy — basically, I was disenchanted. But the kids were so taken by it. “How did you do that?” “That is so cool.”  “Show me how you do that.” On the drive back, I realized I learned many things doing that painting. When I looked at it later, I came to like it and appreciated that many parts of it looked different when I wasn’t working toward a “product.” A friend who saw it on my return even asked to buy it.


2009 Redwoods. Big Basin State Park. Saratoga, CA. Watercolor.
2009 Redwoods. Big Basin State Park. Saratoga, CA. Watercolor.





The day before I left California, I did one more painting. This time of the changing light and shadows on the landscape opposite Testarossa Vineyard in Los Gatos. This painting went fast and I was easily consumed in a flow state, enjoyed the process, and liked what came out of it. — I had built back a sense of understanding the process and a collaboration with the medium — the return of mastery, built over the years and periodically  lost under dust and sometimes even moss.

2009 View looking northwest from Testarossa Winery. LosGatos, CA. Watercolor.
2009 View looking northwest from Testarossa Winery. LosGatos, CA. Watercolor.



The Big Thing about Little Things

Conducting brain dominance profile debriefing for new clients is one of my favorite activities. Very often the sessions result in peak experiences for clients. Giving people new ways of looking at themselves and how they process the world can provide validation, previously unseen choices, clearer paths to decision making, and big picture clarity. It is always an energizing experience. The sessions I conducted recently were no different. In particular, one client got a completely different way of understanding what happens to him under stress and why conflict situations often send him in an endless cycle of stress-strangled thinking — instead of bringing fruitful breakthroughs. In the debriefing, I essentially paint a mental picture for my clients. In this particular instance, I showed him how bits of detail from his profile filled in a much larger big picture of how redirecting old patterns of reacting to information could completely change his stress and problem solving experiences.


What the sessions brought to my mind was the importance of not fixating on small things but seeing them for what they are. One of my favorite passages in K.C. Cole’s book FIRST YOU BUILD A CLOUD brings great perspective to the contemplation of life’s minutiae.


“Most of the time, small differences really are small differences. Once they’re understood, you can relax about them…Big differences, when you think about it, are much more difficult to notice. You don’t notice the motion of the earth even though it is spinning at 1,000 miles per hour, and around the sun at 20 miles per second. You don’t notice the flow of your own blood or the activities of your own cells. Major social and economic trends often pass us invisibly, because they build up so slowly. You can’t feel the speed of your 747 even when it’s whizzing along at 500 miles per hour.


Sometimes you need to hit an air pocket before you know you’re flying. Perhaps the biggest thing that small differences can do is open our eyes to the presence of larger, unexpected truths.”


My week in California was a collection of small events and my musings over the client briefings were, similarly, a collection of small insights — however, taken together, they equally and in different ways brought energy and attention to the powerful way creative activity can change the tide of mental energy and, in turn, many other things in your life and work.


Is Mastery a Past Story?

The constant layering of experience in our lives, like the transparent blankets of hues in watercolors, builds and accumulates and becomes richer. When the constant layers are mindfully approached with focus and strategy — we build mastery. In the present day balancing act of life and work, mastery is often set aside. I find many people have the sense that technology can replace time, planning, and true expertise. As a management coach, I see the cost of letting mastery slip in many critical life and workplace skills such as accountability, troubleshooting, and self-confidence. I find people struggle for a sense of what they are good at – let alone feel passionately about. Could it be that as things change so quickly the patience and deliberation needed to build skill mastery has been usurped by the scramble to have a working knowledge of the latest web app? (Incidentally, IABC posted a poll of international members predicting “Twitter” would be a thing of the past in two years.)

I’m to speak at a UW Green Bay conference this fall on how technology is affecting the brain and learning. The mastery issue is a big one. Getting focused and invested in something with enough depth and commitment to build mastery is hard to come by among today’s digital youth. Research shows that working with technology is making the millennial generation more adept at manipulating electronic tools and finding and retrieving information — but at a substantial cost in critical communication and conflict resolution skills. Gen M is also sloppy at vetting Internet resources. A common complaint coming in from business managers is that Gen M’s whip through information tasks at lightening speed but are rather unconcerned about the voracity of the content— then squirm uncomfortably when faced with setting the situation right.


But that’s another topic for another time, getting back to lessons about mastery — the habit of creating everyday for the sake of creating and not meeting a deadline does something very different for the brain. Unlike the “creative” tasks we are required to do at work and in our daily lives, the pure creative activity keeps us mentally limber and generating unusual thoughts related to the process. These not only result in physical benefits similar to meditation, but they have the effect of contributing to creative mastery which pays off in better and more ideas and solutions to everyday needs.


Lab Challenge

This week return to a creative activity that you love or once loved. Block off 15 minutes a day for a week to pursue it. You can garden, jog, write, paint, dance, do Tai Chi., or whatever. The only requirement is to do it for nothing more than the pure joy of it. Get your head on straight first, that is, don’t expect anything-just play. I would bet that maybe even the first day you will run up close to an hour doing it. At the end of a week, take time to reflect on how it feels to be doing it everyday and what it’s doing for your head in other parts of your life. Then keep on keepin’ on (— a Poco reference?!).


