Guest Post by Michael Ziener: If You Had Superhero Powers…

If You Had Superhero Powers…, Would You Need to Ask What Am I “Supposed” to Be Doing For The Rest Of My Life? - by Michael Ziener

In a recent article, John Coyle asked a very good question: what are your superhero powers? I want to echo that question. To clarify, I am not asking if you can morph into any shape to camouflage yourself from the evil villain or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Rather, what differentiates you from the group? Every single one of us is unique. I can quickly think of some people who had incredible “superhero” strengths that altered the course of history. Who was the first person that popped into your mind?

  • Michael Jordan
  • Mozart
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Einstein
  • Ben Underwood

You’re probably asking yourself, who is Ben Underwood?

“Ben Underwood was diagnosed with retinal cancer at the age of two and had his eyes removed at the age of three. He was able to detect the location of objects by making frequent clicking noises with his tongue. He used it to accomplish such feats as running, playing basketball, riding a bicycle, rollerblading, playing football, and skateboarding.” http://www.benunderwood.com

Ben Underwood’s superhero strengths of listening and making sounds gave him the amazing ability to see with no eyes, no guide dog and no cane. But, he had to lose his sight before he could find his path.

So, how did I find my superhero strength? When I was in my 30’s and owned a marketing firm, I thought “This is it! I made it. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” I had a wife, a son, a home and my own company. Nope. I was the furthest away from where I was “supposed” to be, and I had no clue what was about to happen. My superhero strength was about to present itself.

First, some background. I had lost my entire family to cancer: mom, dad and grandparents. I had suppressed those emotions so deep; it was preventing me from realizing my own strength. Not strengths like being extroverted or empathetic, but something I possessed which ultimately turned into a reinvention of my career and myself. I figured out what I was supposed to be doing: why I am here.

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In 2007, I was looking through the lens of a video camera recording a documentary for “my company” at a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Chicago. I was filming a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer telling her story. As I was watching and listening to her take every breath in my headphones, a flood of emotion came out of nowhere that overwhelmed me. I was mentally taken back to the exact moment my father walked into my bedroom when I was 9 years old to tell me that my mother, age 39, in 1982, had died of stage 4 breast cancer. Drop video camera….

I decided to sell my company and in 2008, I became the CEO of that very same chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure©, charged with driving that organization through massive growth over a 4-5 year period. Through collaboration and my newfound strength of HELPING OTHERS, we went from $700k in annual revenues to $4m in revenues in under 5 years. These increased funds allowed women who did not have insurance to receive mammograms. I was helping. I was making an IMPACT. My pain became my passion.

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I have an undeniable ability or superhero strength to help others. To give more of myself than what I used to believe I could offer. I have found that I possess the ability to give hope and aid through a newly identified “servant heart.” My career serving others was born. I am no Michael Jordan. I may not impact the world like Martin Luther King, Jr. but, that is not the intention of this article. I want each of you to realize that you are unique and possess a strength that is non-traditional.

What differentiates you from the group? What is your remarkable ability that could potentially alter your life and bring you to a place of fulfillment that you never thought was achievable? What undiscovered superhero strength might you hold? What are you supposed to be doing?

-Michael Ziener

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Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers?

Are You Missing Your Hidden Strengths? What Are Your Superhero Powers?

The popularity of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, and  similar assessments, has given a great deal of exposure to the idea that “discovering strengths” can enhance  productivity, success and happiness.

A quick scan of the field, however, suggests that most  assessments that help people find their natural strengths and talents, tend to focus on cognitive or interpersonal capabilities. Characteristics like “analytic,” “empathetic,” “competitive,” “organized,” “intuitive,” and “extroverted,” have become the language de riguer to describe strengths and talents. Yet, these terms ignore a whole host of other characteristics that clearly play a role in the successes or failures of individuals.

Perhaps we need to expand the strengths playing field.

We know from ample research that people generally make “blink” or intuitive judgments about others based on a host of factors, many of which have nothing to do with their cognitive ability. For example, we know that height is a seriously influential predictor for deciding the next president.

What “non-traditional,” unnamed, or counter-intuitive strengths might you have? Think of other categories of talent and capability:

  • Physical characteristics: height, weight, presence, shape, posture, voice
  • Kinesthetic skills: balance, touch, fine motor control, spacial capability
  • Artistic talents: rhythm, tone, pitch, color sensitivity
  • Physical abilities: lung capacity,  fast twitch muscles,  eyesight, smell, taste

And then there is synesthesia – the mixing of some or all of these elements, where smells or sounds have a color, and people can see feelings or hear a silent activity.

