Creating Otherness


How can we build with our differences?

Can we create opportunities to make discoveries about “the other?”  

How can we bridge the divide between diverse communities?

While the media doesn’t cover the story of people creating new possibilities around the world, they are!

In August I joined Dr. Patch Adams for my second humanitarian clown trip to Costa Rica. I brought two colleagues who also practice the social therapeutic approach to human development and social change. We relate to people of all ages and life circumstances as social performers and creators of their lives.

My colleague, Dr. Tony Perone, and I co-facilitated a workshop at the University of Costa Rica about the performance activism community. We led a room of students, professors, artists and community organizers in new performances of our shared humanity (one of which is pictured above). You can read more about it here:

I attended the CESTEMER (Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research) conference in Chicago as an educator, community activist and improviser (I’m not a scientist). The keynote presentations from the National Academy of Sciences were entertaining! One was about integrating science, math and engineering with the arts and humanities and “Hooray for Hollywood Science” was about The Science & Entertainment Exchange. This grouping of scientists, artists, and educators moved out of our comfort zones and embraced “the other.” We created new opportunities for growth.

Also in Chicago I met with a close colleague, David Cherry, the City Leader of the Chicago All Stars Project. He spoke to me with enormous passion about his work bringing together the city’s poorest youth with affluent donors to create new conversations and new possiblities.

Most recently, I attended a talk by Jackie Salit of independent called Finding Otherness. Jackie travels around the country speaking to independents (the “others”) who are often left out of the mainstream political process. A “postmodern agitator,” she’s creating new performances of otherness in the political arena.

Jackie shared a final thought about what’s needed to create otherness (along with this image from the film Zorba the Greek):

We all need a little madness to create new sources of political, cultural and emotional power.


Is Recruiting Part of Your Marketing Plan?

Marketing is an important and overlooked aspect of recruiting, so I was happy to see this article in Inc. 5 Ways to Recruit Like a Marketer.  The best recruiters are creative – they function as marketers, storytellers and public relations consultants to their clients at the same time they are assessing talent and culture fit.

Times have changed and if you want to find top talent, you have to be creative. (How Recruiting is Being Disrupted, And Why You Should Care)

In the same way that an outside marketing or PR firm develops a company’s brand to sell their goods and services, a creative recruiter delivers a compelling story/message to the marketplace.

In recent years recruiting has become transaction-oriented rather than a creative, relationship-oriented activity. Having conversations about career opportunities with prospective candidates is, indeed, a creative activity – a performed, improvisational conversation.  Sadly in some cases the conversation between a prospective candidate and recruiter is overly “scripted” and the person on the other end of the phone quickly ends the call.

Marketers carefully study their audience to understand their attitudes and behaviors in order to create the right messages. They create detailed customer personas that profile their typical target audience member, detailing their wants, needs, and everyday problems. To reach the right job seekers, you need to know everything about them. What motivates them? What are their goals? What do they value in a workplace? Draw up the persona of your dream candidate for the job and then target them, based on their wants and needs.

Taking a clue from marketing, recruiters target the right population with our research and craft/deliver a message that will compel a passive job seeker to seriously consider a new career opportunity.  A recent report on LinkedIn stated the following:

Only 61% of global companies have a strategy for passive candidate recruiting. These are surprising stats, since the latest data on the passive/active candidate split shows that over 75% of professionals are passive — they would not proactively seek out and apply to jobs. That’s a huge talent pool to miss out on. (The Global Trends that will Shape Recruiting in 2015)

Marketing is a value-added service that is often overlooked when hiring an outside recruiting firm.  The creative recruiter is a hybrid marketer/public relations/executive search consultant.  Hiring recruiters with this combination of skills, combined with a relationship-oriented approach to recruiting, is the way to win talent in a more competitive hiring environment.

To Be (ourselves) or Not to Be (ourselves)?

self-portrait: to be or not to be..The Harvard Business Review recently ran an article called Do You Really Want to Be Yourself at Work? which raises some interesting philosophical questions like: What does it mean to “be yourself”? What would it look like to “be who you are becoming”?

As a professional recruiter who is invested in human development and creating environments that support people to grow, I read this article with interest, especially when it talks about corporate cultures that are invested in developing employees.

