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Category Archives: Decision Making

Draw to See and Think

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Winston Churchill had passion for painting. Corporate leaders doodle on paper while listening at meetings. Someone tells you to sketch out your ideas to prepare for a presentation. What is the link?

I recently visited Venice. A friend told me before I departed for Italy,

Take a sketch book and draw what you see to understand what you see.

What did he mean?

Jonah Lehrer relates a story about the connection between drawing and seeing and thinking in Imagine, How Creativity Works. Lehrer met up and spoke with Milton Glaser, the American graphic designer of the I ♥ NY logo. Glaser tells a story about his realization that his sketch of his mother showed her as she really looked, not as he remembered her in his mind’s eye.

 But as Glaser stared at her face and then compared what he saw to the black marks on the paper, her appearance slowly came into view. He was able to draw her as she was, and not as he expected her to be. “That sketch taught me something interesting about the mind,” he says. “We’re always looking, but we never really see.” Although Glaser had looked at his mother ever single day of his life, he didn’t see her until he tried to draw her. “When you draw an object, the mind becomes deeply, intensely attentive,” Glaser says. “And it’s that act of attention that allows you to really grasp something, to become fully conscious of it. That’s what I learned from my mother’s face, that drawing is really a kind of thinking.”

Churchill painted to escape from his political turmoils into the countrysides and oceanscapes that were the subjects of his paintings. Corporate leaders doodle to connect dots and make transitions into new way of thinking and doing. I drew Venice to see what captured my attention and interests.

Take time to draw and doodle. They are your visual language connecting you to the world. As Sunni Brow says visual language helps us to understand information and solve problems.  Use a pen and paper and learn what you really see and think.


Diffusing Criticism

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Why do you approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing?

I recently spoke about diffusing criticism and opened by asking that question. At an unguarded railroad crossing your life is at stake. When you receive harsh criticism, your self-image and reputation can be at stake if you act wrongly.

How is criticism received in your brain?

We have a composite brain broadly described by Bert Decker to consist of the First Brain, the seat of our emotions, and the New Brain, the seat of our reasoning. When the First Brain and the New Brain conflict, we do stupid things. Have you read about a motorist that tried to beat a fast train to a railroad crossing and died as a result of his stupid behavior? The primitive running down a gazelle on the savannah takes control over the reasoning motorist.

In the same way, our First Brain urges us to take stupid actions to criticism. We may withdraw to stop communicating. We may counterattack, thinking we’ve been attacked. Or, we may rationalize away the criticism, missing an opportunity to grow and learn.

How will you handle criticism when your are at that potentially dangerous crossing?

First Brain Engagement

Criticism raises your pulse, races your mind, and can make you a deer in the headlights. That’s your First Brain taking charge of the situation. Although the First Brain is deaf, dumb, and blind, it demands you recognize and work with it. We speak to it through our behaviors. Do what you’d do at an unguarded railroad crossing: Stop, Look, and Listen.

  • Stop – Get off your cellphone, look away from your computer, put away distractions to signal your First Brain to pay attention. The First Brain reacts to criticism by increasing and decreasing respiration as it prepares you to run or to hide. Take control of your breath and count your breaths to convince the First Brain its plan to run or hide is unnecessary. Focus your attention on being present.
  • Look – Give the person your full attention as you focus on eyes, body language, and speech. You can tell a lot from eye contact and body language, such as “Is this person being honest with me?” “Is the tone of voice consistent with what’s said?”
  • Listen – Tell yourself it’s okay to listen. Criticism can only hurt you by the way you react. Engage your First Brain and New Brain. “Is the eye contract and body language consistent with what’s being said?” “What are the key points that you hear?”

New Brain Engagement

People criticize to motivate change or to punish. Punishment is not a healthy dialogue intended to improve your performance. Disengage from punishing criticism, just as you would avoid a dangerous railroad crossing. If the person intends to help you improve your performance, you’ve got to engage your New Brain to understand what’s said and how you can benefit by it.

  • Repeat and paraphrase – Are you sure you heard or understood what’s said? Repeat or paraphrase what you’ve heard to confirm what’s been said. If done with sincerity and a proper tone of voice, the other person will appreciate that you are listening and thinking about what’s said. Pilots repeat to ground control what they hear. If you were approaching a railroad crossing, and your passenger mumbled, “I think a train is approaching,” you would immediately repeat, “Did you say that a train is approaching?” What works in the air and on the ground, works when you receive criticism.
  • Ask questions –  You learned in school that asking questions reinforces your understanding of the materials. Asking questions also coordinates your New Brain and First Brain, as you signal that it’s okay to go into unfamiliar feelings and understandings.

Deal with Feelings First

You’ll notice that your first reaction to criticism is to engage the First Brain. That’s counter to what we’re taught in school and often at home – think and analyze first, sympathize last. If you want to learn from sincere criticism, you’ve got to be present, and to be present you’ve got to be emotionally present.

