Spirit in holiday flavors

Originally published on www.worldwit.org — Liz Ryan’s social network


So we are caroling to the animals at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, and it’s quite a family affair with Santa Claus and humans disguised as reindeers and penguins, and earnest people singing holiday songs. There’s even free hot chocolate and cookies for everyone. But I am feeling disoriented because Santa Claus is being interviewed and he is talking about ‘time management.”

Time management? Give us a break! Whatever happened to holiday spirit? You know spirit like in sacred books and all the spiritual traditions of the world. NOT spirit like the car, the movie, or the gun. Santa, please say it isn’t so!

Some would say that spirit has been lost in the supermarket for a long time, and that Santa himself is one of those common signs of its impending extinction.

But I would counter that Santa originates from many great spiritual traditions of gift giving, and that spirit is actually ubiquitous. You’ll see it everywhere if you look for it. Even in business.

Like the cover story for Business 2.0 in November. In case you missed it, the topic was, “The Art of the Brilliant Hunch. Science is starting to understand why the best decisions come from the gut. Here’s how to make tough calls under pressure. ”

Boy, did I glom onto that headline. That’s because I know and you know that following the gut is always the best, but not necessarily the easiest, policy. When we ignore those gut feelings to do something one way, and we do it the other way and everything goes wrong and away from the direction of our intentions, we know the real bellyache is sure to follow. And our pain is amplified by the fact that we knew better!

The Business 2.0 article cites some interesting research on intuition. The bottom line, according to the article, is that emotions start the decision-making process, people are superb pattern makers, and we excel at abduction (rather than induction or deduction. Thank goodness for that because I never could keep those two straight.) The informed gut rules, the article said, in complex, complicated and chaotic situations, rather than in situations where formal rules can be applied.

Readers were also treated to several worthwhile capsules of how hunches work in business including advertising, publishing and broadcasting. My favorite factoid was that Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, shook uncontrollably when he came up with the idea of Starbucks. (My hypothesis is that the shakes came not from the power of the idea but from psychically connecting with the future caffeine overload of a nation of office workers.)

It was s good piece of journalism, bearing good news and befitting a fine publication like Business 2.0. The argument was based on scientific fact and expertise, and I applaud Editorial Director Thomas A. Stewart for his persuasive case.

Seems to me, though, Stewart missed pinning the tail on the hunch by about a foot and half. That’s because so much of his argument was draped against that common worldview of business, where relations are assumed to be contentious, competitive and warlike. Yeah, business is like that sometimes, but does it have to be?

It’s in my nature to shift perspective and ask: What happens when we change the worldview from one of scarcity and conflict to one of plenty and affinity?
Then the real mystery becomes less about how we make decisions in chaos and complexity, and more about how we become attracted to and then passionate about an idea. And sometimes that idea – like Starbucks – has multi-billion dollar legs.

I say the beauty of the hunch is expressed most brilliantly in the creative act of bringing something new into the world.

It’s like that hunch I have that the Business 2.0 writer was picking up some energy from the cultural stew when he decided to research this article because, well, he had a hunch! Still, where did that genesis spark come from? How was he attracted to the story idea and how was it attracted to him? Pattern played a part, paycheck played a part and editors played a part, but none of these constitute the Velcro that sealed the deal.

I believe the answer is spirit, the spirit unique to each of us that brings specific gifts into the world. And, yes, the kind of spirit that has to do with looking at the world wide open, and asking,” I wonder ..? And yes, that holiday spirit that celebrates all that is good in life, and the way we are all, each and every one of us, connected with each other.

So, here’s a holiday invitation offered in the spirit of peace and new beginnings. It’s adapted from the writings of Sonia Choquette, a well-known spiritual counselor in Chicago.

The next time you are called into a meeting with parties holding close cards and disparate interests, ask yourself this question: “How are we alike?” And look for what is true and what is real. Most of all, trust what you discover.

Radical, I know.

And if you are feeling really brave, check your assumptions at the door. Even if you have worked with these people for 20 years, walk into the meeting with this one directive: Never assume that you know anyone. And during your meeting, listen to what your intuition is telling you. Really listen – deeply. And trust it.

And most of all, here’s an invitation to a different kind of time management.

Let’s stretch the time period for holiday spirit to 365 days of the year.
And make each day a celebration of what is unique in each of us.

Let’s start the New Year off right.