For three years [the researchers] went around the world, asking hundreds of executives to describe the attributes of their ideal workplace. Topping the list was an environment where people could be themselves and where the company invested in developing them (and everyone they worked with) to be the very best they could be.

I would argue that creating an environment, a corporate culture, where people could be other than who they are would help people more than attempting to be “the very best they can be”.  That said, a corporate culture that is, “dedicated to developing every one of its people by weaving personal growth into day-to-day work” is on the right track.  Rather than weaving “personal growth” into the day-to-day work, companies might want to consider putting the focus on the totality of its employees growing.  How does that happen?  One way is by supporting everyone to be risk-takers – all of our mistakes and failures are opportunities for creativity and development:

In these companies employees didn’t spend any time hiding their inadequacies or preserving their reputations. Rather, everyone — from the CEO on down — was expected to make mistakes and learn from them and grow. In fact, both organizations had elaborate systems designed to promote individuals into roles a bit beyond their comfort zones to ensure that they would inevitably learn from failure. In this way people became masters not of any particular skill but of learning to adjust to new situations, which produced organizations that were remarkably resilient.

Yes and!  Learning to learn seems key.  The work that I do as a coach is about finding new performances that not only allow people to go beyond their comfort zones but to discover who we are becoming.  I was interviewing a young woman this week who constantly peppered her speech (as many young people do) with “like” and “you know”. I was coaching her to be more self-conscious of this to help her present in a more mature and professional manner.  I suggested that she use performance as a tool to do that.  She asked me, “You mean like my alter-ego?”.  As a good improviser I accepted her offer and appreciated that this is a way she could be other than who she is.

I took the survey embedded in the article to answer the question, Would you love to work in a place where you could truly be yourself?   Yes, I do “thrive in a deliberately developmental organization”!  One important way that an organization can become “deliberately developmental” is to allow people to be other than who they are – to perform in new ways, to play new roles and to perform our potential.

The non-profit All Stars Project Inc. is an example of an organization that is “deliberately developmental” – it is a model that for-profit cultures could learn from.

Let’s develop!


Dreaming of a New Job?

Dream JobThe Wall Street Journal recently ran an article in their Career section entitled When Your Dream Job Disappoints, How to Find Plan B (subtitled Key Tasks: Overcome Disappointment, Make the Most of Your Skills) Thinking about pursuing a “dream job” in today’s world of work, where most Americans are working longer hours in the office and on our smart phones early mornings, late nights and weekends, can overwhelm us. Most of us are working harder for less.

After years of planning, preparing and perhaps paying for an extra degree, you finally land your dream job—and discover you don’t like it.  It’s a surprisingly common dilemma. The idea of a “dream job” is drilled into job seekers these days. Increasingly, people expect to find jobs that provide not only a living but also stimulation, emotional fulfillment and a sense of purpose. The image of a career as a source of passion is promoted by career advisers, self-help books and even the glamorous characters in TV dramas. But fantasies about a job can blind job-seekers to workaday realities and to consideration of the best fit.

“Workaday realities” being what they are, finding emotional fulfillment and a sense of purpose from our professional lives is increasingly rare.  The desire to have a “dream job” or even a fulfilling job is ever changing as we mature as professionals.  A dream job at 25 is quite different from a dream job at 50.  Some people reach their 50s with a successful track record in business and find themselves wanting to give back and make a difference in the world.  Whereas someone’s “dream job” once was a high-paying Wall St. position by her/his mid-50s it might be the case that becoming a semi-retired philanthropist is where fulfillment lies.

Having gone through the recession many professionals are just getting back on their feet and might be thinking about moving into a more fulfilling role.  This often requires changing industries or careers which is not an easy feat in today’s marketplace.  Hiring managers and HR recruiters often look at a prospective candidate in a narrow fashion – if you have not done this exact job, worked in this industry before – you will not be considered… especially with so many people applying for the same (and sometimes scares) opportunities.

I finished reading Ken Robinson’s book The Element, and as I coach people making career transitions while growing and developing my own freelance business, I am thinking a lot about what is called for in pursing our dreams.  It requires a big, bold performance; we have to be fearless and resilient in the face of uncertainty.