If you get a chance, share what activities you are revisiting and your insights on the experiences.  Have a wonderful, creative time!

Week 18: The Physics of Strategy

July 15, 2009


A lot can happen in six weeks. Summer—for one thing! A seasonal change translates into perspective change. Literally seeing green enthuses and enlivens my thinking. If we can go from snow to leaves and white to green, anything is possible. There is something very magical in those subtle, organic rhythms. Being tuned in naturally transitions how we think about things and catapults creative thought in the form of seeing alternatives.


The Creativity of Taste

My focus on eating for my brain continues and I find that I am gradually replacing toxic foods that I love like salty, fat laden potato chips with sweet potato baked slices that are covered with Mrs. Dash’s chipotle no salt seasoning. I’ve learned that salt dulls the taste buds. After about a month of avoiding it when possible, flavors are taking on Technicolor qualities. Fruits are lusty. Vegetables pronounced. Natural seasoning resplendent. My meal plates are new palettes. Recently I feasted on a bed of mixed colored leaf lettuce, dark red kidney beans, walnuts, capers, cauliflowerettes with a side of pan seared salmon breaded in chipotle seasoning—all topped with a no-fat raspberry vinaigrette. Mmmm. Eating differently is as much a choice to be creative as anything else.

Sir Isaac Newton's world.

Physics and Strategy

Lately, Newton’s third law has been running through the back of my head like that annoying feeling you’re forgetting something while at the grocery store. Newton said a body at rest, stays at rest. This is not very compelling information for young adults sprawled out in front of the TV during the summer — but, it does pique the interest of restless clients grappling with ambiguity at work and elsewhere.


During these confusing, complex, and erratic times, I’m running into many people who are overwhelmed by everything. Too many choices. Too few resources. No clear vision. Paralyzed by the ramifications of making a wrong choice—they stay glued in place. I’ve been there – unsure of the “right” move, afraid of the consequences of being “wrong,” and stuck. A couple factors come in to play here. One, technological change often seems relentless (particularly, for those of certain cognitive preferences). Many folks are mired in cognitive overload, i.e., too much information to process. Two, not surprisingly, most people feel its safer to stay put than to move to a place where you are uncertain about what you will encounter. Oh, contraire!


Conventional wisdom dictates that when you’re lost, stay put until someone finds you or a more knowledgeable individual comes by and tells you where to go. When we’re talking career path, professional decisions, and ambiguous situations, often the only way we get more information is when we start walking in a direction. Sitting still provides us with minimal information and no distance for perspective. As I’ve explained to many clients, moving is a good thing even when conviction about the direction is questionable. Besides providing perspective, moving creates a sense of energy — hope. Moving, in itself, is change. What ever happened to curiosity, adventure, and building knowledge from the floor up?


Judgment happened. Somehow, movement is automatically evaluated for its immediate fruits. Instead of the grand journey of discovery we encountered when chasing a butterfly or anything new we saw or wondered about as a child, movement takes on the onerous responsibility of being a decision. Random criteria appear (often based on cognitive preference of those in positions of authority) determining whether the mental movement was a “good” or “bad” decision. Naturally, if you are unlucky enough to have your decision flagged as “bad,” you inherit the unpleasant and distracting baggage that comes with it — guilt, sense of disappointing, embarrassment, regret, anger, and the final pronouncement that you’ll never do anything that “stupid” again.


And, we wonder why people don’t break out of the box!


Was world peace served? Was cancer cured? Did you make a mint? No. At the end of the day (a phrase well-known to my clients and children), no one died and, in a week or less, no one will remember your “awkward” moment. What’s more, you have valuable information. At the very least, moving has taught you what didn’t work, what you don’t want, who you will avoid in the future— and, quite likely, where you will head on your next venture into the world of LEARNING and LIVING.


Let It Rip

I, myself, learned the power of Newton’s law very early. As a new delegate to my county’s junior 4-H leadership group, I dreaded small group discussions—and wasn’t alone.  It seemed that everyone was conscious of making a good impression and, consequently, we all sat forever waiting for someone to “break the ice.” The silence and anxiety were palpable. Now, some 40 years later, I cannot recall how many meetings I endured before realizing that no matter how inane or irrelevant my opening comment might be — it was worth the relief of not having to wait for someone to begin the discussion. Later, I discovered that I was considered a hero for doing something no one else could. If my remarks were anything but stellar, no one ever let on.


Los Gatos Fairies

Don’t Wait on Fairies

If you’re not moving, ask why? Deconstructing the motivation(s) for not moving can tell you volumes and raise awareness of things that may be keeping you stuck in other ways. Don’t wait for an apparition, fairy,  or Elvis. Get a little dirt under the nails. Dig. Diving into a new experience, new group of people, or deep into an informational interview starts rearranging ideas and possibilities in your head. More options appear. Some you may disregard but maybe just for the time being. Inevitably, something you encounter as you move through new people, places, ideas, and experiences that will cause you to say, “YES!”


