Walk to Solve

Do you pace? I sure do. For years I thought it was a bad habit. I couldn’t sit still in school. My poor teachers tried to address it, “Sit down, Jason!” It was a constant problem. I eventually learned to pace “in place” while sitting. I can’t help it. My legs just want to move. Over the years, I learned the art of “focus” and mindfulness to help address some of my restlessness. Zoom has been a challenge for me, but I can assure you, my feet are still traveling miles under the table, bouncing and moving out of frame. But I find that anytime someone asks me a difficult question or I need to think deeply about something, I still instinctively leap to my feet and start moving. Are you like that?

I need to be moving. Scenery needs to be changing around me to forge new mental connections, amplify associations and expand my mental models so that I can arrive at an answer. It isn’t just the super complex problems that drive me to my feet, it can be something as simple as, “What should we do for dinner?”

I’m a kinetic thinker and suspect some of you are too. I need to push my mind through space as well as time to arrive at the solution. Somehow by experiencing a spatial flux it sparks cognitive magic. If I have a problem I just can’t solve or need to get creative about a fresh solution, a brisk walk suddenly unlocks the impossible. It can be something simple like a walk around the house.

We happened to find a house that has a circular floorplan. My wife laughs at me and my kids as we make laps around the inside of the house. Yes, my kids have been infected with this kinetic affection as well. There have been more than one collisions in our thinking, literally. For the more difficult problems, I go outside and perhaps even make a circuit around the block. Over and over again, those spatial explorations uncover discoveries that wouldn’t have been afforded otherwise. What can I say? I walk to solve.

Do you have a difficult decision in front of you right now? Do you have a mental block or can’t see any alternatives to a problem? If so, go for walk. I’m convinced it can help you unlock those mysteries too.  Oh, and I’ll join you!

A Culture of Candor

“There’s no upside in being wrong.” – Ed Catmull

“I need to sit down.” We were standing in a crowded reception hall and the keynote speaker and I were talking. He had a pained look on his face. The waitstaff was bustling around offering hors d’oeuvres to the conference attendees that had gathered after a “Ralph Breaks VR” demonstration at The Void at Downtown Disney. I spotted a collection of chairs in the corner and motioned toward them, “Let’s grab a seat there.” 

“That’s better!” It was a star-struck moment for me. I was now sitting next to one of my heroes and in an hour or so we would be going to dinner together. I first heard about Ed Catmull in college. I had admired his research in computer graphics including his pioneering work in texture mapping. Sitting there, it occurred to me that the incredible VR demonstration we just saw wouldn’t have been possible without his revolutionary work. Ed smiled, clearly relieved to be sitting down and then continued our conversation. We talked about the technology, cloud computing, PIXAR, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, mindfulness and of course, Ed’s book, Creativity, Inc.

“I hated it!” Ed’s shook his head in response to my question about his experience writing the book. It was a lot of hard work. He explained how he had enlisted 40+ reviewers to critique the manuscript and was always wanting more. Despite his elaborate efforts to get that candid feedback, he was convinced that it was still far from perfect. After publication, he said he received abundant feedback from the brilliant folks at PIXAR on all the areas he got wrong. He was motivated and even encouraged by Bob Iger, to make a second edition. I do hope that happens. The thing that impressed me the most about Ed was his insatiable desire to get things right and to enlist the help of others to do so. When I asked why he went to such measures to get that feedback, he told me, “There’s no upside in being wrong.” 

If you ever read Ed’s book, and you should, you know how much emphasis is placed on getting authentic and candid feedback. That approach has shaped the storytelling and creative content powerhouses at PIXAR, Walt Disney Animation Studios and ILM. I told Ed about my first visit to PIXAR and how it left such a huge impression on me. It wasn’t just the great campus, the comfortable open area buildings or the iconic artwork decorating the place. No, the biggest thing to me was the culture of candor. There was no power structure in the rooms. Ego was taken out. There was this incredible respect and expectation for everyone in the room to give and take honest notes. It was transformative and something I have forever sought to encourage and replicate in my own teams. Ed’s comment? “Yes, but I know we still have work to do.”

Ed is right. I have seen organizations achieve good success only to see it calcify processes or limit the ability to receive corrective feedback. As my conversation with Ed underscored, it is critical to continually seek honest feedback, remove power structures from the room and drive changes accordingly. I’m proud to say that I personally continue to see this honest feedback. At least once a week, someone on my team will raise an issue to me where we—and yes sometimes just me—are not doing the right thing, not communicating well, missing an opportunity, or doing something we shouldn’t. These are pure gold. I won’t pretend they don’t sometimes sting or hurt, but I can’t think of a single time where they didn’t result in some improvement that made us all better.

Are you willing to receive candid feedback? Are you willing to give it? As a leader, are you removing the power structure in the room so that you minimize risk and amplify candor?

I recognize that I’m over indexed on optimism, but I also believe that at any given point, something is going wrong. How do we discover that and encourage others to do the same? Getting a true an honest signal when things are going wrong is critical for our organizations if we hope to see them stay relevant, successful and thriving. Look for problems. Reward and embrace honest feedback so that you can change. As Ed would say, “There’s no upside in being wrong.” Strive for being right!

Laughter!

“There is nothing better or more cleansing in this world than laughter.” – Pat Carroll

“Hahaha!” Laughter filled the room. Pat was with her daughters and granddaughter. Tears were rolling down their cheeks like a shower, washing and refreshing with each powerful laugh. It was glorious. The smiles, the sounds, and the senses radiated and adorned Pat’s gregarious and welcoming face.

Pat began acting in local productions when she was just five years old. She was funny. Her wit and humor had gained the attention of brilliant stars like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett and Danny Thomas. She loved performing live shows, stand-up comedy and doing character acting. She picked up roles on television shows like ABC’s Laverne & Shirley. She started doing voice-over work in the 1980’s for animation programs like Scooby-Doo, Galaxy High, A Goofy Movie, Pound Puppies, Garfield and even voiced the character of Granny in Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. But her most beloved role would come in 1989.

“I’ve been a Disney fan since I was 5 years old,” Pat would explain. She had joined the Mickey Mouse Club and even had the ears. Her greatest dream was to perform in a Disney film. That day finally came. Disney was working on a new animated film and the directors and musical team were looking for the perfect talent. Pat auditioned six times. Her determination paid off! A year later, she got the call to be the voice of Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  She laughed! It was a dream come true and she said, “I’ve never enjoyed anything so much in my life.” Her memorable and throaty rendition of Poor Unfortunate Souls would make her one of Disney’s most beloved villains. Can you hear her singing? Can you hear her laughing? That was Pat.

Pat Carroll passed away this past weekend, July 30, 2020, at 95 years old. In a recent interview, she said, “I’ve had the most wonderful life. I’ve done everything I wanted to do and I’ve had a ball doing it.” Indeed she did. To Pat, the greatest thing in the world is laughter. The ability to laugh and make other people laugh is a superpower that is a remedy for so much that ails us. It provides cleansing. It washes our worries, treats our bruises and breathes oxygen into our journey.

Laugh! Make sure you take time to sample some humor today, and every day.