When we pursue a new job or a career transition or a “dream job” we have to get comfortable with a new script for a new character.  It is a creative activity of interweaving our past experiences with where we are currently at and envisioning / performing who we are becoming; who do we dream we might be?

How do you go about crafting this bold performance?  Start with your passion and your capabilities.  Give yourself permission to be bold.  Reach out for creative input and direction from friends, colleagues, and mentors.  Be playful!  Someone suggested that I wear an invisible cloak to client meetings with my Wonder Woman costume underneath. At first that seemed a bit silly but I decided to “put on the cloak and the costume” and I do believe it helped me to be bold!


Performing our passion

I’ve been reading Ken Robinson’s book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything and greatly enjoying it.  Thinking about our passion and our careers is not always something we do, as work often leads us away from our passions in life.  Certainly there are some people who have successfully married their passions with their professional lives – this is what Robinson would call being in your “element”.

In a recent posting on the Harvard Business Review – Tell Your Whole Story in an Interview Lara Galinsky makes an interesting point about how we think of our stories as beginning when we first collected a pay check.  Of course early experiences greatly shape who we are including where we grew up, cultural influences, our family histories, our early mentors (that kindergarden or 2nd grade teacher we loved), the games we loved to play, the books we used to read, etc.

Robinson is making a similar case for exploring our passions and creativity to help us find where we belong professionally.  Robinson writes about highly successful people from all walks of life, many of whom did not do well in school, found communities of like-minded people, and created their lives by following their passion.

When I was reading Galinsky’s article it reminded me that in a recent interview with a potential client we were talking about what makes a good recruiter.  A lot of what we do is on the telephone – cold calling, interviewing, networking.  Then I (unexpectedly) shared that when I was a child my mother was in the PR business, then later in life she moved into talent management and she always seemed to have a telephone in her hand, so it’s not surprising that I learned how to “work the phones”.

When we look back at childhood – when play was pointless – what were we drawn to?  Or, as Galinsky puts it, “reflect back on a time when work and play were not always distinguishable”.  When we were bored in school what were we doing while the teacher was droning?  What were our dreams and fantasies?  What are our dreams and fantasies now?  Can we use our passion to recreate ourselves professionally and how do we go about this?

What is the performance we need to pursue our dream?  Recently I was talking to a dear friend about developing my business; she is a very successful and savvy business woman.  She said that I must be willing to fail, be fearless, and resilient.  I imagine a director telling me that my character is fearless and resilient.  What would that performance look like?

All of us can be who we are and who we are not.  Performance helps us be who we are becoming.  By fully embracing our passion we can create ourselves anew.  We can jump into the unknown, knowing we will fail, and that we will use our failure to grow, to build and to be fearless.  We must be resilient.  How?

By finding what Robinson calls our “tribe” – a community, a company, a grouping of people who share our passion and desires.  We create socially; as relational beings we can only create and recreate ourselves with others.


Our lives are our creations

Lately I’ve been having conversations with friends and clients who are over 50 and looking to recreate their professional lives by launching new careers and/or new businesses. Nowadays it is common to have two or three careers (or more) in a lifetime.  Retirement is not something that comes easy to many of us; one article I read put it this way: Baby boomers are saying, “Hell no, we won’t go!” It might be for financial reasons or solely to pursue a lifelong dream, but more and more people between the ages of 50 and 70 are looking to create innovative small businesses and consulting opportunities for themselves.

I applaud development at any age, it is very gutsy and it requires a particular set of tools and a great deal of support.  I encourage people to use our ability to perform ahead of ourselves – to embrace who we are becoming.

I was enjoying an article on the Harvard Business Review site the other day entitled “How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To”.  Although it is mostly about procrastination, there was a subheading that rang a bell with me: “You are putting something off because you don’t “feel” like doing it”.  It’s helpful to think about the relationship between our feelings and our actions.  Feelings of fear, for example, can paralyze us from pursuing a great business idea or leaving an unfulfilling job to create a new career as a freelance consultant.  I enjoyed this quote from the article:

…many of the most prolific artists, writers, and innovators have become so in part because of their reliance on work routines that forced them to put in a certain number of hours a day, no matter how uninspired (or, in many instances, hungover) they might have felt.  Burkeman reminds us of renown artist Chuck Close’s observation that “Inspiration is for amateurs.  The rest of us just show up and get to work.”So if you are sitting there, putting something off because you don’t feel like it, remember that you don’t actually need to feel like it.  There is nothing stopping you.