Lab Challenge:

Check out a K.C. Cole book especially FIRST YOU BUILD A CLOUD. She an award winning science writer for the LA Times. The CLOUD book is a really fascinating layperson’s read on how physics affects us in very specific, simple ways or as Cole says, “reflections on physics as a way of life.” She provides compelling stories of highly intuitive behavior in rational science — those who bridge the concrete and abstract worlds. Sounds a bit esoteric unless you know that physics was once known as natural philosophy? The book unwittingly provides excellent evidence for the importance of whole brain thinking. Amazon features used copies from $.27.

Week 12: Strategic Brain Balance — Part 1 Going Blue

April 6, 2009





Last Post’s Lab: Brain Training and Productive Detours

Yes, it’s been a while since I checked in – but there has been so much happening. As in every plan, I have encountered opportunities that have led me to detours. Nevertheless, my strategic plan has been on my radar despite distractions and has been useful in reminding me that I have a choice about detours. It’s also given me new criteria to judge whether I’m being sidetracked or confronted with a great opportunity.

Brain eating has been amazing. I’m feeling better and gaining more physical and mental energy. My body is also forcefully letting me know how much it dislikes my forays into less structured social eating. That’s the creative challenge I’m working on now.

My other major distraction was teaching a UW Agribusiness Communication course for rural kids coming to the UW for a five-month agribusiness certification program. Teaching this group after spending most of my time teaching career adults and degree program students made it an incredibly challenging experience. Out of it came some enormous insights into communication, the public school system, and whole brain teaching methods. More on that in a future blog.


The Whole Brain Walk Around

Ned Herrmann’s study of successful processes and organizations showed that they attended to all four thinking perspectives. In other words, they were whole brained. Endeavors that struggled with a particular issue were typically missing expertise or attention to the preferences of one or more quadrant perspectives. I’ve seen this reflected in my own clients. For example, I worked with an accounting firm (A Quadrant-rational, unemotional, quantitative, logical) that was failing miserably in customer service. A study of their business indicated that everyone in the organization was left brain oriented – A or B Quadrant preferences. The organization had a deficit in right brain thinking — C and D Quadrants.  Often this means that organizations struggle with reinventing their businesses and lack emotional intelligence, the big picture, and paradigm busting thought processes. In this case, those doing customer service were mostly A Quadrant folks who are often uncomfortable with and don’t understand emotions. They are not well-equipped to deal with unexpected emotions of those struggling financially. This group was also very pragmatic about the support or understanding they felt they had provided their customers. The behavior was seen by clients to be arrogant and cold. Introduction to cognitive diversity and a whole brain walk-around the four basic thinking style perspectives provided a framework in which my client was able to understand and appreciate the situation. The walk-around showed an organizational deficit in the C Quadrant, preferences that have to do with communication and understanding interpersonal skills.



The idea behind a Whole Brain Walk-Around is that you use the Herrmann Model to figure out where your quadrant weaknesses or those of your organization may be resulting in lack of attention to important areas of the business. The Walk-Around is also useful as a project planning tool.


Walking the A Quadrant

Even before my strategic planning session, I was painfully aware of how far behind I’d fallen in some areas of A quadrant planning. Key strategic areas of the A Quadrant are technology, finance, understanding how things work, and quality. Going to graduate school and working, I was well-focused on finances and fought hard to maintain quality work. One planned result of the graduate school experience was to learn how to integrate research into my business. The area that fell woefully to the wayside was technology.

We live in a time when you blink and another task in your life is being handled by a new electronic device. Communication technology is changing, growing, and evolving at a break neck pace. I chose to focus on emerging technology in adult education when I went back for my masters. I realized early on that distance education was the future and made it a point to take an online graduate course in business from the first fully accredited online university at that time, Jones International. It was one of the most rigorous classes of my entire graduate experience.  While I was a doctoral student, I also taught two blended (live/online) classes at the UW. These were excellent opportunities to learn to teach a different way, understand how things work, and see upfront the kinds of challenges students will face in these new electronic learning environments.

As a student, I learned new iterations of iMovie and statistical software. With my student discount, I bought all the latest versions of animation, graphics, office, and web software — and then sat on them for a year and a half. While I became conversant in both Mac and PC platforms, I fell pitifully behind in my website.

In my last year in grad school, I taught an electronic design class where I had to learn InDesign and relearn the latest versions of Photoshop and Dreamweaver. It’s difficult to leave Quark as a desktop/design program. I’ve used it for 16 years and can work it in my sleep. The print world, however, has moved on to InDesign – and, so, part of my strategic plan is making time to learn InDesign, Flash,  Final Cut Pro and the latest version of Dreamweaver.  So far, I’ve redesigned a brochure in InDesign and am updating my website using the new Dreamweaver. Stay tuned for my adventures in Flash animation and my attempts at building a whole brain web navigation system.


Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

For many older adults, there are strong cultural issues involved with accepting technology. My Dad, who was a brilliant guy, never seriously entertained using a computer. He had retired and learning the computer looked like work to him. For many people, the computer culture seems overwhelmingly complex — too much to learn.  I don’t believe, however, that the technology itself is insurmountable for most anyone of average intellingence. Part of what makes people uneasy or resistant is that they don’t conceptually “see” the whole picture of how things are connected or effected by the technology. The language and social culture are as intimidating as traveling to a foreign country where you don’t know the mother tongue. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is change. Embracing technology means letting go of social traditions and norms that are more than comfortable — they are aspects of life in which we are invested. If we accept technology, we must accept the possibility that handwriting may become a lost art along with letter writing and phone conversations. The virtual world means we may have more interaction but less physical contact.

One night I saw a television commercial with a 20 something man sitting on a couch with a laptop. I don’t remember the product being sold, but the young man looked up from the laptop into the camera lens and said, “My generation grew up with technology.” And, it’s true. I learned to type on a Smith Corona. My kids learned on a Mac. When I write them letters, I usually print. They struggle to read my cursive because they haven’t had much practice. Their school assignments were done on the computer. Another technological difference in my children’s generation is telephone usage. My sons and I didn’t fight about using the house phone when they were in high school because their Dad bought them mobiles. Unlike my parents, I wasn’t privy to their conversations – they mostly text. Recently, I hosted a community drive to sign up people for suicide prevention training. My 23 year old and two of his friends participated. While the older generation talked about who to contact and scanned their Daytimers and Blackberries creating lists of people to contact, my son’s group sent text messages to about 50 people in 10 minutes and called it a night. Their results were about the same as the adult’s more traditional approach.

Life is complicated and certainly seems all the more so as you age, so it’s easy to understand how some older people feel that technology is a complication they can forego. I admit there are times when I’m exhausted by the constant change. Nevertheless, once back into learning and using new technologies I find it is exhilarating, improves my self-esteem, and makes me feel  part of the mainstream. Inevitably, forcing myself into learning a new technology jumpstarts creative ideas.  Besides, there is growing evidence that learning complex new things is what wards off Alzheimers and keeps aging minds growing and healthy.


Lab Challenge:

Spend a few minutes thinking about what new technology makes you curious. Maybe you’re struggling with managing productivity, coming up with ideas, communicating with associates or children. My friend, Bonnie, travels with her digital camera and makes regular entries into a personal blog that she shares with friends, family, and fellow artists. She once told me it was a way for her children (two of whom live far away) to really  know her. I thought it was a great idea. Check out her blog at http://dog-in-the-hole-studio.blogspot.com/. There are many blogging services like WordPress where you can set up your own for free. 

Also, set aside an hour to explore some avenue of technology – maybe look into some of the social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Check out free software/demos for everything form business project management tools to games and multimedia applications at http://www.freedownloadscenter.com. Let me know about your experiences.



Week 4: The Brain Feast

February 16, 2009



Source: IncredibleEgg.org




Last Week’s Lab: Update on Brian Conditioning

Eating for better focus and energy works and in a short time. Last week, I had little to interfere with eating on program and the results were amazing – one of the most productive weeks I’ve had in a long time. This week was a bit more of a struggle because I began teaching at the UW and spent the greater part of the week out of the house and office. The challenge here is having the right things prepared to take with me and eating enough while I’m gone. I ran into problems not remembering to drink enough and that made me tired and hungry when I got home. The combination of dehydration and tired is an automatic trigger to eat – I’m craving energy. The importance of hydration has been reinforced by watching my UW class in a warm room over several hours. Drinking water helps compensate for that drowsy-after-lunch feeling. I’ve also been eating what was in the house before I began my brain diet. That means I’m not always eating the right combination of foods.

This weekend, I need to find a strategy for not wasting what I have, preparing everything so that I can grab it and be set for a day, and find ways of reminding myself to drink more water.  The other place I still struggle is making good choices when I eat socially. Twice this week I was in a situation where I needed to eat out and had to overcome “want” for “need.” I didn’t do badly. One instance was an Italian buffet. I had a good salad, tortellini soup, vegetables and stripped the sauce off half a chicken marsala. The other night I was at the Flat Top Grill where you select the ingredients and then the staff stir fries your meal. My bowl had some cellophane noodles, butternut squash, mixed veggies, peanut sauce and soy, plus salmon. Quite healthy with the exception of a little fried bread. The other change for me was having red wine instead of white or a margarita. All in all – not bad.


Here’s the Whole Brain Plan I’m following:


A Quadrant: Facts, Quantity, Quality

What I eat?

Figure out what’s on the brain list. Monitor the quality of freshness. Integrate brain advantage spices like turmeric and rosemary. Use fresh spices.



Buy only what’s on the brain list.

Compost food that is past it’s prime.

Freeze single portion packages that can’t be finished in time.

D Quadrant: Big Picture

Why am I hungry?

Consider that dehydration creates a need to “fill up” and being tired creates a need to “eat for energy.”


Why do I eat the wrong foods?

Boredom. Cravings.



Avoid dehydration and figure out when you can eat small energy snacks more often during the day.


On weekends, try new recipes from the brain book and freeze extra servings.

B Quadrant: Processes & Control

How to manage food intake and balance?




Plan your weekly diet on the weekends.