Bobbing for bits on the media streams

Sally’s World, July 2003


Lately, those who make a living as pundits have been busy clicking and clucking and clattering keyboards and uttering bellicose profundities about one, single-syllable word: Facts. The questions about fact morphing into fiction float and bob about like so many balloons buoyed by the media winds.

Me – I’m not chasing any balloons because I take as fact very little of what I read or see broadcast in any of the media streams. I am one of those people who thought the Barry Levinson film, “Wag the Dog,” was a thinly veiled documentary.

Instead I ride the media currents to see what is bobbing on the horizon of the public mind. What’s happening today is a simple matter: The media soufflé has flattened and with the collapse of the puffery – within corporations, government, and media outlets – we are rushing to fill the void. I’m enjoying the “whooshing sound,” and looking forward to seeing what kind of omelets we’re left with.

Label me wacky or label me a cynic (perhaps both!), but for me a fact begins with that which I can personally touch, see, smell, taste, and hear. I then apply the gut test – my intuitive sense – to create an impression aligned with my value system, cultural wants and spiritual beliefs. Some of my criteria are tangible and some are intangible. And then, when I’m done I still don’t have a fact. I have my belief. One of my core beliefs is that we are all – each of us – a spinmeister of sorts.

I liked the tale that was being spun by master storyteller Judy Wicks, owner of Philadelphia-based White Dog Cafe, co-chair of the National Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and chair of the Social Venture Network (SVN). She was speaking at a kickoff meeting for a new organization here called Sustainable Chicago.

Wicks says that upon waking every day, she looks in the mirror and says: “Good Morning Beautiful Business.” You have to like a woman who has two cabins in the woods, one named “Happy House,” and the other named “Fart Freely.” What began as a home-based coffee shop in 1983 is now a restaurant that seats 200 and grosses $5 million a year, with a commitment to fun, food and social activism.

What was most persuasive about Wicks was that her tale came right from her heart. I could tell because I had heard it before – from entrepreneurs of all political stripes and others involved in building local economies. That is, that business is really about relationships, relationships with certifiable, verifiable, living, breathing real people.

“A large factor in our success is that we are a real community-based business,” Wicks said. “We share values with our customers.”

“Living and working in the same community has given me a great sense of place, which is really important for building local, living economies,” Wicks said. “When you work and you live in the same place there is a very short distance between decision makers and the person who is affected by your decisions because every day you see your customers that you serve, every day you see your employees that you work with. And you live in the community and you see your neighbors (and the impact of your decisions.)”

That’s the kind of real world fact-checking that resonates for me, and helps me spin my personal vision of a perfect world. It also occurred to me that that’s the kind of fact-checking you get, and you can create through your local WorldWIT email discussions and real world events.

WorldWIT was ahead of the game in understanding that the strength of the new email tools of the web could help women with a friendly point of view, women from the same work/life integration tribe, women in the same cities and regions, share information with each other, and then create real world networks.

When you post a question to a local discussion list, like ChicWIT, you can receive a dozen or more replies. You can pick and choose what information to follow up on based on your own criteria. Even better yet, you can attend a networking event and meet the helpful individuals who communicate with you through the lists. And if something happens and you have to change jobs and move to another city, you can use the same WorldWIT resource to check out your new hometown.

Before the rush to make the Web a commercial force, there was a web that was a community of people. Hobbyists and techies and those who were simply curious built the web by putting up special interest sites, basically as communications tools that said, ” Hi, there – look what I’ve done!” That was about it. If you were on the web around 1995, you will remember when Yahoo was just a page of favorite links, a daily record of what was new on the web, put up by a couple of guys who thought the information-sharing was really neat. It was a community, and the sites were places where like attracted like, where you could find your tribe.

During the days of the dotcom gold rush, some of us lost site of the tribal energy because some financial wizards got the idea that there was money in huge global markets and numbers of eyeballs. Perhaps there is. But in my opinion, that is not the richest or deepest well.

The under tapped frontier is the landscape occupied by WorldWIT, where the locals knock on each other’s doors to find the answers to the burning questions of the day, the answers that simplify our everyday lives.

When we send our request to the WorldWIT universe, we are inviting friendship and collegial exchange. We are building trust and creating relationships. We – friends, neighbors and colleagues – are finding and becoming trusted sources for each other. And that is a great way – and the only way – to do business with each other. And that – to me – is a fact that I count on.