The heart has its reason which reason knows not of. ~ Blaise Pascal

As you coordinate your feelings and thinking, you are prepared to empathize with the feelings of the other person. Perhaps the reason for the criticism is a perceived hurt or slight that can’t be expressed in words. If you refrain from judgment and know the other person’s point of view, you can distinguish the valid emotions from the reasoned criticism you received. A simple apology – not a denial – is the answer when the person feels you caused a hurt.

Behavior Tips

Your behaviors telegraphs your state of mind. A few simple ones can be a life-saver when you are unsure of the purpose of the criticism.

  • Remain calm
  • Show respect
  • Smile
  • Use an open body posture


You approach criticism the same way you approach an unguarded railroad crossing, because a bad response can damage your self-image and reputation. We’re all aware of what happened when a candidate for the presidency reacted poorly to criticism. We think, how could the candidate have be so stupid?

Diffusing and learning from criticism is a valuable skill for everyone.

Six Practices to keep your momentum and stay in the game

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Mark Guterman

Mark Guterman, career consultant and JVS coach and trainer, shared his intelligence, experience, and wit with SFPCN member on May 17, 2011 in our community room at Valencia Gardens. Mark advised the job seeker and career changer to maintain momentum and accept that the irrational process requires trust rather than control. Stay in the game, Mark said, for the fun, the opportunities, and the improvement in your attitude, mindfulness, and self-esteem.

Mark is a avid Giants fan, reader, and skier who learned to sky at 65. He’s reading up on the American Civil War.

He offered Six Practices to keep your momentum and stay in the game.

Be responsible

Ask yourself, What is it here that I can control, and take responsibility for that. Why pursue what you can’t control when your attention and energies get results when focused on where you have control? By that process, you acknowledge that you have choice, are the author of your destiny, and build discipline and self-esteem.

Stay relaxed and alert

Recognize that life has flow and flows can be fast and slow. Develop an appropriate sense of pace and urgency to match those flows, while using your self-discipline to try to not panic when overwhelmed and rest when needed. The job search is de-energizing and requires pacing. Learn to stop, breathe, and exercise to put life in balance. Develop a mindfulness to work hard and play fun.

Keep your goals both focused and diffused

Develop alternative life scenarios by having an A Plan, B Plan, and C Plan. Create those plans by writing down one vision statement after another, take a break, and then plan for the unexpected. Make a practice of seeing what’s in front of you and well as what’s ahead of you. Life takes many turns, so work on seeing its context and patterns as you move forward. You can find context by answering the question, How am I impacted by ______? The blank may be a culture, company, trend, or financial situation.  You find patterns using your ability to connect events and circumstances as you see them.

Trust the process

Trust is the hardest skill to practice for perfectionists and controlling personalities. Embrace the power of transformational change and be disciplined to keep moving. Understand that moving is sometimes not in the direction you anticipated and can require you to let go. If you learn to know yourself, build up your self-esteem, appreciate the power of change, you can trust the process.

Keep your sense of humor

Churchill promised the British blood, sweat, and tears when least wanted but most needed. We all experience difficult times not of our choosing, but how we meet those times keeps up our momentum. Dance halls and odeon theatrics flourished in Britain during the Second World War. Have several good laughs a day to keep your sense of self-importance in check while realizing and appreciating the absurdity of many of life’s challenges. Humor helps you stay in the game and be ready for a wild or illegal pitch.

Allow moments of inspiration and awe

Whoever or whatever your higher power, take time everyday for silence, meditation, and prayer. Allow your sense of divine to guide your work while remembering your journey is as meaningful as the destination you reach.

Mark Guterman wrapped up his presentation with a quote from Carlos Castaneda:

A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.

Thank you, Mark, for a learned and inspiration talk on flow and movement in our lives.

The Mental Game of Baseball by Dorfman and Kuehl

A good life like a winning baseball game is the result of being alert, planning, and great execution.

Dorfman and Kuehl write about how to be a better baseball player. What they teach the reader can apply to being a better person in the game of life.

Your Building Blocks to Confidence

  • Self-evaluation: What do I have to learn and improve?
  • Goals: Fundamentals converted to functional goals.
  • Preparation: Conscientious, positive, effective work at the task or activity.
  • Persistence: Continued commitment to achievement that builds confidence.

Establishing goals

What a proper goal does:

  • Encourages performance
  • Is measurable and adjustable
  • Can be a daily and long range goal.
  • Encourages hard work and rewards efforts.
  • Converts easily to a mental picture of how to win the goal.

Types of goals

  • Process goal – step necessary to win: directly focus on that goal and control that micro-situation
  • Focus and control – focus on specific performance and behavior, including body actions – hit the breaking pitch better.
  • Self improvement – focus on fundamentals and judge success by own specific goals and actions.

