Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is it water retention that's the problem?

Werewolves, demons and bats, oh my. The full moon is on the rise, and things are outa whack. I swear, a succession of craziness can only be attributed to one thing. A full moon.

The Moon is known to have a huge effect on the ocean's tides. While the moon's gravitational force causes the water to rise up, the earth is also pulling downwards, causing tides. Water levels are dependent upon the force of the moon. So with a full moon comes the high tide.

From this observation, the concept of the moon affecting human behavior evolved. This is because the human body is 80 percent water. It is believed that just like the ocean, when the moon is full, there will also be an upset of water balance in the human body, causing a person to behave irrationally.

Lately I have observed this phenomenon. Not water retention. Perfectly sane people doing perfectly insane things. And there can only be one explanation. The full moon.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the next full moon is scheduled for November 2, 2009 at 7:15 PM. In preparation for this lunar event, I did some web surfing on the topic (what else does one do when one can't sleep) and discovered some interesting "facts" about full moon-ology.

The Farmer's Almanac website provides some helpful tips to manage the effects of the full moon.

When to Plant, Wean, Castrate, Build Fences, Harvest

The age-old practice of performing farm chores by the Moon stems from the simple belief that the Moon governs moisture. Pliny the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist, stated in his Natural History that the Moon "replenishes the earth; when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, while, when she recedes, she empties them."

Here are some helpful hints for those in the agriculture business:

1. Rail fences cut during the dry, waning Moon will stay straighter.

2. Wooden shingles and shakes will lie flatter if cut during the dark of the Moon.

3. Fence posts should be set in the dark of the Moon to resist rotting. Ozark lore says that fence posts should always be set as the tree grew. To set the root end upward makes a short-lived fence.

4. Don't begin weaning when the Moon is waning.

5. Castrate and dehorn animals when the Moon is waning for less bleeding.

6. Slaughter when the Moon is waxing for juicier meat.

7. Crabbing, shrimping, and clamming are best when the Moon is full.

8. Best days for fishing are between the new and full Moon. See our best fishing dates for the year.

9. Dig your horseradish in the full Moon for the best flavor.

10. Set eggs to hatch on the Moon's increase, but not if a south wind blows.
(Source: The 1994 Old Farmer's Almanac, Martha White

Good to know. But what about the superstitions. After all, it is hallow e'en. Turns out, werewolves are also thought to occur on full moons.

A werewolf or werewolf is a mythological or folkloric human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf or an anthropomorphic wolf-like creature, either purposely, by being bitten or scratched by another werewolf, or after being placed under a curse. Werewolves are often granted extra-human strength and senses, far beyond those of both wolves or men. Apparently, werewolves are vulnerable to silver bullets, should you encounter one this full moon season.

There has to be something to this theory. The belief that the moon and its effect on people is rooted in science, superstition and language. We sing about it, make movies about it, and we talk about it all the time.

The Latin word for moon is Luna. Other words that are derived are lunatic (late 13th century), meaning insane. It can also mean "moon-sick". Lunacy was formed in 1541 as a "condition of being a lunatic,", originally in reference to intermittent periods of insanity, such as were believed to be triggered by the moon's cycle, or "month-sickness."

The fullness of the moon has always been blamed for catastrophes in both nature and human beings. In some cases, the moon was used as an excuse of a committed crime. England lawyers in the 19th-century used the "guilty by reason of the full moon" defense for their cases - pointing out that their clients could not be held responsible for acting under the control of the moon.

Whether it's science fiction, science or just fiction, it's hard to say. There are studies that attempt to link crime to the full moon. In 1974, Psychologist Arnold Lieber, from the University of Miami began conducting studies centered on the crime rates of Miami-Dade County in Florida.

From the data gathered, he concluded that full moon has direct effect over the increase in homicide rates. He contacted the media, Miami police, and a hospital administrator to warn them about the danger that comes with a full moon.