Shop when you’re not hungry.


Plan your shopping list before you go. Put only brain foods on the list.


While at the store, buy only what’s on your list.


C Quadrant: Social

Managing social occasions? Who should I not eat with?



Use some influence in deciding where you will meet someone. Select a restaurant that is focused on healthy eating or has more healthy choices. Try to entertain at home when you can – where you have more control over the food.


Avoid social eating with those who tend to routinely overeat and/or over drink.

 Challenge: Read more about how choline in eggs advances brain function and is thought to be related to breast cancer prevention. 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-05/epr-nsi052307.php – 11k –


WEEK 3: Whole Brain Plan — Brain Training

February 2, 2009


Last Week’s Lab

So, I challenged you last week to develop your own purpose package (vision, mission and core values). Did you do it? I was in the south last week working with a team that had forgotten its mission and values. Interestingly, each challenge they were facing or stuck in became clear (maybe not easy, but clear) when we came back to core values.  So often people stay stuck because they have no tools. Mission and values are a simple, elegant set of tools. They cut through the grey. If you’re on the fence, go to your values. What do they tell you to do?


Here’s an example. An under-performing subordinate makes another mistake in a long series of missteps. Your first reaction? To fire them. But what to do. This person’s been with the company a long time. Still the person is misplaced in his job and is holding the company back. First, step back and cool off. It’s hard to be objective with people who have fallen out of favor. Likewise, people we like are those we’ll often cut a lot of slack. Attribution theory explains this phenomenon. So, first we must realize why this person has fallen out of grace. If it’s not something illegal, then it’s probably attitude or poor performance. Then we need to go to the core values. If “fairness” or “integrity” is a core value, then in fairness we need to ask if the person is putting forth effort. Are the person’s intentions good? Are the issues poor judgment or inferior work? In either case, the fault maybe ours for putting the person in the wrong job.  Other fairness questions include, “Was the person properly trained? Was he given a complete orientation? Was he provided with all he needed to succeed? Are there personal issues interfering with work?”


Three times in the last two months, I’ve faced this issue with clients. In all three instances, the supervisor found in favor of the problem employee. In all three instances, plans to improve performance were constructed and implemented. Will the employees rise to the occasion? Time will tell. In the meantime, everyone is onboard with what they agree is a logical process to find out if things can be changed in a way that is fair to all.


My southern team who felt that mission and values was just an idealistic exercise is now working with an accountability agreement to generate ways of injecting core values into all employee training. In the next month, they will find ways of keeping the core values visible and at top of mind as they are dealing with day-to-day operations.


The lesson I find in this over and over is that organizations must have a set of ground rules they all can buy into. Again, core values and organizational mission are the foundation and very useful if people will make them standard operating procedure.


Week 3: Brain Training




Back to my own strategic plan.  How many people begin each New Year with an exercise and diet plan? My personal strategic plan took into account what I’ve learned in my graduate work about the exercise and feeding of the brain.


Brain chemistry is fascinating. You are what you eat. What a scary thought! Garbage in. Garbage out.  Paying no attention to how eating effects your thinking is like ignoring the benefits of getting your car tuned up or your teeth cleaned regularly.


My first experiment with eating for improved mental capacity was performed while writing my master’s thesis on the effects of brain dominance training on women recovering from a major life crisis. The literature on stress was fascinating and frightening. Our bodies are wired to give the brain unconscious overdrive in many, many situations. This isn’t always a good thing. Like the computer, the prehistoric parts of brain anatomy cannot distinguish between real and manufactured danger. Consequently, our hearts and other organs are chronically overworked by the General Affective Syndrome commonly known as Fight or Flight. I was particularly interested in a growing body of research showing how diet could exacerbate or modify a variety of mental disorders. At the time, Dr. Daniel Amen had just published a book entitled, “Change your brain: Change your life.” It was based largely on his field experiences as a clinical psychiatrist.


In his book, Amen suggests that many brain disorders can be diagnosed by PET scan, technology that lets you see brain tissues in dimensions and areas of activity. Currently, other scientists question the claims Amen is making about his ability to accurately diagnose with a PET scan. You can read their critiques at www.quackwatch.org.





Brain Foods

Despite the controversy over PET scan diagnoses, Amen’s dietary recommendations for brain function are in agreement with recommendations and findings by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Neurology. Amen discusses a holistic approach to attending to brain function through diet.

Dr. Amen’s recommendations are on his website at http://www.ofspirit.com/danielamen1.htm

His suggestions include:

1-Increase water intake.

The brain is mostly water and chemicals. People still don’t seem to understand that the easiest thing you can do to improve mental performance is to drink more water. I’ve seen recommendations suggesting from 8-8oz. glasses to 11-8oz. glasses a day.

2-Restrict calories.

Yes, eating less helps you live longer and keeps your brain healthy by triggering certain body mechanisms that increase production of nerve growth.

3-Eat fish with omega-3 oils.

Certain forms of omegaa-3 fatty acids make up a large portion of brain matter as well as a major component of brain synapses. Research shows omega-3’s may be significantly involved in maintaining emotional balance and positive mood.

