Curiosity Journal, Making a List


I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. It was a noisy-quiet morning, with a low racket of avian chatter and the gentle hush of a breeze in the taller tree’s branches.

I looked for movement in the stillness.IMG_4204

Birds escorted me along the path, dusting up the litter of the forest floor. Squirrels did the same, just a little further removed. A butterfly’s lemon-yellow wings caught in the dappled sunlight. A single sassafras leaf, angled and perfectly attuned to the soft wind’s frequency, vibrated wildly.

Immobilized by my approach to the tidal edge, tiny crabs rewarded my stillness with renewed activity. A charismatic doe, disarmingly large in comparison to all the other wildlife, lifted first her head and then her white tail before bounding off across the wetlands. In the sunny distance, heat waves shimmered above the slightly roughed bay as the water lapped at the distant shore.

IMG_4203Up, beyond the doe or the soaring osprey and playing gulls, a few stray clouds floated lazily by. A jet stream bore witness to mechanical movement now past. I thought about the earth’s rotation and our fierce hurdle through the vastness of space. All there, in the deceptive calm of the late morning’s blue sky.

Back under the canopy of soft new green, I marveled at the movement of growth, the barely discernible but still obvious changes, day by day, as the woods around me return to life.

Curiosity Journal, Life Lessons, Making a List, UnComfort Zone

Curiosity & the Fluid Career

surf2Yes, that’s me. On a surf board. In Hawaii. Admittedly, ten years ago. I thought it was a good image for a conversation about fluid careers and catching the curiosity wave…

I was delighted to be invited back by Dana Theus and Mary Brodie at InPower Women for another conversation about curiosity – this time in the context of the fluid career. When they invited me on the show, I think they expected to explore my own fluid career – which is a fine tale, but I offered something both personal and more universal. Let’s talk, I suggested, about “choosing to be curious about futures one might not yet have contemplated, about being intentionally open to the unknown, asking more questions about what emerges, and doing some rapid prototyping to see what might work, using that information to build and (re)shape that emerging future.” 

I hope you’ll listen to the whole show (30 minutes), but here’s some of what we covered and what has worked for me:

Following threads and finding fellow travelers. One of the biggest and happiest surprises for me has been the discovery of rich new networks and communities of people to whom I’ve become attached as I’ve chosen to be curious and entered into many entirely new realms of activity and interests.

0.8 Prototyping. Borrowing from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, I’ve learned to try new concepts out before they are fully cooked (even before they are at “1.0” stages of readiness [hence: “0.8”]), and letting things fail, be messy, listening to and learning from others — and then trying again, with all those lessons in mind.

My simple rules: Drawing on the work of Donald Sull & Kathleen Eisenhardt, I like to think about the simple, most foundational guidelines that govern how/what I do:

  1. Choose to be curious.
  2. Change my point of view to see something new.
  3. Ask myself “how might I….?”
  4. Go toward the fear. (Fear, broadly defined, as the things to which I feel resistant)
  5. Iterate, reflect, repeat.

Curiosity Walks: I made this thing up, the “curiosity walk” — a mix of mindfulness and scavenger hunt. It’s a way to be more intentional and attentive going about a place, whether as a tourist or in our workplace. What can I see or learn by being just a little more curious about wherever I am? What’s actually going on? How do I feel about it – specificallyHow might it be different?

Aldous Huxley: Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you. — This reminds me to stay fully present with whatever is going on. What I choose to do with what happens will shape the lessons I learn, the patterns I discern, the habits I form, the possibilities I believe open before me.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Isn’t there something that interests you, even just a little?  A reminder that we needn’t be “passionate” about everything we pursue and that, sometimes, the best discoveries come from following a loose thread that interests us just a little, just enough that we choose to be curious…and see where it takes us.

Listen to InPower Women Coffee Break: Curiosity and the Fluid Career

Choose to be Curious, Curiosity Journal, Life Lessons, Making a List


red : fire truck :: blue : ___________

A friend recently shared an article about diagramming sentences, a lost art we both loved in adolescence, a place where we found comfort in the orderliness and structure of language that was lacking elsewhere. It got me thinking about my love affair with language in general and analogies in particular.

I may have been alone in my mourning, but I was sorry to see analogies go from the SATs. I loved parsing the comparisons, playing out the options. I didn’t always agree with the “right” answer. Who were those College Board writers, anyway?

Analogy is in the eye of the beholder. 

And therein lies the charm. We see the connections we see. Facets of an idea reflect back the light from others in ways that vary based entirely on our perspective. And analogies create relationships that might not otherwise be there. They encourage us to play, to expand our understanding of a thing, to rethink. Embracing someone else’s analogy feels especially intimate, a channel straight to the soul.

bjaw2At the end of each “Choose to be Curious” show, I ask my guests to make an analogy to curiosity. We draw words from an enormous mason jar, my Big Jar of Wannabe Analogies. There is no way to prepare and — unlike (ahem) the SATs — there are no wrong answers. I warn everyone this is coming, but there’s nothing quite like the moment you pull out a neatly folded slip of paper, read “ukulele” and face the mic in front of you.