In 1978 he wrote a best-selling book called, "Lunar Effects: Biological Tides and Human Emotions", which made his studies more known to the general public. Lieber didn't stop there; he published another book in 1996 and continued to expand his theory about the moon's influence on human behavior.

We are so connected to the big rock in the sky that we have actually made it part of our everyday language. It can be an action: to moon someone. We can "howl at the moon", "moonlight" at another job, be "moon struck", head over heels in love,or we can "shoot the moon."

To bring this to a point, I can only conclude, based on the observations of the world and times thus far, the full moon could be one of the reasons we are all a little crazy.

But if the theory of monthly craziness holds true, we should probably plan an intervention since there seems to be a trend as old as time.

- The threat of a Pandemic Influenza is on the rise even if the Pandemic Influenza is not. My doctor tells me to wash my hands, avoid sick people, and avoid being sick around people. This is not a light matter however. Some people do get very sick. But follow the rules that our doctors prescribe and we will all be a little safer.

- The threat of world war is always on our mind, but when hasn't there been a political struggle? Can't we all just get along? The threat of a global economic crash is always knocking, but the law of economics tells us that if we over spend, eventually we run out of money.

- The threat of job loss, job change or life change is, of course, ready at the wait, but who wants to work at the same job for all eternity?

I think we are all just a little crazy these days, and the momentum seems to be building. And we are reacting. So here are some things we might be able to do to offset the craziness.

1. Stop communicating by email or text. As Thumper's mother used to say, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

2. Take responsibility. For flu watchers, that means wash your hands more. Don't cough on people. And don't touch public surfaces if that creeps you out. If you are unhappy at work, get a new job. If you are concerned about the environment, stop killing it in your own way. If you need a change, change.

3. Accept change when it happens. In fact, hope for change. The day that there is no change in the world is the day we should worry. The ebb and flow must happen.

4. Be kind to others and hopefully they will be kind to you. And if they are not, refer back to points 1, 2 and 3.

So that, my friends, is my best offering on the eve of this full moon. That, and have a glass of water. It can't hurt.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Story Teller Tells a Story of a Teller Telling a Story

I remember the way I felt the day John Lennon died. I felt that the world had lost a rare and unqiue person. John Lennon is known to most as a musician. Some people think of him as an artist. Others think of him as the poster child for New York City (which I find a bit weird.) What I think is remarkable about John Lennon is that he had an uncanny ability to reach people in their souls. Find a common message that people would listen to, care about, sing about, remember.

His song "Imagine" is on a poster in front of my desk. When I sit down to write, I am reminded of what a writer should do. A writer should raise consciousness. Tell the truth. Tell a story that will somehow cause a question, or lead to answer. "Imagine" is a plea for peace and strategy about how to make it happen. He says that if we were to stop using beliefs as a reason to fight, then there would be no reason to die. If we were to abandon our need for greed and possession, we could be a brotherhood of man.

Inspired by John Lennon as a writer, I wanted to be able to find the words that speak to people. I want to be able to be part of the truth. So I went to University to become a writer. I earned a degree in English and Journalism, and I have made my living writing ever since. But have I made my living using writing to raise the consciousness of the world on any level?

I am a business writer, a communicator, an insight seeker, and a question asker. Organizational design, strategies and plans are my specialty. I can take a confused room, a confused company, or a confused system, and come out with a direction that almost everyone would say, "that's exactly what I meant to say, but I couldn't say it myself." I can help a person articulate an idea, and bring it to life by giving them the tools and structure to make it happen. I can hear past the noise of confusion to find the words that the voices are trying to express.

I can't explain it. It's not project management (although that's a process I use.) It's not just implementing a planning process that you could read about in any business book (although I have designed enough of my own to write a book). It's not understanding the essence of the balanced scorecard, although I do.

