Jennifer B. Davis
I read an article recently that was talking about the global impact of recycling and said that people talk about "throwing things away", but there is no place called "away." That got me thinking, where is away?

"Throw it away"
A common phrase basically describing a process by which unseen elves dispose of trash. No one thinks much about where it goes, but I think we are all aware that in fact "away" is not a place you can store trash. Eventually, it has to find a resting place in a landfill, a recycling center, or other location to be dealt with. The growing population centers, increases in packaged good consumption, and very present global economy make "away" closer to home. This leads to the ever dreaded "landfill in my backyard." So, it seems that the term "throw it away" is a myth.

"Get away from it all"
A phrase used to describe a tropical vacation or a roadtrip. In either case, getting away from one thing, just means going somewhere else. If the escape isn't physical (but rather found in the pages of good literature or a dip in a bubble bath), then the separation between "away" and "here" is just one of attitude. So, it would seem that "getting away from it all" is a myth.

"In a land far, far away..."
This fairy tale opener got top billing as Fiona's hometown in Shrek 2 (itself a piece of fiction). I guess this phrase which imparts a distance in both geography ("far, far away") and time ("once upon a time") is meant to imply that the story being told is one of adventure and romance. Somthing far removed from the mundane and routine lives that are lived in this time, in this place. So, "far, far away" is a mythical place.

As I have been thinking about this, I am amazed how frequently we use the word "away" when in fact it has no meaning at all. It is an "out of sight, out of mind" place where inconvient, dirty, or bothersome things can be sent without any thought to the ramifications. However, as we consider our world and our society, it is clear that if "away" wasn't already mythical, it would at least be going extinct.

So I suppose the admonition to "Go Away," could just as well be "Go live happily ever after...somewhere else!"
Jennifer B. Davis
My own experience, and that of the icons of business about whom we read about in the papers and business school case studies, would confirm that as you rise in position and influence in the organization, the fewer people will tell you the truth. In front line positions, you are faced with truth and facts all the time: customers vent with call center agents, sales people struggle to push shipments to meet customer expectations, and administrative staff know the effect of the management style of the company's leaders. The failures of businesses, many of them spectacular failures, can often be traced to the leader making the decisions being sheltered from the metrics, the explanations, or the anecdotal information that might inform good decisions or course corrections. Perhaps people are too afriad to contradict the leader's ideas. Perhaps the office of the "President" or "General Manager" is too intimidating. Perhaps, they just don't care enough about the business or the leader to tell them the truth.

It is a blessing to have a team that is capable, smart, informed, effective, and accomplished. It is a greater blessing to have a team that is capable, smart, informed, effective, and accomplished, who will tell you when you are not and what you can do about it.

The same applies to personal friendship on many levels. You have to care enough to tell a friend that their spinach salad is ruining their smile. You have to care deeply to take a friend aside to ask about her marriage, his children's behavior, or a concern you may have about a financial decision they are considering.

An accomplished leader for whom I work told me recently that the secret to not "running a business into the ground" is to assemble the best team possible and build a culture where they are not afriad to tell you that you are full of it. I would add that two more things are required to make that work. First of all, you have to leave your ego at the door, which enables the culture where differing opinions from yours are valued and employees with ideas or concerns feel safe to air them. The second thing that is required: your team also has to care. If honest feedback from capable people (the right "people on the bus," as Jim Collins put it) creates the business performance you want, then the job of the leader is to inspire trust and commitment to the extent that people will overcome the natural tendencies to say "yes," and will tackle the hard and tedious task of saying "no."

I hope that I have colleagues in my professional life and friends in my personal life that will tell me the honest, sincere truth...even if I don't want to hear it. I hope I always want to hear it.
Jennifer B. Davis
I recently heard a speaker from FranklinCovey at MOPS talk about the importance of distinguishing between what is "important" and what is "urgent." Seth Godin just published a little article along the same topic saying that most of things we do that we consider important and urgent, are actually neither and can't even be recalled after the fact.

These caused me to reflect on some advice my grandmother has given her children and grandchildren on many occassions: opt for the memory. She says that in her 85+ years, the things that she remembers are the most precious. So, when you have an opportunity to do something that represents an adventure, a challenge, a chance to build a relationship, etc, always opt for that option which will produce a positive memory. A memory that will bring joy to other moments in your life.

The natural extension of this is taking the opportunity to build positive memories for others. After all, life's choices do not just leave their impression on us. They leave a lasting impression on others as well. What a powerful truth to harness!
Jennifer B. Davis
I heard someone editorialize this week that no one is capable to act inconsistent with their perception of themselves for a prolonged period of time. Apparently, this author's well-researched view was that you can not sustain something that is internally consistent with what you think you are about, what your capable of, or what you believe your choices to be. The speaker said it in a way that made me think that these perceptions were "fixed" and although they could be influenced, they could never be substantially changed.

In some ways, this may be true. You certainly see a lot of example of this in real life. People believing themselves to be incapable and then proving themselves to be incapable, time and time again. A vicious cycle to be sure. One of the best interviewing techniques I have used is one that looks for patterns of performance and work style, even as they were demonstrated in childhood or early in the prospect's positions that are all, but irrelevant to the position for which the interview is being conducted. Human Resources research and the Effective Interviewing techniques, have shown that past behavior is the only consistent indicator of future performance. High achievers with good work patterns will continue to achieve.

Yet, I don't want to believe it is true. I want to think people can reinvent themselves, with sheer will or good mentoring, to act differently and then be different. This is the foundation of discipleship. This is the foundation of education, isn't it? That a person can better themselves, see demonstration of improvement, be encouraged to further better themselves. I want to think that a Harry Higgins could take a scruffy-faced and sour-tongued Eliza Doolittle and pass her off as a dutchess at a society ball and help her transform herself into a larger version of her previous self. A virtuous cycle.

Is is possible? How does one kick-start a transformation to overcome the inertia of damaging (or at best, useless) self-perceptions?
Picture from Lynn Meade.