4-Include lots of dietary antioxidants.

The American Cancer Society recommends five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables every day. The best dietary antioxidants include blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, brussel sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, avocados, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries, and kiwis.

5-Balance protein, good fats, and complex carbohydrates.

Have protein at every meal. It balances blood sugar levels. Protein is important even with snacks because it limits fast absorption of carbohydrates and prevents brain fog.

6-Pick your top 24 healthy foods and put them in your diet each week.

7-Plan snacks.


The American Academy of Neurology ( http://www.aan.com ) suggests much the same as Amen’s recommendations with a couple of notable additions:

• Daily red wine.

One glass a day for women and two for men may lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, and inhibit inflammation connected to a variety of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

• Add rosemary and turmeric to your regular spices.

Both are considered to have anti-Alzheimer’s properties. Turmeric has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol lowering properties. Rosemary contains compounds that prevent breakdown of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter.


A Whole Brain Strategy for Moving to a Brain Diet

Habit change is difficult. Making dietary changes is probably one of the most complex and difficult habits to make. Eating is not only a physical function but also social and psychological. A colleague who had lost a large amount of weight once commented that obesity is an addiction. I believe that future research will provide more evidence to that effect. In the meantime, we search for ways of making the change process more successful for everyone.

I’ve found a whole brain approach can be useful in pulling together many change initiatives. Most commercial diet programs have figured out the basic issues involved in diet change. I’ve consolidated those into a whole brain approach to brain diet change.

 Whole Brain Strategy for the Brain Food Diet

A Quadrant

(Approach to thinking: intellectual, logical, quantitative)


– Identify key brain foods to incorporate in your diet. 

– Analyze the texture, taste, and smell of your favorite foods and put them in a table.


D Quadrant

(Approach to thinking: psychological, creative, big picture, tasks risks)

-Take your A Quadrant table of favorite foods and find brain foods that have similar qualities. Try to substitute a brain food with similar qualities.

– Create new recipes with brain foods.

– Picture the outcome of eating healthy and creating more brain power.


B Quadrant

(Approach to thinking: physical, organized, sequential, preventive)

– Plan a week’s menu incorporating brain foods.

– Plan and prepare brain-friendly home meals ahead of time.

– Premake size-controlled meals.

– Schedule eating.

– Eat more frequently and smaller portions.


C Quadrant

(Approach to thinking: interpersonal, social)

– Create strategies for eating out.

– Remember, red wine is good in moderation.

– Keep a journal about challenges, successes, and the differences you seen in energy and brain function.


Of course, variety and something new are things we crave in our diets. There isn’t a lot out there in terms of brain diet cookbooks but I did find one hot off the press, THE BRAIN POWER COOKBOOK. It’s on Amazon and I’ve spent a little time with it. The authors are doctors and the science aligns with what the AMA and AAN support on the science of nutrition and the brain. Unlike other “diet” cookbooks, it isn’t ridiculous in asking you to give up everything that makes life tasty. Here’s the book citation:

Lawlis, F., & Greenwood-Robinson, M. (2009). The brain power cookbook. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

JOIN ME challenge: This week try five days on brain food and let me know how you did. I’ve been on and somewhat off  the brain food plan while last traveling and still see a different in focus while losing three pounds.


WEEK 2: Life as a Lab-The Strategic Plan

January 21, 2009


WEEK 2: Life as a Lab-The Strategic Plan  

Last Week’s Lab

Just like planning a vacation, organizational and personal strategic planning can be an exciting, energizing process. In the quiet shadow of the holidays (my favorite time of the season), I spent the better part of a day developing a personal strategic plan and then moved on to a business strategic plan for 2009. This is my version of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen good results using the process with my coaching and consulting clients. For me, a personal strategic plan is more active and results-oriented than journal entries about what I personally want to accomplish in the coming year. Structuring an actual plan and setting up an implementation calendar exponentially increases my chances of attaining goals.

When people hear I do a personal strategic plan, the response is often – “Doing one for business is tedious enough. Why would you put yourself through it twice?” Strategic planning has gotten a bad wrap because people follow the same tired process year after year. I’ve found that you can change SP’s sagging image in a variety of ways.

Ways to breathe new life into strategic planning:

1-Conduct a pre-planning creative problem solving session to relax thinking, break mental ruts, and introduce new idea generating techniques. Make time for a vision, mission, and values exercise.

2-Define your planning needs and choose a plan format accordingly. You don’t have to do a comprehensive plan every year. What do you want to accomplish with strategic planning?

– A broader, issues-based process to identify goals for the year and develop a plan for implementation?

– An alignment-based process to assess how operations, goals, and processes are aligning with mission/vision/values?

– A scenario-based process that is focused on more long term goals and development of new creative business strategies or directions? Or, are you looking for a combination?

3-Try a whole brain approach to guide the process, and leave room for less-structured creative activities.  Strategic planning can actually be energizing and highly creative.

4-Consider using a facilitator or get a mentor involved.

In an organizational setting, I’ve found that strategy sessions are tremendously enhanced when individuals engage in their own strategic planning. Why is that?