What I think I bring to the conversation is me, and a desire to understand the angst that is stopping people from figuring out why they feel lost, but can not put their collective finger on what that means. There is a downside to this. Sometimes the angst that I feel in others is disturbing to me, and at times, I become disillusioned. But a high bounce factor brings me back. As my dad used to say on the basketball court after being slung aside by someone twice my 4'6", 85 pound frame, "pick yourself up and get back in there."

And that is what I can contribute to the world. I am not John Lennon, and I would never compare myself to him. But I do try, in my own way, to tap into the human experience of the people in my midst. My goals are small and simple. To help people understand. To help people feel smarter. To find a way to express things that bring people together, at least on the page.

Will the many business plans and corporate mazes that I have helped to decipher become historic or hang on some one's wall some day? Will anyone even remember that I was there? Not a chance. In fact, the truth is, most people take it for granted. I am the instrument, the facilitator. The worker bee. Most people do not understand what I bring to them. But sometimes they feel it when it is gone.

And that's all I can do.

Oh, to be a Zebra

Oh to be a Zebra. Galant, freedom loviing, undomesticated beasts that are unfettered by stress.

According to "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers", Zebras live in the moment and they deal with it as it happens. There is no residual memory, no lingering cause and effect. No psychological imprint of the moment. Just the moment as it came and went.

As an example, imagine a herd of Zebras hanging around. A sea of black and white. Or is it white and black? Suddenly a predator attacks and the chase is on. Fight or flight kicks in and they run. We've all seen the nature clip. The predator wins, overtaking one of the herd. The Zebras return to calm, because the danger is over, and after all, they were not killed. Apparently, the Zebra does not manifest a lingering fear that rules the bliss loving, ranging feeding existence.

Translate that to the human experience. We have the fight or flight instinct, but apparently the cement jungle manifests a different kind of reaction. When we feel threatened by something, we don't physically run away. We do other things to avoid the confrontation. Some of us check out. Others try and build allies. Others attempt to create personal barriers. And then there's the head down, butt up strategy of staying below the wire so as not to be noticed. We've all experienced changes that feel disconcerting, and even scary.

But unlike Zebras, once the change has occurred, we don't walk away, stress free. We would analyze what happened. Did we not run fast enough? Did we zig when we should have zagged? Did the beast over run us, or did we not outrun the beast? Were we ill prepared? Were we too lazy? Did we take our environment for granted? Did we think we were all friends? Is there no loyalty in this world? Can't we all just get along?

As humans, we would have a psychological reaction plan. We would be afraid. We would become resentful. We might hide under the bed or retreat from life and living? We might stop fighting, and start accepting defeat to early. We might dislike every person or experience that had a possible resemblance to the original event.

Is this rational? I think it's human. But I do know that it is unhealthy. According to the author, Robert M. Sapolsky, a leading neuroendocrinologist, describes how chronic stress can undermine your health and what you can do about it, even in the urban jungle.

As humans, we need coping mechanisms, to offset our thinking and feeling processes. We need metaphors that will help us to make sense of what is happening. We need reassurance from time to time, and we need to be resilient. We need to be able to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and move on, so the rest of the herd doesn't become afraid.

And we need leaders to create a safe environment after a change occurs. If the leader is afraid, the followers are terrified. If the talk among the heard is destructive and fear based, then the herd becomes unsettled.

And maybe that's what the Zebra has figured out? Maybe the Zebra leader is defined as the one with a high level of emotional strength who can rise above the moment for the rest of the herd.

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Leadership, says that the difference is between IQ and EQ. IQ is a measure of our intelligence. EQ is a measure of our emotional intelligence. She says that IQ will get you into the herd, but EQ is what sets the leaders from the herd.

Emotional Intelligence (EI), often measured as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), is a term that describes the ability, capacity, skill or (in the case of the trait EI model) a self-perceived ability, to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.

EQ can be traced back to Darwin's work on the importance of emotional expression for survival. Early writers on the subject as far back as the 1900s used the term social intelligence to describe the skill of understanding and managing other people.