I have a dear friend who is a talented fiber artist and she devotes time to her art every day – we can all learn from the disciplined work routine of artists, writers and innovators.  But some (maybe most) people cannot rely on discipline alone.  One can sit and stare into a computer screen thinking, “I don’t feel it” or “I can’t get to work”.  So what is there to do in those moments?  Perform and play!

Rather than stressing about the myriad of details to attend to in order to recreate ourselves, create new businesses or new business models, we can be the creative artists that we all are.  Perhaps we have to think of ourselves as an artist facing a blank canvass. You might be reading this and thinking, “I”m not a creative artist!” but I beg to differ.  Creativity is fundamentally human.  It’s a tool that we always have at our disposal. Our lives are our creations!

Taking play seriously . . .

I’m a fan of Tony Schwartz’s posts on the HBR.  Schwartz is the CEO of The Energy Project and always has good things to say about how we work.  I’m also a big fan of “how” – the often neglected but critical aspect of all that we do.

In Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By Schwartz takes on four myths that are well worth busting up.  Given my procivities toward creativity and play I am interested in busting open Myth #3: Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.

In a global economy characterized by unprecedented competitiveness and constant change, nearly every CEO hungers for ways to drive more innovation. Unfortunately, most CEOs don’t think of themselves as creative, and they share with the rest of us a deeply ingrained belief that creativity is mostly inborn and magical.

Ironically, researchers have developed a surprising degree of consensus about the stages of creativity and how to approach them. Our educational system and most company cultures favor reward the rational, analytic, deductive left hemisphere thinking. We pay scant attention to intentionally cultivating the more visual, intuitive, big picture capacities of the right hemisphere.

As it turns out, the creative process moves back and forth between left and right hemisphere dominance. Creativity is actually about using the whole brain more flexibly. This process unfolds in a far more systematic — and teachable — way than we ordinarily imagine. People can quickly learn to access the hemisphere of the brain that serves them best at each stage of the creative process — and to generate truly original ideas.

I don’t want to quibble with the important things that Schwartz has to say. . . and I think there is more to give readers about our human capacity to create and how to develop that capacity.  Although it might involve “using the whole brain more flexibly” there are some easy-to-teach ways to develop our innate creative capacity.  Readers of this blog probably know what comes next . . .  yes and . . . improvisation is the way!

We are creative beings. As babies we acquired language through creative, improvisational imitation. Adults spoke to us before we “understood” language and we responded with our baby babblings and one day we became speakers.  That activity of being related to “a head taller” than we are continues to be how we grow and develop throughout our lives.  When we relate to each other as “creative” we get back in touch with our innate creativity.  Although there is no human being who is “not creative”, many of us think that about ourselves and need an environment and support to flex and develop our creative muscles.

As a teacher and coach I have found that playing improv games brings out the creative capacity of the group — whether we are passing around improvised balls of different weight, size and color, telling a collective story one word at a time, or creating “yes and” scenes between two people — we can create an environment to teach/remind people just how creative we all are.  Sadly in our culture we often lose touch with our playful selves in the service of “growing up” and becoming “serious”.

There is no doubt in my experience — play is the means by which we experience our wonderous capacity to create.

I also share Schwartz’s desire to bust up Myth #4: The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours:

. . . human beings are designed to pulse intermittently between spending and renewing energy. Great performers — and enlightened leaders — recognize that it’s not the number of hours people work that determines the value they create, but rather the energy they bring to whatever hours they work.

Rather than systematically burning down our reservoir of energy as the day wears on, as most of us do, intermittent renewal makes it possible to keep our energy steady all day long. Strategically alternating periods of intense focus with intermittent renewal, at least every 90 minutes, makes it possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably.

“Intermittent renewal” … hmm what could be better than a play break at the office?

Imagine the level of innovation and creativity that could be produced if we took play seriously?!