Strategic Planning: Not Just a Mind Numbing Ritual

Most organizations look forward to strategic planning with the same excitement that individuals encounter  anticipating tax preparation or a root canal. I believe that this is because strategic planning is usually left brain heavy, i.e., more focused on numbers, budgets, and processes than on reinventing the company or finding a way to tap into the insights and ideas of the entire organization. In other words, balancing the different thinking styles (cognitive perspectives) of the people who make up the organization. In the service of time and the focus of this blog, let me be brief in my explanation of why balance models are important in organizational design.

The Power of Balance Models

Ned Herrmann (www.hbdi.com), creator of the whole brain model, began his cognitive research while head of management training at General Electric. His studies show organizations and processes that are successful reflect cognitively balanced perspectives. My professional experiences solidly support this cognitive balance theory. You may be asking, “What’s the connection between a cognitive balance model and a successful organization?” Why would anyone entrust the fortunes of a company on a model of mental processes. I have two responses. One relates to a metaphor comparing the human body to an organization. The human body is the most complicated machine in existence. When you consider the complex and simultaneous operations the brain commands in order to keep the body functioning properly, it makes sense that understanding cognitive functions may have considerable value in addressing other complex systems like organizations. Secondly, our brains demonstrate the power of the simple principle of balance. The cognitive model is one of an endless series of balance models in nature, e.g., Newton’s third law, homeostasis. These fundamental laws of nature are also intuitively translated into psychological models like Jung’s four ego functions and sociological phenomenon, e.g., the Chinese yin and yang, the Hopi Indian proverb of the four square house, and the 4-H pledge. But back to cognitive-based strategic planning.

Cognitive-based Planning

My clients, who have gone through whole brain basic training, understand and participate more readily in the whole brain strategic planning process. Especially small companies new to the “formalized” process of yearly planning find the whole brain approach less daunting and more creative.

For creatives, a mind map may be the easiest way to begin the strategic planning process. Here are a couple of examples of ways I’ve used them both personally and professionally.


Tween Safety Belt Initiative

Mindmap: Tween Safety Belt Initiative



Tony Buzan is considered the father of the mindmap. Check out his site: www.buzanworld.com

The free form mindmaps may make some uncomfortable. For more analytic and structured types, start with a mindmap that is more reminiscent of a flow chart. The one below is a free mindmap template available at www.mymindmap.net


Mapping is just one technique to use as a starting point in a whole brain approach to strategic planning. The point is to use a whole brain approach. Often this adds   creative balance to the process — especially for those organizations that lean heavily toward a left hemisphere preference. 

The whole brain approach considers your personal or organizational growth along four perspectives that reflect basic thinking style preferences:

Logical Perspective: measurements, finances, goals, technology, mission

Process Perspective: regulatory, systems, administrative

Human Resources Perspective: communication, training, values

Experimental Perspective: vision, innovation, creativity

Using the whole brain model as a way of checking that you are covering all perspectives can be as easily applied to personal life as to organizations. Anyone who has ever undertaken a great initiative knows that an idea and passion are not enough and resources and a plan won’t do it alone. But a strong vision, clearly defined objective, detailed plan and passion put together can take you places.

Earlier in life, personal planning was a looser process for me. As a producer and project director, I was clear about the importance and necessity of structure and follow through in my work but I relaxed my approach to attaining goals in my private life. The lesson was brought home personally when I chose to simultaneously go to graduate school and work full-time while parenting two boys on my own. People shook their heads and asked, “How the _____ are you going to manage all that?” I used the whole brain plan and focused on the B quadrant or Process Perspective, the administrative, sequential approach to strategy. Without a focus on the detail and balancing the other perspectives, I would never have finished my PhD in three years.

A whole brain personal strategic plan is more useful and effective in achieving strategic goals because it gives people structure and guidance as well as forcing people to address aspects of their plan that don’t jive with their personal strengths, e.g., visionaries who don’t do well with detail, communicators that don’t handle numbers, administrators that lack vision, and financial folks perplexed by interpersonal transactions.

This year my own plan ups the ante in terms of detail. I’m trying some new business ventures and need answers sooner than later so I can switch gears if need be. I’ve focused on weekly goals that are helping me move plans forward. Some people resist detailed timelines because deadlines immediately suggest stress. In both personal and organizational contexts, I find my biggest stressor is actually developing the plan, not following it. Planning stress is short term and I’ve found cognitive strategies that make attacking the plan much easier and creative. A detailed action plan keeps things moving with a sense of urgency and lowers stress because you know where you’re going. As owner of an initiative, personal or professional, I find progressing incrementally is energizing. Often meeting my weekly objectives counterbalances other things I can’t control and gives me a sense of accomplishment on a routine basis.

JOIN ME challenge:

It’s not too late to create a personal or business strategic plan. If you haven’t created a vision, mission and values  or purpose package, take a little time and write it down – or have a serious talk with your organization’s leadership. This is a critical tool that guides everything else. If you have a vision package, go back and revisit it. Are you headed where you want to go? If not, try the whole brain approach to strategic planning

NEXT WEEK Whole Brain Plan Step One: Get the Brain in Shape

Life as a laboratory: An experiment in living creativity

January 6, 2009


Donna Van Bogaert/Van Bogaert & Associates, Inc.