To put this in plain terms, Susan Scott talks about developing "Squid Eye" to know where and who the predators are, and what are they patterns so that we can be prepared and see the signs.

But beyond the theories and practices, the bottom line is we must learn to accept the moment and live in it for as long as it is and not let it linger. We must resist our human tendency to continue the beating after the beating. We must be defiant and resist our need to analyze the situation to the point where we are paralyzed. And we have to be defiant and not accept defeat.

The name "zebra" comes from the Old Portuguese word zevra which means "wild ass". Zebra's have never successfully been domesticated, unlike their closest relatives, horses and asses. And maybe that is the key being for "zebra-ic". All science aside, I can relate to the freedom loving Zebra.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Time to hit the bottle again.

Nail polish that is. Red to be exact. Not just any red. We're talking number 40, Sally Hanson ADVANCED HARD as NAILS (with nylon and retinol). So long french manicure. Shameless red, here I come.

So why the shift in attitude? Recently I have been agaw with the world around me. I find myself shocked, disappointed, paranoid, dismayed, and at times, ticked off. Why so emotional you ask? Good question. I don't know. Call it a weakness in the o-zone. Usually I have a thicker skin. Usually, I can shake it off, as long as I am religious with exercise and diet. But of late, I have been couch surfing, due to a nasty flu that took me down for a couple weeks. I had no choice but to sit and watch the world happening in front of me. The news was dismal. The weather was dismal. What can I say. Call me a Debbie Downer, but the world tends not to look rosy when one is steeped in Vick's, NyQuil, Tylenol, and where the Kleenex box is my most cherished accessory. Even my comfy blue sweats that are 4 sizes too large and are highly functional as pants and slippers hit the hamper. Alas, I am on the recovery side, and it's time to regroup.

I have had time to think and to read. I picked up the book - "FIERCE LEADERSHIP" by Susan Scott, which is subtitled, "A BOLD ALTERNATIVE TO THE WORST "BEST" PRACTICES OF BUSINESS TODAY." Yes, that's right. The letters are screaming off the page. She means business. The reason I like the book is she finds herself asking all the questions that I wonder about and talk about too. The question is this: Why is that no matter what we - the well intended do - we can't seem to resolve what ever it is that we are attempting to solve. World peace. Economic global destruction. Hunger. Cancer. Bad skin. Crime. You name it. We have many things to "solve" but we can't seem to get anywhere. She says that "best practice" is too blame, and that companies are spending millions of dollars on consultants and their ideas.

There are too many problems and that is the issue, no matter what the environment. But that's ok. It's important to know where and who the sharks are in the water. Understanding the threats that one is facing is the first step to making a decison to act.

So, we got that figured out. We can list our threats adnausium. Years ago we called it a SWOT. Today, we call it Risk Management and we can make it as complex as possible by adding subjective rating systems and multiplication factors that are designed to help leaders make decisions about what is most important. We are hooked on numbers. Rating systems can't be wrong, right? Wrong. Rating systems are all subjecive. Rating something is about a person's perspective. It is purely emotional and subjective. So here I am agreeing with Susan again. The risk management best practioneers tell us to rate things. If the person in charge doesn't know where to start, then . . . well, finish the sentence.

Let's face it. We know what to do. But we have paralyzed ourselves into believing we only have one chance, and we have to be right all the time. Clearly that is not the case. World wars have been raging on for hundreds of years despite best efforts.

We are mired in perfectionism. We think we have to be right, right now. But the truth is, no matter what the problem or threat, it will not be solved in a day. It takes days. Years. Centuries. Lifetimes.

Just start. Do something. Do not complain about it. Whine about it. Be a victim. Do not try to be a hero.

I know the tone of this is emotional, but this is not an emotional plea. This is a plea not to be emotional. To be intelligent. Active. Purpose. and Full of Integrity.

So we need courage. The courage to stop complaining, pointing fingers and waiting for someone else to solve these problems and just get busy doing something.