Positive Practices in Your Life

  1. Think about what you are thinking and imagining , and consider what you say and visualize about yourself will determine your behavior and performance.
  2. Speak to yourself as “I have decided” “I chose to” in place of “I have to”, “I must”
  3. When something is not working, ask “What can I learn from this?”
  4. Be aware of your excuses and ask why you need them; practice catching justifications, explanations, blame and work on eliminating them.
  5. Practice taking risks and accepting consequences; watch how good and bad models deal with personal responsibility.
  6. Define what you can and cannot control, and act accordingly.
  7. Examine and judge yourself honestly: Tom Seaver: “I am my own kangaroo court, I am my own judge and jury.”
  8. Accept that the root of your behavior lies in your choices, and claiming to make no choice (not taking responsibility) is a choice, the wrong one.

Flash Foresight, How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible by Daniel Burrus

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Futurist and technologist Daniel Burrus proposes in his book, Flash Foresight, How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible, that an entrepreneur can identify and profit by studying today to know what will sell tomorrow.

His steps to making the future your key for success are:

1. Start with a certainty using use hard trends to see what’s coming.
2. Anticipate how events will unfold basing your strategies on what you know about the future.
3. Transform today’s ideas, methods, and tools using technology driven change to your advantage.
4. Take your biggest problem and skip it, because it’s not the real problem.
5. Go opposite on the path not traveled to look where no one else is looking to see what no one else sees and do what no one else is doing.
6. Redefine and reinvent to leverage your uniqueness in new and powerful ways.
7. Direct your future,  else someone else will.

His advice could be restated as base your goals by what you see and know, create a plan using the best methods and skills, go around or redefine roadblocks, and believe in your ideas, because you are your best mentor.

Turnaround, Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games by Mitt Romney

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Why I Read This Book

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is running for president of the United States. I wanted to learn more about him. I remember his father George W. Romney, former Governor of Michigan. Romney Sr. sabotaged his own campaign for the presidency with the unfortunate but true remark that U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam had brainwashed him on the war. He was a different kind of candidate for office, and I wanted to know what kind of candidate is Mitt.

The organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics thrust the roles of president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC)  as Mitt Romney tells the story. Financial scandal inside of SLOC required the organizers to replace its leaders with an independent leader free from the appearance of corruption. Mitt was their choice.


Mitt Romney has an elegantly simple formula for leadership that consists of vision, values, and motivation. The leader defines the vision and the group values, while motivating the group to execute the mission consistent with the vision and values. A leader derives 20% of his authority from his or her title and 80% from the decisive action he or she takes.

These are inspiring thoughts and shows that Mitt has empathy for the member of his team. This quote from his book reminds me of his father’s unfortunate brainwashing comment:

One of my early decisions would have a big impact on how the organization viewed my leadership. … Think about it: when you take a job to perform a service, not to earn a paycheck or win a jackpot, you don’t really care a lot about how people think of you. You have the absolute luxury to do exactly what you think is right. p. 56

The more fortunate wording about caring about people and doing what is right would have been,

a service job requires you to focus on people, because they are your #1 concern. Your task is to persuade people  your vision is right.

If Mitt refers to not caring about the negative comments by outsiders and soon to be outsiders, he’s still off base. I believe a core skill for leader is to stop those people from becoming active enemies by listening to their concerns and showing your decision incorporates those concerns even if you reject their advice. Better a pacified critic, than an active enemy.

Another core skill for a leader is to recognize that the people you lead know their interests and needs better than you. A leader is not elected to do exactly what he thinks is right. He’s elected to serve the people’s values, interests and needs while moving them to towards his/her vision. Abraham Lincoln envisioned a union without slavery and Barack Obama believes gays have the same civil rights as heterosexuals. But, leaders persuade people that doing right will best serves their values, interests, and needs. People don’t want leaders to tell them what is right.


Mitt grew up in a Mormon family dedicated to service to his family, church, and community. Mitt’s father, mother, and grandparents practiced service and staked their reputations on service. Yet, in the end, Mitt writes a capstone to his philosophy on service in the paragraph quoted above about not caring a lot about how people think of you. George Romney would have written that differently.

Mitt writes a lot about his family’s history.  He is a dedicated family man, and wants to be respected for those qualities.

I read his book to learn about his leadership examples, ideas, and style gained in business.


Bain Capital

His recollections on becoming a successful business person take second place to those about his family, though his boss at Bain Capital, Bill Bain, influenced Mitt enough to be quoted throughout the book:

  • Trust your gut, because there’s a scientific basis for it.
  • Show you care about money, and your team will also.
  • Round team members’ flat spots (counter a member’s weakness with another’s strengths) and round flat sides (get someone else to do what you don’t do well, attributed to Tom Stemberg of Staples). Curiously, Mitt approves the advice, then writes he didn’t have time to follow it with SLOC.
  • Most things can be fixed, but smart or dumb is forever. A curious sentiment for a leader to harbor.