Exercises in "seeing" differently.

Exercises in "seeing" differently.


In my post-phd life, I’m back to consulting and spreading my media wings with the time to finally create my own blog. This is a tremendous irony  as I was already working the blog concept six years ago. At that time,  I used email to create an interactive dialogue with people who attended conferences where I keynoted as well as those who were part of workshops I taught on using a cognitive foundations model for management and hr  training. The intent of the emails was to offer application challenges that would reinforce learning by bringing session concepts to consciousness every work day. What I had not planned or thought about was receiving feedback — and I did! Of course, interactivity enriched the entire experience. Participants added dimension to the learning by demonstrating how differently they perceived and experienced the enrichment challenge based on their cognitive (thinking style) preferences. In the end, participants got their own perceptions stretched and got a working demonstration of cognitive preferences in action.


I continue to use  virtual exercises and am working on delivering them via a dedicated blog. My most recent training seminar, however, pushed me beyond blog thinking and focused my thinking on my professional passion — teaching people to realize their personal and professional potential through the study of brain function  and its connection to creativity and potential.

The December training session involved teaching senior managers of a software development firm a cognitive-based approach to creative problem solving (CPS). What precipitated this seminar  was the CEO’s concern that the strategic planning process had become stale and her frustration that a group of highly intelligent, talented people were serving up the same, safe an expected range of ideas at each annual planning retreat. The CEO asked for my thoughts. Why don’t bright folks do the idea dance on request? In my experience, strategic planning means herding people together and asking them to develop ideas, a strategy, and roadmap in a timeframe  big enough to do justice to one objective. It’s not conducive to breakthrough thinking. Stress and pressure typically narrow thinking. Opposed to popular belief, the best ideas don’t come under pressure.

The creative process can be directed but not totally controlled. People must consciously move outside their regular mental habits and use techniques stimulating mental activity across both hemispheres of the brain. The process of breakthrough thinking is a lot like baking. You assemble various ingredients, mix them up, then give them time to bake. On the creativity side of the metaphor, baking is incubating. Once people have been shaken out of their routine ways of seeing things and mix in some new techniques for generating ideas — the ideas must be left to bake, percolate — incubate. Strategic planning sessions generate largely what they say they will — create a plan. If what you want innovation from your strategic plan is creativity, be careful what you ask for … and prepare yourself for a different process.

In this situation, I suggested a CPS session be held sometime before the strategic planning retreat. The objective was to relax the executive team, make them aware of the ruts and automatic shortcuts our minds use to economize thinking — and then teach participants new techniques to break those automatic, routine mental habits. 

The timing could not have been better. The countries economic woes had weighed heavy on this group like it has all of us over the last quarter. In an atmosphere where no one had to worry about performance anxiety, people laughed, interacted, and began to notice and reflect on their own mental gridlock as well as the mental dynamics of the team. What’s more people started to let go of pessimism and started focusing on and  talking about opportunities created by the current situation. We’ll see how strategic planning goes this year.


In today’s precarious financial environment, people become more acutely aware of the need to capitalize on resources and to harness the creative abilities of every organizational member. That’s a tall order if creativity isn’t given a place in the daily culture. Creativity is a skill rarely ordered up. Check the literature. As a rule, we don’t develop brilliant solutions under duress — stress restricts creative thought. Go to most meetings and things get pretty quiet when the call for new ideas is made.

Even as a kid who was branded “creative” at an early age, I have always been aware that you are only as good as the skills you’ve developed– AND, even the most clever need to change up their conjuring techniques to stay fresh. OK–so, we’re clear about the need for skill development and practice. Repeat after me, “Creativity is a product of skill and practice.”

Every time I prepare to teach or facilitate a CPS session, I am energized by being forced to “see” things differently myself. I solemnly realize that although I am attentive to making my environments conducive to creativity, the “creativity on demand” aspects of my life often curtail forays into the excitement of seeking out and investing time in new idea generating techniques. Each interaction with my clients reminds me of how our natural thinking preferences automatically edit so much visual diversity from our creative view. Yes, I see ruts anew. On the other hand, cognitive styles, especially Ned Herrmann’s whole brain model (www.hbdi.com), are often a creative epiphany for those who don’t fit the traditional creative mold. 


The experiences of the past month got me to thinking about this year’s missed opportunities. My mental year in review brought to mind an idea I’ve had for some time. What it would be like to spend a year devoted to working and living with the goal of injecting into or squeezing out as much creative potential as possible in 365 days? As luck would have it, the idea has surfaced at the beginning of 2009. So, I’d like to invite you to join me in a year driven by creativity. Consider it seriously and, if you decide to come along, I hope you’ll  share your experiences during the journey. We all could use a breakthrough year!

So a toast to a year of dogging your mind — marching it up hills, turning it inside out, upside down, running it at an angle, and pulling it apart. Here’s to a creative tune up for the most important machine in your life — your brain.