When I think of my super-talented friends and acquaintances, I tend to find a weird intersection of common and uncommon capabilities melded in a counter-intuitive way. For instance, Tina DeSalvo is a tiny, tiny woman. Her physical presence is so diminutive that she could easily be dismissed and marginalized in the business world. Instead, she matches this non-threatening physical aspect with a calm, yet steely, confidence to lead boardrooms of men through exercises of vulnerability that would be nearly impossible with another facilitator.

Steve DeCaspers is the opposite – a large man with a round head and kind features. Steve can make any room in the world laugh and is one of the best MC’s I have ever seen.

Matt Stutzman has no arms, but through his stubborn refusal to consider himself handicapped holds the world record for the longest accurate archery shot, thanks to the strength, flexibility and stability of his legs.

David Rendall was repeatedly rebuked as a child for being a) unable to sit still, b) unable to stop talking, c) being the class clown, and d) unable to take direction. Now he travels the world where he a) never sits down, b) talks for a living, c) tells lots of jokes, and d) runs his own successful business as a public speaker.

Chris Callis was an average student in the classroom. But, one day, when I asked him to help me pack my moving truck, I saw spacial relationship genius of the finest order. It  would have taken me 3 trips to stack, pack and rearrange all my furniture and boxes in that small truck. Yet, Chris managed to reverse, rejigger, scissor and jigsaw into place all my worldly belongings in one trip in a small moving truck. Chris grew up assisting his father, who was an electrician, so he naturally had a talent with 3-D spacial relationships.

I could go on with story after story, but the point is that each of us was born with a series of talents, and has developed a set of skills across multiple spectrums. If we could weave a thread through ALL our superhero strengths and find an environment where we could use them, it would be like being superman on earth – we’d be unstoppable.

What are all your superhero powers?

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Is your current environment full of kryptonite?

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How To Maximize the Non-Linear Nature of Experiential Time and Live (almost) Forever

This is my life’s passion, please comment and let me know your thoughts.

-John

Looking for Your Strengths? Examine Your Weaknesses… (pt. 2 – Guest Post by David Rendall)

By David Rendall: The Rudolph Principle: Discovering Uniqueness by Embracing Weakness

Last year I was watching the classic TV version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my daughters and I realized that the story has a lot to teach us about strengths and weaknesses.

Just let the song run through your head for a minute . . .

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.”

The Rudolph Principle

Rudolph was different. He had a major obvious flaw. This is the same for most of us. We are too impatient or too messy or too silly or too serious.

“All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph, join in any reindeer games.”

Rudolph’s flaw made him unpopular and led to his rejection and isolation. No one wants to be rejected. So what do we do? We often try to hide our flaws and fix our weaknesses. We become ashamed. We wish that we could just be normal, like everyone else. We want to be accepted, so we try to change. This is just what Rudolph and his parents tried to do. They covered up his nose with a black rubber cone. It didn’t work. The red nose still shined through. It looked like Rudolph was destined for a life of pain and misery, but then the situation changed.

“Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight.”

Rudolph’s nose was a weakness, but it was also a strength in disguise. In the right situation, a “foggy Christmas Eve,” Rudolph’s nose was an irreplaceable advantage. That is why he got the call, from Santa himself, to save Christmas for the whole world.

He didn’t succeed in spite of his weakness; he succeeded because of his weakness. What would have happened to Christmas that year if Rudolph had gone to Beverly Hills for a nose job?

“Then all the reindeer loved him and they shouted out with glee, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in history.’”

Rudolph’s legacy, his enduring fame, was a result of his uniqueness.

Do you want more happiness, fulfillment, success and energy? Find your red nose. Look to your apparent weaknesses and flaws. They offer clues to your greatest strengths. Don’t try to hide them or fix them. Just look for the right situation, the one that offers a perfect fit between who you are and what is required. This takes courage, to wait, to endure ridicule, to be rejected by others. But remember the end of the story. Santa called on Rudolph and he saved Christmas.

Looking for Your Strengths? Examine Your Weaknesses… (pt. 1)

Matt Stutzman:

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In many ways, Matt Stutzman is just your average guy. A hardworking, married, 33-year old with three children, Matt, like many fathers, goes to work, changes diapers, hunts and fixes cars.