No one disappoints. People come up with the most amazing insights. That, like jellyfish, curiosity can sting; that, like embers, curiosity bursts into fire when given just a little air. That popsicles require the same attention, rain offers similar cleansing power,  salt water taffy benefits from comparable patient savoring.

So the new year turned and I tried to think of an analogy for 2016, a year many of us were happy to see in the rear view mirror, even as we regarded 2017 with deep trepidation. I came up with this:  Curiosity is like 2016 because they have both taken me places I didn’t expect.

May 2017 be like curiosity as well: savor-worthy, playful like puppies, full of connecting like staplers, helpful as a spork!

Curiosity Journal, Making a List

Best Laid Plans

New year, new resolve. I thought I was going to get a blog post out yesterday today. I’ve got one percolating, slowly, on analogies. Loyal readers will understand.

With the grey skies and cold drizzle, I wasn’t the least tempted outside. I have sat at the computer most of today. But the Blog Fairy must have a hangover: a total no-show. Instead, I’ve spent the day playing with graphics, creating a virtual scavenger hunt around Rehoboth Beach. I’ll rationalize it as part of my campaign to make people more intentionally curious about their surroundings; a way to engage, learn and build new skills; an entertaining way to sort through photos and fantasize about balmy weather; an amazing time suck. Bystanders, beware.

Happy New Year friends, may the year take you on many wonderful and rewarding scavenger hunts!

Click on any image to start a slide show.

Life Lessons, Making a List

Our Better Selves: A Daily Celebration

So, you may have noticed I’ve been feeling very torn lately — divided between the hopeful, life-affirming journey that is Theory U and ULab, and the ghastly train wreck that is this election.

At the start of the month, overwhelmed by whatever the latest election ugliness was, and the Philippine president’s self-identification with Adolf Hitler, complete with a declaration that he wanted to kill all the drug addicts — and something else similarly awful — I did what I always do when the going gets tough. I walked out the door.

Walking won’t cure the world’s ills, but it does markedly increase my resiliency in facing them.

Walking through the woods nearby, replenished by the loveliness around me, I made myself a promise: I would capture an image a day of something that made me smile, something that spoke to our better selves.

A few minutes later, I came upon a charming Little Free Library (you know I’m a sucker for these things) decorated to be a “Mini Me” of its steward’s home.

It made me smile. 

It housed a rain-stained invitation to take lots of books because “I have too many.” It was a perfect example of the little gestures we can — and do — make toward one another that reveal our better nature. I took a picture. Two, actually.

I kept the practice up for about ten days. It did me a world of good.

Every day I consciously looked for inspiration around me. It was a powerful example of confirmation bias: I looked for evidence of the good in people…and I found it. It didn’t make the other ugliness go away, but it pushed back in a way that was, for me, meaningful.

The images aren’t gorgeous, the gestures not elaborate, but the overall effect was tremendous. Here is a sampling…  #smile #restoringfaith #randomacts

Making a List

Where We Stand Depends on Where We Sit

I had fun with M. on Tuesday’s InPower Women Coffee Break, talking about a topic near and dear to my heart — leading with curiosity, as in being a curious leader at work or in life, as well as making curiosity our first move. It was my second bite at the apple, and a nice chance to build on some of what we’d talked about before.

stand sitWith the election only adding to the summer’s heat, this question of perspective was weighting heavily on my mind. You have power or you don’t; you have an experience or you don’t. These things matter. They influence the positions we espouse — and the politicians we support.

Where we stand depends on where we sit.

So I wanted to talk about choosing to be curious about where other people sit and, therefore, where they stand.

I had this to offer:

  1. Take a Curiosity Walk. Take a walk, real or virtual, around the office. Who sits where? What’s their view? How loud is the copier nearby? What funky smell is coming from the kitchen next door? Would you want to work in that space? What do they see that you don’t?  What do they know that you don’t?
  2. “Tell me more.” I think of this as a three word welcome mat. Tell me more about your experience. Tell me more about your thinking. Tell me more about what matters to you.
  3. Be wise with Whys. I’m all for the “Five Whys” approach (ask why you want a particular goal, then why that is true, and why that is important, and why….You get the idea: dig in to find the real reasons you think something needs doing. The answers may surprise you.) but Beth Flores’ point in our interview a week earlier really made an impression on me and I have come to appreciate that asking “why?” can also land like an accusation or challenge, as in …Ewwwww, why would you EVER  think that?…  So: careful with the whys. Opt instead for the “Four Ws and an H”: what, when, where, who, and how. Less aggressive, more receptive; all about being open to our own ignorance and receptive to learning.

Walking in others’ shoes, sitting in their seats, getting into their heads and hearts. These are good things.

Listen to “Leading with Curiosity: Part Two” here.