Hence the color red. Because the bull needs beckoning. It's time to get going.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Make it fun, and if it can't be fun, make it funny.

We are tooooooo serious. I have just spent the last week of my life planning and budgeting and I need to have fun. Don't get me wrong. I love to plan and budget - honestly.

But there is another thing that we need to do more of. Chill out. Relax. Smile. Have fun. Laugh. Guffaw. Whatever it takes - crack a smile. My rule of thumb when it comes to work is this: if's it's not fun, then stop doing it and find something that is. Or find a way to make it fun.

I am talking about enjoyment. Letting go. Being creative. Exercising the other side of the mind. Releasing some joy from within. Somehow in the world of adult-hood, we have forgotten how to play.

And this, I believe with all my heart, is the reason that we struggle with work and why it feels like work sometimes.

Now, I am an experience play-planner so I believe I can impart some wisdom here. A couple years ago, I co-developed an entertainment / sports venture that was all about play. It was an indoor race track concept that my husband was in love with, and that I helped create the business plan. The whole concept was about play. The plan included corporate events, where people could bring their teams and play and then break for their meeting. It was brilliant and there are not many places for adults to play and work.

Play requires trust. Letting go is cathartic. But most people don't let go unless they feel comfortable. But friends, you gotta let go, and the majority have to let go all at once. That is the only way to get over the awkwardness.

A couple years ago, we had a department party at a local pub after hours. We invited everyone. We sang, danced and just had a blast. That fun night actually was the beginning of a very productive team environment. After that, we smiled at each other more, and we laughed a little more, and yes, we actually worked together better because we showed each other the human side of ourselves.

Play also helps us get through the times when work is intense. In fact, if you work in a high stress environment, you gotta play. When I was in journalism school the environment was intense. 25 students competing for stories, equipment and deadlines. It was very competitive to the point where we really didn't like each other most of the time. But every 3 weeks, religiously, we would have a party at some one's house, and danced, imbibed in spirits, and just get silly. We survived J-school, and I believe it was because we learned how to play together and work together.

So go play. Dance more. Smile more. Be entertaining. Be entertained.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pass the Ketchup, Please

I have a big plate of words. About 2 years ago, I wrote a blog entry called "Structure Schmucture" through which I espoused my theory that traditional structure was not that important if it is possible to work horizontally across the organization.

Kind of like working in projects, where you pull in the subject matter experts and everyone does their part in executing a well designed plan. The team is held together by a plan of what will be accomplished, with his or her accountability outlined. The team comes together regularly to review progress and makes adjustments along the way.

While I still agree that is the ideal way of working, I have come to the most humble conclusion that I am . . . wrong. Recently I realized that this state of Nirvana that I wrote about can only exist if the fundamentals of leadership accountability are in place.

Without going textbook on you, people need to know what their job is so they can do it. One must not take the org chart for granted. It is the holy grail of the disorganized or discombobulated. The org chart defines the box that each person occupies so that person can do their job.

Org charts are more than a place to hang one's corporate hat; org charts are the place where one's purpose and value to the organization is formed, and org charts define the home team. Coming up with the org chart is not easy because there are people involved. Feelings. Lives. Livelihoods.

So I find myself eating my words, as I realize that defining structure is hard to do sometimes, and so important if it's not in place.

Do we have any Tabasco?

Monday, October 5, 2009

So this is Christmas . . .

This time of year life tends to get a bit heavy. We are up to our ying yang (yes that's a word) in hopes and expectations, timelines and details. The great part of this season is people tend to get together to celebrate; the not so great part is what we put ourselves through to "celebrate."

And sometimes people are sad because they just fall short of the fairy tale experience that Christmas has been sold to be. This time of year can be difficult for some as well. Many people do not have the resources to make sure their children have gifts to open, or a special dinner. Many people are sad this time of year because we miss those who cannot be with us.

So if you can, extend a helping hand to someone who could use it. Even if it's just a hug.