Monday, August 31, 2009

Act with Intent: Redux

To extend the concept that I wrote about in the last entry, I wanted to explore and share a few more ideas on this subject.  This idea of “acting with intent,” working to be thoughtful and present in the actions in our lives, is relevant to young and old alike.  Regardless of whether we are students or professionals, children or parents, we are often faced with situations and challenges that call for a moment of consideration before diving into action. 

Recently I encouraged a dear friend to read Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” and watch the movie, “The Reader.”   Since seeing the film for the first time last year, I have continued to think about, and be challenged by, a number of its themes and messages.  While there are many concepts and issues brought to life, the film makes a dramatic statement about taking action.  More than halfway through the film, there is a very quick scene in which the young protagonist is having a private conversation with his law professor.  In an effort to gain advice, the student shares the details of a complex dilemma that he is facing.  His professor responds strongly:


“What we feel isn’t important, it’s utterly unimportant. 

The only question is what we do.”


While I can’t say that I believe all of our emotions, feeling and intentions are “unimportant,” the film makes an extremely strong point that we are all judged by our actions – or inactions – not our intentions and feelings.

As a final thought on this subject, I wanted to share a quote from President Obama’s eulogy for Senator Edward M. Kennedy:

“We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know what God's plan is for us.

What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and with love, and with joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of others."

It should be all of our aspirations to work hard to make tomorrow better than yesterday.  To make mistakes, but not be derailed by them, ever looking forward to what we may do to make a “better world.”  To realize that while our time is “fleeting,” we CAN and DO have a “lasting impact” on those around us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Act with intent


It has struck me over the past few weeks how often I have been talking to folks about the possible actions that lay ahead in their worlds; trying to play a role to help them think through the issues and possible alternatives that lie ahead of them.  Whether chatting with personal friends, or in discussions with consulting clients,  I have been interested in the number of common themes and situations.  There is typically an issue at hand, either business or personal (often mixed), and the intensity of the moment combined with a heavy dose of emotions leads to the desire to take action immediately.  Remembering the recent entry on "PBR", my first nudge is to try to slow down the entire situation.  Usually by asking a few innocent questions, i get the individual to describe the situation, the issue at hand, what actions brought the current situation to a head, etc.


While this technique usually slows down the "heat" of the moment, it also allows me to start understanding the situation, always looking for the "core issue" at hand.  In a training class that I attended more than ten years ago, we were trained to "ask why five times."  This idea helps one to dig into issues, and whether the right number is five, versus three or seven, the key is to dig. Once some sort of problem statement is clarified, I try to facilitate a discussion exploring alternatives.   By focusing on options "close-in" at first, the discussion usually flows freely.  Next by pushing to discuss radical, or "out of the box" options, the ideas can seem farcical and almost impossible to even discuss.  This "stretch" discussion opens the door to a third group of options, somewhere between "close-in" and "radical".  It's often in this section that actually the best options arise, the outgrowth of the conversation exploring the edges of possibilities.  Now we are ready to talk about the action plan ahead!


This rambling discussion is my way to say that all of us have issues and challenges at hand.  Whether in our work lives, or our personal worlds (or the confluence of those two streams),we all need to slow down a second and map out our situation and look at alternatives before diving impulsively into action.  After one of these conversations, I recently encouraged a friend of mine to track down  that  piece of fresh thinking, Art of War by Sun Tzu, from the 6th century B.C.  In thinking about it's core concepts, there is a fundamental belief that acting without planning is unwise and dangerous.  A great quote from the piece follows:


    Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.  Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat:      how much more no calculation at all!  It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.


 Even if the situations we are facing seem daunting, we should slow down, try to understand the problem at hand, make our "many calculations", and act with intent!