However, unlike most other fathers, Matt Stutzman has no arms. Born with a rare medical condition, Matt has had to learn to navigate life without the benefit of arms, opposable thumbs and everything in between.

Clearly this is a very tangible weakness that created significant adversity for Matt to overcome. Matt had to learn to do all of life’s tasks — mundane or significant — without the benefit of arms and hands. Tying shoes, opening doors, driving, feeding himself, all of this, Matt learned to do with his feet.

What is fascinating about Matt’s story is that in his case, his significant weakness is also an extraordinary and fantastic strength. In 2012, Matt became an Olympic silver medalist and he holds a world record…

…in Archery.

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How is it possible that a man without arms holds a world record in a sport for the “armed”? Matt’s legs and feet are nearly every bit as nimble as the average man’s arms and hands, but are two — or perhaps three — times as strong. So, Matt can shoot more arrows in practice than your average archer without getting tired, use a greater level of resistance on his compound bow when shooting, and hold his aim steadier than, well, anyone on the planet.

Consider this: Matt’s greatest weakness, when analyzed in a new light, is also his greatest strength.

Seeking to find your strengths? Sometimes the best place to start is in your weaknesses.

What Strength Will You Focus on in 2015?

“It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.” (J. C. Watts)

In 2015, I will focus on developing some relatively newly-discovered strengths and deliberately designing around the well-trodden paths of my weaknesses.

  • Strengths: I will spend more time writing and speaking (a relatively newly-discovered strength). Both of these activities fill me with energy and purpose, and bring color into my life. I have already discussed this with my employer and designed my job description to focus on these areas.
  • Weaknesses: I will stop pretending that I have significant strengths in detail orientation and follow-through. I will rely on people who are strong in these areas, so that I can dream big and still deliver.

Please share: What strength will you focus on in 2015? Or what weakness are you chasing that you will let go or turn over to someone else?  Please share with our community by commenting below.

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The 1, 2, 3’s on Leading a Strength-Focused Life

The 1 / 2 / 3’s on Leading a Strength-Focused Life

  1. What are your greatest strengths? Do you know what they are? (If not, why not?)

“Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his/her greatest strength.” (Marcus Buckingham)

  1. Is there a strength or talent you have let lie dormant or that you need to focus on in 2015? 

“You will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses.” (Marcus Buckingham)

  1.  Have you been pursuing a weakness at work or in another area of your life you need to let go in 2015? 

 “It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.” (J. C. Watts)

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Want help finding your strengths?   http://strengthssummit2015. eventbrite.com

A Perspective on Time and Speed: Guest Post from Tom Stat

Tom is a great friend, colleague and former partner at IDEO in Chicago and an horologist in his own right. A few end-of-the-year thoughts from Tom:

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As the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun, marking what we call one full year, and we somewhat arbitrarily celebrate the beginning of a new year (there’s no start or finish line in our orbit around the sun), I thought I’d try to put all this in perspective.

First, we make up this thing we call “time.” Someone once said we did so this so that everything doesn’t happen all at once. There is no now, no past and no future. Time exists only as our sensory experience of mass and space. And mass and space depend on distance – where things are, so to speak, in relationship to other objects, how fast you may be moving relatively, etc.

In the vast expanses of the Universe, we are tiny little beings gravitationally stuck to the surface of a tiny little planet, orbiting an average star 93 million miles away. And our star is one of over 200 billion stars in a relatively average galaxy of stars (we call our galaxy the Milky Way because on a very clear night a swath of “milkiness” seems to span the sky – this is us looking at the billions of other stars that make up our galactic disk “edge on”). There are over 100 billion other galaxies in our known Universe. There may be other universes (I suspect they are made up mostly of lost socks, keys, wallets and mittens)

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Despite our isolation, we’re moving pretty fast.

The Earth’s rotation on its axis (one day) means that you’re moving at 1000 mph.
The Earth’s rotation around the sun (one year) is at a velocity of 66,000 mph. 
In our galaxy’s local neighborhood of stars, our solar system is moving at a out 43,000 mph.
 And our whole galaxy is spinning (one galactic year) and based on our location, we’re moving at about 483,000 mph.

Add all that up and at some point, with respect to some other Galaxy, we’re all moving at close to 600,000 miles per hour through space!