Mitt Romeny shares the formula that he used at Bain Capital to turnaround the companies in financial distress, writing that he used that same formula to save the 2002 Winter Olympic:

Perform a strategic audit – a complete review of every aspect of the business that can take months.

Build your team – select the right people, build unity, and motivate them.

Focus, focus, focus – don’t try to do too many things; do what’s important and do that well.

Guiding Principles at SLOC

Mitt published in the book the excellent guiding principles of SLOC that were place on every SLOC desk.


  • Involve all appropriate stakeholders in each project/issue.
  • Think horizontally, not vertically, within SLOC’s structure.
  • Consider other viewpoints and find win-win solutions.
  • Emphasize and recognize team success.
  • Be helpful to others.

Pride and Passion

  • Seek Gold Medal performance in your own job.
  • Love what you do.
  • Relish each small victory and achievement.
  • Realize you impact on history while at SLOC.


  • Be honest, direct and respectful in all your communication.
  • Accept feedback, avoid defensiveness.
  • Seek prompt resolution to issues with others in a personal and professional manner.
  • Listen more, talk a little less.


  • Be loyal to those not present.
  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Don’t have hidden agendas.
  • Respect and value diversity in others.

Fun and Celebration

  • Take your work seriously, not yourself.
  • Encourage laughter at all meetings.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Look for opportunities to include others.
  • Celebrate those who demonstrate SLOC’s Guiding Principles.


I learned that Mitt Romney is a person driven by details and a sense of entitlement. He is an expert at identifying and categorizing details and then prioritizing those categorized details to achieve the goal. He is a terrific networker. He knows how to round the skills and experience of experts in business, government, social welfare, and people management to achieve goals.

One example of his family’s reputation for categorizing and prioritizing is his paraphrasing from his great-grandfather Miles P. Romney’s biography:

Loyalty to country and to his church was a cardinal virtue…. His was the assumption that men should be students of both state and church government in order that they might intelligently carry on in harmony with the fundamental law and discipline of each and not be like “dumb driven cattle,” exercising no mind of their own. p. 9

A Romney presidency would a presidency driven by his personality to categorize details and to select the right people to achieve goals. The question is can a turnaround formula successfully used at Bain Capital and SLOC work govern the American people?

Praise for the Speakers at the Division E Speech Contest, Every One a Winner

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The International Speech Contest for Division E of District 4 of Toastmasters International was held on April 8, 2011 at 1455 Market Street, San Francisco. Though one speaker won the contest, all five speeches captured and motivated me to write these summaries.

Scott Goering, How to Give a Speech: Master the three essentials of public speaking outlined by Scott, and you can master the world:

  • Be comfortable with your body, and your gestures will come naturally.
  • Internalize your message, and the audience will know you are authentic.
  • Turn it on, and show that you are a motivator that people want to hear.

Michael Dart, Coffee with Nikki: Michael struggled with and closed down from fears about life and death. Confronting those fears hindered his personal fulfillment. He began change by knowing he had to put aside his expectations limited by fear and to embrace what life delivered. Change in practice began when he agreed to mentor Nikki, an orphaned Vietnamese-African America outcast from Vietnam who became a street person in San Francisco. When he  learned how Nikki celebrated the unbearable, he began to ask crucial questions beyond his fears such as, “Where do people like Nikki go who don’t fit in our society?” Finding the answer to this question gave Michael unexpected rewards.

Maria Leone, What does it take to make it?: Sharing with us personal stories at once horrifying and edifying from her life and death battle with breast cancer, Maria told us what it took for her to win at life:

  • Fall in love with learning.
  • Stay the course.
  • Say Yes! to life.

John McKnight, Values: Recounting the incredible life of Emily Warren Roebling, wife of Washington Roebling, the reputed builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. When Washington was unable to complete his duties as the lead engineer, Emily selflessly and silently took his place to complete what was then a man’s job. She taught herself higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. When Washington’s superiors wanted to remove him from the project, Emily spoke for him and persuaded them to keep him on so that she could finish his work. John McKnight reflected that when he is in doubt about his career, he meditates on the values that led Emily Roebling to success, a lifetime devotion to learning, leading, and communicating.

Anthony Hogan, Home: Modeled on the lyrics of Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Anthony recounted his life’s path while introducing us to his kinfolk in Georgia, his intellectual awakenings on the East Coast, and his growing taste for the sensuality of living a full life in San Francisco. Redding’s song became a metaphor for the pain and happiness in Anthony’s life.

Each speaker delivered the #1 speech.