Sounds fast, but our galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 100,000 light years in diameter (that’s 587 quadrillion (after a trillion) miles across). So even at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second!) it would take 100,000 years to get to the other side. At a mere 600,000 mph, better pack a lunch.

So, if time seems to sometimes fly by and sometimes stand still, perhaps this is why.

One Resolution for 2015: “Race Your Strengths”

“Race Your Strengths” was a refrain repeated daily for decades by Mike Walden, the head coach for a small cycling club in Detroit Michigan. During those 25+ years, this small club produced over 120 national champions, 12 world champions, 10 Olympians and 4 Olympic medals. There was no mysterious talent pool in Detroit during this period, and all of the athletes were local. Nonetheless, by a relentless focus on helping people find their strengths as athletes, this one club produced more than 25% of all national cycling medalists for a 25 year period.

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For 2015 I propose we make only one resolution – the kind of resolution that “floats all boats.” For 2015 I propose that we follow Mike Walden’s advice and extend it beyond athletics. Let’s design our lives to align closer to our strengths and natural talents, and design around those activities that are true weaknesses. When we are operating in sync with our native capabilities, we are more resilient: we can handle greater amounts of stress because we are filling our bucket with energy and positive feedback. When we are pursuing activities that are in line with our strengths, we experience more moments of “flow” where time speeds by in the present, buts creates a treasure trove of significant memories. When we are “racing our strengths” we have more and greater chances to have life-defining moments of “really living,” experiences of such meaning and gravity, that time slows, stops, or even expands.

Life is short: time to race your strengths. 

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Do Your Strengths Have a Color? Talents and Synaesthesia…

Synaesthesia is one of my new favorite words and concepts.

As Wickipedia defines it, synaesthesia (or synesthesia) “is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.”

Synesthetes often experience this phenomenon in the course of every day life – vowels, for example for many synesthetes have colors where as consonants don’t. But I’m particularly interested in the intersection of synaethesia and strengths and talents. What if your strengths and areas of talent have a color or a sound, or both?

For years I’ve been describing my feelings when in a state of “flow” or deeply immersed in an area of strength as having a color – often a vibrant blue or yellow or orange and conversely moments of weakness as colorless, black or red. What I never talked about and never knew how to articulate is that in these “photisms” or “chromesthesia” episodes I actually SAW these colors, tasted and heard these colors. In fact, my personal form of synaethesia involves color and sound – a hum, or thrumming permeates my brain and I see what I’m doing tinged with vibrant colors of orange, yellow and violet blue that has a fractal nature about it. Examples:

“The pixels of light and darkness captured in the mind’s eye are filled with the pallet of color of the results – hence the memories of winning somehow pull from the yellows, blues and golds, success and color implying a relatively easier effort, while the losses are inevitably painted with the charcoals of those chiaroscuro efforts – blackened, brutish, pain and disappointment closely linked.”

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“I choose to repaint this race differently. And in so doing what I did accomplish was a unique mastery of the instrument of my body. For over two hours, I played it like the first violinist – drawing out of it with every lash of the straight bow every possible note, every emotion, every tremble of resonance the space of ribs and air and bones was capable of producing.”

Conversely when I’m suffering or pursuing a weakness, color and sound disappears… an example:

“The halls of pain echo for an experienced athlete. The suffering is nothing and yet is everything. The pain is white. It is black. It lacks color or sibilant sound – just reverberations reflecting off the porcelain tiles of the stony discipline of the psyche. But blood, glittering red-black blood, pulses through hidden rivulets in the gutters of the mind.”

As a kid when I would ride my bike – whenever there was a sprint or an acceleration I would hum inside my head. In the early days it was sort of a motorcycle sound and I assumed it was an artifact not dissimilar to putting a playing card in the spokes to sound like a motor, but over time I just realized I did the same thing when skating or when painting or when working certain subjects in school. Now I get it when I’m writing, riding, racing or traveling.

So an oft repeated question is, “how do I know if something I’m doing is a strength?” “How do I know if something I’m doing is a weakness, or just a skills gap?”

Perhaps one way to know might to be to simply ask, “what color is it? what does it sound like?”

I close every speech on finding your strengths with the following advice: When seeking your strengths, “pay attention to your internal hum: you’ll know it when you see it, feel it, hear it.”

PS: this whole post was a medium blue, tinged with some yellow.

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